SDSU Museum of Biodiversity

SDSU Museum of Biodiversity San Diego State University Museum of Biodiversity The San Diego State University Museum of Biodiversity houses thousands of plants and animal skins and skeletons.

This resource is available for research and teaching to both students and faculty and is located here at SDSU in rooms within the Life Science buildings. Our museum is known to be one of the richest university collections in the nation and includes both native and exotic species of birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, arthropods and herbaria. Some of the specimens housed in the museum are quite rare and a few date back as far as the 1800's. The purpose of the museum is to provide instructional models for teaching all levels of biology with a broad taxonomic representation. It is used by professors and graduate students for research in the areas of systematics, evolution, paleontology and anthropology. Many graduate students rely on the extensive data provided by the museum to research and produce their thesis projects, as it is extremely helpful for the identification of live plants and animals.

Operating as usual

Livingstone's Turaco (Tauraco livingstonii).
11/30/2015

Livingstone's Turaco (Tauraco livingstonii).

Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec (Echinops telfairi).
11/20/2015

Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec (Echinops telfairi).

Koala skull (Phascolarctos cinereus).
11/19/2015

Koala skull (Phascolarctos cinereus).

Western Mastiff Bat (Eumops perotis).  Another local San Diego species.
11/18/2015

Western Mastiff Bat (Eumops perotis). Another local San Diego species.

Violet Turaco (Musophaga violacea).
11/17/2015

Violet Turaco (Musophaga violacea).

Mountain Lion skull (Puma concolor).
11/16/2015

Mountain Lion skull (Puma concolor).

Fish-Eating Bat (Myotis vivesi).
11/13/2015

Fish-Eating Bat (Myotis vivesi).

Black Skimmer head (Rynchops niger).
11/12/2015

Black Skimmer head (Rynchops niger).

Chinchilla skull (Chinchilla lanigera).
11/10/2015

Chinchilla skull (Chinchilla lanigera).

Racoon skull (Procyon lotor).
11/09/2015

Racoon skull (Procyon lotor).

Orchid flowers (Cymbidium yellow).
11/06/2015

Orchid flowers (Cymbidium yellow).

Tiger skull (Panthera tigris).
11/05/2015

Tiger skull (Panthera tigris).

Slow Loris skull (Nycticebus coucang).
11/04/2015

Slow Loris skull (Nycticebus coucang).

Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur skull (Varecia variegata).
11/03/2015

Black-and-White Ruffed Lemur skull (Varecia variegata).

Swamp Wallaby skull (Wallabia bicolor).
11/02/2015

Swamp Wallaby skull (Wallabia bicolor).

Mexican Free-Tailed Bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) another of our local San Diego species.  Happy Halloween!!!
10/30/2015

Mexican Free-Tailed Bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) another of our local San Diego species. Happy Halloween!!!

Gray Wolf skull (Canis lupus).
10/29/2015

Gray Wolf skull (Canis lupus).

Long-eared Myotis (Myotis evotis), a local San Diego County bat.
10/28/2015

Long-eared Myotis (Myotis evotis), a local San Diego County bat.

Asiatic Mouflon skull (Ovis aries).
10/27/2015

Asiatic Mouflon skull (Ovis aries).

Bobcat skull (Lynx rufus).
10/26/2015

Bobcat skull (Lynx rufus).

Vampire Bat Skull (Desmodus rotundus)
10/23/2015

Vampire Bat Skull (Desmodus rotundus)

Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus)
10/22/2015

Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus)

Suni skull (Neotragus moschatus)
10/21/2015

Suni skull (Neotragus moschatus)

Indian Flying Fox (Pteropus giganteus).
10/20/2015

Indian Flying Fox (Pteropus giganteus).

Asian Fairy Bluebird (Irena puella sikkimensis)
10/19/2015

Asian Fairy Bluebird (Irena puella sikkimensis)

Dwarf Sperm Whale (Kogia sima) flipper bones on acrylic flipper.
10/15/2015

Dwarf Sperm Whale (Kogia sima) flipper bones on acrylic flipper.

Red Giant Flying Squirrel (Petaurista petaurista).  Prepared by Lissette Silva.
10/14/2015

Red Giant Flying Squirrel (Petaurista petaurista). Prepared by Lissette Silva.

Photo from the Skilled with a Skull article.
02/23/2015

Photo from the Skilled with a Skull article.

02/23/2015

Friday, February 13, 2015
Skilled with a Skull
SDSU Museum of Biodiversity manager Mike Van Patten got his hands dirty prepping a whale skull for the museum's collection.

By Michael Price

The Curious Aztec takes you behind the scenes of scientific investigation and discovery taking place at San Diego State University.

Fair warning: This story is kind of gross. And let me get out ahead of some people’s concerns by stating upfront that the whale died of natural causes and was obtained by San Diego State University after its death. And also, maybe finish what you’re eating before you continue reading. Go on, I’ll wait.

---

Last month, we reported on some recently published research by SDSU biologist Ted W. Cranford. He and his colleague at the University of California, San Diego, Petr Krysl, discovered that baleen whales hear low frequencies through an evolutionary acoustic adaptation that allows their skull bones to vibrate and direct sound energy to their ear bones. They did this by putting the head of a young fin whale, which had beached and died upon a California shore in 2003, into an X-ray CT scanner, scanning it, then using highly complex mathematical software to simulate a sound wave passing through the computerized skull. You can read more about the specifics in their paper, published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The fin whale’s journey didn’t end there, however. The SDSU Museum of Biodiversity, housed on campus in the Life Sciences Building, acquired the skull. For the computer modeling, Cranford and Krysl needed the head with all its flesh, muscle, brain and connective tissue. The museum, understandably, wanted a skeletonized skull. How do you deflesh a whale’s head? It turns out you call Mike Van Patten.

Van Patten graduated with a biology degree from SDSU in 1996, but even before he graduated, he was working in the Museum of Biodiversity, helping curators J. David Archibald and Annalisa Berta with specimen preparation. Today, he’s the museum’s collection manager, and in charge of preparing new acquisitions for storage and display, and for use by classrooms and researchers. Van Patten likes working with his hands, and as he put it, “it’s never a dull day.”

Beetle-mania

Van Patten got his hands on the fin whale head in 2003. Usually, he employs thousands of tiny helpers known as dermestid beetles that munch their way through an animal’s soft tissue and leave behind a nice, clean skeleton. He tried that with the fin whale, but in this instance, the beetles started eating and burrowing into the skull, too.

“Bones are porous,” Van Patten explained, “and they start out even more porous when you’re young.”

Inside of bones are marrow and other tasty temptations for the beetles, so if the bone isn’t dense enough to prevent them from doing so, they’ll snack their way straight through.

Van Patten abandoned the beetle plan and got his hands dirty. Using a scalpel, he started removing bits of flesh, little by little. With adult animals, you can cut and pull away large strips, but with a young whale, that would pull away chunks of bone, too.

“The bone was just so fragile,” he said.

Bone-headed

For the next several days, it was Van Patten, his trusty scalpel and the whale. Calling upon his years of experience, he patiently and delicately removed the soft tissue from every nook and every cranny. Finally, after a final rinse with soap and water, the museum had its skull.

Over the past 20 years, Van Patten has prepped the skeletons of hundreds of animals: tiny squirrels and tinier birds, rhinoceroses and polar bears. Which has been the most difficult? “The fin whale, by far,” he said.

The museum operates a handful of rotating display cases around the Life Sciences Building and hopes to open a few more in the coming months, so you may soon have the opportunity to stare Van Patten’s handiwork right in the sockets.

Photos taken for the Skeleton Crew article.
10/29/2014

Photos taken for the Skeleton Crew article.

10/27/2014

Friday, October 17, 2014
Skeleton Crew
SDSU's Mammalogy Collection boasts an impressive collection of skins and skeletons from creatures great and small.

Bones and skins from some 6,000 specimens reside in the collection.

By Michael Price
The Curious Aztec takes you behind the scenes of scientific investigation and discovery taking place at San Diego State University. This month, we're exploring the creepier, crawlier side of our research.
Somewhere on campus at San Diego State University, there are Tasmanian devils, kangaroos, mountain lions, tigers, a fin whale, a gray whale, grizzly bears, lemurs, cape buffalo, hippos and rhinos. They may lack muscles, organs and the spark of life, but still—you’ve got to admit that’s pretty impressive.
This bony menagerie constitutes the SDSU Mammalogy Collection, curated by J. David Archibald, professor emeritus of biology, and Annalisa Berta, professor of biology, and managed by biologist Mike Van Patten. The collection contains approximately 6,000 individual specimens of hundreds of different species, both terrestrial and marine, many of them quite rare.
SDSU professors started the collection sometime in the 1930s, if not a little earlier. From the '70s through the early '90s, it was housed in the building that is today Professional Studies and Fine Arts, but back then was a library. Today the majority of the collection resides in a large room in the basement of South Life Sciences. Some animals are mounted in living poses, others while away their days in cabinets and drawers.
Critter collection
Catalog item No. 1 is an opossum. Aside from its tail, the end of which has been snapped off and reattached some time ago, it’s in remarkably good condition for an animal that’s older than the California State University system. And this opossum isn’t even the oldest animal in the collection; some of the preserved specimens date back to the 1860s.
Among the rarer species are a Sumatran tiger, three different species of rhinoceros (Sumatran, white and black), and a Steller’s sea cow—an extinct relative of manatees that grew to the size of a small sailboat.
Archibald describes the collection as one of the best in Southern California. Others might have greater numbers of individual species, but few can match the SDSU Mammalogy Collection’s breadth and diversity.
The collection supports the education of undergraduates and graduate students studying biology, anthropology and geology at SDSU. Many graduate students use various specimens for their master’s theses. More than 3,000 students work with the collection every year, Archibald noted.
“It’s very valuable for the students to have opportunities to work with the collection,” he said. “There’s no substitute for holding these specimens in your own hands and seeing how everything fits together. You can’t get the same experience with online learning, just seeing the anatomy on a website.”
Bone donations
Where do the bones come from? Donations, mostly. SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo regularly contribute animals that have passed away. Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton donates animals that have perished on base. Some individuals also provide animals. One woman donated her beloved pet wolf after its death.
After SDSU acquires a specimen, Van Patten and students prep them for long-term storage. That involves another group of tiny assistants: dermestid beetles that swarm over a carcass and consume its flesh, cleaning the bones.
“A good colony of beetles can clean a squirrel in a couple weeks,” Van Patten said.
Enjoy that mental image.
A quick plug: J. David Archibald's new book, Aristotle's Ladder, Darwin's Tree, was released in August to glowing reviews. It takes an authoritative look at the history of biologists wrestling with how to visualize taxonomic relationships. In addition to the fascinating history, the book features some truly gorgeous images of evolutionary branching.

Photo by Rachel Cappelletti.
07/29/2014

Photo by Rachel Cappelletti.

It's February...time to guess the animal.
02/18/2014

It's February...time to guess the animal.

Raggiana Bird-of-paradise close up
12/11/2013

Raggiana Bird-of-paradise close up

Guess this animal
11/14/2013

Guess this animal

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92182

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