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The Natural History Museum (NHM)

Natural History Museum

Access is available to NHM’s 70 million natural history specimens, including 800,000 type. The specimens are stored in secure storage units and well-organised in accordance with taxonomic groupings. This includes the Darwin Centre (Phase 1 & 2) a state-of-the-art facility housing 23 million zoological specimens in alcohol, plus all the majority of the entomological and botanical specimens. The Darwin Centre has dedicated desk space for visiting researchers.

Collections & Expertise

A summary of NHM collections is shown below, specimens also include embryonic material used for the study of plant and animal development. NHM is a world leader in this field of research; frozen tissue and DNA collections. Researchers are permitted to use these collections in line with the NHM destructive sampling policy (please contact your proposed host for a copy). Such a diverse accumulation of specimens is unrivalled in Europe.

Department Collection highlights and staff expertise
Life Sciences: Botanical   collections

6 million specimens of bryophytes, ferns, seed plants and slime moulds

117,250 primary types

Comprehensive, type-rich collections of lichens, bryophytes and algae, strong in Old World pteridophytes European, Macaronesian, North African, Himalayan and Central American vascular plants

UK national collections and exceptionally rich in historical collections worldwide

Systematics of all cryptogamic plant groups except non-lichenised fungi.

Plant evolutionary and developmental studies

Conservation and biodiversity analytical methods

Nomenclature and typification

Tropical seedling biology

Molecular systematics

Solanaceae systematics.

Life Sciences – Microbial collections

Algal collections: The Museum’s collection of algae is one of the largest in the world, with more than a quarter of a million specimens from around the globe. These account for about 5 per cent of  the botanical collections.

Lichen collections: The collection consists of about 400,000 specimens and at least 10,000 type specimens.

Diatom collections: over 300,000 specimens that have been added from the early 19th century to the present day; include freshwater, brackish and marine representatives and are extremely geographically and taxonomically diverse, with all major diatom groups – both fossil and recent – represented

Earth Sciences – Ocean Bottom Deposit collection

40,000 worldwide localities

most comprehensive British collection of seabed samples and cores.

All the oceans are represented, in the approximate proportions Atlantic 40%, Pacific 35% and Indian 25%.

The most important component is the Sir John Murray Collection, which includes the HMS Challenger 1872-76 sea-bed samples.

Life Sciences – Vertebrate collections

Avian anatomical collections include skeleton and spirit collections, together totalling around 33,600 specimens

The world-renowned avian skin collection at the Museum hosts almost 750,000 specimens.

Bird eggs and nests collections

Mammal collections

Systematics and evolution of Reptile, Amphibian and Fish groups

Zoological collections are exceptionally strong for Europe and areas formerly under British colonial administration

Biogeography and Conservation through use of computer programmes (e.g. WORLDMAP) to develop methodologies for assessing biodiversity indicators

Recent climate change

Life Sciences – Invertebrate   collections

Arachnids: Araneae, Amblypygi, Uropygi, Schizomida, Palpigradi, Ricinulei, Acari, Opiliones, Scorpiones,   Pseudoscorpiones, Solifugae

Insects: Hymenoptera,   Coleoptera, Orthopteroid, Lepidoptera, Siphonaptera, Diptera, Hemiptera

Exceptionally strong for the British Isles, Europe, Commonwealth countries and the former British Empire

Named insect specimens of two-thirds of valid insect genera and over half of the valid described species in the world are represented

Systematics of insect disease vectors and insect pests of humans and domestic animals.

Forensic entomology

Myriapoda: Chilopoda, Symphyla, Pauropoda, Diplopoda

Bryozoa (c.500,000 lots) and unknown lots of Entoprocta: these collections have good British, European, Asiatic, Antarctic and Australasian collections.

Onychophora collection (c.49 species)

Tardigrada collection (30 species)

Schistosomiasis collection

Historical marine collections

Bioinformatics- Molecular and cellular evolution of parasitic protists.

Deep sea biology of Nematodes

Soil macrofauna diversity, the role of diversity in soil ecosystem processes; biodiversity assessment protocols.

Evolutionary radiation of Molluscs.

Systematics of Parasitic Worms (trematodes, helminths and schistosomes) in humans and domestic animals.

Systematics and biology (including phylogeny and ontology) of Crustacean groups

Earth Sciences – Meteorite collections

World-class collection of meteorites strong in Chondrites and non-Antarctic Martian meteorites

about 2,000 individual meteorites in about 5,000 registered pieces.

Earth sciences – Ores collection

more than 15,000 ore specimens a valuable resource for the field of economic geology.

Comprehensive collection of ore suites from deposits no longer accessible.

Earth sciences – Rock collections The rock collection contains around 123,000 sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks collected around the world during the past 250 years.


Unique collection of a wide variety of c.16,000 British and European building and decorative stones.

Our material is of particular interest to igneous petrologists and other researchers because many specimens originate from distant or difficult-to-reach locations.

Earth Sciences – Mineral collections

World-class mineral collection containing half the mineral species known in the world of which 10% are primary types

Environmental mineralogy, soil mineralogy and soils research and clay mineralogy.

Crystallography and Mineral structures

Earth sciences – Micropalaeontology collections

Type and figured material from well over 2,000 scientific publications

An estimated 650,000 slides, residue bottles and samples

Millions of individual specimens







Over 106,600 type and figured specimens of which an estimated 51,500 are primary types.

Great geographical breadth that is in part linked to the UK’s colonial past.

Earth Sciences – Palaeobotany collections

Our collections are among the most important palaeobotanical collections worldwide with respect to geographic,   stratigraphic and historical coverage

There is a particular abundance of fossils from British Carboniferous coal measures, Yorkshire Jurassic, Eocene London Clay, some ex-British colonies, such as Australia, South Africa, India and Canada

Earth Sciences – Fossil invertebrate collections Fossil annelid collection contains around 14,000 specimens, with all 6 classes of annelid represented, across their entire geological range


Brachipod collectionBest collection of fossil bryozoans in the world, with over 750,000 specimens

Our large fossil echinoderm collection contains a wide representation of all classes of echinoderm, including a collection of carpoids that is probably the best in the world.

The fossil mollusc collection comprises more than 5 million specimens and includes historically-important material, such as specimens collected by Charles Darwin during the voyage of HMS Beagle.

Substantial collection of fossil sponges (Porifera), containing an estimated 71,000 specimens.

Earth Sciences – Fossil vertebrate collections

fossil mammal material from across the globe, including a diverse collection of Mesozoic mammals and an abundance of type and figured material.

Fossil fish

Fossil birds

All major reptile clades are represented, and we care for one of the world’s most important dinosaur collections.

Fossil amphibians: Late Devonian to Pleistocene collection, including type specimens of temnospondyl amphibians, microsaurs, nectrideans, frogs and salamanders

Collections represent the full stratigraphic range – Pre-Cambrian to Recent.

Holdings of historical and monograph material are particularly strong.

Palaeobiogeography (Amphibia and Reptilia) and Palaeogeography

Phylogenetic analysis at high systematical level

Laser ablation

Digital imaging (including CT reconstruction)

Monte-Carlo Simulation


Library and archives

The largest natural history reference collection in the world

Over one million volumes, with the oldest dating from 1469

25,000 periodical titles.

Analytical Facilities

All Users will have access to the basic equipment they require to complete their research, such as stereo microscopes. In addition, Users can apply to access state of the art technology to assist their research.

Molecular Biology Unit (MBU):comprising top-of-the-range facilities. This capacity makes possible research on genetic diversity in agricultural pests, human/animal disease causing organisms, endangered species and the study of developmental biology. A key component of the MBU is the Wolfson Wellcome-Funded Biomedical Laboratories which processes approximately 70,000 sequencing / fragment analysis samples per year. There are dedicated technicians to help Users in all aspects of DNA sequencing and fragment analysis applications (SSCP, AFLP, VNTR, SNaPshot, Microsatellites analysis) and provide expert advice when troubleshooting any problem samples.

Analytical, Imaging and Structural Facility (AIF): encompasses state-of-the-art analytical, high-resolution, low-voltage and environmental scanning electron microscopes; electron probe microanalysis; laser ablation with ICPMS; cathodoluminescence; confocal microscopy; atomic absorption, inductively coupled plasma atomic emission, inductively coupled plasma mass spectroscopy and infra-red spectroscopy; X-ray diffraction facilities; palaeontology imaging suite; micro- and nano-CT. This facility enables visitors to conduct research on a diverse range of research questions including: microtaxonomy; water quality; sewage treatment; soil contamination by radioisotopes and heavy metals; pollution, bioindicators; mineral chemistry and structure; ore and rock genesis; meteoritics.

For a full list of the equipment that Users can apply to use, click here.

The Palaeontology Conservation Unit, is one of the leading centres for museum conservation in the world, and is unique in Europe. It prepares, maintains and undertakes remedial treatment on all museum specimens and can offer training in best practise to Users. The Unit also conducts research into new methods of conservation.

Information Technology and Access

The Museum has a site license for the alignment programmes ‘Sequencher’ and ‘Lasergene’ and access can be provided to the programme ‘GeneMapper’ which is used for fragment analysis. Computing resources include a 30-node Beowulf cluster and other Unix, PC, and Macintosh hardware, phylogenetic software, and a dedicated full-time Molecular Biology Computing Officer to support Users.

All Users will be able to bring personal laptops and connect these to the museums intranet (after a virus screening). Alternatively there are computers available for visitors to use.

Research supported by the infrastructure

NHM’s research is organised into five major scientific challenges:

1. The Digital NHM

2. Origins, evolution & futures

3. Biodiversity discovery

4. Natural resources and hazards

5. Science, society & skills

Recent highlights

Dinosaurs doing well before asteroid impact – 28/07/2014

Contrary to previous suggestions, most dinosaurs were likely not declining before the impact wiped them out entirely.

Different on the inside – 18/07/2014

In a rare case of internal differences between the sexes, the males of one fish genus have a swimbladder up to 98 times the volume of the females’.

King of Cambrian predators had brain of a worm – 16/07/2014

Spectacular fossil brain discovery leads to rethink of the evolution of arthropods

Proof of the yeti? Not quite yet – 09/07/2014

DNA analysis of 30 hairs attributed to yetis and other ‘anomalous primates’ reveals no unknown species.

Nature’s genius: Dive deep, stay dry – 29/06/2014

Deep-diving birds emerge from water nearly dry using a trick that could be copied in new fabrics.

Missing human fossils rediscovered – 23/06/2014

A treasure trove of important human fossils missing for decades has been identified among the Museum’s collections.

‘Extinct’ creature discovered alive and well – 06/06/2014

A microscopic marine animal thought to have died out four million years ago has been found living in seas around New Zealand.

Museum opens wide for giant crocodile tooth – 30/05/2014

Tooth of ferocious marine reptile is largest of its kind found in the UK.

NASA suggests humans could be on Mars by 2035 – 27/05/2014

NASA’s chief scientist tells the European Lunar Symposium that people on the surface of the red planet is the Agency’s ‘primary mission’.

Emotional welcome for ‘beautiful’ mammoth Lyuba – 23/05/2014

Debut of baby mammoth specimen proves well worth the wait.

Museum launches tree identification app – 22/05/2014

Created by Museum botanists, Leafsnap UK helps users match leaves to their trees.

Secretive species: Museum hits amphibian milestone – 15/04/2014

Museum scientists identify the 200th caecilian, a weird and wonderful group of little-known amphibians.

Breakthrough DNA study could slow big cat extinction – 11/04/2014

New research into lion genes could help scientists boost numbers.

Earliest heart and blood discovered – 07/04/2014

Exceptional preservation reveals a 520-million-year-old cardiovascular system.

Letter from 1909 could solve missing fish riddle – 26/03/2014

Document found in Museum’s archive suggests the river blenny was wiped out on Cyprus.

Museum research defames celebrity amphibian – 17/03/2014

Scientists discover that a reportedly lungless amphibian that overturned an evolutionary theory actually has a lung and working nostrils.

Size matters as fish species splits in two – 03/03/2014

Evolution in action as small fish in a big pond lose out.

Spectacular fossil site discovery intrigues scientists – 20/02/2014

New ancient animal species uncovered in Canadian Rockies.

NASA scientist arrives to scan Apollo 14 Moon rock – 14/02/2014

Museum scans of 3.9-billion-year-old Apollo Moon rock could expose new insights into the Moon’s geological history.

We were here: earliest humans leave prints on Norfolk beach – 07/02/2014

Clues to early human existence revealed during ongoing excavation of Happisburgh archaeological site.

The pros and cons of dating a Neanderthal – 03/02/2014

Breeding with Neanderthals allowed our ancestors to better cope with European winters, but also passed on diseases we suffer today.

Inside the mind of a volcano – 29/01/2014

As the new Volcanoes and Earthquakes gallery prepares to blast open, Museum volcanologist talks about predicting disasters and exploring off limits on the slopes of volcanoes.

Museum botanist issues warnings on invasive species – 21/01/2014

Dr Mark Spencer gives evidence to Parliamentary committee on environmental impact of invasive non-native species.

Comet-chaser prepares to probe the early solar system – 20/01/2014

Search for Earth’s building blocks heats up as Rosetta nears its target.

New lobster species named for Nelson Mandela – 14/01/2014

Lobster discovered in South African waters named after the country’s remarkable leader.

Ancient hunter-gatherers’ diet gave them toothache – 06/01/2014

Research suggests tooth decay was prevalent in earlier human societies.

London’s river of rubbish – 02/01/2014

Unseen toxic stream of plastic flows below Thames surface.

Institution info

London, England


Institution info

London, England