The Vertebrate Paleontology Collection holds approximately 90,000 specimens of fossil fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.
Collection strengths include diverse holdings of fossil fish, including material Louis Agassiz brought from Europe, as well as important purchases of British Paleozoic sharks and rhipidistians from the Earl of Enniskillen; C. F. Hartt’s collection of Cretaceous teleosts from Brazil; and the Haeberlin collection from the lithographic limestone at Solnhofen. Important holdings of fossil amphibians and reptiles include the Sternberg collection from the Permian of Texas, Jurassic crocodilians and Triassic ichthyosaurs from England and Germany, Triassic phytosaurs from the American west and southwest, and plesiosaurs from Australia. The fossil bird collection contains material from the Cretaceous Niobrara Chalk; the Eocene Green River Formation; the Oligocene of Goshen Hole, Wyoming; the Miocene, Agate Springs, Nebraska; and mid-Pliocene deposits of Florida. Alexander Agassiz made major acquisitions to the fossil mammal collection with the purchase of Garman and Clifford’s collections form the White River Oligocene and the Pleistocene of Nebraska; Sternberg’s collection of Pliocene rhinoceroses from Kansas; and Schlaikjer’s diverse Oligocene and Miocene materials from Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska.
The Vertebrate Paleontology Preparation Facility has the capability to undertake all but the largest preparation tasks. Three permanent preparation stations have state of the art equipment and are currently designed with microscopic preparation as the primary focus. One workstation is dedicated to graduate student use. Acid preparation is undertaken in a laboratory on the second floor of the MCZ Laboratories. Table space for specimen layout is available to manage projects with multiple or large specimens.
Below surveys some of the department's major holdings. Various specimens of fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals that are on display in the MCZ's public exhibition areas are available for research access by pre-arrangement.