One in the series “Who’s Minding the Collection?”
By Christine Sellers
What do Herpetology, Mammalogy, Vertebrate Paleontology, and Mineralogy have in common? First, they are specimen collections housed at the Academy. Second, all the collections are managed by the same person—Ned Gilmore.
Across each collection, there is an amazing variety of eye-popping species represented, from common to rare to bizarre. Housed on different floors of the museum—in areas dedicated to research and collections—one finds frogs and snakes in Herpetology, bats and koalas in Mammalogy, fossilized remains of an elephant skull in Vertebrate Paleontology, and, of course, minerals in Mineralogy, to name a few.
In terms of numbers, Herpetology is the largest of those four collections with more than 37,000 cataloged specimens, followed by Mammalogy with over 24,000, Vertebrate Paleontology with about around 24,000, and Mineralogy with close to 10,000 specimens. Each collection contains a huge variety of species from many different parts of the world.
Curious to learn more about these collections, their distinct strengths, and about the scientist in charge, I spoke with the collections manager, Ned Gilmore.
I knew I was interested in science when… as a child, I was interested in animals, rocks, and fossils. I grew up in a town bordered by the Delaware River, so I’d go exploring in the creek during science class, or after school.
I heard about the Academy… from visiting on field trips with my grade school. The students who were enrolled in my school now come to the Academy as adults. They bring their own kids, and I talk to them and show them the collections I manage.
When I first started working at the Academy, I… did archaeological and environmental consulting before helping to re-curate the Herpetology Collection. I also worked in the Ichthyology, Entomology, Invertebrate Paleontology, and Malacology Collections. I’ve always been fascinated by specimens in jars.
My favorite collection to work in is… all of them. It’s sometimes frustrating that I can’t spend more time in one specific collection, but I try to work in each of them as much as I can. I’m always discovering new things in each collection.
The challenges that come with managing four collections are… keeping up with loans; frequent visitors; a large number of information, data, and photo requests; handling specimens other scientists are using for research; and maintaining the collections with the space the museum offers. The space isn’t unlimited, so eventually, it’ll run out.
The collections are… type rich, historically important, and representative of early biological and geological sampling and study. A lot of these specimens were collected in the mid-1800s, so they provide us a detailed history of natural history.
School groups that engage with the collections on behind-the-scenes tours… love them. They have no idea that there are so many objects in the collections and that there’s so much research going on at the Academy. The students gravitate toward seeing all of the different specimens laid out in our drawers and cabinets and in jars on row after row of shelves.
One of my favorite past exhibits that featured these collections… was in 2009, Geckos—Tails to Toepads. That was great. I went down to the exhibit every day to see what the live geckos were doing. Another one of my favorites was an elephant fossil exhibit from the 1990s.
The specimens in each of these collections… have unique data sets and are a library of DNA. They can be used to study the distribution of animals in both historical and contemporary times, or provide clues about changes in environmental factors, such as pollution.
When I’m not working, I like to… go kayaking and hiking, give talks to nature groups, and spend time with my family.
For information about each of these collections, visit our website. If you would like to support research and collections, please contact Monica Cawvey Gallagher, vice president of Institutional Advancement, at email@example.com. Better yet, donate now by clicking the blue box.
To read previous posts in this series, visit: