Vertebrate Zoology in the CU Museum of Natural History is a biodiversity repository of more than 120,000 specimens from five taxa: Fishes, Amphibians and Reptiles (Herpetology), Birds, Mammals, and Osteology. With the exception of birds, our collections are the largest collections of their kind in Colorado. Vertebrate Zoology is complemented by the Invertebrate Zoology and Entomology collections to cover extant animal biodiversity. Specimens from Colorado and the surrounding plains, plateaus, and basins are the strength of our collection. Since our specimens document changes in biodiversity over the last 200 years, they are treasures of biological and historical significance.
The mission of the Vertebrate Zoology Section is to:
Our vertebrate specimens are actively used by the university faculty, students, and researchers for scientific research, as well as by the general public for science education, artistry and understanding of natural history in general. Additionally, we maintain educational verterbrate collections for use by university classes, K-12 education, and nature centers.
The collection of fishes is primarily preserved in fluid, normally 70% ethanol solution. The majority were collected in Colorado, although there is a worldwide representation of both marine and freshwater species. Many specimens were collected in the early 1900s by Max M. Ellis, including several hundred from Guyana. The collection also includes about 2000 Salmonid specimens donated by Robert J. Behnke, Colorado State University Professor Emeritus and the author of Trout and Salmon of North America. Nearly 10% of our holdings are representatives of endangered and threatened species. Specimen data is available on FishNet2, VertNet, and GBIF.
The herpetology collection spans 77 countries, although its geographic strength is Mexico and the southwestern USA. Our Mexican reptile specimens have been most actively studied and cited in systematic herpetology publications over recent decades. Additionally, the whiptail lizards (genus Aspidoscelis) are particularly well represented, including over 12,000 fluid-preserved specimens and two hundred dry skulls. The world-renowned herpetologists, Hobart M. Smith, and T. Paul Maslin, as well as a number of their students and collaborators, were the major architects of our largest vertebrate collection. R. Earl Olson's contribution of 3,800+ specimens recently expanded our taxonomic and geographic coverage, including new material from Minnesota and Haiti. Most recently, Julio A. Lemos-Espinal contributed 2,600 specimens from the northern Mexican states of Sonora, Chihuahua, and Coahuila. Specimen data is available on HerpNet, VertNet, and GBIF.
The geographic scope of our bird specimens is global representing 38 countries, including over two hundred from Colombia. But as in all of our collections, the emphasis is on Colorado species (over 80% represented) and collecting from the early 1800s to the present. Nearly 6,000 specimens were donated by the Colorado College Museum in Colorado Springs in the 1960s. This material includes the collection of Charles E. Aiken, a pioneer ornithologist in Colorado, and dates back to 1805. The bird collection is also home to several specimens of iconic extinct species such as Passenger Pigeons and Carolina Parakeets. Our egg and nest collection is of historic value, containing specimens mainly from Colorado and parts of the midwest, and featuring groundwork laid by Denis Gale and G. Morrison on Boulder County avifauna from the late 1800s. Specimen data is available on ORNIS, VertNet and GBIF.
Twenty-five countries are represented in the mammal collection, though most specimens are from Colorado (nearly 70%) and other western states. Specimens are typically preserved as a set of a study skin and an extracted skull, although large mammals are prepared also as hides, taxidermy, and skeletons. Many people have added to the mammal collection over the years, including the pioneer Colorado naturalist, Edward Royal Warren (3,000+ specimens), Donald A. Spencer, Dallas A. Sutton, Leslie Viereck, and emeritus professor and former Museum Director, David M. Armstrong. E.R. Warren's archive of field notes and photographs are an invaluable resource for documenting distributions and changes of Colorado mammals in the first three decades of the 20th century. Specimen data is available on MaNIS, VertNet, and GBIF.
The scope of the osteology collection is global including 35 countries and 36 US states. Its focus is on mammals, mostly large Carnivores and Artiodactyls of the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains regions. The collection also includes many other groups of mammals, birds, reptiles, and fishes from North America and Africa. Nearly 20% of the collection consists of specimens collected from the late 19th century to the 1930s. New material is actively prepared and added to the collection with use of live dermestid beetles for skeletal cleaning.
The osteology collection was developed by Curator Emeritus Judith Harris as a resource for vertebrate paleontology and zooarchaeology professionals. It is used extensively as comparative material for species identification from the Holocene; for tracking evolutionary changes in clades; and for use in both Dr. Jaelyn Eberlye's vertebrate paleontology class and Dr. Christy McCain's mammalogy class.
Click the title link above to learn more about a variety of teaching collections we maintain for educational use.