UNR opens natural history museum

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UNR opens natural history museum

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Preserved animals, such as this fox, are on display at the University of Nevada, Reno's new Museum of Natural History.

The University of Nevada, Reno has opened a museum of natural history with Great Basin plant life dating back more than a century.

The museum houses displays of regional species, like birds, reptiles, and fish , along with a larger research collection of preserved plant and animal life, including 500,000 insects, 10,000 animals, and nearly 100,000 plants, some dating back to 1890.

"We've got over a century of researchers at UNR or other collaborators that have contributed specimens to our collection," says Chris Feldman, co-director of the museum. "So we've got butterflies from way deep in the desert, in the middle of our state, for example, that were collected in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Those populations have probably gone extinct."

Feldman says the collection has been neglected in the past and was stored off campus, stifling teaching, research, and outreach opportunities. Now, researchers and educators have easier access to everything, even several type specimens, which are the originals collected when a new species is introduced for the very first time.

"Most of the time, type specimens are held under lock and key in a very prestigious institution like the Smithsonian or American Museum of Natural History," Feldman explains, "but we actually have a fair bit of plant type specimens. So, that is we hold that original source of the species description, and so people have to come to us."

With the museum now underway, UNR is creating a digital version of the collection which will eventually be available online.