Global Discovery Expeditions: Behind the Scenes


Behind the Scenes: Collecting Specimens on a Global Discovery Expedition 

Our Global Discovery Expeditions are tremendous opportunities to explore and study biodiversity in key hotspots around the world. Each excursion is staffed with a handful of biologists who get a close-up look at the region and its resident species, but the bigger goal is to document these understudied ecosystems for a wider audience—other scientists across the globe, students, and anyone else interested in these species, their ecosystems, and conservation.  

And while the information from each expedition is used to fuel a massive digital database accessible to anyone with an internet connection, the way we gather the data is how scientists have been studying plants and animals for centuries: highly tactile, up-close observation and documentation. 

Scouring the landscape in search of specimens


Fieldwork begins at night, since that’s the best time to find many of the animals the scientists are looking for. As darkness descends, the teams head into the field, spending hours walking through rivers, hiking up mountain sides, and wandering through canyons. 

Finding some creatures is spontaneous, while others, like bats, requires a plan—or, more specifically in the bats’ case, a harp net carefully positioned outside the entrance to the cave where they live or a miss net strung over the river to help scientists capture them without harming them.

documenting every find

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While some documentation happens in the field, many of the animals are brought back to camp. Each morning the scientists process the animals they brought in the previous night. This includes verifying their identification, cataloging them, assigning museum numbers, taking photographs, and employing other types of documentation.  

During the day you’ll find our scientists hard at work around camp, employing more of their creative skills—sketching or painting specimens that are slithering on the table in front of them, trying to get a snake to curl around a tree branch in order to take its picture, or creating a habitat-like diorama for a critically endangered turtle, then waiting at a distance until it’s comfortable enough to come out of its shell and be photographed. 

capturing high-quality photos

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Speaking of photographs...they are a critical part of our efforts. The photos we take on expeditions are used in reports, documentation, presentations, and for the catalog. Historically, good photographs don’t exist for most specimens, so the ones we take are important. Plus, with new species we’re photographing them for the first time ever, so we need photos to help build future research and identify hotspots that need conservation support. 

Beyond the challenge of capturing great photos of creatures who don’t want to sit still and pose, our scientists need to manage and coordinate hundreds of images with the correct animals. Our team members spend countless hours after a trip preparing their data for the database as quickly as they can so it's available for anyone who needs it for their own research or conservation efforts. 

Finally, when documentation is complete, the animals are released back into the wild, unaware that their participation in our process may well benefit their species for decades to come. 

If you would like to help us continue initiatives to study and document plants and animals critical to conservation efforts, please consider a one-time or monthly donation to support these expeditions and more.