Collections & Research2019-10-09T11:00:45-04:00

Collections & Research

Above the galleries of the Delaware Museum of Natural History are millions of scientific specimens.

This scientific collection serves as a record of biodiversity on Earth. The Delaware Museum of Natural History’s research collections have a strong emphasis on birds and mollusks (shells), reflecting the original collecting interests of our founder, John E. du Pont. Both major collections are worldwide in scope, but also have a large number of specimens from the Delmarva Peninsula.

Scientists around the world and at the Museum study our specimens to learn more about the natural world.  Their results are published in a variety of scientific journals and books.  In addition, staff continue to build and update databases containing information about our holdings and their data, which scientists search for specimen information.  As more is discovered about the natural world, scientists investigate new questions. Scientists use collections to learn how species are connected and how they’ve changed over time. The effects of humanity’s impact on the planet, including pollution and environmental changes, can be detected in specimens collected over time. To meet these
challenges today and in the future, the collection is cared for to prevent damage, and new specimens are added.

Most of these specimens were collected by scientists as they explored the Earth’s diversity of life and conducted scientific research.  Each specimen includes data: the species name, and where and when it was collected, helping scientists document changes in the natural world over the last century. This data is crucial for making a specimen valuable for scientific research. They help document many of the changes in the natural world over the last century. But as the natural world continues to change, scientists continue to investigate new questions. Parts of the Earth, particularly the oceans, remain poorly explored. To meet these new challenges, the staff continues to add new specimens so our collections will continue to be useful to scientists in their research.

Our Scientific Collections


The Bird Department houses more than 113,000 bird specimens, including 36,000 egg clutches, and about 6,000 mammals. The collection is ranked in the top fifteen in the United States for our collections of birds, with the second largest collection of birds’ eggs in North America.


The Mollusk Department includes 250,000 lots of mollusks (about 2 million individual shells), and smaller collections of insects, other invertebrates and plants. DMNH’s mollusk collection is ranked as the tenth largest in the United States. 


The mammal collection consists of approximately 6,000 specimens (skins, skulls, & skeletons). About half of the collection is Philippine bats and rodents, most collected by D.S. Rabor; the remaining half is North American mammals. The mammal skin collection can be searched via VertNet.

Meet our scientists

Jean Woods, Ph.D.
Jean Woods, Ph.D.Director of Collections and Curator of Birds
Elizabeth Shea, Ph.D.
Elizabeth Shea, Ph.D.Curator of Mollusks
Alex Kittle
Alex KittleMollusks Collection Manager

Other Resources

Collections Grants information

C&R Spotlight

Modern dinosaurs: A look at some of the heaviest, biggest, and most remarkable giants of the bird world

Modern dinosaurs: A look at some of the heaviest, biggest, and most remarkable giants of the bird world Birds are widely believed to be the closest living relatives of dinosaurs. Feathers, hips, and wishbones are among the similarities scientists use to link theropods to birds over millions of years. The extinct elephant bird was one of the largest birds. [...]

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, natural history-related items including taxidermy birds and animals were popular displays, protected under glass in curiosity cabinets or under domes. The Museum has several in its collections. The arrangement pictured here was donated in 2000 by Martha Sanders (1912-2002) from her father Earle M. Lynam’s (1877-1958) collection. Collected in the early [...]

Natural History Specimen data are coming to a classroom near you Theresa Tran, Biology student at Widener University, geolocating a mollusk specimen to determine where it was collected. Have you ever wondered who uses the Museum’s specimens and their information? The Museum and Widener University have just received funding from the National Science Foundation to help [...]