In 1859, Louis Agassiz founded the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ). Shortly after the completion of the first wing of the Museum of Comparative Zoology in 1860, nearly 100,000 specimens were already part of the Department of Invertebrate Zoology (IZ). These specimens came from existing specimens already owned by Harvard, those that L. Agassiz brought with him from Switzerland in 1847, and those that he either collected or purchased after his arrival in the United States. Many students of L. Agassiz were named as assistants and given the responsibility of arranging various collections, five of which, in 1860 were devoted to invertebrates. Currently under the direction of Curators Gonzalo Giribet and Mansi Srivastrava the collections continue to grow, and are a valuable resource to scientists, students, and others.
In July 2016 the Department of Marine Invertebrates (MI) which housed the echinoderms, bryozoans, and urochordates merged with the Department of Invertebrate Zoology. The echinoderm collection began in 1859 with the founding of the MCZ. Under the direction of Alexander Agassiz, Hubert Lyman Clark, Theodore Lyman and others the collection became the large and comprehensive collection it is today. Considering US collections, the MCZ is second to only the National Museum in echinoderm primary type holdings.
Albert Ordway, a promising student, was the first to be given the responsibility of arranging the crustacean collection that consisted by 1861 of over 6000 specimens representing over 1000 species. The collection continued to grow through the efforts of early curators H.A. Hagen (1867-1873), W. Faxon (1874-1920) and later F.A. Chace (1930-1946). Other contributions, include type material are from the early works of E.L. Bouvier, J.D. Dana, A. Milne-Edwards, M. Rathbun, S. I. Smith and W. Stimpson. Elisabeth Deichman (1942-1969), A.G. Humes (1960-1969), W.A. Newman (1963-1965) also had curatorial responsibilities. In 1956, H.W. Levi arrived in the Department as Assistant Curator of Arachnology and he eventually took charge of the Crustacea. A more detailed account of the history and holdings of the crustacean collection can be found in Baldinger (1999).
Arachnida & Myriapoda
The arachnid and myriapod collection likely began in 1860 with specimens collected by L. Agassiz. In 1867, H.A. Hagen, a respected entomologist, was appointed to arrange the entomological collections. While waiting for the construction of new entomological cabinetry to be completed, not only did he arrange the crustacean collection, he collected arachnids and myriapods, and was responsible for the purchase the only surviving collections of A. Menge’s Prussian spiders.
Elizabeth B. Bryant contributed to and cared for the arachnid collections from approximately 1910-1950. Since 1956, the careful maintenance and growth of the arachnid holdings, has been overseen by H.W. Levi. Other arachnologists contributed to the collection, most significantly from N. Banks and R.V. Chamberlin, as well as specimens from J.C. Chamberlin, (pseudoscorpions), C.C. Hoff, (pseudoscorpions), M.H. Muma, (solifugae), and the herpetologist A. Loveridge, (scorpions).
The spider collection is currently one of the largest in the world, containing over 400,000 specimens, and including 3445 holotypes mainly from the works of J.H. Emerton, N. Banks, R.V. Chamberlin, E.B.B. Bryant, A.M. Chickering and H.W. Levi. Diagnostic characters of many orb-weavers were illustrated by Herb Levi, a past Curator of Invertebrate Zoology. The collection also contains types from the Petrunkevitch amber material and the Scudder specimens from the Oligocene Florissant lake beds in Colorado.
The myriapod collection currently has 857 diplopod and 393 chilopod holotypes, while the Acari collection contains types from A. Jacot, N. Banks, along with most of the DeLeon types. Not only have the collections been used for taxonomic research, but archival ticks in the Department were used in the investigation of Lyme disease (1990, Science, Vol. 249:1420-1423). DNA of the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi was found in ticks housed in IZ, that were collected in New York in the 1940's, before the disease was recognized in the USA.
The Cnidaria (in 1859 already consisting of nearly 3000 specimens) was first arranged by A.E. Verrill (1861-1864). In 1864 Verrill left the MCZ to become Yale University’s first Professor of Biology. Subsequent curators of Cnidaria included L.F. Pourtales (1870-1875), J.W. Fewkes (1880-1888), A.G. Mayer (1894-1900), H.B. Bigelow (1905-1966) and E. Deichman (1928-1969). In 1973-1975 and while the cnidarian collection was being moved, D. Opresko organized the collection and cataloged the types.
In 1981, the collection was relocated to compactor shelving where they are housed today. The collection has of over 150,000 lots is considered one of the largest in North America containing type material (in brackets) of A.E. Verrill (333), L.F. Pourtales (243), E. Deichman (131) and J.D. Dana (168). The type collection also includes many lots of Allman, J.W. Fewkes, both L. and A. Agassiz, H.B. Bigelow and others.
In 1862, L. Agassiz reported that 310 annelids were in the collections. In 1897, W. Woodworth arranged and cataloged the collection, and continued work until 1910 who was followed by R.V. Chamberlin from 1912-1926. In 1912 and with J.H. Sandground ultimately in charge of the collection, the parasitic worm holdings began to increase, and by 1933, the collection contained 450 nematodes, 150 cestodes and over 100 species of other parasitic worms.
Currently the annelid collection contains over 35,000 polychaetes consisting of over 325 primary, and 77 secondary types. The polychaete collection is well curated through the efforts of Departmental Associate Harlan Dean.
The hexactinellid sponge collection is likely the best in the world. And the department hosts the taxonomic important A. Hyatt collection. Also, the collection contains over 2500 wet and dry lots, and over 360 primary types.