The science of life

Our Biology Department studies and shares the incredible diversity of life found on our planet. From rare bugs to snake skins to local birds and more, it’s truly astounding to see the many forms nature takes. The museum’s biology collection boasts over 170,000 specimens from around the globe including the largest collection of mammals in Minnesota and even a two-headed snapping turtle with quite a history.

Highlights of our biology collection

  • Mammalogy (mammals): 50,000 specimens, including study skins, flat skins, osteological and fluid specimens

  • Ornithology (birds): osteological specimens and 1,300 study skins

  • Herpetology (reptiles and amphibians) and ichthyology (fishes): 1,000 fluid and osteological specimens

  • Entomology (insects and other arthropods): 40,000 pinned specimens

  • Aquatic invertebrates: 80,000 marine and freshwater bivalves, fluid mollusks, and fairy shrimp

  • Botany & ethnobotany (plants): 1,000 herbarium specimens.

  • One species of mammal new to Minnesota (the smoky shrew, Sorex fumeus), which is only represented in Minnesota collections by the 50+ specimens preserved at the museum

  • The largest collection of mammal specimens in Minnesota (including specimens in fluid)

  • A two-headed snapping turtle named Emily, which had a well-documented history and a popular following of museum visitors

Meet our staff

Catherine M. Early, Barbara Brown Chair of Ornithology
Catherine is fascinated by the shapes and anatomy of animals, especially the relationship between form and function. She currently studies this relationship in the skulls and brains of birds using CT scanning (think of a 3D X-ray machine). While Dr. Early has a passion for all things avian, she is also our biology collection curator. She seeks to grow, preserve, and digitize the collection so that more people can learn more about the science of life from around the world and here in Minnesota.

Richard Oehlenschlager, Biology Collections Manager
Richard has been busy with local research projects involving census surveys of voles and other small mammals, bird banding, and collecting new specimens of plants, birds, and mammals. Past field studies have brought him to Mexico for a study on rainforest birds and to the Antarctic for seal and bird research. In honor of his work, he even has a bluff named after him in the Antarctic. Look for Oehlenschlager Bluff at the coordinates 75 03S 136 42W the next time you’re in the Antarctic.