Treasures from the Collections

By Carolyn Belardo

A new online experience by Google and the Academy brings some of the museum’s most stunning research specimens–and the stories behind them–out of the collections and right to your digital screen.

Google recently unveiled an online exhibition available on that allows viewers to browse through the collections of some of the most loved natural history institutions in the world. The Google Cultural Institute gives a new virtual life to extinct animals and tells fascinating stories about our planet’s evolution over billions of years.

There are six exhibits about the Academy drawn from our collections and research. Three exhibits  take viewers behind the scenes to examine the intricate details of seashells, microscopic diatoms with geometric patterns laid bare, and the variety of fish under threat from a massive dam project in Brazil.

In another exhibit, beautiful photographs from the VIREO collection illustrate how birds use their feathers in mating rituals. Rare illustrations from the Academy’s world-renowned Library and Archives demonstrate the artistry and science of documenting species over centuries.

A sixth exhibit leads visitors on a virtual tour of the museum, showcasing the nation’s oldest natural history museum as the first place in the world to display a full dinosaur skeleton.

For the Google project, natural history institutions from 15 countries created more than 100 interactive stories, sharing a total of 300,000 photos, videos and other documents online.

Here are highlights from each of the Academy’s online exhibition. Clicking each title will take you to more images.


Flirtatious Feathers: A Colorful Collection of Bird Photographs from the Academy’s Visual Resources for Ornithology. Through sexual selection–survival of the flirtatious–birds have evolved colorful plumes that charm potential mates. Booted Rackettail, Ocreatus underwoodii, Ecuador.  Photo by Glenn Bartley/VIREO



How to Discover a New Species of Fish takes you on an expedition to a river in Brazil where species are threathened by construction of the world’s third largest dam. This is a pacus, Myleus rhomboidalis, collected there. Photo by Mark Sabaj Perez/ANS



Tour the Academy of Natural Sciences takes viewers on a stroll through some of the museum’s most popular exhibits and programs. There adorable hedgehogs often are stars of our live animal educational shows. Photo by Mike Servedio/ANS



Treasures from Rare and Historic Books of the Library and Archives lets you leaf through rare books without leaving your home. This Surinam crocodile, Surinaamsche crocodil, was drawn by 17th-century naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian. Image courtesy ANS Library and Archives



Diatoms of the Academy. Diatoms are water-dwelling microscopic photosynthetic organisms—algae—with elaborate glass shells. They are found in every water body on the planet. Image by Jana Vesela/ANS



Amazing Shells of the Academy features highlights from the oldest shell collection in the U.S. These are Quadras’s Amphidromus, Amphidromus quadrasi, from the Philippines and Indonesia. Photo by Paul Collomon/ANS


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