Natural History Museum of Utah

You are here

Vertebrate Zoology

The Museum's Vetebrate Zoology Collection holds national and regional importance as a resource for information on vertebrate biodiversity.  There are three separate collections devoted to vertebrates.

Fun Facts

The collections support original work in fields as diverse as systematic zoology, functional morphology, molecular genetics, historical biogeography, community ecology, conservation biology, and zooarchaeology.

The collections include more than 75,000 specimens:

Researchers assembled the collections over a century of scientific study at the University of Utah.  The collections continue to grow as a result of ongoing field work.

Approximately one-third of the collections are stored in fluids.  The fluid collections include about 6,000 glass jars, storage tanks, and buckets.  These are stored in a custom-designed area due to the flammability of the fluid preservative - typically 70% ethyl alcohol.

A National Science Foundation grant provided critical support for moving the collections to the Rio Tinto Center.


With approximately 35,000 specimens, the Museum's mammal collection is one of the largest in western North America. The collection includes 40 holotypes of Utah mammals (the 12th largest number of types in North American collections). Nearly 300 species from 52 families and 13 orders are represented. Although the collection includes material from throughout the world, nearly 90% of the specimens are from Utah and surrounding states reflecting the work of Stephen Durrant and students on regional mammals. Important historical material includes several thousand specimens from the Bonneville Basin, as well as collections from Glen Canyon, Flaming Gorge, and other locations within the Colorado drainage that have since been inundated by reservoirs.  In recent years, research by Eric Rickart (Curator), Rebecca Rowe (Research Associate), Shannen Robson (Collection Manager), and colleagues have added approx. 4,000 specimens of regional mammals to the collection and led the development of a frozen tissue collection of more than 3,000 samples used in studies of comparative genetics.

Primarily intended as research resources, the Museum's vertebrate collections support original work in fields as diverse as systematic zoology, functional morphology, molecular genetics, historical biogeography, community ecology, conservation biology, and zooarchaeology. Collection resources are utilized for instruction at all levels, including several upper division courses at the University of Utah, and graduate and faculty research in the departments of Biology, Anthropology, and Geography. The collections also provide reference material for a variety of artists and craftspeople.

Mammal Networked Information System (ManIS)-Database Portal for Mammal Specimen Records

Field Guide to Mammals of the Wasatch Front--more entries coming soon, check back periodically!


The ornithology collection includes nearly 20,000 specimen records, and is one of the largest in the Intermountain West. Nearly 600 species belonging to 75 families in 21 orders are represented. The collection's prinicipal growth was achieved through the work of William Behle and his students on the birds of Utah and surrounding states. There also are substantial specimen holdings from the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and the South Pacific region. Records from the egg collection date back to the 1870s provide some of the earliest information on breeding habits of birds from the Intermountain region.  Research of adjunct curators Jack Broughton (Anthropology) and Dale Clayton (Biology) have added several hundered specimens, including a growing collection of bird skeletons.

Bird Collection Network (ORNIS)-Database Portal for Avian Specimen Records

Reptiles & Amphibians

The herpetology collection includes more than 20,000 specimens including 11 type specimens (4 holotypes and 7 paratypes). Approximately half of the collection is from the Intermountain West, including early records of historical importance assembled by Angus Woodbury and his students. Later work by John Legler and students led to the development of major holdings from Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Australia, and one of the largest collections of turtle specimens in North America.


Herpetology Collection Network (HerpNet)- Database Portal for Reptile & Amphibian Specimen Records