Huge collection of dead snakes, spiders, scorpions lost in fire at Brazil research institute

By Tales Azzoni, AP
Sunday, May 16, 2010

Huge Brazil collection of snakes, spiders burned

SAO PAULO — A fire in Brazil has destroyed what may be the world’s largest scientific collection of dead snakes, spiders and scorpions.

Members of the Instituto Butantan said the collection lost in Saturday’s fire included nearly 80,000 specimens that were the main source for research on thousands of species.

“The entire collection was lost, the biggest collection of snakes in the world,” Institute curator Francisco Franco told Globo TV and other local media. “It’s a loss to humanity.”

Many of the animals were used in the production of vaccines and other biopharmaceuticals, some derived from venom. Officials said the production of vaccines and other drugs will not be affected.

The collection of dead specimens allowed scientists to study the evolution of species and gave them information to help avert the extinction of some animals, institute director Otavio Mercadante said.

“Even if we could gather another collection with 100,000 specimens, the historic value would still be lost,” researcher Thais Guedes said.

The institute’s live animals were kept at a building adjacent to the one burned, and volunteers rushed to remove them in case the fire spread.

The dead specimens were preserved in flammable liquids, which contributed to the spread of the fire, firefighter Capt. Miguel Jodas told local media.

The fire did not hurt any humans or live animals.

Institute officials said they are already working on a plan to start rebuilding the collection.

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