Zoology

Collections

  • Kakapo, meaning night parrot

  • Bison

  • Spiders from the Arachnology Collection

The Zoology Department houses over 900,000 specimens or specimen "lots" (groups of specimens) including over 40,000 vials of arachnids (spiders and their relatives), each vial holding anywhere from one to hundreds of animals; well over 780,000 insects with strength in the orders Coleoptera (the beetles) and Lepidoptera (the butterflies and moths); 17,000 shell lots representing shells from all over the world; approximately 52,000 bird specimens, including a significant nest and egg collection; over 14,000 specimens of mammals, including several threatened or endangered species and several species now considered extinct. Our small botany collection includes over 2,500 specimens representing 130 families. Many of the specimens in our various collections date back over 100 years.

History

The Zoology Department's history started with the 1859 gold rush.  Edwin Carter came to Colorado to find his millions, and instead followed his true passion by collecting the birds and mammals of the Rocky Mountain Region.  In his log cabin in Breckinridge, he amassed one of the most complete assemblages of Colorado fauna. This collection of bird eggs, study skins, bird and mammal taxidermy mounts was not only the foundation of the Museum's zoological collections, but was the catalyst for the formation of the Museum itself in 1900.  From 1911 onward, successive curators continued to expand the Museum's exhibits and collections by participating in local and far-flung expeditions.  From 1958 through the 1970s, Zoology was part of the Exhibits Department.  In 1982, the department was renamed the Zoology Department and stood alone, separate from Exhibits. From that time until the present, the Department's staffing level has increased and collections now stand at well over 900,000 specimens.

Research

Research in the Zoology Department focuses on how evolution has shaped life on Earth. Curators explore the evolutionary relationships between and among species of vertebrates and invertebrates. We also regularly discover and describe new species. We firmly believe in the value of involving non-scientists, such as volunteers and students, in our research projects since there is no better way to understand how science works than to be actively engaged in the scientific process.

Outreach

All three curators actively engage in public lectures, teacher training, on the floor programming, and workshops. We collaborate with external colleagues at the Denver Zoo, the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Butterfly Pavilion, and area universities and colleges to teach classes and workshops. Through these outreach efforts, we engage the public in our own research programs by presenting exciting scientific findings in an accessible format. We also work with the exhibits team to bring out hundreds of our specimens where they can be showcased for our visitors. Zoology specimens are showcased in the Museum's spectacular dioramas, and our collections are highlighted in the Treasures of the Natural World exhibit on the first floor of the Museum.

Service

Zoology Department staff are members of various professional scientific societies including the International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature, American Society of Mammalogy, American Arachnological Society, Entomological Society of America, Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections, Society for the Study of Evolution, and many others. Many of the staff serve or have served as officers or committee members of these societies. We also supervise the work of graduate students from various universities, and serve as editors or reviewers for scientific journals.

Search the Collections

Ornithology Collection

Search 43,000+ records representing bird specimens collected across seven continents over the last 165 years. Access the database.

Who We Are

The Zoology Department maintains an active program of specimen acquisition and management, scientific research, education, and public programming to promote a better understanding of the Earth's biodiversity and to gather information needed to make informed decisions about species conservation. Although the department's collections and programs span the globe, current activities focus primarily on ecosystems of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains of North America. Curators also investigate how natural populations of vertebrates and invertebrates change over time and how these species are affected by changes in the natural environment. Curators use a variety of approaches including field work, measuring and studying variations in museum specimens, microscopy, and molecular analyses to test hypotheses related to evolutionary changes in populations and species.

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