Skip to main content.

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Website Search Box

Department ofVertebrate Zoology

Division of Fishes

Carl Hansen
© Smithsonian Institution

The Division handles a large volume of loan and information requests, resulting in a delay of two weeks to two months before most requests can be fully processed and shipped. For holdings, please visit our online database before contacting a staff member for information. All loan requests should be directed to the Division of Fishes collection manager, Jeff Williams.

To expedite your loan request, please include the following information:

  • Your full name, the address of the institution to which the loan will be sent, your phone and fax numbers, and your e-mail address. If you need the material by a certain date, indicate the date and we will try our best to meet your needs. If you are a student, or are visiting a host institution on a temporary basis, the loan must be sent to you through a permanent staff member of the institution (for students, that person is typically one's advisor). Please provide that person's full name and title, and have that person indicate his or her agreement to bear responsibility for the loan by co-signing your letter of request, or otherwise notifying us.
  • A brief description of your research problem and the type of information you are seeking. It is important that we understand the nature of your research so the most suitable specimens are selected to send to you. Please indicate how many specimens you need and if the specimens need be of a certain size or sex, or collected from a particular locality or time period. If no preferences are indicated, we will decide which lots are most suitable.
  • Listing your loan request by USNM catalog number. If you are interested in examining particular cataloged lots, such as those referenced in the literature or those listed in our on-line catalog, please list your request first by taxonomic name and then catalog number. It is not necessary to list number of specimens unless you do not wish to borrow the entire lot. We encourage you to examine all specimens in a lot, however, since there may be more than one species in the jar.
  • Reliability of identifications. We are not able to verify identifications prior to sending specimens on loan, nor do we maintain a history of who identified the specimens. Therefore, you should be cautious about assuming the identifications are correct as stated. Also, we do not routinely update cataloged lots when species names become synonyms. When requesting loans, be sure to cite common synonyms under which the specimens might still be cataloged.
  • Examining all of our holdings of a taxon. We do not lend all specimens of a given taxon at one time. When all specimens of a species are requested, we usually send about half of the holdings and only send the remainder when the first half is returned. If, after reviewing a list of our holdings, you determine that some lots are more important to you than others, make sure you indicate which lots you want us to send in the first shipment.
  • Very large loan or holdings requests. Due to staff reductions in recent years, we are no longer able to fill extremely large or time-consuming requests. Please be as conservative as possible in requesting loans and holdings information. If your research requires examining great numbers of our specimens, we recommend that you plan to visit the museum and do your examinations here. We will provide you with a microscope, work station, and limited computer access during your visit.
  • Your need to clear and stain or dissect specimens, if applicable. Indicate the number of specimens you wish to clear and stain or dissect of each species or lot, and describe the type and extent of the dissection you wish to make. We require that you receive permission from us before altering specimens in any way, and you must return cleared and stained or dissected material (including disarticulated parts), unless specific permission to retain them has been granted.
  • Requesting the advance issuance of USNM catalog numbers for specimens listed in your manuscript. Provide us with full collection data and, in the case of a new species description, the proposed species name (this will be kept confidential until publication) and the full name(s) of the author(s) of the description. Indicate if the specimens are already on loan to you from us, if they are here in our collection, or if you are donating them to our collection. If donating specimens, you will be asked to document that they were collected legally. Catalog numbers will be provided via a "loan" invoice (and by phone or e-mail in a rush). Specimens assigned advance catalog numbers will thereafter be considered property of the USNM, to be temporarily retained by you on loan. When the species description is published, please send the specimens to us along with a reprint so we can update our catalog record and add the reprint to our library.
  • Holdings information. Complete holdings information is available for many family groups through our Online Search (see Inventoried Families). At present, only about 51% of the entire collection has been computer cataloged (or inventoried), making it impossible for us to answer all questions about our holdings of all groups of fishes. About 95% of families with freshwater-dwelling species, all elasmobranchs, pomacentrids and flatfishes, and specimens collected since 1980 are computer inventoried. Most other specimens were either cataloged by hand in a ledger book or are uncataloged. If holdings information is requested for a non-inventoried group, and the group is not large, we may be able to provide a hand-prepared list to supplement the partial computer listing for that group. This, however, is extremely time-consuming and will delay not only your request but others that follow, so please keep such requests to a minimum.

[ TOP ]