About Zoology Collections

Overview of the Zoology Collections

The Zoology Department at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science houses approximately 1.2 million specimens, vials, or specimen lots in multiple collections: Arachnology (~60,000); Marine Invertebrates (~37,235); Entomology (~985,100); Botany (~4,512); Herpetology (~540); Mammalogy (~20,200); Parasites (~1,200); and Ornithology (~58,460 ). 

You can use the links below to search specific collections: 







Specimens records are also published, via Arctos and Symbiota, to data portals such as SCANORNIS, MANiSVertNetGBIFGenBank, and BISON, among others. 

Recent growth in these collections comes from DMNS research projects focused on small mammals, arachnids, and beetles; donations of personal collections in all disciplines; general collecting of mammals, arachnids, and insects; salvage of mammals and birds; and transfers from state and federal agencies in all disciplines. 

Specimens are available for loan, on-site research, educational use, artistic reference, and exhibit use. Loan requests are subject to approval and should be directed to the appropriate Zoology curator. Loan requests should include a brief description of the project and proposed use of the requested material. Request for loans by graduate students or postdocs must be co-signed by the major advisor. The loan and use policies for DMNS collections are found here (Section 6: Loans).

Visits or tours of the Zoology collections should be scheduled in advance and are subject to staff availability (M-F, 9 .m. - 5 p.m.).  Please contact Jeff Stephenson, Collections Manager, to schedule a visit (303.370.8319 or by e-mail).

Arachnology Collections

The Arachnology collections at DMNS contain spiders from Colorado and the surrounding region, as well as solfugids and other arachnids.

Marine Invertebrates Collections

The DMNS Marine Invertebrate Collection holds a diverse group of worldwide specimens, the largest portion being marine shells followed by terrestrial and freshwater shells, corals and echinoderms.  The collection dates from the early 1900's.  Of the approximately 17,000 lots, nearly 15,500 are cataloged.


Entomology Collections

Overview of the Entomology Collection

The DMNS entomology collection consists of over 980,000 specimens (May 2016). At its current growth rate it is expected to grow by an average of 25,000 specimens per year. The unprepared backlog is processed at a rate of 20-30,000 per year. The collection spans 1880-present. Holdings are worldwide in coverage and comprise all major insect orders, with a particular focus on Coleoptera (86%) and Lepidoptera (12%). The collections also contains the terrestrial (incl. freshwater) non-arachnid, non-mollusc terrestrial invertebrates (mainly millipedes, centipedes, and annelids). About 90,000 specimens of the entomology collection are currently catalogued and databased and can be freely accessed accessed through the SCAN portal, supported by three grants of the National Science Foundation.

The collection's primary strength is its worldwide focus (60% of specimens from Africa, 25% regional, 15% from other regions), which distinguishes the DMNS entomology collection from other large insect collections in the region with mainly regional holdings. Nevertheless, the DMNS regional holdings are also strong, particularly in the Lepidoptera (buitterflies and moths incl. micromoths) and in several families of Coleoptera (e.g., Scarabaeidae and Tenebrionidae). In 2008, Curator of Entomology Frank Krell initiated the creation of a Colorado State Reference Collection for Coleoptera, based on local holdings and further developed with an aggressive collecting program across the state. Since its inception, the reference collection has multiplied in size and has resulted in several new state records (currently in preparation for publication), but is still in need of thorough curation.

The collection includes 14 name-bearing types and over 150 paratypes described by Museum staff and external researchers between 1882 and 2015 (e.g. Grote 1882, Aaron 1885, French 1884, Cockerell 1905, 1906, Nonveiller 1960, Cross 1937, Peigler 1992, Peigler & Kendall 1993, Krell 2015 and many more to come). An illustrated catalogue of the types specimens in the entomology collection is in preparation.

History of the Entomology Collection

The growth of the entomology collection began soon after the incorporation of the Museum in 1900 (then called the Colorado Museum of Natural History) with the activity of the first entomology curator, Ernest J. Oslar (1908-1911). Oslar was a professional insect collector who gifted the Museum around 10,000 specimens of mainly regional Lepidoptera, but also some material from Africa. A decade later, John T. Mason, an avid collector with a wealth of contacts in the lepidopterist community and Museum manager from 1900-1910, donated a worldwide collection of 20,000 butterflies and moths to the Museum in 1918. His donation contained important historical material, types, and many tropical species rare in collections. Specimens from the Mason collection first went on display in the Museum from 1929 to 1938. A more extensive exhibit was then constructed and the Colorado Butterflies and Moths Exhibit opened in 1940, funded by Mrs. Dora Porter Mason and named after this benefactress. This exhibit closed in 1986 during Museum expansion.

Mr. Frank Howland served as caretaker of the entomology collection from the late 1920s through 1935. From 1936-1938, Frank Clay Cross became the Honorary Curator of Entomology, and Walker Van Riper served as Curator of Insects and Spiders from 1943 to 1959, with W.H. Tyeryar serving as Associate Curator in 1958. This period of moderate growth was followed by more than a decade of stagnation.

From 1972 to 1977, Marc E. Epstein was on contract, extensively collecting and curating butterflies. Epstein was at the Smithsonian for 15 years and is now a systematist at California Food and Agriculture. Michael G. Pogue, now at USDA/Smithsonian, was employed as Curatorial Assistant from 1975-1979, having been responsible for the curation of birds and insects. He donated his personal collection of butterflies, mostly from Colorado, when he left. Marc and Michael, with the help of volunteers, upgraded the collection significantly, particularly by transferring the Mason collection from cork-bottomed drawers to modern Cornell drawers. During the following decade, the insect collection again fell asleep.

From 1990-1997, lepidopterist Richard S. Peigler worked at the Museum, first as Collections Manager, then as Curator of Entomology. The collection resumed moderate growth during his tenure. Peigler's rearing and hybridization experiments on wild silkmoths are well documented in the collection. Also during this period, many improvements were made to collection storage conditions and protocols that positively impacted the entomology collection. These included improvement of collections care by increased environmental monitoring and implementation of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program in 1988.

From 1998-2006, arachnologist Paula Cushing was the curator responsible for the entomology collection. Her extensive Colorado Spider Survey resulted in thousands of non-target insects being collected in pitfall traps all over the Rocky Mountains and the western Great Plains. Cushing also accepted a donation of extraordinarily beautiful specimens (with collection data) collected by Clarence Riker (inventor of the "Riker mount", a glass covered shallow box commonly used for displaying insects) and stored in Riker's original hand-made cabinet mounts. This collection was accepted for its historical value as well as its outreach value for behind-the-scenes tours, art projects, and exhibits.

In January 2007, Frank Krell was hired as the Curator of Entomology responsible for both the entomology collection and the herbarium. PI Krell has increased the activity level of the entomology collection by hiring and training a substantial volunteer corps and starting regional collecting activities such as the Colorado Scarab Survey and the Colorado Beetle Reference Collection, hosting scientific meetings such as the 20th and 25th High Country Lepidopterists' meeting in 2009 and 2014, and an international lepidopterists' conference in 2012, the Combined Annual Meeting of the Lepidopterist's Society and the Societas Europaea Lepidopterologica. Over 800,000 insect specimens have been added over the last five years. This recent growth was achieved through intensified regional collecting (15,000+ specimens/year), accessioning unprocessed backlog material from 1990-2006, donation-funded projects, and large donated collections (Bartell, Bettman, Fanara, Fisher, Harp, Johnson, Krell [225,000 specimens collected between 1977 and 2000, mainly Scarabaeoidea], Mudge, Opie, Tates, Vogel, Zeiner, etc.).

Concurrent with this rapid growth, Frank Krell has also instituted rigorous curatorial procedures; developed an entomology collections manual and focused accession policies (insects of the Rocky Mountain/Great Plains ecoregions, North American beetles, and world scarab beetles, with exceptions only after thorough consideration by the Collections Manager and Curator); established a high-throughput team of trained volunteers processing about 30,000 specimens per year from the unmounted backlog; and attracted a team of department and research associates skilled in Lepidoptera taxonomy to recurate and expand the extensive butterfly and moth collection.

In September 2014, the then 2200 Cornell drawers-large insect collection was moved into the new Avenir Collection Center, a newly build state-of-the-art collections facility, climate-controlled and furnished with purpose-built steel cabinets of the highest quality. The relocation and rehousing of the collection has been supported by a CSBR grant from the National Science Foundation. The collection, while still being re-arranged (May 2016), is now fully accessible and can be studied in the adjacent spacious workshop or by requesting loans.

Despite its worldwide holdings containing rare material of high scientific value from both remote tropical areas and from local ecoregions, the collection has remained underutilized by scientific and professional communities during most of its history. Based on loan and data queries, there is a growing interest in the use of DMNS material. The databased part of our holdings can be accessed here, through the SCAN portal.

Mammalogy Collections

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science Mammal Collection contains approximately 15,500 specimens from around the world (1850 - present), with a focus on the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains regions. The collection includes study skins, skeletal material, taxidermy mounts, frozen tissue samples (~2300 individuals), and associated parasites (ecto and endo). Since 2006, the collection has expanded 21% and continues to grow.

Specimens records can be queried through Arctos here:


Specimens records are also published, via Arctos, to data portals such as MANiSVertNetGBIFGenBank, and BISON, among others. 

Improvements to the collection are currently being funded by the National Science Foundation (2011-2014): "Uncrowding, rehousing, and electronic migration of the mammal collection at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science" (DBI-1057336).

For collection question or loan requests, please contact the curator of vertebrate zoology, John Demboski, Ph.D. or collections manager, Jeff Stephenson.

Ornithology Collections

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science Bird Collection contains approximately 45,270 specimens from around the world (1842 - present), with a focus on the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains regions. The collection includes study skins, skeletal material, taxidermy mounts, frozen tissue samples (~800 individuals), and associated parasites (ecto and endo). Growth of the collection continues primarily through salvage activities. The 9,000 egg sets/nests are curated separately.

Specimens records can be queried through Arctos here:



Specimens records are also published, via Arctos, to data portals such as ORNIS, VertNet, GBIF, GenBank, and BISON, among others. 

For collection question or loan requests, please contact the curator of vertebrate zoology, please contact the curator of ornithology, Garth Spellman, Ph.D. or collections manager, Jeff Stephenson.

Zoology Volunteers

The Zoology Department is home to about 70 active volunteers that support daily activities in all five major collections in a multitude of ways.  These activities include preparation, cataloguing, and inventory of specimens, assisting with grant-funded activities (e.g., IMLS mounted bird project), participation in Zoology outreach activities (e.g., Earth Day), and more recently, invaluable support of collections related to moving into our new Education and Collections Facility in 2014.

Many Zoology volunteers have been involved in citizen science projects such as the Colorado Spider Survey and Colorado Beetle Survey or have supported grant-funded research projects.  These projects have allowed non-scientists to experience every aspect of the scientific process including posing questions about the natural world, developing testable hypotheses and methodologies to test those hypotheses, carrying out field and laboratory research, and publishing the results of their research. Getting citizens involved in the scientific process meets our institutional mission goals of inspiring curiosity and exciting minds of all ages through scientific discovery.


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