In 1826, naturalist Zadock Thompson helped to establish the College of Natural History, dedicated to advancing scientific knowledge by collecting specimens for a zoological, geological, and ethnological cabinet. Though the College ceased to formally exist in the late 1800s, his legacy lives on as researchers continue to work with the collections he founded using both traditional and molecular methods.
We hold 125,000 insects in the Carl Parsons collection (named after our curator from 1948-1955 who willed his collection to the museum), including a world-class set of North American ground beetles (Carabidae) collected by former faculty Ross and Joyce Bell. No other comparable collection of Vermont’s insects and other arthropods exists, since Tropical Storm Irene destroyed the State Invertebrate Collection in 2011.
Our 6,000 mammal specimens (skins) consist primarily of New World rodents, with an extensive collection of small mammals from Vermont and New Hampshire; our holdings represent 35 of the 70 families of New World mammals, including all living species of Vermont mammals. We also have 1,200 birds and 2,600 reptiles and amphibians, which formed the basis for the Vermont State Herpetology Atlas.
Pember Egg Collection
Karl Pember, Vermont State Ornithologist from 1923 until his death in 1928, assembled a collection of over two thousand birds' eggs representing 273 species and 57 families. The collection includes several threatened or endangered species, such as the short-tailed albatross, great bustard, and Florida sandhill crane. Karl's cousin Franklin, also a naturalist whose collection is maintained at the Pember Museum in Granville, New York, may have contributed some specimens as well.
Stuffed birds and mammals as old as the 1850s are on display in the lobby of Benedict Auditorium, including a 19th-century Adirondack catamount, an extinct passenger pigeon, and a poached Canadian polar bear seized at U.S. customs in the 1970s. In 2021, professional and student conservators cleaned and restored these mounts with a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Service's Inspire! program for small museums. Read more about the conservation project.
In Memoriam: Kurt Pickett (1972-2011), Entomologist and Curator
Dr. Kurt Pickett joined the UVM faculty in 2007 as an Assistant Professor of Biology after completing a highly successful stint as a Theodore Roosevelt Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He was passionate about his work at the department and university and about his life. An expert insect taxonomist, he focused his research on the evolution of social behavior, using the wasp family, Vespidae, as a study subject. Combining time-honored data from sources such as adult and larval morphology and behavioral attributes with modern molecular data and proteomics, he conducted revisionary taxonomy, phylogenetic systematics, and investigations into the evolution of social behavior across the family. He also investigated various methodological and computational issues in phylogenetics, seamlessly weaving together all of these components—along with frequent trips to the field to collect and observe wasps—to fulfill his vision of creating a laboratory that represented the full continuum of studies in the taxonomy and social behavior of the Vespidae. To this end, he was extraordinarily successful. Dr. Pickett passed away from leukemia before he could accomplish another goal of his: curating the entire Thompson invertebrate collection. We are still working toward that goal today. Read here about how his colleagues remember him.