Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Conner Museum Research Collection


Last edited 18-October-2022

The bulk of the museum’s specimens are included in the Conner research collection and are not mounted for public display. The research collection of about 65,000 specimens is housed at the north end of the first floor of Abelson Hall.

What is a Research Collection?

The specimens in a research collection are like books in a library.  Each specimen is a physical record for that species at a particular place and time.  The specimens in a research collection provide documentation of a species range at the time it was collected. A physical specimen, unlike a photo or video, also stores information about itself, including its genetics, diet, and environmental pollutants, in its preserved body parts.

Most of the birds and mammals in a research collection are prepared as “study skins.” A study skin is the skin of the animal filled with cotton.  Information about the specimen is attached to the prepared skin.

Ground Squirrel label
Label on a Columbian Ground Squirrel specimen. This squirrel was collected in Oregon on 19-June-1979 by R. E. Johnson and prepared as a study skin by G. R. Godsey.

For mammal specimens, a skull is usually saved with the skin because many mammals can only be positively identified with a skull.

Bushy-tailed Woodrat skin and skull
Bushy-tailed Woodrat skin and skull.

Study skins can be stored compactly in trays inside metal cabinets.

Varied Thrush drawer
Drawer of Varied Thrush specimens

For most species, we have at least one complete skeleton.   For a research collection, the bones of a skeleton are not “articulated”, i.e., they are not wired together to look like they are arranged in the living animal.  Each specimen is kept as a disarticulated box of bones.  Disarticulated skeletons are more easily stored than articulated skeletons and generally more useful to researchers who often want to examine individual bones.

Raccoon skeleton
Some of the bones of a raccoon skeleton removed from their storage box.

Back to Top

What is a research collection used for?

 Researchers use the collection for a wide variety of problems in systematics, ecology, conservation, and physical anthropology.  Examples of the types of uses of the research collection include studies in

  • Differences in plumage (feathers) and pelage (fur) between sexes, at different ages, at different seasons, and across the species’ range.
  • Genetics: DNA can be extracted from skin and bones of old specimens.  Since 2004, the museum has saved frozen tissue samples from incoming specimens.  Frozen tissue has higher quality (less degraded) DNA than old skin and bone.
  • Stable isotopes: The nitrogen, oxygen, carbon, and other elements that make up a living organism have different forms, called isotopes, that occur because some atoms have an extra neutron in their nucleus.  The atoms with an extra neutron weigh a tiny bit more than the atoms without an extra neutron. In the fur, feather, bone, and other parts of an animal, the proportion of isotopes with and without an extra neutron will depend on the animal’s diet and the climate, location, and time in which it lived.  Stable isotope samples of museum specimens collected at different times and locations can sometimes show dietary changes or changes in the animal’s environment over time.
  • Bone identification: Along with skins, the museum has skeletons of most species of birds and mammals in the northwest.  Pieces of bones from archaeological digs are identified by comparing the bone fragments against the “known” bones.

The research collection has also been used for scientific illustrations, morphological studies, studies of molt patterns, and supplementing the teaching collections for classes.

Most of our specimens come from Washington state and neighboring states of the Pacific Northwest, but we also have specimens from other parts of the United States and the world, notably California, Alaska, Nebraska, Nevada, Central America, Mexico, east Africa and the Mariana Islands.

The collection is available to professional scientists and qualified university students. It is not open for public display. For inquiry on use or loans please contact our curator, Dr. Kelly Cassidy, by e-mail at connermuseum@wsu.edu.
Back to Top


What is in the Conner Museum Research Collection?

Mammals

We currently have approximately 39,000 mammal specimens in the research collection. Most of the mammal specimens are prepared as study skins and/or skulls. We also have 6,600 post-cranial skeletons (i.e., the skeleton other than the skull), 500 bacula and 143 fluid-preserved specimens. The fluid specimens are mostly mammal embryos and most are not available for dissection.

Our mammal collection should be available on Arctos by the end of 2022. To view an outdated version of our mammals collection, please search VertNet.

Birds

Our collection of 16,700 birds includes approximately 14,000 study skins, more than 1,000 skeletons, 250 sets of eggs and a few nests. Several years ago we began preparing an open wing from each individual; we now have over 1,000 spread wings . 1,600 fluid-preserved specimens round out our bird holdings.

Our bird collection can be viewed on Arctos: https://arctos.database.museum/crcm_bird

Fossils

We have a small collection of fossils (~115 items), mostly originating from the western United States.

Our fossil collection can be viewed on Arctos: https://arctos.database.museum/crcm_paleo

Fish

The museum has about 2,500 fish specimens. Most of the fish in the collection are either from the southeastern Columbia Basin or the northern Puget Sound.

Our fish collection can be viewed on Arctos: https://arctos.database.museum/crcm_fish

Amphibians and Reptiles

The museum has 4,700 cataloged “herp” (amphibians and reptiles) specimens. The vast majority are preserved in ethanol. There are also approximately 2,000 herp specimens awaiting entry into the catalog. We hope to finish cataloging the herp collection by the end of 2022. Most of the herps are from eastern Washington or northern Idaho.

Back to Top


Using the Research Collection

Qualified researchers and graduate students may use the collection pending approval from the curator. For those wishing to visit the collection or use specimens, contact us via e-mail (connermuseum@wsu.edu), phone or letter to make arrangements.

Classes, student groups, or community outreach groups may want to borrow specimen for educational purposes. Loans for education and outreach are made from the teaching collection. Please inquire via e-mail.

Loan Policy

We loan specimens for legitimate research purposes. The museum will ship some specimens through the mail.  Some fragile or rare specimens must be checked out in person. To request a loan, contact us by e-mail, phone, or letter.

Please see the CRCM Loan Policy for more details.

Back to Top


Current Museum Projects

Our two highest priorities with respect to the research collection (as of October 2022) are

  • To catalog the uncataloged amphibians and reptiles
  • To transfer the entire catalog to Arctos

Back to Top