Florida Museum of Natural History

Edit profile
Florida Museum of Natural History

Coordinates: 29°38′09″N 82°22′13″W / 29.63583°N 82.37028°W / 29.63583; -82.37028

The Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH) is the State of Florida's official state-sponsored and chartered natural history museum. Its main facilities are located on the campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida.

The main public exhibit facility, Powell Hall and the attached McGuire Center, are located in the Cultural Plaza, which it shares with the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art and the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. The main research facility and former public exhibits building, Dickinson Hall, is located on the east side of campus at the corner of Museum Road and Newell Drive.

Powell Hall's permanent public exhibits focus on the flora, fauna, fossils and historic peoples of the state Florida. The museum does not charge for admission to most exhibits; the exceptions are the Butterfly Rainforest and certain traveling exhibits.

The museum was founded in 1891 and relocated to the campus of the University of Florida in 1906 and was chartered as the state's official natural history museum by the Florida Legislature in 1917. Formerly known as the Florida State Museum, the name was changed in 1988 to more accurately reflect the museum's mission and help avoid confusion with Florida State University, which is located in Tallahassee.

Enabling Legislation

The role of the Florida Museum of Natural History as the official natural history museum for the State of Florida is defined by Florida Statute §1004.56 which states:

"The functions of the Florida Museum of Natural History, located at the University of Florida, are to make scientific investigations toward the sustained development of natural resources and a greater appreciation of human cultural heritage, including, but not limited to, biological surveys, ecological studies, environmental impact assessments, in-depth archaeological research, and ethnological analyzes, and to collect and maintain a depository of biological, archaeological, and ethnographic specimens and materials in sufficient numbers and quantities to provide within the state and region a base for research on the variety, evolution, and conservation of wild species; the composition, distribution, importance, and functioning of natural ecosystems; and the distribution of prehistoric and historic archaeological sites and an understanding of the aboriginal and early European cultures that occupied them.

State institutions, departments, and agencies may deposit type collections from archaeological sites in the museum, and it shall be the duty of each state institution, department, and agency to cooperate by depositing in the museum voucher and type biological specimens collected as part of the normal research and monitoring duties of its staff and to transfer to the museum those biological specimens and collections in its possession but not actively being curated or used in the research or teaching of that institution, department, or agency.

The Florida Museum of Natural History is empowered to accept, preserve, maintain, or dispose of these specimens and materials in a manner which makes each collection and its accompanying data available for research and use to the staff of the museum and by cooperating institutions, departments, agencies, and qualified independent researchers.

The biological, archaeological, and ethnographic collections shall belong to the state with the title vested in the Florida Museum of Natural History...In collecting or otherwise acquiring these collections, the Florida Museum of Natural History, except as provided in s. 267.12(3) shall comply with pertinent state wildlife, archaeological, and agricultural laws and rules.

However, all collecting, quarantine, and accreditation permits issued by other institutions, departments, and agencies shall be granted routinely for said museum research study or collecting effort on state lands or within state jurisdiction which does not pose a significant threat to the survival of endangered wild species, habitats, or ecosystems.

In addition, the museum shall develop exhibitions and conduct programs which illustrate, interpret, and explain the natural history of the state and region and shall maintain a library of publications pertaining to the work as herein provided.

The exhibitions, collections, and library of the museum shall be open, free to the public, under suitable rules to be promulgated by the director of the museum and approved by the University of Florida."

Current Facilities

In the over 100 years of operation the Florida Museum of Natural History has been housed in several buildings, from the Seagle Building in downtown Gainesville, to the three halls on-campus and one off-site research facility.

Dickinson Hall

Dickinson Hall, opened in 1971, is located on Museum Road. It currently houses over 25 million objects and artifacts in its collections, which include ichthyology, paleontology (both vertebrate and invertebrate), botany, paleoboatany and palynology, herpetology, malacology, mammalogy, ornithology, environmental archaeology, historical archaeology, archeology of the Caribbean and Florida, and the ethnography of Latin and North Americas. It also houses a state of the art Molecular Systematics and Evolutionary Genetics lab.

Powell Hall

Located in the University of Florida Cultural Plaza, Powell Hall was constructed in 1995 at the corner of Hull Road near S.W. 34th Street, approximately two miles west of Dickinson Hall. It serves, along with the connected McGuire Center, as the main exhibits and public programs facility. Powell Hall was partially funded from a gift of $3 million from two University of Florida alumni couples; Bob and Ann and Steve and Carol Powell of Fort Lauderdale, and with matching funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and from the Florida state government.

Randell Research Center

In 1996, the Randell family gifted 53 acres (210,000 m2) of a 240-acre (0.97 km2), internationally significant Pineland Site Complex in Lee County to the University of Florida, which the museum now operates as the Randell Research Center. This research and education program is an extension of the Museum's Southwest Florida Project and "Year of the Indian" archeology/education project.

In 2008 the Randell Research Center completed a two-year program to plant more than 800 native trees that replace ones destroyed in the 2004 Hurricanes Charley and Frances.

McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity

A $4.2 million gift was received from William and Nadine McGuire of Wayzata, Minnesota in 2000 to establish the William W. and Nadine M. McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. This gift was one of the largest private gifts ever given to foster research on insects and was matched from the State of Florida Alec Courtelis Facilities Enhancement Challenge Grant Program. The McGuires later gave another $3 million to fund final construction of the center. This new $12 million facility for Lepidoptera research and public exhibits opened in August 2004.

The center houses a collection of more than six million butterfly and moth specimens, making it one of the largest collections of Lepidoptera in the world, rivaling that of the Natural History Museum in London, England. The collection includes extinct species. It started with around four million specimens, with space for significant further expansion. The collection brings together those from the Allyn Museum in Sarasota, other University of Florida collections, and the State of Florida's Division of Plant Industry collections.

The McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity serves both research and public education functions. The center includes the living Butterfly Rainforest and exhibit space that features information about Lepidoptera and rainforests worldwide, as well as 39,000 square feet (3,600 m2) of research laboratories and collection space.

The research space includes laboratories focusing on molecular genetics, scanning electron microscopy, image analysis, conservation and captive propagation of endangered species, optical microscopy and specimen preparation, as well as classrooms and offices for 12 faculty curators, collection managers and other staff.

Some of the research laboratories and collection can be viewed through glass panels at the back of the museum. The center has around 39,000 square feet (3,600 m2) of space for its facilities in total.

Public Exhibits
Butterfly Rainforest

The Butterfly Rainforest is a display of live butterflies in a large, outdoor enclosed space attached to the museum. It is the main exhibit in the McGuire Center which is accessed from the main entrance of Powell Hall. The butterflies are brought from around the world as chrysalises and then hatched at the museum. The butterfly exhibit is currently the only permanent exhibit that requires an entrance fee.

Florida Fossils: Evolution of Life & Land

Located in Powell Hall, the $2.5 million, 5,000-square-foot (460 m2) exhibit describes the history of the Florida Platform through five geologic time periods. The exhibition takes visitors on a walk through time beginning in the Eocene epoch, when Florida was underwater. Visitors travel through the Eocene, Oligocene, Miocene, Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs and see Florida's first land animals, evolving grasslands and savannahs and the land bridge between North and South America that formed about 3 million years ago. The exhibit ends with the arrival of the first humans in Florida near the end of the Pleistocene.

Over 90 percent of the exhibit's 500 fossils are real, and many were found within 100 miles (160 km) of Gainesville.

The entrance to the hall showcases six fossil shark jaws, ranging in height from 2–9 feet. The exhibition begins with five extinction events described in dioramas that lead visitors onto the Florida Platform at about 65 million years ago, also known as the Dawn of the Age of Mammals. Displays include a primitive-toothed whale in the Eocene, a pig-like, extinct mammal from the Oligocene, a Miocene rhinoceros being attacked by two saber-toothed, cat-like animals, a 15-foot (4.6 m)-tall sloth standing on its hind legs in the Pliocene area and a 500,000-year-old jaguar chasing a peccary from the Pleistocene epoch. The time periods also include artwork by paleoartists from around the world, including a 9-foot (2.7 m)-tall steel sculpture of an extinct Terror Bird, Titanis walleri.

Since April 21, 2007, the Florida Museum has displayed seven study paintings and a self-portrait by renowned paleo-artist Charles R. Knight (1874–1953) in the Hall of Florida Fossils. Knight completed the paintings, on loan from his granddaughter Rhoda Knight Kalt of New York, nearly a century ago as studies for some of his famous large murals. They include many animals that once lived in Florida, and Knight visited the state many times throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Knight was a master of the depiction of nature and a pioneer in the art of "re-animating" long-extinct and unfamiliar animals. More than any other artist, he has framed our views of life in the distant past. Knight's murals depicting ancient life grace the halls of America's greatest natural history museums, including the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Field Museum in Chicago.

South Florida People & Environments

This exhibit, is also in Powell Hall, the South Florida Hall consists of ten exhibit galleries that occupy a total of 6,050 square feet (562 m2). The sequence of galleries is designed to give visitors a variety of experiences, including 3-D immersion environments and more focused learning centers.

Visitors enter the exhibit through a re-created scene of a Calusa fishing village as it may have looked about 500 years ago. A young Calusa boy carries home a shark on his shoulder, and behind him lies the village and view toward the Gulf of Mexico. Just past the village are four large glass wall panels depicting southwest Florida Indian art and environments. These images suggest the richness and complexity of both the cultural and natural history of the region. Beyond the panels is an orientation area, large enough for docents and teachers to gather a small group and introduce the exhibit. Interpretive panels preview the content and themes of the hall, augmented by a collage mural of south Florida people and environments.

Visitors walk onto a wooden boardwalk into a full-scale re-creation of a southwest Florida mangrove forest and sea grass estuary. The boardwalk passes through mangrove trees, mudflats, and simulated water. Insect, bird, and water sounds combine with slow changes in lighting to capture the feeling of the environment. A huge 360-degree mural painting extends the view to distant barrier islands, bird rookeries, an upland area, and the heart of mangrove forests. Interpretive panels introduce the critical stories of the rich estuarine environment.

This gallery features detailed and specimen-rich exhibits about the environments of South Florida. Learn about the organisms that live in the estuary at the child's interactive wall, a hands-on relief sculpture of the estuary in cross-section, which includes drawers containing natural science specimens. Watch images of underwater life in the estuary on large-format video screens. Explore the biology of estuarine organisms with touch-screen multimedia interactives. Find out about other environments of South Florida, including coral reefs, dunes, the Everglades, pine forests, and tropical hammocks.

Imagine yourself the size of a small fish, and you can imagine this gallery, which features a 12-times life-size underwater scene to explore the tiny organisms that sustain the estuary. Large sculptures of plants, fish, and invertebrates surround the walkway, and shimmering underwater light adds a sense of reality to the scene. Our goal in this immersion experience is to demonstrate the tremendous diversity of this environment and to bring to life the critical array of tiny organisms that sustain the ecosystem at the base of the food web.

The Fishing Heritage Gallery tells the story of 6,000 years of fishing. This artifact-rich gallery highlights 6,000 years of fishing along Florida's Gulf coast. Displays focus on the fishing industry of the Calusa, their predecessors, and traditions that carried into the 20th century. We explore the significance of maritime adaptation as a basis for social and political complexity. Included are topics such as fish, nets, native and post-contact fishing techniques, watercraft, and waterworks. Visitors will learn about the remarkable engineering endeavors of the Calusa, who constructed large canals across southwest Florida; and the long-lived net-fishing tradition. Interactive multimedia stations illustrate topics such as net making and cordage manufacture, and a miniature diorama of a fishing village captures the essence of Calusa fishing. Artifacts include 1,000-year-old palm-fiber fishing nets, Calusa net-making tools, a wide range of shell tools, and an ancient wooden canoe paddle.

The dominant feature of this gallery is a large picture window and view of an outdoor mound. Sculptures of a Calusa family stand on the mound next to a palm-thatched house, suggesting that the visitor is looking outside and into the past. Inside, interpretive panels discuss mounds and Calusa town plans. Next to the window, an interactive model shows a cutaway view of a mound and explains archaeologists' methods of interpreting the past.

This gallery showcases the amazing society of the Calusa through a dramatic re-created scene. Visitors enter a palm-thatched building and find themselves in a Calusa leader's house during a political ceremony. Subdued lights and sounds of singing add drama to a scene of six human sculptures, based on known individuals from historic Spanish documents. The setting is the Calusa capital town of Calos, about the year 1564. A distant chief is visiting the Calusa leader and his close associates. Interpretive panels explain topics such as Calusa politics, social organization, and spiritual beliefs. Artifacts from the Museum's collections complement the stories and include shell, bone, and metal ornaments as well as objects traded to the Calusa from places as far away as Missouri.

The Legacy Gallery presents some of the most rare and interesting objects in our South Florida collections. These include a 1,000-year-old hand-carved wooden panel with a painting of the near-extinct ivory-billed woodpecker, a wooden panel with a painted alligator, wooden figurines of animals and humans, ornaments made from precious metals, and numerous other carved wooden and bone objects. Interpretive panels discuss South Florida sites of special significance, including the remarkable "wet sites" that can yield detailed information when excavated with care and when recovered objects are appropriately treated. A multimedia interactive further explains the process of properly preserving and caring for wet-site materials.

This gallery is devoted to the Indian people who live in South Florida today: the Seminole and Miccosukee. Interpretive panels address their history and their vibrant living traditions. Display cases feature many of the interesting objects from our collections, including patchwork clothing, woodwork, basketry, silverwork, and artifacts from early Seminole sites.

Northwest Florida: Waterways & Wildlife

As visitors move through this exhibit, they will experience a journey through different habitats as if they were traveling westward in the Florida panhandle. When visitors enter Northwest Florida, they are immersed in a hammock forest with a dramatic, highly detailed, 25-foot (7.6 m)-high wrap-around mural. There are more than 50 different plants and animals for visitors to locate in this environment, from high in the trees to under logs on the forest floor.

The cave, a continuing exhibit from Dickinson Hall, is a signature part of this exhibition and the visitor experiences what it is like to be inside a northwest Florida cave. The cave is modeled after one found in Marianna Caverns State Park. While exploring the cave, visitors will learn about minerals, hydrology, cave life and the fossils found in its limestone layers.

Upon exiting the cave, the visitor enters a pitcher plant bog that was modeled after bog communities around Eglin Air Force Base. Seepage bogs are characterized by saturated, highly acidic, sandy soil and are dominated by low growing plant species, such as grasses and carnivorous plants. Proceeding past the diorama, visitors experience a change in scale where they encounter larger-than-life pitcher plants.

The river scene travels 700 years back in time along the banks of the Apalachicola River. As visitors move off of a boardwalk onto a simulated dirt path, they are surrounded by a 360-degree wraparound forest mural and a Native American trading scene from ca. 1300 A.D. Northwest Florida was once a major political and cultural crossroads, and Indian nations lived in large settlements along rivers. This exchange is between peoples of the Fort Walton culture and the Etowah. Northwest Florida rivers are filled with fossilized remains of now-extinct vertebrate animal species, and examples of these are featured along with many archaeological and ethnographic artifacts from the museum's collections.

Expanses of salt-tolerant grasses and winding creeks give marshes an open, distinctive look. However, life in coastal marshes is challenging because changing tides constantly alter water and salinity levels. Few plant and animal species are adapted to this habitat. Visitors will discover why the tidal marsh is an important ecosystem and learn about the specialized adaptations needed to survive them.

A coastal diorama depicts dune habitats from the barrier islands from Panama City to Pensacola. An osprey in flight, bird nests from the museum's collections, a cross-section of a sea turtle nest and coastal water sounds enhance the visitor experience. Just before exiting Northwest Florida, the visitor encounters a floor to ceiling curved lagoon case depicting how different sessile intertidal species stratify their habitats in the tidal zone. Jars with preserved specimens from the Ichthyology collection demonstrate the diversity of bony fishes from this habitat.

Florida Wildflower and Butterfly Garden

Located next to the west side of the McGuire Center, the garden beckons visitors to imagine how they could transform their yards into an inviting and colorful, yet practical and water-saving, mecca for butterflies and other wildlife.

The Florida Wildflower Council appropriated funds from the Florida wildflower license tag revenue for the garden, an accompanying brochure and a wildflower and butterfly display in the Florida Museum of Natural History. The display shows the life cycles of four butterflies and depicts how the plants they use change in appearance over the four seasons.

Changing Gallery

The Changing Gallery is 5,000 sq ft (460 m2) hall, also located in Powell Hall, which has hosted the Megaladon Exhibit, Hatching the Past, Chocolate, Tibet Exhibit and Sue the Tyrannosaurus rex and Inside Africa, both from the Field Museum in Chicago, Il.

Upcoming exhibits include Grossology: The Impolite Science of the Human Body, Quilting Natural Florida II, CSI: Crime Scene Insects, Everglades and the Amazon.

Research Collections

With the exception of the Lepidoptera collection, located in the McGuire Center, almost all other research collections are located in Dickinson Hall.


This collection, unlike the rest of the museum’s collections, is housed at the McGuire Center. This department is relatively new when compared to the other collections and departments although their research is quite extensive.

Conservation of the Homerus Swallowtail

The endangered Homerus Swallowtail (Papilio homerus), once common in Jamaica, is struggling to recover with the aid of forest conservation efforts. This large (approximately 6 inches (150 mm) wide) endangered butterfly once inhabited 7 of the 13 parishes of Jamaica and was relatively common in the 1930s. Today it occurs only in two parishes where the Blue Mountains meet the John Crow Range in eastern Jamaica and in isolated places in Cockpit Country of western Jamaica. Larvae of the Homerus Swallowtail require humidity close to 100% and inhabit wet limestone forests and lower montane rainforest. Destruction of these forests led to decline of the species.

Despite existing logging prohibitions, in 1979 a government-sponsored company began cutting 2,000 hectares of rainforest a year to plant Caribbean pine. A 1984 film about the vanishing swallowtail prompted new research and conservation efforts. In 1991, Jamaica established a new national park around remaining swallowtail habitat after Hurricane Gilbert destroyed most planted Caribbean pines. This allowed natural vegetation to re-establish the rainforest, and the butterfly's host plants rapidly returned.

In the 1980s, UF scientists began studying Homerus Swallowtail ecology with University of the West Indies lepidopterists. Thomas C. Emmel and Jaret C. Daniels later helped establish captive breeding and educational programs in Jamaica to help local conservation efforts. This led to the establishment of John Crow-Blue Mountain National Park, which uses the Homerus Swallowtail as its flagship symbol.

The Miami Blue Project

The Miami blue (Cyclargus thomasi bethunebakeri) is a small, brightly colored butterfly that lives only in Florida. Primarily a coastal species, the Miami blue inhabits tropical hardwood hammocks, beachside scrub and pine rocklands. Its larvae feed mostly on the native Balloon Vine (Cardiospermum corindum) and Gray Nickerbean (Caesalpinia bonduc). Development in coastal areas eliminated the Miami blue from the south Florida mainland. This alarming decline continued in the Florida Keys. After disappearing for seven years, the species was rediscovered on Bahia Honda Key. Current threats to the remaining tiny population include adult mosquito control spraying, which kills larvae feeding on sprayed host plants.

In 2002, approximately 50 adult butterflies were flying in Bahia Honda State Park. The same year, scientists established a captive breeding population in Gainesville. The first reintroduction of this species occurred in May 2004 in Everglades National Park, and other sites will receive reintroductions after suitable habitats are identified.

The Florida Museum has established a captive breeding population and are reintroducing the Blues into conservation areas such as Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. The goal is to increase population numbers in the wild and expand the range of this butterfly from one small remnant colony on Bahia Honda Key to historically occupied areas.

Schaus Swallowtail Project

The rare Florida subspecies of the Schaus' Swallowtail (Papilio aristodemus ponceanus; syn. Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus) lives on Elliott Key, one of the few places in south Florida where there is no spraying for mosquito control. Once widespread in south Florida, its population size and distribution were reduced by urbanization of Miami and the Keys, and later by mosquito control spraying with pesticides Dibrom and Baytex.

In captivity Schaus' females lay up to 430 eggs. In nature, predators eat most eggs, and wasps parasitize most larvae. But in the laboratory, researchers can raise most eggs to adults. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida and devastated Schaus' habitat on Elliott Key. This prompted a large-scale captive breeding program. The team bred over 1,500 butterflies in captivity and released them in the Keys and south Florida.

Success of the new populations is monitored every year. In spring, scientists visit Elliott Key to collect, mark, and release the butterflies. Recapture rates of marked butterflies help estimate population size. The number of individuals flying hovers at about one thousand.

St. Augustine Hairstreak and Coastal Development

The St. Augustine Hairstreak occurs only in northeast and north central Florida. Colonies are geographically isolated and very small, with only 3-40 adult butterflies normally present. The larvae feed only on Southern Red Cedar trees (Juniperus silicicola). You may see 3-4 males perched on every tree in a colony, waiting for passing females.

Ten years ago, several colonies of the St. Augustine Hairstreak (Mitoura grynea sweadneri) were known from Jacksonville, St. Augustine, and Gulf Coast areas near Cedar Key. Today, colonies remain only inland west of the St. Johns River. The status of this butterfly east of St. Johns River is in question and the original coastal populations may no longer exist.

Coastal development has eliminated many old cedar trees, which led to the demise of this species and continues to be a threat. Also, landscapers often trim cedar tree branches, removing new growth that hosts both eggs and caterpillars. Mulching around tree bases can kill the underground pupae and suppresses wildflowers vital to adult feeding.

Akers Pence conducts field and laboratory research on the conservation biology of the St. Augustine Hairstreak. Dr. Thomas C. Emmel first brought scientific attention to the species' demise in 1987.

Butterfly-Ant Symbiosis

Many of the 6,000 species of the butterfly family Lycaenidae associate with ants. The complexity and beauty of such interactions in the Malaysian tropics attracted research on the subject. Lycaenid caterpillars may have special organs that attract and appease ants. Some species cannot survive without ants. For example, some lycaenid caterpillars are taken by ants into the nest and are allowed to eat ant larvae in exchange for a sweet secretion from the caterpillars. Some even evolve ant-like pheromones, so they pass as ants instead of invaders.

A Malaysian Blue caterpillar (Anthene emolus) can develop into an adult without the help of ants, but has a much greater risk of falling prey to predators and parasites. Female blues look for both host plants and Weaver Ants (Oecophylla smaragdina), laying eggs when the ants are present. Weaver Ants, a numerous and aggressive species of ants, offer caterpillars reliable protection. The ants transport young caterpillars around host plants to help them find food. In return, they "milk" the older larvae for a sweet secretion.

Museum staff traveled to Malaysia to research ant-caterpillar association. They discovered that different ant castes play different roles in tending caterpillars, and that major ants fight minor ants for the right to tend caterpillars. This defies standard theory that ants act in unity for the common good of the ant colony.

Chemical Ecology of Heliconius

Larvae of Heliconius butterflies feed exclusively on cyanide-producing passion vines. The caterpillars of this genus have developed the ability to counteract the effects of the cyanogenic glycosides in their Passiflora host plants, but the exact mechanisms for counteracting these cyanogens are unknown. Dr. Mirian Medina Hay-Roe focuses her research on the chemical interactions of Passiflora plants and their herbivores of the genus Heliconius. The investigation approaches insect/plant co-evolution at various levels. At the morphological level, she investigates genetic variation in life history characteristics, as well as, the influence of environmental factors and maternal effects. At the physiological level, her research investigates the fate of plant secondary compounds, the patterns of toxicity exhibited by Heliconius adults fed cyanogenic glycosides as caterpillars, and the mechanisms of detoxification used by the larvae. The evolutionary implication of her research focuses on an understanding of the evolution of mimicry rings based on plant toxicity.

Mimicry Diversiry, Evolution and Ecology of Ithomiine Communities

Ithomiines dominate butterfly communities in neotropical forests, from sea level to over 2,400 m elevation. Ithomiines may comprise up to 50% of all butterflies in the forest understorey, and in many places up to 60 species fly together. Understanding how such diverse communities coexist is a central goal of evolutionary ecology, and ithomiines are an ideal study group. Ithomiine caterpillars feed almost exclusively on plants of the family Solanaceae, and each ithomiine species is usually confined to a single hostplant species. There is evidence of adaptive radiation, with more diverse plant clades supporting more diverse groups of ithomiines. Ithomiines are also notable for being unpalatable to predators and thus warningly colored, and extensively involved in mimicry rings. However, rather than all species converging on a single warning color pattern as predicted by mimicry theory, there are diverse complexes of mimetic species occurring together. Drs. Keith Willmott and Julia Robinson Willmott are thus working with colleagues from Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities, UK, to try to understand how mimicry diversity is maintained in two distinct ithomiine communities in eastern Ecuador.

Their hypothesis is that different mimicry complexes occur in different microhabitats, i.e. ridge tops or stream sides, where distinct predator species occur, so that predators rarely encounter more than one kind of color pattern and thus the selection for convergence of different mimicry complexes is weak. The microhabitats where butterflies occur may be constrained by the microhabitats where their food-plants grow, so they are rearing ithomiines to identify host-plant usage. They are also mapping the height and microhabitat distribution of butterflies, plants and insectivorous birds to quantify niche space for these groups. Finally, they are deriving molecular and morphological phylogenies for certain ithomiine genera to test whether adaptive shifts in warning color pattern, host-plant or microhabitat have been important in speciation.

Sound production in Heliconius butterflies

A few butterfly species have been reported to produce or hear sounds. The best-known example is the butterfly genus, Hamadryas, which produces loud clicks in flight. Dr. Hay-Roe has discovered that Heliconius cydno also produces audible wing clicks during encounters with members of the same species and other Heliconius species. This finding suggests that wing clicks may play a role in intra- and interspecific communication in Heliconius. In collaboration with the USDA; Dr. Hay-Roe is trying to determine the evolutionary importance of sound production in the genus Heliconius.

Night Roosting in Heliconius Study

Communal roosting occurs when multiple insects of one or more species assemble in close proximity to one another for a certain period of time. Some species within the genus Heliconius display gregarious night roosting behavior. This particular behavior has been addressed several times over more than a century, but a explanation for it remains obscure. In order to better understand this behavior the staff is studying clustering behavior and roost structure and patterns related to individual's sex, age, and size using Heliconius butterflies. This study is done with captive-bred colonies and utilizes unique facilities of the McGuire Center.

Speciation in Heliconius

Heliconius comprise a colorful and widespread butterfly genus distributed throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. These butterflies have been a subject of many studies due to their abundance and relative ease in breeding under laboratory conditions as well as due to the extensive mimicry that occurs in this group. Studying this model group is helping scientists to understand how species are formed and why they are so diverse.

The museum staff has been studying Heliconius sexual selection and speciation processes in Colombian species, Heliconius heurippa. This species is known to have an intermediate morphology and a hybrid genome, and in the study its intermediate wing color and pattern was recreated through laboratory crosses between H. melpomene, H. cydno, and their first generation hybrids. Mate preference experiments showed that the phenotype of H. heurippa is reproductively isolates it from both parental species. There is strong assortative mating between all three species, and in H. heurippa the wing pattern and color elements derived from H. melpomene and H. cydno are both critical for mate recognition by males.

Richness and Phenology of a Moth Community in North-Central Florida

McGuire Center collections managers, Drs. George T. Austin and Andrei Sourakov, have been analyzing richness and phenology of moths fauna in North-Central Florida since January 2005. About 1,100 species were collected from a single locality outside Paynes Prairie near Gainesville, Florida during a twelve-month period. Many additional species have been collected in 2006. Sampling, databasing, and analyzing of nearly 14,000 specimens allowed determine seasonal fluctuations in species richness and relative abundance. Interesting patterns have been discovered and await publication.

Mexican Butterflies

With over 1,800 species of butterflies reported from the country, Mexico is one of the ten most butterfly-rich nations on Earth. This vast diversity is a product of Mexico's complex geography, climate, and varied botanical communities, and includes a high degree of endemicity; approximately 15% of Mexico's butterfly species are endemic to the country. For over three decades, researchers currently at the McGuire Center have been studying the Mexican butterfly fauna, in collaboration with researchers at Mexico's National Autonomous University, in Mexico City, and El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, in Chetumal, Quintana Roo. This research has resulted in the discovery and description of various new species of butterflies, the compilation and publication of various state and regional lists, and has contributed a tremendous amount of new distributional information for many taxa through an ambitious databasing project.

Tropical Andean Butterfly Diversity Project

This project is an international collaboration among scientists, institutions and organizations involved in research on the butterflies of the tropical Andean region. It is a three year project funded by the United Kingdom's Darwin Initiative. The project's goals are to establish a foundation for future research on butterflies in the region. The project will provide resources, such as specimen databases, species lists and images, conduct training courses for students in Andean countries, and develop and publish a strategy for butterfly research and conservation in the tropical Andean region.

Taiwan Lepidoptera Survey

This project is on-going since 1980, with numerous survey trips to investigate the Lepidoptera biodiversity of the island of Taiwan that have taken place in more than 20 years of research. Large collections continue to be made and studied, and two dozen specialists on various families are working on family treatments, under project direction of J. B. Heppner. Publications by the Association for Tropical Lepidoptera thus far include the basic Lepidoptera of Taiwan catalog (1992), listing over 3,976 species of moths and butterflies known for Taiwan, and the first faunal synopsis (2007), illustrating in color about half of the species. Future series books will treat all the species in more detail.

Atlas of Neotropical Lepidoptera

The biodiversity summary project of the Association for Tropical Lepidoptera for the New World tropics, from the Mexican-USA border southwards, began in 1980. Under project director, Dr. J. B. Heppner, there have been completed thus far catalog parts for micro-moths, the smaller macro-moths, and the butterflies. Future catalogs will treat the remaining groups. Color synopses of the fauna of Neotropical moths and butterflies will be published as the numerous specialist authors complete their studies.

Lepidoptera of Chile

This biodiversity project will catalog and treat the moths and butterflies of Chile, a region with a limited fauna but totally restricted and isolated from the Amazonian tropical fauna.

Lepidopterorum Catalogues

Since 1911, the Lepidopterorum Catalogues has been the premier catalog series for Lepidoptera of the world. Beginning in 1989 the series was renewed by the Association for Tropical Lepidoptera, with the completion of the world catalog for Noctuidae, with updated format and publication scheme. Since then, several other families have been completed, including the recent catalogs for Scythrididae and Andesianidae in 2007. Several specialist authors are working on other catalogs. The series now gives full citations to published names for each family, plus notes on known host-plants, figures published, distribution of each species, a bibliography of all papers on the family, and figures of representative species.

Classification of Lepidoptera

Since 1998, Dr. John Heppner has been working on revised treatment of all families of Lepidoptera, with the publication of the first part of the classification. Additional parts are in progress. Coordinated book contracts include one for a "Manual of Lepidoptera" and for "American Lepidoptera", both treatments at the family level.

Preliminary Survey of the Macrolepidopteran Moth Diversity of Big Cypress National Preserve

The primary objective of this study is to survey major moth families in four of the seven habitat types in Big Cypress National Preserve. The objectives of this project are to identify which moths species occur in each designated habitat type, establish a voucher and frozen tissue collection of the moths obtained during the survey, and develop an on-line searchable website. The website will illustrate diversity in the preserve with images of the moths and of their respective habitats. A synoptic moth collection will also be created and exhibited at Big Cypress’ visitor's center. This work will allow comparing moth diversity at Big Cypress with this in other areas in Florida. It will also allow us to evaluate efficiency of our small-scale survey techniques compared to more labor-intensive surveys of moths conducted elsewhere.

Blood-feeding and Fruit-feeding Moths of Calpini Tribe, Their Phylogeny and Classification

The noctuid moth subfamily Calpinae comprises approximately 360 species worldwide. Calpinae is defined by the structure of the proboscis which consists of fish hook-like barbs that are used for tearing the skin of fruits and mammals.

The tribe Calpini is cosmopolitan in its distribution. The genus Calyptra is considered to be Old World in its distribution with a high concentration of diversity in South and Southeast Asia, yet one species, C. canadensis, occurs in the northeastern United States and Canada. Genera Cecharismena, Goniapteryx, Hypsoropha, Pharga, Phyprosopus, and Psammathodoxa are mainly found in the New World, while Eudocima is found in the Old World tropics. Genus Gonodonta can be found in subtropical and tropical regions, with seven species occurring in Florida, Texas, and Arizona. Species of Oraesia, Plusiodonta, and Radara are common in the Old and New World tropics.

At least five genera within the Calpini are considered to be primary piercers of both hard and soft-skinned fruits; nine species in the genus Calyptra have been recorded piercing the skin of mammals and feeding on their blood. Bänziger divides these feeding behaviors into three categories: skin piercers and blood feeders, primary fruit piercers, and secondary fruit piercers. Primary fruit piercers are able to penetrate fruit, while secondary piercers are only capable of piercing fruit damaged previously by primary piercers or other animals.

It has been hypothesized that blood-feeding behavior evolved from fruit piercing. This hypothesis has never been tested, and cannot be tested until the relationships of Calyptra and related genera are known. McGuire Center's doctoral research associate Jennifer Zaspel is working on reconstructing the phylogenetic relationships among the genera in Calpini. She also intends to determine the origin(s) of blood feeding in the genus Calyptra and if there is in fact a directional progression of feeding types in these moths.

Higher Classification of Hesperiidae

Butterflies in the family Hesperiidae, commonly known as skippers, comprise between 4,000 and 5,000 species worldwide, constituting approximately 20% of the Earth's butterfly fauna. Despite this diversity, the family has historically been under-studied, compared to the other families of butterflies, and there has been no general consensus on the definitions of or relationships between higher taxa in the family.

Recent studies on the higher classification of the family have sought to define the major genealogical lineages of the world's skippers, through combined analyses of adult morphology and DNA sequence character data.

Systematics of Genus Calisto

Butterfly species in the genus Calisto are highly successful butterflies, but are now seriously endangered due to habitat loss. Of the 103 butterfly genera on Hispaniola, the genus Calisto comprises 20% of the butterfly fauna. This genus is an extraordinary example of butterfly radiation. There are some forty Calisto species and subspecies that have managed to adapt to every possible environment on the island, from lowland desert; where temperatures reach 120 °F (49 °C), to 10,000-foot (3,000 m)-high mountain peaks; where frost covers the ground at night.

Calisto have extremely local ranges, and many species are rare and endangered. In the exceptionally dry Hispaniolan lowlands, four Calisto species survive on seemingly unpalatable Bunch Grass. In the highlands, several isolated species are associated with various bamboos. Some Calisto are known from just several specimens, and nothing is yet known about their biology. Many Calisto species are endangered and will probably go extinct in coming decades. There is little protection of their habitats, and the few national parks suffer from illegal logging, grazing, and agriculture. Dr. Andrei Sourakov conducted most of the recent Calisto research. His work described the biology of many species and reconstructs their evolutionary history.

Systematics and Classification of Ithomiinae

The nymphalid butterfly subfamily Ithomiinae contains some 360 species occurring only in the neotropical region, from southwestern United States to Uruguay. Closely related to the subfamily Danainae, it represents one of the largest neotropical butterfly radiations. Ithomiine biology has been extensively studied for many years, and currently these butterflies are a model group for research into biogeography, evolution and genetics.

Despite much work on ithomiine systematics over the last 50 years, until recently there existed no phylogeny, or hypothesis of evolutionary relationships, between ithomiine species and genera. Dr. Keith Willmott is working with colleagues in United States and Brazil to study the morphology and genetics of these butterflies to derive a phylogeny for all genera and species groups. This phylogeny will be used to check the existing higher-level classification and to propose changes where necessary. He is also working with Gerardo Lamas, from the Museo de Historia Natural, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, in Lima, to revise the systematics and classification of all ithomiine genera that have not been studied in the past 50 years. This work involves approximately 200 species, of which 10% have yet to be described. Results should provide a stable framework for testing evolutionary hypotheses in this subfamily and for further studies of their ecology and biology in the field.

Taxonomy of Monarch butterflies

Most insect revisions and classifications are based mainly on the characters of adult insects. However, when the taxonomic status of a taxon is in question, molecular data and/or hybridization crosses can be employed. In order to clarify the taxonomic status of Danaus erippus, which has often been classified as a subspecies of Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), hybridization studies were performed by Dr. Hay-Roe. The results revealed the presence of pre- and postzygotic isolation between these two taxa. Pupal inviability and Haldane rule effects (male hybrids only, the homogametic sex in butterflies) were also observed. These results reinforce the hypothesis that plexippus and erippus are separate, reproductively isolated species. Chemical analysis of their cuticular hydrocarbons shows quantitative differences which may imply reproductive isolation between these two species.

Taxonomy and Systematics of Cyllopodini; revision of the genus Cyllopoda

The first part of this study is a revision of the genus Cyllopoda. This is the first part of what will hopefully be a comprehensive revision of the tribe Cyllopodini, with future work focusing on phylogenetic studies, mimicry, chemical ecology, and gaining knowledge of their life histories. Any study, in which modern reversionary techniques are employed, such as investigation of genitalic structures or phylogenetic analyses, will be instrumental in resolving some of the synonymy that exists in the family, and will contribute to a global integration of the tribal structure for this subfamily. The revision of the genus Cyllopoda was carried out by means of morphological taxonomic techniques only. Genetic techniques are an important supplement to morphological techniques and genetic analysis will be pursued at a later date and on a much wider scope including closely related tribes.

Mimicry complexes of butterflies and some species of diurnal moths have been investigated; however, no work has been published on mimicry complexes involving this tribe of geometrids. It has been established that the yellow and black coloration pattern in nature functions as aposematic or warning coloration. This aposematic coloration seen in the adults in this tribe may be a consequence of them being distasteful and involved in Müllerian mimicry, a result of them being Batesian mimics of similarly patterned species, or a combination of both types of mimicry. Investigation of the mimicry patterns and behavior of the adults and larvae of Cyllopodini is one of the future projects that would naturally follow this initial revision and which no doubt would contribute significantly to geometrid systematics and ecology, as well as our knowledge of the nature of mimicry.


Since 1992, the mammalogy collection at Dickinson Hall has undergone rapid growth and expansion. Between 1979 and 2007, the collection has doubled, increasing from 14,000 to over 30,000 specimens. Since 2002, the Florida Museum has acquired the University of Miami's cetacean collection and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's manatee collection.

The mammalogy collection has roughly 30,618 cataloged specimens and approximately 1,000 non-cataloged specimens. It consists primarily of skins and skulls, although entire skeletons have been prepared from all specimens acquired since 1992. There are 205 large tanned skins and 4,500, roughly 16% of the collection, has been preserved in fluid. The collection is preponderated by small mammals, primarily rodents and bats, from the southeastern US, the Caribbean, Latin America, South-America and 2,600 specimens from Pakistan.

An important component of the mammalogy collection is the marine mammal collection, consisting of 310 manatee, dolphin and over five hundred whales. The enormity of the collection is the result of a long-term cooperative effort with the U.S. National Biological Service's Sirenia research project, Marine Mammal Stranding Network, researchers David and Melba Caldwell, and Marineland of Florida. Other major collections that have been acquired and/or cataloged over the past 15 years include:

  • Cross Florida Barge Canal collection (Florida Game & Fresh Water Fish Commission - 1,800 small mammals)
  • Bowen collection of beach mice, Peromyscus polionotus (Bowen 1968) - 3,400
  • James Layne collection of small mammals from Archbold Biological Station (2,100).
  • Involvement with the Florida Panther Recovery Program has resulted in the only significant collection of this endangered subspecies in the entire USA with fewer than 50 individuals.

Average growth rate of the collection between 1989 and 1994 is 640 specimens per year, and 800 specimens per year for the previous 5 years; this is double the growth recorded for 1972-1979 of 290 specimens per year as reported in the survey of North American collections of recent mammals. Orphaned or donated collections account for approximately 60% of reported growth.

The mammal collection is primarily a research collection, but experiences a broad range of uses beyond this primary function. It is used as a teaching collection for undergraduate and graduate students; reference collection for law enforcement as a forensic identification of endangered species; as a reference collection for carnivore feeding studies i.e. owl pellet and scat analysis; a comparative material for students and faculty of zoo archeology and vertebrate paleontology (post-cranial skeletal collection). As part of a large university, the uses of the collection are diverse including applications in biomedical studies, wildlife dentistry, and even studies of environmental contaminants. As the concern for Florida's environment increases, so does the monitoring of habitats and species by state and federal biologists, resulting in an increased interest in the historical and recent distributions of mammals in Florida by a variety of state and federal agencies.


The Florida Museum of Natural History ichthyological collection was ranked as the tenth most important fish specimen resource in the North America and the second highest by the ranking National Center by the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. Since that survey was completed, the 65,000 lot University of Miami collection was transferred and is currently being integrated into complete collection.

The collection itself contains more than 197,000 cataloged lots of which there are 2,150,000 specimens, representing more than 7,000 species. In addition, there is an unsorted backlog of about 25,000 lots, about 250,000 specimens. Most of the uncatalogued and backlog material was acquired through transfer of the important collections previously housed at the National Marine Fisheries Service biological laboratories in Miami, Pascagoula, MS, and the University of Miami. The collection currently contains primary and secondary types of more than 325 taxa of freshwater and marine fishes.

The osteological collection comprises 2,500 lots of disarticulated skeletons representing over 320 species. Skeletal holdings emphasize the southeastern United States, Caribbean, Central American and northwestern South American ichthyofaunas. Representative specimens of over 200 species have been cleared and stained. A radiograph collection and the original field notes of numerous individuals and organizations, including station sheets for virtually all U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/National Marine Fisheries Service and University of Miami research vessels, are maintained.

The principal strengths of the fish collection are, in approximate order of importance, its holdings of (1) western and eastern Atlantic shelf and deep water marine fishes, (2) western Atlantic reef fishes, (3) North American freshwater fishes, especially from the southeastern United States, and (4) freshwater fishes from certain parts of Central America, South America and the West Indies. Of the above, categories (1), and (2) are nearly equal in importance.

Most of the material acquired from the National Marine Fisheries Service Tropical Atlantic Biological (TABL) collection consists of western Atlantic fishes from nearshore shallows to moderate depths, with the families Argentinidae, Atherinidae, Balistidae, Batrachoididae, Belonidae, Bothidae, Branchiostomatidae, Caproidae, Carangidae, Clupeidae, Congridae, Cynoglossidae, Dasyatidae, Engraulididae, Exocoetidae, Fundulidae, Gadidae, Gerreidae, Haemulidae, Hemiramphidae, Lutjanidae, Macrouridae, Monacanthidae, Mugilidae, Ogcocephalidae, Ophichthidae, Ophidiidae, Paralichthyidae, Peristediidae, Priacanthidae, Rajiidae, Sciaenidae, Scombridae, Serranidae, Scorpaenidae, Scyliorhinidae, Soleidae, Sparidae, Sphyraenidae, Stromateidae, Squalidae, Syngnathidae, Synodontidae, Tetraodontidae, and Triglidae most common. These collections have been substantially augmented by the field activities of museum personnel and donations made over the last 20 years. Eastern Atlantic collections from the Gulf of Guinea are available in some abundance. The western Atlantic collections acquired from the National Marine Fisheries Service Pascagoula laboratory and University of Miami are generally from greater depths and represent some of the museum's most valuable resources. Deepwater anguilliform, salmoniform, stomiiform, aulopiform, myctophiform, and ophidiiform families are particularly well represented. For certain families, i.e. searsiidae, alepocephalidae, these collections may be among the best North American holdings from the western Atlantic region.

The holdings of western Atlantic reef fishes are among the most important in existence, with the following geographic areas most heavily collected: Florida, the Bahamas, Isla de Providencia, the Cayman Islands, the Virgin Islands and the Lesser Antilles. Smaller numbers of reef fish collections exist from Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Sombrero Island, other Lesser Antilles islands, continental islands off northern South America, Brazil, and Ascension Island. There are a substantial number of reef fishes from off the Carolinas. Major reef groups represented include the Acanthuridae, Antenariidae, Apogonidae, Blenniidae, Chaenopsidae, Chaetodontidae, Clinidae, Dactyloscopidae, Gobiesocidae, Gobiidae, Grammistidae, Haemulidae, Holocentridae, Kyphosidae, Labridae, Lutjanidae, Mullidae, Muraenidae, Ostraciidae, Opistognathidae, Pomacanthidae, Pomacentridae, Scaridae, Serranidae, and Tripterygidae. Eastern Pacific reef collections are present from the Pearl Islands south to Ecuador. Also available are a fair number of Indo-Pacific reef fishes acquired by staff collecting and by donations received from the Bishop Museum and the National Museum of Natural History. Over 200 shore and estuarine collections have been made from the Caribbean coasts of Costa Rica and Panama.

The museum's worldwide holdings of elasmobranchs, particularly squaloid sharks, have grown rapidly in the last 15 years and are an important international resource. Other elasmobranch groups prominently represented include Carcharhinidae, Dasyatidae, Gymnuridae, Myliobatidae, Rajidae, Rhinobatidae, Scyliorhinidae, Sphyrnidae, Squatinidae, Torpedinidae and Triakidae.

Holdings of freshwater fishes are greatest from the southeastern United States, particularly Florida. In addition, an effort has been made to obtain as complete a taxonomic and geographic coverage of freshwater species as possible from throughout North America. As a result, over 90 percent of the freshwater fish species from the United States and Canada are represented in the collection. Best represented are members of the Catostomidae, Centrarchidae, Cyprinidae, Elassomatidae, Fundulidae, Ictaluridae, Lepisosteidae, Percidae, Petromyzontidae and Poeciliidae. Freshwater fishes from Bolivia, Venezuela, Colombia, Hispaniola, Guatemala, Panama and Costa Rica are currently represented in moderate to large numbers in the collection. The Florida Museum of Natural History's Hispaniolan holdings are unsurpassed and the Venezuelan holdings are growing continuously. A wide spectrum of characoid, gymnotoid and siluroid families, cichlids, and poeciliids are especially well represented


The mollusk collection was initiated through the efforts of T. van Hyning, the first director of the museum, and was small and composed mostly of local taxa until 1965. In 1973, the mollusk collection consisted of 22,174 cataloged lots and ranked 19th in the US. The collection has grown rapidly since, through numerous field surveys and acquisition of relinquished collections. Since 2000, Malacology has also hosted a growing collection of non-molluscan marine invertebrates. About 100,000 species of mollusks are known, and the collection holds over 30,000 species among 400,000 lots of specimens. Over 300,000 lots are now databased and accessible online. The collection is among the five largest in the US, and one of the most rapidly growing. It is second largest mollusk collection in the world in online accessibility.

The collection is especially strong in regional taxa. Malacology has one of the largest collections of terrestrial and freshwater mollusks from the southeastern US. Overall marine mollusks comprise 38% of cataloged holdings; freshwater species make up 18% and terrestrial taxa 44%. Gastropods comprise 83%, bivalves 16%, while all other mollusk classes combined <1% of the collection. Three quarters of the collection is from the western hemisphere, while 18% is from tropical Australasia and surrounding Pacific and Indian Ocean islands. The mollusk collection has unique strengths in land, freshwater and marine mollusks. The museum has the largest land snail collection in the world from H


2 photos

Building Activity

  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings updated 100 media
    about 6 years ago via OpenBuildings.com