Collections and Research

Research Collections

Our collections include approximately 140,000 specimens, objects, and artifacts. Our entire database is not yet online, but researchers, faculty, instructors, students, and others needing more detailed information on our collections should contact our collections manager, Cindy Opitz, at or 319-335-0481.  

As of June 2016 records for about 14,000 vertebrate specimens (mostly birds, some mammals) are available in VertNet, GBIF, and iDigBio.  Search for us under institution code SUI!

The main divisions of our collections are:

Photo of bird
Ornithology: More than 31,000 birds (study skins or mounted), eggs, and nests.  In 2015-2017 we are rehousing the entire collection under a National Science Foundation CSBR grant.

Photo of mammal skull
Mammalogy: More than 5,000 study skins, skulls, skeletons, fluid-preserved specimens, and mounted specimens.  Our collection includes specimens collected by John Bowles which were transferred from Central College.

Photo of alligator skull
Other vertebrates: A small number of reptiles, fish, and amphibians.

Photo of insect
Entomology: Approximately 41,000 pinned insects, including at least 4 type specimens. In 2013-2017 the entire entomology collection is being rehoused, catalogued, and digitized thanks to grant funding from the State Historical Society of Iowa and the National Science Foundation.

Photo of basket star
Other invertebrates: Approximately 44,000 specimens and lots, dry or fluid-preserved, including crustaceans, leeches, mollusks, sponges, corals, echinoderms, and other taxa. This collection includes significant historic material from early UI collectors and expeditions.  It also includes leeches and crayfish transferred from the University of Northern Iowa Museums.

Photo of ceramic object
Archaeology and ethnography: More than 6,000 objects, including Archaic period lithics, Meskwaki beadwork, ceramics, and ethnographic objects from around the world. Significant archaeological research collections are also held by the Office of the State Archaeologist.  We are currently rehousing Arctic ethnographic and archaeological materials with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Historic photo of whale
Archives, photographs, glass slides, and other documentary collections: Documents and images about expeditions, classes, exhibits, people, and objects throughout the museum's history.  We are currently conserving and rehousing glass slides and negatives under a Documentary Collections grant from the state of Iowa's Historic Resource Development Program.

Note that paleontology collections at the University of Iowa are held by the UI Paleontology Repository, not by the Museum of Natural History, and most archaeology collections are held by the Office of the State Archaeologist. Botany and mycology collections formerly part of the University of Iowa Herbarium (IA) are now part of the Ada Hayden Herbarium (ISC) at Iowa State University.

Our significant and named collections include:

  • 1890-1895: Kallam Collection: 700 stone tools from Tama County, Iowa
  • 1892: Talbot Bird Collection: 7,000 bird skins & ornithological library
  • 1892-1895: Frank Russell Collection: ethnographic materials, birds and mammals (see list)
  • 1904: Philippine Collection, St. Louis World's Fair: ethnographic materials (see list)
  • 1930: Jones Bird Collection: 600 mounted birds and 8,000 eggs
  • 1877-1882: Birds and mammals collected by William Temple Hornaday during his time with Ward's Natural Science Establishment

Ice Age Research

Ice Age fossils are relatively common in Iowa.  The Museum of Natural History has contributed to several excavations in the state, often in collaboration with faculty, staff, and students from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, the Paleontology Repository, and the Office of the State Archaeologist.  Read more about these projects below.  

Mahaska County Mammoths: Multiple mammoth site containing at least one Woolly Mammoth. Discovered in Mahaska County, IA in 2010.

Troublesome Creek Giant Short-faced Bear: Iowa's first confirmed Giant Short-faced bear discovery. Found in Cass County, Iowa  in 2008.

Tarkio Valley Sloth Project: A group of three Giant Ground Sloths; one adult, one adolescent and one juvenile, discovered in Shenandoah, Iowa in 2001.