Dissections in Vert Morph – For Science!

(Post backdated to 2010, when these photos were originally taken). 

Dissections nearly scared me away from biology. No kidding, when I first graduated from high school, I considered going into biology, but I always vetoed the idea, because I was convinced I’d never be able to handle dissecting an animal that had once been alive.

This wasn’t a new thought . . . when I was in elementary school (around 4th grade, IIRC), as part of the gifted/talented program, we were asked to dissect frogs. I decided that I wouldn’t do it, and told the teacher as much. Fortunately for my young psyche, this wasn’t a problem – they even allowed me to take the (living) frog home as a pet.

Fast forward a couple of decades, when I realized that I wanted to do something tangible to help the state of the Earth. Conservation work seemed the most direct way to do this, and biology seemed to be the most direct way to get involved with conservation. I knew that dissections would be in my future, but I figured I could handle it. After all, I’d given birth. It didn’t seem like dissecting something could be more intense than that. I’d do it, for science!

Finally, the opportunity arrived in Vertebrate Evolutionary Morphlogy, which I needed to compete the Evolution and Ecology concentration for my major. I was a bit nervous, but when the time came, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d anticipated.We dissected two animals during the course of the semester – the first was a dogfish shark, and the second was a cat. Admittedly, the cat was tricky at first, but once we’d removed the skin it stopped seeming like something that could once have been a pet, and was instead an interesting collection of connected muscles, and bones, and nerves, and other tissues. Sure, there were bad smells, but more than anything, it was interesting. Really, really interesting to cut something open and see how it’s put together inside. To follow the muscles, and nerves. To see how the lens fits into an eye. For science!

Since then, I’ve done other things I would have once found distasteful – I’ve pinned dozens and dozens of insects, dissected squids and earthworms, filed notches into the shells of baby turtles, cut up mice and rats into bite-sized pieces for animals in my care. Occasionally, I have moments when I feel like a bit of a monster, even now, if I have to cut up a live mealworm for one of my lizards. But mostly, things like this don’t bother me anymore.

I’m doing them for science.


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