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From Aardvarks to Zebras, whales to microscopic single-celled animals, the museum collection includes about one million specimens.

The zoology collection includes many mounted mammals (most of the best are on display), one of the largest collections of shells in the UK, large collections of birds, eggs, bryozoa (small marine animals) and a very diverse collection of specimens preserved in spirit. The collection is worldwide in scope, with specimens from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and from all the world’s oceans. It is particularly rich in animals from the North West, the UK, and from the former British empire. The collection includes many famous ‘characters’, including Maharajah the Elephant and Maude the Tigon (both lived in Manchester’s Belle Vue Zoo), and the skull of Old Billy, the oldest horse in the world (he died aged 62). The collection also includes specimens from famous experts and researchers, including birds collected on the Galapagos by Charles Darwin in 1835.

Researchers use the stored collections to understand where animals lived in the past (using the information from data labels). They also explore how the environment has changed over time by sampling our specimens for levels of different chemicals. Modern techniques enable scientists to study the DNA of specimens, showing their relationships, and helping scientists understand how populations have changed over time.