Mammals at Carnegie Museum of Natural History
The Section of Mammals collection houses the eighth largest collection of Recent mammals in the Western Hemisphere. The section was created in 1932 when it was separated from the Section of Birds. It serves as the basis for both scholarly research and informal science education on mammals. Working closely with public programming staff, the section helps to ensure that information presented about mammals through the museum's programs is scientifically accurate.
Although collection holdings are worldwide in coverage, there is continued interest in the mammals of Pennsylvania and surrounding states. The staff of the Section of Mammals address questions from the general public; federal, state, and local agencies; other nonprofits; teachers; and scientific colleagues.
The Section of Mammals Collection
The Section of Mammals houses a research collection consisting of more than 118,553 specimens. The main collection is housed at the Edward O’Neil Research Center, about two miles from the main Carnegie Museum of Natural History building.
Taxonomic coverage includes 24 of the 26 living orders of mammals and 114 of the 136 Recent families. The collection includes 40 holotypes. Geographic coverage is worldwide, but the collection’s strength is in North American material. The collection from Pennsylvania and adjacent areas is the best in the world, and the collections from the eastern Arctic are the best of any United States museum. The collection also includes excellent holdings from Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah.
Recent acquisitions from Belize, Bonaire, Curaçao, Costa Rica, Dominica, El Salvador, Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Trinidad and Tobago augment historical specimens from Central America. Outside of North America, our strengths are in Africa and South America. Mammals from Bolivia and Colombia were the earliest of our Neotropical acquisitions. Recent material includes specimens from Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, French Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.
The holdings from Cameroun are the best in the world. Collected over a 40-year period by Rev. A. I. Good, the holdings were obtained before forests in the area were disturbed. As a result, the material is especially valuable in documenting the undisturbed distribution of primates and rodents in that region of Africa. The collection contains recent and historical collections from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. Important holdings also exist for the Congo, Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Uganda, and Zaire.
Field work and exchanges with European collections have strengthened our holdings from Europe with material from Austria, Belgium, Finland, and Hungary. During the last two decades, field work in Australia, Japan, and Thailand have added the section’s first major collections from that region.
The section also holds an excellent osteological collection of both articulated and disarticulated specimens. Represented in this material are a number of unique forms which would be difficult if not impossible to obtain today. Among these are specimens of Cercopithecus, Gorilla, Kobus, Lama, Odobenus, Pan, Papio, Phoca, Ursus maritimus, and Vulpes lagopus. About two-thirds of the osteological material is stored offsite. However, all marine mammals, primates, and large carnivores are housed in the main collection.
In the past two decades, there has been an effort to build the fluid-preserved collection. Today, the section holds wet preservations of 286 genera or 44% of all genera in the collection.
Mammals houses ancillary collections of slides of karyotypes and sperm and frozen tissues for biochemical studies. The latter consists of tissues from more than 12,000 specimens of insectivores, bats, rodents, carnivores, and primates from North America, Africa, and Asia.
History of the Section of Mammals
As a part of the only Pennsylvania museum with a mammal collection that has remained active since before 1900, Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Section of Mammals is a major repository for mammals collected in Pennsylvania. For more than 100 years, section staff have been involved in the study of mammals of the commonwealth and have actively participated in joint projects with the Pennsylvania Game Commission as well as universities and colleges around the state.
Perhaps the largest single effort was the Survey of Pennsylvania Mammals, Pittman Robertson Project 20-R. It was conducted under the Federal Aid to Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 and supervised jointly by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. From 1947 to 1951, the staff of the Section of Mammals obtained practical management information about the mammals of Pennsylvania for this project. Areas of emphasis included life history, ecology, species range, abundance, habitat preference, effects of land use on populations, and economic importance of the mammals occurring here. The information and specimens obtained during that project have been the basis of many studies and increase understanding of changes that have taken place during the past 50 years.
Section of Mammals Collections Inquiries
Please contact the collection manager about which part of the collection you would like to visit.
Loans are made to qualified institutions at the discretion of the curator or collection manager in the curator’s absence. Formal requests should be made in writing on institutional letterhead and not by email. Specimens that are part of active, in-house research may not be sent out until work is completed. Holotypes, primates, marine mammals, or other endangered species are not loaned.
No more than half of the section’s holdings of a taxon from one locality are loaned at the same time. In most cases, a request for all holdings will be divided in half with the second shipment being sent after the first has been returned. Some shipments may be further divided depending on the size and condition of specimens requested. The requestor may stipulate groupings of specimens in partial shipments within the confines of this policy.
Loans of fluid-preserved specimens are only made to institutions with staff certified to handle hazardous substances/dangerous goods.
Upon receipt of a loan, check the number and condition of specimens, and note any discrepancies or damage incurred on the appropriate copy of the loan form. Sign and return this copy to the Section of Mammals. A second copy will be provided with the shipment for your files. Retain the shipment box and packing materials for return of the loan. The shipping wooden box is part of the loan and must be returned with the specimens.
Loans are usually made for a period of six months. Extensions may be granted upon receipt of a written request. While in the borrower’s care, the following precautions should be taken:
- All skins and skeletal material must be protected against insects, dust, and excessive moisture.
- Skins must be stored in a dark place.
- Wet specimens are to be stored in 70% ethanol and away from light.
Specimens are not to be altered in any way unless written consent has been given.
Authors are asked to send a copy of any publication dealing with this material to the Section of Mammals.
Loans are made to institutions, not to people. Loans are not transferable to other institutions. If the requestor changes institutional affiliation, the current loan must be terminated and arrangements for a new loan agreement with the new institution must be requested. Failure to comply with this condition shall be grounds for refusal of future loan requests.
The Section of Mammals staff is aware that some specimens that pre-date 1970 have been treated with arsenic. However, not all specimens have been tested. Therefore, all users are advised to take proper precautions when handling our specimens.
Prior to or at the time of return, please send a separate letter giving date of shipment to the collection manager. If specimens were fumigated while in your care, please state what pesticide was used.
Return the loan in the same wooden box(es) in which it was received.
Specimens must be packed in such a manner as to protect them from shock, moisture, or excessive heat. Skins should be wrapped in material similar to that used in shipment to you.
Use only toilet paper or similar soft paper as packing for skulls. Do not use cotton batting or polyester when packing skulls.
Place address labels on inside as well as outside of package.
Shipment must be insured for value indicated on front of loan form.
Foreign loans should not be returned by airfreight. Please return via the postal system or by private carrier such as FedEx. The loan should be accompanied by US Fish and Wildlife form 3-177 provided by the Section of Mammals for re-importation of the specimens, copy of letter written to our USFWS special agent at the time of export, original collecting permits or other statements of legal collection, and a copy of the loan invoice. These items must be attached to the outside of the shipping box to facilitate inspection upon re-importation.
Consumptive Analysis Loan Policy
In addition to the general policy for alteration or removal of specimens or objects from the collection of Carnegie Museum of Natural History, there are specific policies and guidelines that cover the alteration or removal of specimens or parts thereof from the collection in the Section of Mammals. The policies and guidelines, referring to the removal of samples of skin, hair, portions of bone, pieces of dried muscle or other tissues, teeth, organs, or pieces of fluid-preserved specimens, cover both external and internal requests.
A formal request must be submitted in all cases for consideration of alterations or removal of specimens. Normally only accessioned specimens are considered at this level of request. A written proposal should be sent to the Section of Mammals for review and approval in advance of any visit. The proposal should state the nature of the study and the research question(s) being addressed, the techniques that will be used in the study, the taxa that will be required, the number of individuals needed, and the exact nature and size of the sample requested.
Proposals should indicate how many samples of material and from which taxa the applicant has available from his/her own field or laboratory efforts. Proposals should indicate whether any material may be available from other sources, especially frozen tissue collections or captive populations.
Proposals for graduate student research must be co-signed by the graduate student’s major advisor.
Proposals will be evaluated by curatorial and collection management staff with, in some cases, advice solicited from colleagues at other institutions. Because the intent is to facilitate quality research while conserving the specimens in the collection, the applicant should:
- Clearly show the purpose and merit of the research.
- Strongly justify the need for sampling specimens by using published and proven methodology backed up by appropriately cited literature in the proposal.
- Keep the amount of any sample required and the number of taxa to be sampled as small as possible.
- Demonstrate the competence of the researchers and availability of institutional resources to complete the research project in a timely period. Requests should provide evidence that the investigators have experience with associated analytical procedures (e.g., PCR amplification and sequencing of DNA from museum skins), and that the proposed studies are likely to generate useable data.
The rarity of the taxa to be sampled in the wild (endangered species and poorly known taxa) as well as in museum collections will influence the approval of a request.
The effect of the sampling procedure and the amount of the sample taken on the physical integrity of any specimen and its future utility for other kinds of systematic research will influence the approval of a request.
Actual sampling will be done by collection staff, and specimen records will be annotated at that time. The specimen record will reflect the type of sample removed and the location from which the sample was taken. This information will be recorded for assessment of future sampling requests. The final selection of actual specimens to be sampled will be done by collection staff in consultation with the researcher if the researcher is on-site to examine the specimens with section staff. Normally only one sample can be removed from any specimen.
Sampling of borrowed specimens will not generally be allowed. Holotypes are not available for sampling.
Samples are only approved for the study as outlined in the application and should not be used for any additional studies without prior approval. Unused portions of the samples or altered samples resulting from the study are to be returned to the Section of Mammals unless prior arrangements have been made.
Genomic DNA samples are to be returned to the Section of Mammals for inclusion in the DNA library or, in certain cases, to be deposited via an official transaction with the Section of Mammals in another approved DNA library.
Any reference to the source of samples in publications should clearly refer to the voucher specimen in the Section of Mammals by CM number. Please note that Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s specimens have an official acronym of “CM.”
Any reprints of publications or reports (printed or electronic if printed is not available) resulting from the samples taken from specimens in this collection should be sent for deposit in the J. Kenneth Doutt Memorial Library of the Section of Mammals.
The decision to accept or reject a request for consumptive sampling takes into account that the section’s collections are finite resources, and one of the section’s primary responsibilities is to protect the Section of Mammals’ holdings to ensure that they are available for use by future generations of researchers.
While the section does approve such requests, they are evaluated more stringently than other requests.
The Section of Mammals emphasizes that destructive samples are intended to supplement research materials obtained from other sources, not replace primary data collection efforts such as field sampling of extant taxa. While the section strongly encourages collections-based research, the section’s obligation to protect the Section of Mammals collection may require that some requests for consumptive samples be denied.
Ask a Scientist: What is one of the more unique mammals of western Pennsylvania? Collections Manager Suzanne McClaren weighs in on what is so unique about one of the …Read More »
Have you ever heard of the pangolin? If not, it may surprise you to learn that they are the most illegally trafficked animal on the planet. Sometimes called scaly …Read More »
By John Wible When most people in New England, the Mid-Atlantic states, and the Upper Midwest find this small, brown, tubular mammal in leaf litter in their yard they …Read More »
Section of Mammals Featured in Museum Displays
Information on mammals are featured in the Hall of African Wildlife, which explores four of the African continent's major ecosystems—savanna, rainforest, mountain, and desert—and the unique animals that live there.
Right next to the Hall of African Wildlife is the Hall of North American Wildlife, which features major North American ecosystems like the tundra, the coniferous forest, the deciduous forest, the grassland, and the desert that mammals call home.