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The Zoological Collection of The Manchester Museum

A tiger faces it's reflection behind glass
Panther Tigris

There are over 600,000 objects in Zoology, ranging from stuffed animals and their skins or skeletons to eggs and nests, moist and dry preparations of invertebrates (crustaceans, corals, worms, molluscs, myriapods and arachnids) to their fragments and traces of their activity. Important parts are the Dresser collection of bird skins and eggs, with most of the known Palaearctic species represented, the Waters and Jelly collections of bryozoans and the fourth largest collection of molluscs in the country. The collection international in scope and especially strong scientifically and historically with over 7000 type specimens (i.e. individual organisms from which the descriptions of new species have been prepared), and figured and cited material.

Only a small fraction of specimens are on show and are largely represented by the permanent exhibitions and displays. Some educational parts are on show and used in the Discovery Centre. There is also a spectacular living exhibit, the Vivarium, which displays many unique amphibian and reptile species in naturalistic settings.

Most of the zoological specimens are kept behind the scenes and are ranked within the top four in terms of national scientific importance. They include 18,000 birds and mammals; 35,000 birds' eggs; 1,400 amphibians and reptiles; about 400,000 molluscs, over 16,000 arachnids (mites, scorpions and spiders) and 125,000 other non-insect invertebrates (animals without backbones).

The collection is a national treasure and form the working tools and basis of zoological taxonomy, biodiversity and population studies (current research); they are also an important source for education (primary, secondary and tertiary) and public information, because scientific interpretation of their data increases our knowledge of ourselves and the world around us. The important link between collection and research (collection-based research) is what gives the Manchester Museum its unique dimension as compared with other parts of the University. The collection and associated data are available to inquiring minds throughout the world and may be accessed in person or via a loan.


The worldwide collection of nearly three million specimens, is the third largest and most comprehensive in the United Kingdom, and include many type specimens (10,500 of 2,300 species). It is of great international as well as national importance, representing a major resource for the study of systematic entomology. The collection is continuously being enriched numerically and qualitatively by the studies of entomologists.

Although most insects are relatively small, they outnumber all other animal species by a ratio of three to one. Their vast numbers alone make identification difficult and in many cases impossible without reference to extensive collections. Because scientific name of an insect functions as a key to the literature about it, accurate identification is of paramount importance. Many superficially similar insects represent different species, which exhibit great differences in habits, distribution and economic importance. All orders of insects are represented in the collection, although half of them are Coleoptera (beetles). The collection is arranged in cabinets by orders according to systematic catalogues, and are grouped initially into British or Foreign.

The British collection (one and a quarter million specimens) is exceptionally comprehensive. Only a small percentage of known British species are not represented. The most extensive orders are Coleoptera (beetles), Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, ants etc) and Diptera (flies), which comprise about 1.1 million specimens. As this collection has been made over some 120 years by many different entomologists, it is a vast storehouse of systematic and historical information, and include British specimens of species now extinct in the country, representatives of locally extinct populations, as well as newcomers to our fauna. Many unique specimens are included.

The famous Manchester Moth, captured on Kersal Moor in 1829, is represented by one of the only three known specimens in existence. In addition to conventional dry-mounted specimens, there are also many microscope slides and a large number of specimens in alcohol particularly valuable for many fragile insects and immature stages.

Our foreign collection (one and three quarter million) have long been recognised as of international importance, and contain 85% of our type specimens. The largest part comprises 900,000 Coleoptera, of which the majority originated from the extensive pre-war collections of Hincks and Dibb. Families especially notable for their richness in types are Passalidae (types of Hincks); Ptiliidae, Lathridiidae and Cryptophagidae (types of Johnson and others); Scarabaeidae-Aphodiinae (types of many workers) and Dermaptera (earwigs, types of Hincks and Brindle). Pride of place goes to the Spaeth collection of ground beetles.

Chrysomelidae-Cassidinae is the finest collection of tortoise beetles in the world. This outstanding collection was bought from Franz Spaeth through the generosity of R. W. Lloyd. Extensive Lepidoptera collections are also present in the department. Special mention must be made of the Schill world collection of both butterflies and moths, and the magnificent world Papilionidae (swallowtail butterflies) of Longsdon.