Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Wildlife specimen collection, preservation, and shipment

January 27, 2015

Specimens are used to provide supporting information leading to the determination of the cause of disease or death in wildlife and for disease monitoring or surveillance. Commonly used specimens for wildlife disease investigations include intact carcasses, tissues from carcasses, euthanized or moribund animals, parasites, ingested food, feces, or environmental samples. Samples from live animals or the environment (e.g., contaminated feed) in the same vicinity as a mortality event also may be helpful. The type of specimen collected is determined by availability of samples and biological objectives. Multiple fresh, intact carcasses from affected species are the most useful in establishing a cause for a mortality event. Submission of entire carcasses allows observation of gross lesions and abnormalities, as well as disease testing of multiple tissues. Samples from live animals may be more appropriate when sick animals cannot be euthanized (e.g., threatened or endangered species) or for research and monitoring projects examining disease or agents circulating in apparently healthy animals or those not exhibiting clinical signs. Samples from live animals may include collections of blood, hair, feathers, feces, or ectoparasites, or samples obtained by swabbing lesions or orifices. Photographs and videos are useful additions for recording field and clinical signs and conveying conditions at the site. Collection of environmental samples (e.g., feces, water, feed, or soil) may be appropriate when animals cannot be captured for sampling or the disease agent may persist in the environment. If lethal collection is considered necessary, biologists should refer to the policies, procedures, and permit requirements of their institution/facility and the agency responsible for species management (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or State natural resource agency) prior to use in the field. If threatened or endangered species are found dead, or there is evidence of illegal take, field personal should contact local wildlife law enforcement authorities immediately and prior to handling the carcass.

Prior to collecting samples, it is important to determine the capabilities and submission criteria of the laboratory receiving the samples. Some laboratories may specialize in a limited number of tests, be equipped to accept only certain types of tissues (instead of entire carcasses), or specialize in particular species or group of animals (e.g., reptiles, birds, mammals). Diagnostic laboratories have specific requirements regarding preparation, labeling, and shipping of samples. Adherence to these requirements helps ensure the usefulness of any submitted specimens. Although laboratories may vary in the cost and turnaround times for diagnostic tests, some laboratories may be able to prioritize samples and accommodate accelerated time frames if communicated at the time of submission. Keeping a prepacked kit with basic carcass-collection supplies, including a paper copy of the specimen history form (available for download from the Web sites of most diagnostic laboratories), in the office or vehicle will decrease the chances of forgetting an essential item and decrease response time for arriving at an event.

Publication Year 2015
Title Wildlife specimen collection, preservation, and shipment
DOI 10.3133/tm15C4
Authors C. LeAnn White, Robert J. Dusek
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Techniques and Methods
Series Number 15-C4
Index ID tm15C4
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wildlife Health Center