collection drawer with a large skull

Vertebrate Paleontology Collections

Strengths include Paleozoic and Mesozoic fishes, Paleozoic tetrapods, Mesozoic marine vertebrates, Cenozoic small mammals and Natural Trap Cave fauna.

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Collection History

The fossil vertebrate collections were acquired starting in the 1870s. E.P. West and Charles Sternberg, among others, began to amass one of the world’s most renowned collections of Western Interior Seaway fossils, including pterosaurs, fishes, birds and aquatic reptiles. The Vertebrate Paleontology division was founded in 1890 with the hiring of S.W. Williston as a professor of geology and paleontology. He developed the collection’s first cataloging system and began an active field and student training program. The collection grew steadily throughout the 20th century to include strengths such as Devonian fishes, Paleocene mammals from New Mexico, and Carboniferous-Permian amphibians and reptiles. 25% of the collection is from Natural Trap Cave in Wyoming, a site with fossils from all vertebrate groups throughout many interglacial and glacial periods of the Pleistocene.

Type Specimens

Currently, the collection contains approximately 160,000 specimens and nearly 600 types. A series of type catalogs were published from 1982-1986 (University of Kansas Museum of Natural History Miscellaneous Publications No. 73, 77, 78, and 79). Specimen data can be searched through iDigBio, GBIF, or our Specify database. The division’s personnel and research library are based in Dyche Hall at the KU Natural History Museum, with collections primarily housed in the KU Lippincott Annex and the KU Biodiversity Research Center/Public Safety Building on West Campus.