Exploring Campus: The Zoology Museum and the Vascular Plant Herbarium

After hearing rumors of the impressive Zoological and Herbarium collections housed in the University of Alberta’s Biological Sciences building, I knew it was about time that I paid them a visit. Let me just say that I was not in the least disappointed by what I saw in the museums, and in fact thought the rumors did not do the collections justice. Years of carefully collected specimens that I suspect often go unvisited by students unless required or invited to by a class to go, are lovingly cared for by UAlberta curators that have, I’m sure, many stories to tell about them.

When I first entered the herbarium, I thought I was in the wrong room. The space doesn’t look like a museum, but instead houses huge floor to ceiling cupboards and, when I went, one lone research student. After the research student directed me to Dorothy, the collection’s assistant curator and my lovely tour guide, she started to open cupboard doors and inside laid stacks of manilla folders, which she proceeded to tell me housed the collection.  What many UAlberta students don’t know is that the Vascular Plant Herbarium at the University of Alberta, located on the sixth floor of the Biological Sciences building, is the largest herbaria of its kind in Alberta and the third largest in Western Canada. It was founded in 1912, and currently holds more than 120,000 specimens, some of them dating back to the early 1800’s and while the collection specializes in Albertan plant life, the collection does also house specimens from all over Canada and the world. Mounted on stiff white paper and carefully documented in their natural habitat with black and white photos and cursive writing that identified its original location, Dorothy showed me some of her favorite specimens, which still had retained their natural hues, even after so many years. I came away with the experience with a whole new appreciation for plants and what collections like this offer researches and generations to come, as well as a desperate wish that I was less of a brown thumb.

The Zoology Museum at the University of Alberta could keep you transfixed for hours. Spread out over three floors in the Biological Sciences building, the collection is home to thousands of specimens separated into four distinct collections: Amphibian and Reptile Collection, Icthyology (Fish Collection), a Mammalogy Collection, and a Ornithology (Bird) Collection. The Fish collection alone contains more than 200,000 specimens, which includes in its mists a comprehensive collection of Albertan fish as well as fish from around the world. The Amphibian and Reptile Collection, was my favorite of the collections, perhaps because while in real life I would be hard pressed to get within 10 feet of an actual snake, I could explore them at my leisure and up-close through the jars. The Taxonomic collection was also very impressive, and contained skins and skulls of many exotic and domestic animals. Finally the ornithology collection, which contains over 7,000 bird specimens from around the world, was interesting to see, especially when I learned that many of the specimens housed in the collection were rare and in some cases now endangered.

Take a look at some of the pictures of the things I saw in my museum adventure below!

 

 

 

 

By: Nathalie Batres

 

  

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