Natural Science Collections
The Mammal Research Collection ranks 25th in the Western Hemisphere and is accredited by the American Society of Mammalogists. It includes more than 41,395 specimens, approximately 8,000 of which are from the Great Lakes region. Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador are also well represented. The collection includes skeletons, study skins, skulls, tanned hides, frozen tissues, and fluid-preserved specimens.
The Ornithology Research Collection includes over 14,450 specimens; more than one third are from Michigan. Also well-represented are Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and Brazil. Many of the specimens were part of the original holdings of the Michigan Agricultural College Museum, among them historically important series collected by naturalists Walter B. Barrows and Dillman S. Bullock. The collection includes study skins, skeletons, taxidermy mounts, eggs, nests, and fluid-preserved specimens. Holdings from the MSU Kellogg Bird Sanctuary have been transferred to the MSU Museum.
The Herpetology Research Collection includes over 18,745 reptile and amphibian specimens representing Michigan, Mexico, South America, Africa, and Australia. Significant series were contributed by campus researchers and students. The collection includes fluid-preserved specimens, tanned skins, and over 4,600 skeletons. Vertebrate specimens from the MSU Kellogg Bird Sanctuary are now housed in the MSU Museum's Research Collections.
The Ichthyology Research Collection includes 8,305 lots containing over 36,125 marine and freshwater specimens. Of the freshwater holdings, more than half are from Michigan, among them 1,100 specimens collected from the Red Cedar River, which flows through campus. Additional noteworthy series were collected in Ecuador, Mexico, and India. Both fluid-preserved specimens and skeletons (over 1,250) are represented.
The Vertebrate Paleontology Research collection includes over 4,200 specimens, approximately 90% of which are from North America. The most significant holdings are Cenozoic amphibians and reptiles from throughout North America, Permian fishes and tetrapods from Texas, and Late Pleistocene faunal remains from the Great Lakes region.
Michigan State University Museum was founded in 1857, making our natural science collections among the oldest in the United States. The collections were established in response to College President Joseph R. Williams calling for the collection of “cabinets of natural science specimens… especially [those] of the State of Michigan.” Faculty member Manly Miles contributed the first specimens, which he had acquired while working as an assistant on a natural history survey of Michigan.
Today, the collections (Mammalogy, Ornithology, Herpetology, Ichthyology, and Vertebrate Paleontology) are encompassed within the Museum’s Division of Natural Science. While still emphasizing Michigan and the Great Lakes region, the collections are worldwide in scope, and provide a record of biodiversity that ranges from the 1840s to the current day. Research access is available to qualified investigators. Separate teaching collections are available for use in MSU classes, exhibits, and campus programs.
Support for collections care, preservation, and digitization is provided by Michigan State University, federal granting agencies, annual fundraisers, private donations, and the Dr. Marvin “Max” Hensley Endowment for Vertebrate Collections.
Questions About Animals?
Searches and Requests
Our vertebrate specimen records are fully computerized* and are web searchable via the portals of GBIF (Global Biodiversity Information Facility), iDigBio (Integrated Digitized Biocollections Resource), FishNet2 (Fish Specimen Database Network), and VertNet (Vertebrate Collections Database Network)
These search portals exclude some data, e.g. specimen measurements, field notes, and census records (such as our early 1900s U.S. Biological Survey bird ledgers). Inquiries about searching, records, or requests for data not appearing online should be directed to the Collections Manager. Include the following information in your communication:
- Name of institution
- Name of requester (if student, include academic level and name of faculty advisor)
- Institution address and e-mail address
- Title or brief description of project
- Information requested
We are in the process of adding and verifying data. Please notify the Collections Manager of any errors encountered.
Acknowledgement in Publications
If vertebrate specimen records are used in an analysis, report, or publication, the provenance of the original data should be acknowledged, and any resulting publication or report sent to the Collections Manager (digital copies, book citations, and links to abstracts or publications are acceptable). Our official acronym is MSU for mammalogy, ornithology, and vertebrate paleontology specimens; and MSUM for herpetology and ichthyology specimens.
*Museum records were computerized between 1993 and 2001 with extensive support from the Michigan State University Museum and Offices of the Provost, Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies, and Vice Provost for Computing and Technology. We use the Specify Biodiversity Collections Management Database System.
Division of Natural Science
Michigan State University Museum
409 West Circle Drive
East Lansing, Michigan 48824
Phone: 517/355-1290 (Collections Manager)
FAX: 517/432-2846 (Museum Office)
The Vertebrate Collections are used by researchers representing a wide variety of disciplines (e.g. systematics, geology, ecology, environmental and biodiversity studies, conservation biology, archaeology, and medicine). Qualified researchers (including students) are welcome to visit the collections by appointment. Please contact the Collections Manager well in advance to arrange your visit.
Collections Hours and Access
Administrative hours are 9 am to noon and 1 pm to 5 pm, Mondays through Fridays.
Requests for access outside of administrative hours are granted at the discretion of the Collections Manager or appropriate Curator.
Driving Directions to MSU Museum
Detroit or points east traveling via I-96. Proceed west on I-96 to northbound US-127. Remain on 127 North and exit at Kalamazoo Street. Turn right on Kalamazoo Street and follow it on to the campus (road curves). Turn left at the Chestnut Road stop sign, then turn right on West Circle Drive. The Museum is the second building on the left.
Flint or points east traveling via I-69. Proceed southwest on I-69 to southbound US-127. Proceed south on US-127 to the Trowbridge Road exit. Turn left on Harrison Road, and proceed north to Kalamazoo Street. Turn right on Kalamazoo Street and proceed to the Chestnut Road stop sign. Turn left at the stop sign, then turn right on West Circle Drive. The Museum is the second building on the left.
St. Johns or points north traveling via US-127. Proceed south on US-127, and exit at Trowbridge Road. Turn left on Harrison Road, and proceed north to Kalamazoo Street. Turn right on Kalamazoo Street and proceed to the stop sign. Turn left at the Chestnut Road stop sign, then turn right on West Circle Drive. The Museum is the second building on the left.
Grand Rapids or points west traveling via I-96. Proceed east on I-96 to eastbound I-496. Exit at Trowbridge Road. Turn left on Harrison Road, and proceed north to Kalamazoo Street. Turn right on Kalamazoo Street and proceed to the Chestnut Road stop sign. Turn left at the stop sign, then turn right on West Circle Drive. The Museum is the second building on the left.
Charlotte or points southwest traveling via I-69. Proceed northeast on I-69 to eastbound I-96. Proceed east on I-96 to northbound US-127. Exit at Trowbridge Road. Turn left on Harrison Road, and proceed north to Kalamazoo Street. Turn right on Kalamazoo Street and proceed to the Chestnut Road stop sign. Turn left at the stop sign, then turn right on West Circle Drive. The Museum is the second building on the left.
Jackson or points south traveling via US-127. Proceed north on US-127 to the Kalamazoo Street exit. Turn right on Kalamazoo and follow it on to the campus (road curves). Turn left at the Chestnut Road stop sign, then turn right on West Circle Drive. The Museum is the second building on the left.
Loans of specimens from the research collections are made only to qualified research investigators (e.g. faculty, curators, and research staff) at institutions with facilities to properly house and care for specimens. Loan requests for students must originate from the student’s major advisor. Invasive procedures (e.g. removal of hair, feathers, muscle, skin, teeth, or bone; dissection; tissue sampling; or removal of fossils from matrix) are not permitted without the express permission of the appropriate curator (see Destructive Sampling Policy).
All requests must be in writing and should include a brief statement describing the proposed use of the material. Postal mail, e-mail and FAX requests are acceptable. Loan requests should be directed to the Collections Manager and are subject to curatorial approval. Please include the following information in your request:
- Name of institution
- Name of borrower (if for a student's research project, include academic level)
- Shipping address, phone number and e-mail address
- Title or brief description of project
- Number and nature of specimens requested
Research Collections Loan Policy and User Agreement
We issue loans for a six-month period; loans are renewable with curatorial approval if specimens are needed for longer than six months. We do not issue permanent or indefinite loans, and certain categories of specimens are never loaned; these include rare, fragile, unique, and type specimens. In some circumstances, we may decline requests for large series of specimens, or material that is difficult to ship. The borrower must sign and return a copy of the MSU Museum Outgoing Loan Agreement form.
When specimens are returned to MSU, they must be packed in the original MSU loan container, insured for the original amount, and shipped via an approved carrier. Specimen re-identifications or other corrections should be provided upon return of the specimens to MSU Museum. These may be indicated on the loan form copy or in a separate note that references the specimen catalog number.
User Agreement - In accordance with our standard loan policy, the investigator agrees to
- Obtain written permission before transferring material to a third party
- Acknowledge the MSU Museum and its collections in all publications that contain data derived from MSU Museum specimens. (Our official acronym is MSU for mammalogy, ornithology, and vertebrate paleontology specimens; and MSUM for herpetology and ichthyology specimens)
- Send electronic copy, book citation, link to abstract, or reprint of published work containing data derived from MSU Museum specimens to the Collections Manager
The MSU Museum Vertebrate Teaching Collections contain over 2,600 cataloged specimens for use in MSU courses. Specimens include study skins, skeletal materials, tanned hides, articulated limbs, horns, antlers, bird mounts in display boxes, nests, eggs, feathers, fossils, casts, models, and microscope slides. Please contact the Collections Manager for information on holdings and availability.
We loan teaching specimens to MSU faculty for use in laboratory and lecture classes on campus. All requests must be in writing (e-mail, campus mail, and FAX requests are acceptable). Requests should be made well in advance of the date needed; a minimum two-week lead time is recommended. Requests should be directed to the Collections Manager and are subject to curatorial approval. Please include the following information in your request:
- Name of MSU Department
- Name of faculty borrower
- Campus address, phone number, and e-mail address
- MSU course name and number
- Number of students in the class
- Sentence describing the proposed use of specimens
- Number and nature of specimens requested
- Date needed
Teaching Collections Loan Policy and User Agreement
Teaching specimens are loaned to campus faculty for short periods (usually one to a few days, depending on class schedule and specimen availability). The borrower is responsible for specimen security and care and must sign and return the MSU Museum Outgoing Loan Agreement form. Materials must be picked up from and returned to the Museum Main Office during administrative hours. Specimens being returned to the Museum must be packed and returned in the original loan container.
User Agreement - In accordance with our standard loan policy, the borrower agrees to
- Not transfer material to a third party
Adhere to the following handling guidelines:
- Do not consume food or drink near or while handling specimens
- When pointing out structures on specimens, use a blunt probe or other blunt instrument and not a pen, pencil, or tool that will leave marks on specimens
- Never remove tags or labels from a specimen (tags on specimens used for exams may be covered with folded paper and a paperclip)
- Bring to the attention of the Collections Manager any specimen parts (e.g. teeth) or tags that have become separated
Materials for PreK-12 educators are available from the Museum Education Division. Educators may contact the Museum's Education Team for information about specimens and objects available to borrow for school classroom use (Phone 517-432-1472 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org).
Laura Abraczinskas, Collections Manager
Andrea Morrow, Department of Integrative Biology
Temporal niche evolution in rodents
Amanda Brohman, Department of Integrative Biology
Temporal Niche Evolution of Histricomorpha
"Cabinets of natural science should be collected [including] specimens of the mineral and vegetable kingdoms, especially of the State of Michigan."
-- Joseph R. Williams, President, Agricultural College of the State of Michigan, Dedication of the College, May 13, 1857
Michigan State University was founded in 1855 as the first agricultural college in the nation and was later designated as a prototype for land-grant universities established after President Abraham Lincoln enacted the Morrill Act of 1862. Formal classes began in the Spring of 1857, with five faculty instructing 63 students in three buildings: College Hall, Saint's Rest, and a barn.
The Museum was established in 1857. The first specimens came from faculty member Manly Miles who contributed a collection of Michigan specimens that he had acquired while working on a state natural history survey. These early collections were installed in College Hall, formerly located on the current site of Beaumont Tower. Professor Albert J. Cook, a student of Miles, assembled collections of geological, entomological, and zoological specimens and oversaw the collections during the 1870s and 1880s. By the late 1870s, research areas included archaeology and paleontology, and in 1881 a new Library-Museum building (known today as Linton Hall) was built to accommodate the expanding numbers of specimens.
Growing public awareness and interest in natural history in the 1890s led to the appointment of Professor Walter Bradford Barrows as Curator. Dr. Barrows led the growing Museum for nearly three decades, until his death in 1923, when Joseph Stack became the first Museum Director. The Museum continued to flourish and cultural programs were expanded over the next decade. In 1938 the Museum moved to the newly completed Auditorium building, and by the late 1950s, further growth necessitated a move to the vacated Library building (known today as the MSU Museum). Specimens collected by Miles, Cook, Barrows, and Stack are preserved in the MSU Museum collections.
The MSU Museum has had several name changes in its past:
1857 Museum of the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan
1861 State Agricultural College Museum
1909 Michigan Agricultural College Museum
1925 Michigan State College Museum
1955 Michigan State University Museum