Vertebrate Prep Lab

Zoology Prep Lab

The Zoology Prep Lab is a crucial step in the life of a vertebrate zoology specimen. Staff and volunteers working in this lab collect data and prepare vertebrates for their long life in the growing zoology collections. We prepare a variety of skins, skeletons, and alcohol specimens for research. In addition, we sample tissues and save parasites from specimens coming through the lab. We work closely with zoology curators and collections staff to ensure that scientists receive the materials they need for their research.

In addition to preparing specimens, this lab houses the Zoology Department’s frozen tissue and parasite collections. The frozen tissue collection is made up of vials filled with tissues researchers can use for genetics and toxicology research. The parasite collection holds endo- (inside) and ecto- (outside) parasites that come from animals prepared in the lab.

The Dermestarium

The Zoology Prep Lab is also the home of the Museum’s dermestarium. The dermestarium is where we prepare skeletons and other skeletal materials for the zoology research collections. We house eight tanks filled with dermestid beetles (Dermestes maculatus), known commonly as flesh-eating beetles. These beetles are naturally found in the wild where they eat tissue off of animals that die in their natural habitat. At the Museum, we use the beetles’ taste for flesh to clean soft tissues off of carcasses that come through the lab. The skeletons they clean can be used by scientists for research.

Animal Anatomy with Andie

Are you an adorer of animals? Delighted by dissection, or fascinated by feathers and fur? Then you have something in common with Andie Carrillo, Zoology Preparator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. Andie works behind the scenes of the museum, studying animal specimens to learn about their lives and environments from their physical characteristics, and preparing each specimen to be kept in our collection and studied by other researchers for years to come.


Andrea (Andie) Carrillo

Zoology Preparator

Martha MacMillan, MS

Vertebrate Preparator

Garth M. Spellman, PhD

Director of Zoology & Health Sciences, Curator of Ornithology

Courtney J. Scheskie, MA

Business Support Specialist III

Frequently Asked Questions

The majority of our specimens come from wildlife rehabs around the Front Range. With their help, we can have a thorough record of animals inhabiting the Front Range, mountains, and plains of Colorado.

Most times we don’t use any! The majority of the specimen skins can air-dry for a couple of weeks before they are ready to make their way to the collections. Once dried, the skin of the specimen stays rigid for the rest of its life in the zoology collection. For specimens that do not do well with air-drying, we can place them in jars of ethanol to preserve their form.

Even if you stick your entire hand in a tub filled with thousands of beetles, not a single one will bite you. They prefer the flesh of dead animals much more than your hand.

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