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 280,000 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. We also have over 150,000 spiders from around the world. No other comparable collection of Vermont’s insects and other arthropods exists, since Tropical Storm Irene destroyed the State Invertebrate Collection in 2011. Our arachnids, many of which are undescribed, include the only systematically collected, comprehensive DNA-grade Caribbean collection in existence. Read here about the recent efforts to curate the whole collection.
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.