The University of Alabama Vertebrate Zoology Collection consists of numerous mammal and bird specimens, mostly collected from Alabama in the late 19th and mid-20th centuries, and a comparative skeletal collection. These collections represent the diversity of species found in Alabama, and upon the University campus grounds before its building boom and the eradication of abundant natural habitats.
Numerous series of small Alabama mammals such as rodents, shrews and bats are available for research. The Mammal collection contains some 3500+ specimens, including study skins, skulls and taxidermy, in its holdings.
Many of the specimens were collected in the 1950’s and 60’s through the Department of Biological Sciences when Dr. Ralph Chermock was a professor of biology and director of the Natural History Museum. Some of Dr. Chermock’s illustrious students went on to become renowned biologists in their own right, like Edward O. Wilson and former director, Herbert T. Boschung. The oldest specimens date back to the late 1800’s and collecting all but stopped at the end of the 1960’s after Dr. Chermock retired from the museum.
Several collections of big game trophy heads were acquired from five different donors comprising an eclectic mix of sheep, antelope and other hoofed mammals. Some full mounts of African and North American mammals also exist. Mounted birds and small mammals from a large collection of dioramas acquired from the Alabama Department of Archives and History, have been repurposed for exhibition and display. The UA Department of Research and Collections feels that specimens serve the public best when they are made available for observation and tours, exhibits and outreach.
The Museum’s Ornithology collection was originally purchased from an amateur bird collector in Greensboro, Alabama. Dr. William C. Avery was a medical doctor by profession, and an ornithologist by avocation. Over his lifetime, he corresponded with many respected ornithologists of the day, discussing the problems associated with releasing non-native bird species, and exchanging resident species sought by ornithologists outside the state of Alabama. A total of 900 study skins was acquired from Dr. Avery, and the rest of the collection was mostly filled out by students in the Dept. of Biological Sciences under the tutelage of Dr. Ralph L. Chermock and his wife, Ottilie, during the 1950’s.
A nice collection of bird eggs was provided by three major donors: Lewis S. Golson of Prattville, Alabama (1872-1939), his grandson, Ernest G. Holt (1889-1983) of Barachias, Alabama, and Homer Price from Payne, Ohio. Golsan’s eggs, which date back to the early 1900’s, were collected throughout Alabama and Florida, augmented with exchanged specimens from Homer Price. Together with the later Holt egg collection, most of the birds of the United States are covered.
An interesting aside: Ernest Holt accompanied British explorer, Percy Fawcett, on one of his Amazon treks to find the Lost City of Z, and lived to tell about it! He eventually became a respected Ornithologist, leaving his adventurous spirit behind with Fawcett who eventually disappeared into the jungle never to be seen again. The Museum also retains a small collection of nests with no source information.
- Brooke Bogan, Collections Manager of Natural History