Warning: This post contains information and images pertaining to the preparation of dead animals via taxidermy, and may not be appropriate for readers who find this topic disturbing. (The rest of us may find it helpful as a holiday season appetite suppressant.)
Museum of natural history: What comes to mind when you think of these words? Dioramas, taxidermy, giant articulated skeletons of charismatic megafauna…and if you’re from around here, a rattlesnake that shakes its rattle when you push the big red button. But our exhibits are just the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, most museums have collections behind the scenes that extend far beyond the selection of specimens on display. In our case, the Collections & Research Center (CRC) houses over 3.5 million specimens and artifacts, as we never tire of bragging. Although our exhibits team and education staff draw on those collections to inform the public, most of the time the specimens in the CRC are shared with a different audience: visiting scientists who come to study them to advance their research. Yet the CRC specimens are stored within a modest 12,937 square feet of space, while our halls and outdoor exhibits sprawl across a far larger campus. How do they fit all those specimens in there? In the Invertebrate Zoology Department, it helps that many of the treasures are tiny, from microshells to microscopic insects. The Vertebrate Zoology Department has no such luck. They’re the ones who have to figure out where to put the whale skulls.