Field Preparation

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Statement of Purpose

These links and documents contain information about how to prepare for fieldwork that includes collecting specimens.


Major contributor: Breda Zimkus. An outline for this content was first generated during The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH) Annual Joint Meeting - 2016, during an iDigBio sponsored workshop with contributions from the following individuals participating in the "Field to Database" Group: Cesar Aguilar, Ben Frable, Meredith Mahoney, Zachary Randall, David Wernecke, and Breda Zimkus.


Preparing and packing for field collection trips can be a difficult task. Most researchers have size and weight restrictions imposed by their means of transportation or the amount that they can physically carry. The information included in this page should be used as a checklist during the preparation stage of a collecting trip. It is recommended that you contact someone that has recently worked in the country or region where you will be traveling and/or your local collaborator to determine if there are specific items that you should or should not take with you. Sometimes purchasing specific items or borrowing them from a local collaborator upon arrival is a preferred option.

Budget and Funding

Determine an estimated budget for the collecting trip that includes transportation (to country/region and within local area), housing, food, costs associated with personnel (e.g., per diem for field assistants, local guides), equipment, supplies, permits, and required visas. Apply for funding well in advance if needed. Make sure to include costs associated with long-term storage of specimens and samples in any Data Management Plans within grants (e.g., NSF).

Long-term storage of specimens

Determine where the specimens will be deposited for long-term storage if you are not associated with a natural history collection, and contact the Collection Manager to determine if the collection recommends specific preparation protocols for specimens or tissues.


  • Transportation
- Try to determine all domestic methods of transportation that might be needed and make arrangements before arriving in country if possible.
- Motor vehicle accidents are the #1 killer of U.S. citizens in foreign countries because roads may be poorly maintained, traffic laws may be haphazardly followed or enforced, and emergency care may not be readily available or of high standards. If possible, hire a driver when renting a vehicle. If you must drive, be aware of the traffic laws, and avoid driving in developing countries at night.
  • Lodging
- Try to determine where you will stay while collecting specimens and make arrangements before arriving if possible.
  • Personnel (e.g., field assistants, local guides)
- Ensure that any hired guides speak the language and are knowledgeable of the local culture for all areas where you may be traveling. Someone hired in a major city may not know local dialects, so local guides may also be needed.
  • Passport and Visas
- Many countries required that a passport must be valid for a certain number of months (e.g., three, six) from the date of entry, or a certain number of months after the passport holder leaves the country. Each country makes its own rules in this regard, and the rules sometimes change, so it is wise to know before you go.
- Give yourself time to apply for required visas. Contact the embassy of the foreign countries you will be visiting for more information.
- Make two photocopies of all your travel documents in case of emergency. Leave one copy at home (e.g., with spouse, at institution) and carry the other separately from your documents in case of loss or theft.
  • Health Precautions
- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) provide recommendations for vaccinations and other travel health precautions for your trip abroad.
- Make sure that you are up-to-date with routine vaccinations and schedule and additional needed immunizations needed for travel.
- Some countries may require proof of specific vaccinations (e.g., Yellow Fever), so read about your destination before beginning your travel.
- Some prophylactic medications may need to be taken before entering the country, so plan accordingly.
- Get a letter from your doctor for medications you are bringing and keep them in their original containers so they do not appear to be contraband. Some countries have strict laws regarding medications, even against products that can be purchased over-the-counter, so read about your destination before you go.
  • Identify cultural norms of your destination (e.g., challenges associated with disability, gender, race, sexual orientation, or gender-identity)
- Research the history and culture of your destination to determine if you may have any specific challenges.
- For additional information, see U.S. Department of State.
  • Emergency Response Plans
- Register your trip with your home institution or leave travel information with departmental administration.
- Have information regarding institutional global emergency response program information (medical and security services) if applicable.
- Carry contact details for the nearest embassy or consulate with you in English and the local language.
  • Money
- Notify your bank and credit card company of your travel so accounts are not closed due to suspicious activity.
- Check exchange rates before you travel.
- Find out details regarding use of cash, debit/credit cards, and traveler's checks, as well as the availability of ATMs.
- If carrying large sums of money while traveling because use of debit/credit cards or traveler's checks is not possible, divide it among all members of your party.
- Do not carry anything of value in a pocket or where if could easily be stolen.
- Empty your wallet of all non-essential items (e.g., extra credit cards, cards with personal information) before travel
  • Baggage Recommendations and Requirements
- Find out the rules for all international and national flights regarding both checked and hand luggage and make sure that you can cover any additional fees if you go above the allowance by number of items, size (i.e., dimensions) or weight, which may be determined for each item or the combined total.
- Research the banned and restricted items for both checked and hand luggage.
- Carry-on baggage should be used to transport any small items of high value (e.g., cameras, GPS units) and any personal items that would be needed in case baggage is delayed (e.g., medication, spare clothes).

Scientific Supplies and Equipment

When packing, ensure that most packaging is removed from new items, and pack small items inside larger ones. Retain a detailed list of everything and its location (i.e., which bag or box) to allow you to locate items easily. Researchers should contact in-country contacts or others who may have recently worked in similar localities to determine if it is possible to buy specific chemicals in country to avoiding shipping or traveling with hazardous goods. See details regarding specific chemical agents in Shipping and Handling of Dangerous Goods. For additional information see Simmons, 2002 [1].

Chemical Agents

  • Euthanasia agents
- Euthanasia methods should be painless, achieve rapid unconsciousness and death, require minimum restraint, avoid excitement, should be suitable for the age, species, and health of the animal, must minimize fear and psychological stress in the animal, should be reliable, reproducible, irreversible, simple to administer (in small doses if possible), and safe for the operator. In the U.S., the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs) ensure that all projects involving the use of live vertebrae animals comply with federal regulations and guidelines, and they review the appropriateness of proposed euthanasia methods. See Euthanasia for additional details.
  • Specimen preservatives (e.g., formalin, alcohols); see Preparation for additional details.
  • Tissue preservatives (e.g., RNAlater, ethanol, DMSO); see Tissue Sample Collection for additional details.
  • Bleach for sterilization of equipment (including boots, waders) between sites
  • Desiccants (for electronics or specimens)

General Supplies for Documentation

  • Maps/gazetteer
  • Field guides/identification aids
  • Photography, video, sound equipment (including batteries, chargers)
- Digital storage media
  • Laptop
- Do not assume that electricity will be available in remote sites and have paper back-ups of all essential files. Plan on having a field notebook and subsequently input data into electronic form.
  • Field Notebook (e.g., write-in-rain) and archival pens (See more under Field Notes)
  • Satellite Phone
  • Backups for when equipment fails

Measuring and monitoring equipment

  • GPS or compass
  • Thermometer (air and water temp, organism temperature recorders)
  • Ecological or habitat data equipment (e.g., flow meter, pH, salinity, humidity meter)
  • Drone

Specimen Collection Equipment

  • Flashlights, spotlights, head lamps
  • Trowel/shovels
  • Snake hook
  • Nooses/poles for lizards
  • Blowguns for arboreal species
  • Drift fences and buckets for terrestrial species
  • Funnel traps (including bait)
  • Nets, seines for fish
  • Stump ripper
  • Small garden rake
  • Electro fishing equipment
  • Rotenone
  • Cover board material

Specimen Fixation Supplies

  • Dissection kit
- Forceps
- Scalpel handle/razor blades
- Scissors
- Dissecting probe
- Sterilization method for tools
- Spoon for handling aquatic larvae
- Hand lens
- Scales
- Needles/plungers/syringes
- Gloves (e.g., nitrile)
  • Animal Storage
- Cloth Bags, snake tubes
- Plastic Bags (Note: animals being swabbed for chytrid should always be stored individually to prevent cross-contamination.)
- Plastic Containers
- Bubbler for live fish
- Coolers
- Storage container(s) for euthanizing animals
- Storage container for prepared animals (e.g., fixation tray)
  • Voucher Labeling Supplies
- Specimen tags (pre-numbered field tags or museum tags; metal tags not recommended)
- String or T anchors for specimen tags
  • Tissue Sample Storage
- Tissue vials/tubes
- Tube labeling pen/scribe
- Tissue boxes

Shipping materials

  • Cheese cloth/paper towel
  • Plastic bags and heat seal equipment (Note: Triple-heat sealing required for shipment or transport of specimens preserved in specific chemicals; see Shipping and Handling of Dangerous Goods for additional details.)
  • Hard plastic containers (e.g., buckets, barrels)
  • Liquid nitrogen dry shipper or dewar (Note: Generally, you can take insulated packaging containing refrigerated liquid nitrogen (dry shipper) in your hand or checked baggage. It needs to be fully absorbed in a porous material and only contain non-dangerous goods.)

Sterilization Equipment

Field equipment, gear, clothing (boots, waders, etc.) should/must be disinfected between field sites. This prevents movement of infectious agents or invasive plants/organism between sites by field researchers.

Camping Equipment

A more extensive list of camp gear is available as an Appendix in Simmons, 2002 [1]

  • Flashlights, headlamps, lanterns and associated batteries
  • Tents
  • Tarps
  • Rope and nylon cord to secure tents and tarps
  • Cooking equipment (e.g., cook stove and propane, pots, utensils, cups, dishes, knife, can opener)
  • Basin, sponge, and detergent for dishwashing
  • Lighter
  • Water purification equipment and empty jugs (one for water ready to drink and one for water to be treated)
  • Machete
  • Waterproof bags
  • Toilet paper (0.3 rolls per person per day)
  • Various types of tape (e.g., duct tape)

First Aid

As previously mentioned, some countries have strict laws regarding medications, so read about your destination before you go. For those prescription medications that you transport into the country, keep them in their original containers so they look legitimate. See [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Pack Smart Tips] for additional information.


  • Pain relief medication (e.g., acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen)
  • Anti-diarrheal medication
  • Motion sickness and sea-sickness medication (e.g., dimenhydrinate)
  • Antibiotic used to treat bacterial infection
  • Decongestant (e.g., pseudoephedrine)
  • Malaria prophylaxis
  • Epi-pen (if needed)
  • Antihistamine
  • Oral analgesic
  • Laxative

General First Aid

  • Band Aids
  • Gauze
  • Crepe bandages (ACE or elastic bandages)
  • Adhesive/surgical tape
  • Blister plasters
  • Small scissors
  • Forceps/tweezers
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Antihistamine cream
  • Antibacterial creams (e.g., Neosporin)
  • Digital thermometer
  • Oral rehydration solution packets
  • Aloe gel
  • Water purification tablets
  • Lubricating eye drops
  • Commercial suture/syringe kits to be used by local health-care provider. (These items will also require a letter on letterhead stationery from the prescribing physician.)
  • Insect repellent containing DEET (30%-50%) or picaridin (up to 15%)
  • Sun block of appropriate SPF that has both UVA and UVB protection(Note: the easiest way to prevent sunburn is to wear long sleeves, pants, and hat.


[Collection, Preparation, and Fixation of Specimens and Tissues]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Simmons, J.E.. 2002. Herpetological Collecting and Collections Management. Herpetological Circulars, Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, 31: 1-153.