"It's amazing how much it evaporates," Pauley said. "As soon as we see the specimens' tails sticking above the alcohol's surface, we know it's time to top off the jars. Right now we're recharging them at least once a year, if not twice. We're starting to put paraffin on the jar lids when we replenish the alcohol, and we think that will stop a lot of the evaporation."
While the collection occasionally gains a new creature or two, Pauley said today's technology has rendered almost obsolete the practice of collecting large numbers of physical specimens.
"What we're doing a lot now is taking using the marvelous cameras they have on smart phones to take pictures," Pauley explained. "We measure the animals, photograph them and release them, and that gives us records of their capture and the morphometrics of the animals themselves."
What it doesn't give is information about the creatures' inner workings. That's where MU's extensive specimen collection proves its worth.
"Having a collection allows researchers to dissect the animals and study what they eat and what their reproductive potential might be," Pauley explained. "We promote the use of the collection to our students, and so far we've had four or five masters' theses be generated from research done from our specimens.
"The Marshall collection had never been a center of research before, but we're really using it now. People from other universities are borrowing specimens for use in their research."
The collection is open to the public by appointment, though that fact isn't widely known.
"We have teachers bring students through here on school tours. We encourage people to come in and see what we have," Pauley said.
He estimated that the work of entering the remaining GPS data, identifying and cataloging the yet-unclassified specimens could take another 4 to 5 years.
"So I'll be spending a lot of time here," said the 73-year-old with a chuckle. "The old man will probably be here until they put him in a jar."
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.