Our “Recent Invertebrates” collection comprises an incredible 15 million specimens and tissues of species that are either extant or that went extinct during the Quaternary Period (2.6 million years ago to the present). It does not, however, include insects, terrestrial arachnids, or myriapods, which are housed separately in the Entomology collection.

View of a repository containing a wet collection of invertebrates
The invertebrate collection is incredibly diverse, containing sponges, corals, starfish, crustaceans, jellyfish, rotifers, leeches, and more. There are “dry” collections and “wet” collections; all are housed in eight storerooms with temperature and humidity conditions that are carefully managed for long-term storage. The wet collections were mostly built up in the 1930s and are continually being added to today. They consist of an estimated half a million jars and tubes of specimens in alcohol. The majority of the dry collections are made up of shells – approximately ten million specimens. One of the most important shell collections is that of 19th century amateur collector Philippe Dautzenberg, who also left behind a rich archive.

 

Some invertebrates on a table
Value to science

The invertebrate collections are invaluable to taxonomy and systematic biology. We have tens of thousands of type specimens, which are the benchmarks used when describing a species. The other 15 million “voucher” specimens are also important for understanding and describing morphological variation – and increasingly also genetic variation – within species. Biologists can therefore study the evolutionary relationships between organisms, including relationships with extinct species.

The treasure trove still contains a huge amount of unknown, as-yet-undescribed biodiversity. The collections are also becoming even more important for environmental studies of the impact of humans on biodiversity, and the effects of climate change on organisms and ecosystems.

 

 

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