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Fishes Collections

Established in 1894, The Field Museum fish collection now contains more than 1,700,000 specimens, 130,000 lots, 10,000 species, 4,500 tissue samples, 3,500 skeletons, 1,400 nominal types, and 450 families. Specimens range from the lobe-finned Coelacanth and lungfishes, to a diversity of freshwater catfishes and cichlids, to charismatic reef fishes such as the amazing Slingjaw Wrasse and venomous Red Lionfish.


Established in 1894, The Field Museum fish collection now contains more than 1,700,000 specimens, 130,000 lots, 10,000 species, 4,500 tissue samples, 3,500 skeletons, 1,400 nominal types, and 450 families. Specimens range from the lobe-finned Coelacanth and lungfishes, to a diversity of freshwater catfishes and cichlids, to charismatic reef fishes such as the amazing Slingjaw Wrasse and venomous Red Lionfish.

The Division of Fishes serves the research needs of scientists and students on all continents, both through their visits to the division and through outgoing loans.Continued scientific interest in the holdings of the fish collection stems not only from its historically important and type specimens, but also from the active incorporation of new material into the collection.

The ichthyological collection at The Field Museum is an internationally recognized systematic resource and a member of Fishnet2. The Museum’s fish collection is ranked among the largest, most diverse, and most important fish collections in the world as one of nine international centers of ichthyology in North America (Poss and Collette, 1995). These rankings are based not only upon the size of the holdings but also the geographic coverage of the collection, the extensive type collection, and the historical importance of the material.

Systematic Coverage-More than 10,000 species in 450 families are estimated to be represented in the collection (including the backlog of uncatalogued fishes). The Field Museum has representatives of 40% of the estimated living species of fishes and 86% of the families. This systematic breadth engenders ecological and environmental diversities within the collection from the full range of freshwater habitats, to estuarine, to shallow-marine nearshore, to offshore, and to deep sea environments.

Geographic Coverage-The collection contains specimens from all continents, approximately half of all countries, all oceans, most major seas, and many islands or island groups. The collections are divided almost equally between freshwater and marine holdings. Collections of premier importance include those from: the freshwater of Mexico, Madagascar, Central and South America; the western tropical Atlantic, especially from the Gulf of Mexico and western Caribbean; fresh and nearshore marine waters of North America, and Indo-Pacific reef fishes. There are also important, diverse holdings of fishes from East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Indian and Pacific Ocean basins. Field Museum ichthyological resources from other regions (e.g., Iraq, Poland, Lebanon, China) are generally not well represented in other United States institutions.

Type Specimens-The collection is especially rich in type specimens. Holdings of type materials (850 primary types, 750 secondary types) place The Field Museum among the five most important type depositories in North America. There are at least 1,410 nominal species represented by primary types. Among these nominal type species, The Field Museum now has more than 6,500 primary or secondary type specimens. The type holdings comprise taxa from five continents and the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. The type collection derives from the following sources: exploratory fieldwork and systematic research of curators and associates, purchase of the Carnegie Museum fish collection in 1952; and receipt of gifts or exchanges from colleagues throughout the world.

Historically Significant Materials-In addition to the type collection, The Field Museum maintains much other material of historic value. These collections include pre-1930 materials from areas that have or are now undergoing significant environmental changes (e.g., United States, Mexico, North Borneo, Mexico, Central and South America). Much of this material is documented in the now classic works of Meek, Meek and Hildebrand, and Eigenmann and his students. Other material of historic importance includes the turn of the century collections from the United States and Mexico by A. J. Woolman, and collections from Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and China by Jordan and colleagues, as well as the numerous purchases by A. Owston.

Skeletal Material-The skeletal collection comprises more than 3,500 skeletons from more than 250 families of fishes. Of these, approximately 1,200 are dry, articulated or disarticulated preparations from more than 150 families, and the remainder are cleared and stained specimens. Dry skeleton preparations are facilitated by the dermestid colonies maintained by the Museum.

Special Collections-There are a number of special collections (e.g. freshwater fishes from Borneo, Iran, Lebanon) that are unique or unusual among United States holdings. The collections also contain extensive holdings of large fishes. The collection has more than 100 specimen tanks that hold approximately 1,500 large specimens from more than 125 families. However, three collection areas, marine fishes of the western Caribbean and Indo-Pacific and freshwater fishes of the Neotropics, warrant special mention because our holdings are especially important and have been growing in size and value.

Marine Fishes of the Western Caribbean and Indo-Pacific-Two major marine collections are those of A. Owston in the Japanese Archipelago during the early 1900s and L. P. Woods in the Pacific and Indian Oceans in the 1960s. The Owston collection contains over 1,100 lots, and the Woods collections represent over 1,200 catalogued lots and an additional estimated 800 lots of backlog material. More recently, R. K. Johnson and D. W. Greenfield collaborated on an intensive faunistic, systematic, ecologic, and zoogeographic study of western Caribbean shorefishes. They have specialized in Belize and Honduras, bringing to The Field Museum more than 100,000 specimens comprising ca. 10,000 lots during the decade 1970-1980. Since his arrival, M. Westneat has made substantive collections; examples of these include fishes from: the Northern Great Barrier Reef of Australia, Thailand, the Philippines, Palau, and Papua New Guinea. More recently, L. Smith and C. Jones have expanded our deep-sea holdings from deeper waters off Taiwan.

Neotropical Freshwater Fishes-Beginning with the work of S. E. Meek in Mexico and Central America, the ichthyological collection has maintained important and still growing collections of neotropical freshwater fishes. In the last twenty-five years, D. W.Greenfield, J. Thomerson and their collaborators have placed in The Field Museum more than 50,000 specimens comprising ca. 2,000 lots and 107 species from 150 different localities within Belize. The Carnegie Museum collection, accessioned in 1951, included the substantial collections made by C. H. Eigenmann and his associates in South America earlier last century. D. J. Stewart brought in abundant material from collecting trips to Venezuela (1979), Peru (1980) and Ecuador (1981, 1983). His collections in the Rio Napo basin of Ecuador have brought to The Field Museum approximately 83,200 specimens (not including the 41,600 specimens returned to Ecuador) in approximately 4,250 lots representing more than 430 species. The Napo collection containing samples from more than 200 different localities between 200m and 2500m elevations is among the finest collections ever made for a neotropical river basin of its size. More recently, B. Chernoff and P. Willink have continued to increase the Neotropical freshwater collection. In the past twenty years, their collections from Peru, Venezuela, and Suriname have added more than 50,000 specimens in over 2,000 lots to the collection, with more than 100 species new to The Field Museum.



Explore the Division of Fishes collection of cleared and stained fishes.
Explore all of the Division of Fishes collection records.
Explore the Division of Fishes collection localities.
Explore the Division of Fishes collection of dried fish skeletons.
Explore the Division of Fishes collection of specimen images.
Explore the Division of Fishes type collection.