Vertebrate Zoology

Photo by Alyse Takayesu

Vertebrate Zoology2018-01-04T06:49:36-10:00
The Vertebrate Zoology Collection includes birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians from the Hawaiian Islands, as well as the Pacific Basin and its Asian source areas. Each specimen, and its associated data, provides a physical snapshot of a species or community at a particular point in time and space. They are a unique and irreplaceable record of the region’s vertebrate fauna and, as such, are a vital resource in the struggle to preserve Pacific biodiversity.

The Vertebrate Zoology Collection contains over 100,000 total specimens of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.  These are primarily from the Pacific region and its Asian source areas. In terms of size and geographic scope, they are among the most significant such collections in the world.

Bird specimens collected by J.D. Mills on Hawaii Island during the 1850’s and 1860’s were donated to Bishop Museum in 1888 and established the Museum’s Vertebrate Zoology department.  The Mills specimens significantly pre-date the major Hawaiian collections obtained for European museums in the 1890’s, and thus remain exceptionally important for scientific research.  In fact, they include several species that became extinct before 1890.  Shortly after the Mills acquisition, Bishop Museum joined with the British Association for the Advancement of Science to sponsor Zoological Explorations of the Hawaii Islands.  Birds collected then, mainly by R.C.L. Perkins, were important additions to the Museum’s collection, and were the basis for Perkins’ landmark publication Fauna Hawaiiensis, published in 1903.  Bishop Museum is the only institution with a large 19th century collection of Hawaiian birds that has steadily received native, as well as non-native, species throughout the 20th century.  As the state of Hawaii’s official repository, the Museum is able to obtain specimens every year from various government agencies, wildlife rehabilitators, conservation groups, etc. This avian collection is a unique re­source, as scientists from all over the world are able to compare recent material with study skins created over 160 years ago.  The Hawaiian bird collection is also distinctive in having representatives of most of the 289 species known to have occurred in the archipelago since first western contact in 1778. The collection contains 165 specimens of extinct native species, as well as 12 holotypes or co-types for nine taxa of endemic Hawaiian birds.

The collection of avian paleontological material is of major importance to understanding the origin and evolution of Hawaiian avifauna. Bishop Museum and the National Museum of Natural History are the only two institutions with such material, each housing approximately 50% of the world total. Significant fossil deposits have been found on five of the eight main Hawaiian islands in a wide range of ecological contexts, including lava tubes, caves, eolian dunes, karstic sinkholes, and an ancient lake bed.  Based on this material, 35 extinct species have been described, with possibly another 20 awaiting description, pending more material to refine species limits.  This material has revealed that prehistoric extinctions can obscure our perception of how Hawaiian avifauna developed on the islands, and that “many more avian species successfully colonized the archipelago…than would be recognized without the fossil record.” (Helen James, 1995)    Perhaps more interestingly, these specimens, which because of their age are not fully mineralized and contain DNA, have revealed how and when populations changed once they became established in the Islands.  The collection contains 17 holotypes and 144 paratypes, with the possibility of several more amid the backlogged material waiting to be described.

The collection of reptiles and amphibians grew very slowly until the 1960’s when Dr. John R. Hendrickson donated several thousand specimens, which he’d collected over his 12 years of field work in Malaysia.  Since then, Dr. Allen Allison has conducted extensive research in Papua New Guinea and founded an on-going research station at Kamiali.  Through his efforts, Dr. Allison has helped to turn Bishop Museum’s herpetology collection into the world’s largest and most diverse assemblage of specimens from the Papuan region.  This collection is also the best documented in terms of photos (slides and digital images) and sound recordings taken in the field.  Overall, the herpetology collection contains 84 holotypes, with more soon to be designated.

The mammal collection is primarily from New Guinea, as few mammal species are native to the islands of Oceania. The New Guinea collection houses 11,749 specimens and includes representatives of 146 of the 209 taxa known from that island.  This collection is rivaled only by that of the Archbold Collections of the American Museum of Natural History and the collections of the Australian Museum, Sydney. Strengths include pteropid bats, dasyurid marsupials, and murid rodents especially Rattus, Melomys and a number of hydromine genera.  Most of the mammal specimens were collected as vouchers for a program begun in the early 1960s to study the vertebrate ectoparasites (fleas, ticks, lice, etc.) of the Papuan region. Many of the ectoparasites are deposited in the Entomology collections of Bishop Museum where they can be readily studied with reference to their vertebrate hosts, and have been the subject of extensive research. The collection contains 18 holotypes and 41 paratypes, with taxa spanning four different orders of mammals.

To request a collection visit, please fill out our online Natural Sciences Collection Access and Use Request Form

To request a loan, please fill out our online Vertebrate Zoology Specimen Loan Request Form

Molly Hagemann, Collection Manager

Allen Allison, Senior Zoologist

Terry Lopez, Collection Technician

Nicholas Walvoord, Collection Technician

To request a back of house collection tour please fill out our online Natural Sciences Collection Tour Request Form

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