Research & Collections


Fish CollectionThe North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ collection of fishes contains an estimated 110,000 lots and over 1.5 million specimens. Currently (June 2011), 63,178 lots and 763,306 specimens are fully databased and searchable via the online collections link. The collection is among the largest and more diverse collections in the southeastern United States and amply documents the biodiversity of fishes of North Carolina, from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Gulf Stream and the depths below. It is a principal active repository of freshwater specimens from the mid-Atlantic states, from New Jersey to South Carolina, including West Virginia, as well as marine materials from the South Atlantic Bight. The collection also has comprehensive representation of fishes from much of the Southeast, synoptic representation from throughout the United States, and surprising collections from scattered marine and freshwater locales throughout the world.

Early acquisitions were by H.H. and C.S. Brimley, the Museum’s first curators. There are also a number of North Carolina collections made by Dr. Joseph Bailey of Duke University in the 1940s. Most specimens were acquired or incorporated beginning in the 1960s through the efforts of researchers such as William Palmer and Franklin Snelson, and later, Alvin Braswell, as well as the accessioning of the voucher materials from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s extensive statewide basins survey of the early 1960s. That material is currently completely databased and serves as a valuable resource to document the distribution and status of North Carolina fish biodiversity in that era.

Jars in the Fish CollectionThe collection has grown tremendously in recent years due to the acquisition of the following regional collections: University of North Carolina Institute of Marine Sciences (nearly 18,000 lots), Duke, North Carolina State, Stockton State, and Western Carolina universities, and Mars Hill College. Dr. Wayne Starnes and other NCSM staff have made large contributions to the collection, as have Fred Rohde and Dr. Rudolph Arndt. It is the repository of many important voucher collections from past and ongoing surveys, ranging from New Jersey, Virginia and West Virginia, to Florida, conducted by various state and federal agencies, public utilities, academic investigators, and other workers.

Viperfish photograph taken by Todd PusserParticularly notable is the complement of large marine specimens, 3,448 (June 2011) tank specimens, and one of the better collections of sturgeons in the world. Many rarely collected marine species from the Atlantic and Gulf are being added in conjunction with studies of special deep water habitats, as well as an excellent collection of expertly identified western Atlantic eel larvae. Special collections include skeletal materials representative of many freshwater and marine species useful in anatomical, zooarcheological, and paleontological research, and an actively growing collection of ethanol preserved tissues for DNA studies, which are currently being archived in newly acquired ultra cold freezer facilities. The latter represents a considerable diversity of eastern North American fish species and voucher-linked tissue loans are available to qualified researchers on request.


For loan or other information, please contact Collections Manager of Fishes Gabriela Hogue at or 919.707.8868.

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