Versatile VIE: From fish tag to animal tag

Visible Implant Elastomer, or VIE, was first developed in the 1990’s as a fish tag to provide a visible, internal tag to avoid some of the negative effects associated with external tags. Because it has some unique properties, VIE has turned out to be very versatile for animal tagging. It has been applied to a wide range of sizes and species, both on land and in the water. It has been used on all continents, and in all sorts of environments. There is a large body of publications and reports about using VIE, and below are some examples that demonstrate it’s versatility. Please contact NMT if we can help you find publications about a species you may like to tag.


VIE was first used as a fish tag, and this remains the most popular application. Species representing at least 65 families have been tagged with VIE all over the world to help us understand their behavior, biology, ecology, and management. Zebrafish (Danio rerio) are commonly used to study human diseases, and these little fish can be identified with VIE (Hohn & Petrie-Hanson, 2013 – Read it here). Another unusual use of VIE with fish is for tagging small sharks (Jacoby et al 2014).


VIE Tagged Squid

Photo by J. Wood

Octopus are admired for their ability to crawl in and out of tight spaces, but did you know that they are also quite adept at removing external tags? VIE has provided a nice solution for tagging octopus, squid and cuttlefish. The tags are quickly injected without anesthetic, remain highly visible and are suited for individual identification by combining tag locations and colors (Brewer & Norcross, 2012; Replinger & Wood, 2007; Sykes et al. 2012; Sykes et al 2017)


While fascinating to study, echinoderms are notoriously difficult to tag. There have been a few successes, and Martinez et al (2013 ; 2018) overcame the dark, thick skin that often obscures VIE tags in echinoderms by adapting a very powerful underwater light to fluoresce the tags in their studies of seastars.

Slugs and Worms

While not related to each other, the application of VIE to these crawlers is similar, and has provided a neat solution to the problems of tagging animals whose skin is continually in contact with abrasives. To our knowledge, Butt & Lowe (2007) were the first to apply VIE to annelids, followed by Wallin & Latty (2008) in applying it to slugs.

Amphibians and Reptiles

VIE offers a humane and practical alternative to toe clipping for identifying amphibians and reptiles, and has been widely used in a number of species. A novel application for amphibians was its use in identifying salamander egg masses (Regester & Woosley 2005). Among the reptiles tagged with VIE are lizards, snakes  (Hutchens et al 2008), and turtles. Hatchling turtles have been tagged in two ways. Davy et al. (2010, see volume 41(4)) injected the tags into the limbs, while Anderson et al (2015) adapted a binary coding scheme to the plastron to create individual tag numbers.


Tagging tarantulas is not for everyone, but Melo et al (2013) showed that it can be done with VIE. Similarly, Chapin (2011) found VIE to be a viable method of tagging scorpions.

Small mammals

Visible Implant Elastomer has been used to identify shrews and other small mammals, generally by placing the tags at the base of the tail. See theses by Rentz 2014 and  Smith 2012 for examples.