The Zoological Collection of the Department of Evolutionary Biology - a brief overview


Simon Engelberger

Zoological Collection
Unit for Theoretical Biology, Department of Evolutionary Biology
University of Vienna


Among its diverse research facilities, the Department of Evolutionary Biology houses an extensive collection of biological specimens and non-specimen objects (University of Vienna, Zoological Collection; UVZC). The University of Vienna began to collect and display natural history objects in its own “Naturhistorisches Museum” (later “Zoologisches Museum”) ever since 1775. Due to the incorporation of other, separately founded, collections like the “Vergleichend Anatomisches Museum” of the anatomist Joseph Hyrtl, the private collection of Ludwig Schmarda and the collection of the “Zootomisches Institut”, the holdings multiplied over the course of the 19th century. Despite considerable losses during the Second World War, the UVZC still houses a large number of specimens in various preparations.

Today the collection contains an estimated 8000 fluid and 9000 dry preserved vertebrate and invertebrate specimens. In addition, collections of pinned insects comprising approximately 200.000 individuals and  50.000 microscopic slides are separately maintained.  Beside the various biological specimens, the UVZC has also significant holdings of glass and wax models, about 1000 wallcharts, some 30.000 photographs, films and other media items, and a small archival collection. The suite of 145 glass models, depicting marine invertebrates and produced by the renowned Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, represents one of the largest surviving collections of its kind. In contrast to these models, which were exclusively purchased, more than half of the UVZC's wallcharts were painted in-house. Similarly, a large collection of lantern slides – predecessors of present day slides – were assembled as teaching aid at the former zoological institute(s). These items seem to have often been produced for specific courses or lectures, therewith offering a unique perspective on past teaching practices at the University.

Taken together, the diverse holdings document more than two centuries of zoological research and teaching at University of Vienna. Therefore, the UVZCoffers an immense research potential for different avenues of scientific inquiry. Before long, the ongoing digitization of the collection will grant access to a large variety of data to scientists all over the world.