Nestled within the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point’s College of Letters and Science and located on the fourth floor of the Trainer College of Natural Resources building is the biology department fish collection. The collection consists of a fluid vertebrate (preserved) portion and a living fish, reptile and amphibian portion. Students are able to gain valuable hands-on experience with living and preserved animals in a friendly, relaxed environment.
According to Justin Sipiorski, Assistant Professor of Biology and curator of the Colleges of Letters and Science Museum of Natural History, the fish collection began with the first ichthyology specialist George Becker in the mid 1960s. Becker, with the help of his students, collected the first 8,000 lots of the collection and created the book “Fishes of Wisconsin,” published in 1983. The book is a staple reference book for ichthyologists and fisheries scientists across North America.
“We’ve got live fishes along with live reptiles and amphibians. We’ve got a fish collection that has about 20,000 lots, which is a jar of fish … essentially the collections of one species from one location on a date, which date back to basically the turn of the twentieth century,” Sipiorski said.
Both the live and preserved fish collections are located adjacent to the ichthyology lab and classroom, providing invaluable learning tools for students.
“Ichthyology is literally the study of fishes,” Sipiorski said. “As part of a well-balanced fisheries program ichthyology is one of the core classes and is where students are exposed to very basic notions of taxonomy, evolution, physiology, anatomy … that sort of stuff.”
Kyle Wagner, sophomore biology and chemistry major, came to UWSP specifically because of the ichthyology laboratories.
“I was originally going to go to Madison, but I decided to come here to Stevens Point just because this laboratory is so open to everybody,” Wagner said. “At Madison or a bigger university you would never be able to have contact with the animals like this. This will look really good on a resume and help me get into graduate school.”
Wagner is a volunteer who comes and cleans the tanks and is starting research this semester breeding sunfish in captivity.
“You have to get temperature right, habitat right, diet right and hopefully they end up working out, but a lot of times it is a lot more difficult in captivity than it would be in the wild,” Wagner said.
The purpose of the lab is “to educate people about some of the animals that we have here, and then also get hands-on experience in being able to care for them, and you know, learn more about them,” said Taylor Heck, co-manager of the live amphibian collection and wildlife and biology major.
“I like getting the experience with the animals without having to go somewhere outside of school,” said Emily Fleischauer, salt water co-sub manager and biology major.
“It gives valuable experience, for not only handling these types of animals, but also because when you get manager experience you learn about teaching others or training new volunteers, and you are not only teaching them, but you are doing presentations for clubs and also the public,” Heck said.
“It gives you lots of hands-on experience with live animal fish husbandry, teamwork building experiences and working with each other,” said John Grosch, fish volunteer, fisheries and biology major.