Collections Research:Zoology
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In the field

Zoologists at the Illinois State Museum spend many hours in the field studying living animals, such as birds, mammals, mollusks, and insects. They make careful notes about where and how the animals live. This is particularly important in the case of endangered species, where scientists are trying to understand the environmental factors necessary for the animals to thrive.

In the Laboratory

Back in the Museum's genetics laboratory, some of our zoologists study DNA from animals like dragonflies and white-tailed deer. They try to determine the genetic variability (range of different DNA types, for example) within a population of animals. This allows them to examine the health of that population. 

If the genetic variability is low, the population may have difficulty adapting to changes in the environment. Scientists can also compare different populations of the same or closely related species. 

Museum zoologists also study ancient DNA preserved in animal bones from archaeological and paleontological sites. These studies help zoologists understand relationships between species and sometimes help trace the animals' distribution from one area to another. Such studies also provide information about how animals responded to changes in climate and population sizes.


The Illinois State Museum's Zoological Collections are used in exhibits, educational programs, and research. They include:
animal skeletons reptiles
bird skins and mounts amphibians
bird eggs and nests fish
mammal skins and mounts mollusks
insects and spiders  

Several of our collections are considered among the largest of their type in the country. Researchers from around the world use the Museum's comparative collections of animal skeletons and mollusks to help them identify animal remains. They can access the Museum's online databases to look at records of Illinois butterflies, moths, dragonflies, and damselflies. They can also use our Faunmap database to investigate the changing distributions of more than 200 mammal species over the last 40,000 years.


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