"Roughly 3.2 million frogs are destroyed for dissection each
~~F.Barbara Orlans Ph.D
Dissection is a common practice in many classrooms.
Introduced in the 1920's to aid in the study of anatomy, biology, physiology and evolution
it is over seventy years old. Dissection is the classroom counterpart to vivisection
(cutting open live animals), the only difference being these animals are killed before
being cut up. In both cases the animal is treated as a disposable object, creating
insensitivity for the students who chose to participate.
Participation in dissection should not be forced upon any student under
any circumstances. All students have the right to decline to dissect. There are
many reasons for which some students chose not to dissect; these include ethical,
environmental religious and educational reasons. There are many alternatives available
that can easily take the place of an animal in biology classes, models and computer
simulations are the two most commonly used. Some schools have policies in place to ensure
that students uncomfortable with dissection are provided with other options. There was a
study conducted by McCollum in 1998 which concluded that test scores for students
selecting alternative exercises were significantly higher than those of students
If you are a student, teacher or parent who has concerns about dissection
please continue on to the next page for more information and
The Current Situation
Killing animals for classroom dissection causes animal suffering, cheapens the value of
life, and depletes wild animal populations, yet it remains commonplace. Concern is
growing, however. Laws and policies now exist recognizing a student's right to use humane
alternatives, ranging from CD-ROMs to 3-D plastic models. These laws and policies,
combined with the emergence of newer, better alternatives, are placing dissection
advocates increasingly on the defensive.
No reliable figures exist for the numbers of animals killed for dissection in U.S.
schools. Biological supply companies do not divulge complete or consistent information. A
reasonable estimate is that about six million vertebrate animals are dissected yearly in
U.S. high schools alone, with an additional, unknown number used in colleges and middle
and elementary schools. The number of invertebrate animals dissected is probably
comparable to that of vertebrates.
Kinds of Animals Used
The most commonly dissected vertebrates are frogs, fetal pigs, and cats. Others include
dogfish sharks, perch, rats, pigeons, salamanders, rabbits, mice, turtles, snakes, mink,
foxes, and bats. Invertebrates include crayfish, grasshoppers, earthworms, clams, sea
stars, squid, sea urchins, and cockroaches. One U.S. biological supply company sells more
than 170 different species of preserved animals. Some dissection exercises involve animal
parts rather than whole animal bodies. Animal parts including cows' eyes, hearts, and
lungs and sheep brains are sometimes obtained from slaughterhouses. Some teachers use
chicken wings from the supermarket.
Sources of Animals
Most animals bound for dissection are taken from their natural habitats. Frogs, who
alone make up half the vertebrates used in dissection, are captured from wetlands; dogfish
sharks are targeted and ensnared in the nets of fishing trawlers; and snakes, turtles,
perch, salamanders, stingrays, and others are wild-caught. Some cats are procured from
animal shelters; others are supplied by animal dealers whose legal sources are breeders,
owners, and shelters, but who are also known to acquire under false pretenses the animals
they sell for dissection. Some species come from other industries that exploit animals:
fetal pigs are removed from pregnant sows slaughtered for meat; mink, fox, and rabbit
carcasses come, already skinned, from fur ranches.
Secrecy shrouding the operations of biological supply companies and their suppliers
makes information hard to obtain. What is known of the procurement of animals used in
dissection indicates that abuse and suffering are widespread. Video footage of People for
the Ethical Treatment of Animals' 1990 undercover investigation of Carolina Biological
Supply Company (CBSC), the nation's largest biological supplier, contains many disturbing
images. Although CBSC officials had repeatedly claimed that the company handled only dead
cats, the video shows live cats being roughly prodded into crowded gas chambers. It also
shows rats struggling in restraining racks as they are embalmed alive and documents large,
fully alive crabs being injected with deadly chemical preservative.
In 1993 the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) investigated a Mexican
biological supply company named PARMEESA. WSPA documented the drowning of thousands of
cats, who were tied ten at a time into cloth sacks and submerged in large drums or in a
nearby river. In 1994 two separate Mexican government raids on a Mexican chicken farm
found a total of thirteen hundred dead cats in a blood-stained barn; the cats' throats had
been slit. Some of these cats were people's companions, taken from neighborhood streets by
collectors offering $1 per cat. All of the cats found were to have been shipped north for
dissection in U.S. classrooms.
The only in-depth study of the collection of frogs for dissection was published in the
life science journal BioScience in 1971. The article investigates the frog-collection
practices of four major U.S. biological supply companies operating at that time. The
authors describe finding live frogs kept in nylon mesh bags for up to one week during
shipping, with 50 to 100 frogs crowded into each bag. The frogs suffered extremes of
temperature and dryness; an estimated 15 percent were dead after shipping. As many as half
the frogs kept in sorting and holding pens of 20,000 to 30,000 frogs died during the
winter before being shipped to buyers. The authors concluded that nearly every step of the
catching and shipping places severe stress on the frog. There is no indication that
conditions for frogs have improved since the '70s.
Lack of Industry Oversight Scrutiny of the biological supply trade is minimal.
Regulations drafted to enforce the U.S. Animal Welfare Act (AWA) exclude from protection
all non-mammals and laboratory-bred rats and mice. Therefore, amphibians, birds, fish, and
reptiles caught, housed, transported, and killed for dissection are not reported to or by
the federal government. The AWA requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to
inspect biological supply companies (categorized as "class B dealers") at least
once per year. The resulting two-page animal-care inspection reports provide only a
snapshot of a facility at a particular moment. Most of the reports' questions address cage
construction and sanitation and few have any comments about the animals themselves,
perhaps because most animals on the premises are dead. The USDA considers dead animals
beyond its concern.
The HSUS has asked the USDA to require biological supply companies to report all their
capture locations; methods of capture, transport, and killing; and total numbers of each
species processed for all animals slated for dissection.
When it is expected of them, most students dissect without open complaint. However, The
HSUS has compiled ten published surveys, conducted mainly by academic researchers, showing
that many or most students harbor reservations about dissecting animals. Their reasons
include the belief that it is wrong to kill an animal for an education lesson, physical
aversion to cutting apart an animal, and a concern for the environment.
Another major criticism of dissection is that it tends to disregard the need for
teaching and learning respect and compassion for other sentient life and the need for
fostering stewardship of nature. Dissection is also criticized for turning many bright,
sensitive students away from promising careers in the life sciences (e.g., medicine,
veterinary medicine, nursing).
As the number of students who object to classroom practices harmful to animals grows,
so do conflicts.3 The toll-free dissection hotline, 1-800-922-FROG, operated by the
National Anti-Vivisection Society, has received more than one hundred thousand calls since
it was started by the Animal Legal Defense Fund in 1989. To address the student/teacher
conflict problem, The HSUS held a daylong symposium in 1996 titled "The Dissection
Controversy: Bridging the Teacher/Student Gap" (a three-videotape set from this
symposium is available for loan). The HSUS also has prepared a packet of materials to help
students and teachers work together to replace dissection with alternative classroom
As of June 1997, four states in the United States had dissection-choice laws: Florida
(enacted 1985), California (1988), Pennsylvania (1992), and New York (1994). These laws
give precollege students the option of not dissecting an animal. Instead, the students can
choose another exercise not harmful to animals. Similar legislation has been introduced in
Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. A law requiring schools
to publish information about available alternatives to dissection was supported by The
HSUS in Maryland and recently passed. A dissection-choice policy was voluntarily adopted
in 1989 by the Department of Education in Maine, after the policy failed to become enacted
into law. Several other school boards around the nation have independently embraced choice
The majority of U.S. schools, however, have no dissection policies.
past decade has seen some significant changes. School dissection was banned in Argentina
in 1987 and in the Slovak Republic in 1995. In 1993 the Italian Parliament passed a law
recognizing the right of any person to refuse to participate in animal experimentation and
dissection. In May 1997 animal dissection was reduced to an optional activity in India's
schools, where up to six million animals are dissected yearly.
Literally thousands of alternatives to dissection are available. Currently CD-ROMs are
rapidly being added to an arsenal of conventional computer programs, with titles like The
Digital Frog, DissectionWorks, and The Ultimate Human Body. Hundreds of videotapes are
available; a series produced in Britain called Vertebrate Dissection Guides shows detailed
dissections of the dogfish shark, the frog, the pigeon, and the rat, and an eight-tape
U.S. series called Cat Anatomy Instructional Videotape Series provides an exhaustive
review of the anatomy of the cat. Three-D plastic models exist for a wide range of
animals, including cats, clams, frogs, grasshoppers, rats, sea stars, sharks, and even
cows. There are also many highly sophisticated models and simulations of the human
body. The price of one of these materials is usually higher than that of a dissection
specimen (although a single CD-ROM can cost less [$39.95] than a single preserved cat [up
to $58.50 for a pregnant female injected with three colors of dye]). But when one adds up
the costs of hundreds of animal carcasses discarded after each use, the economics
overwhelmingly favor alternatives. A cost analysis conducted by The HSUS found that a
typical high school can save thousands of dollars yearly by replacing animal dissections
with alternatives equipment. (The analysis is part of the student/teacher packet. Contact
The HSUS's Animal Research Issues staff for a copy.)
Educational Pros and Cons
Dissection is often defended by biology teachers as the best way to teach anatomy,
though published studies contradict this claim. A collection of twelve of these studies,
compiled by The HSUS, shows that the academic performance of students using computer
programs, 3-D models, and/or other materials is at least as good as that of students who
dissect animals. Among the advantages of computer simulations are that they are
repeatable, interactive, and self-paced; they can include animations and built-in quizzes;
and of course, they are ethically non-controversial.
What You Can Do
As a student: To dissect or not to dissect is ultimately up to you; everyone has the
right to refuse to participate in educational exercises that violate genuine ethical
values. If animals will be dissected in your class, prepare your reason(s) for objecting
to dissection. Present them to your teacher, preferably several weeks before the
dissection starts and politely but firmly request an alternative assignment. It will help
if you can provide specific suggestions for alternatives; The HSUS has more than a hundred
dissection alternatives (3-D models, CD-ROMs, computer diskettes, videos, charts)
available for loan. If you meet resistance, notify the school principal and the district
superintendent and write a letter to your local paper. Perhaps your parents will be
willing to talk to your teacher on your behalf. As a teacher: Consider discontinuing animal
dissection in your classes or at least giving students the opportunity to choose
alternatives. Be sure to inform students of that opportunity; you can generate a valuable
ethical discussion. You might first give your class the assignment of finding out where
the animals being shipped to your school are from and how they are procured; then let the
class vote to decide whether the school should support the supply company by buying
animals from it. Borrow dissection alternatives from The HSUS.
As a concerned individual: If students in your area are not being offered a chance to
choose alternatives, draft a policy requiring this choice and present it to your school
and to the local parent/teacher association (PTA). If you are a parent, join the PTA and
recommend that such a policy be drafted and adopted. Point out the economic,
environmental, ethical, and social problems with killing animals for dissection.
For more information on how you can help end the suffering and death of animals
destined for dissection, please contact us at 301-258-3046; by fax: 301-258-3082; or by
1. This estimate was made by F. Barbara Orlans in
In the Name of Science: Issues in Responsible Animal Experimentation (New York and Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1993). The estimate is an extrapolation from the number of U.S.
high schools and students and the proportion of students who dissect animals. 2. Erich L.
Gibbs, George W. Nace, and Marvin B. Emmons, "The Live Frog Is Almost Dead,"
BioScience 21, no. 20 (1971): 1027?4. 3. Jonathan Balcombe, "Student/Teacher
Conflict Regarding Animal Dissection," The American Biology Teacher 59, no. 1 (1997):
22?5. The Humane Society of the United States 2100 L Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037
202-452-1100 ? Internet: www.hsus.org ? 1997 The HSUS. All rights reserved.