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USGS Biological Surveys Collection, Albuquerque

The USGS Arid Lands Field Station maintains a unique and significant collection of vertebrates obtained from predecessor agencies, including the Bureau of Biological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Biological Survey. The collection originated in Denver in the 1920s, and was used to study the food habits and economic impact of predators, mammals, and birds in the Western United States. In 1975 the collections were moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, and in 1994, they were moved to their current location, the University of New Mexico (UNM) Museum of Southwestern Biology, Albuquerque. Two agreements between USGS and UNM provide for a variety of mutually beneficial interactions in research and museum collections. The collection serves as a repository for specimens taken in support of Federal research in the West.

Today, full-time curatorial staff from USGS curate and maintain the collection of 5,000 lots of fishes, 12,500 amphibians and reptiles, 3,100 birds, and over 26,000 mammals. There are also more than 3,000 frozen tissues of mammals. The specimens are primarily from Federal lands in the western Great Plains, Rocky Mountains, and Intermountain West. Specimens are prepared in a variety of ways and include traditional skins and skulls, skeletons, fluid-preserved specimens, and frozen tissues. Specimen data are fully computerized, and the bird and mammal data are accessible online via the web-based database Arctos. Original field notes and catalogs, including those of the collection's first curator, Charles Sperry, are on file.


The collection of fishes contains 5,000 catalogued lots, most of which are from the Upper Colorado River Basin. Significant holdings include endangered fishes such as razorback sucker, Colorado pikeminnow, and bony tail chub, taken before or just after completion of dams such as Flaming Gorge (Wyoming) and Glen Canyon (Utah). The collection is a Federal repository for [mortalities of] adult fishes collected on the Upper Colorado River. Much of this collection was salvaged by Dr. Robert B. Finley, Jr., former Curator of the collection. Subsequently, ichthyologists including Drs. Glenn Clemmer, Royal Suttkus, and Jim Williams assisted in curating the collection.

fish images
Colorado pikeminnow © 2004 H.W.Brandenburg, dam in the Western U.S. © USFWS, razorback sucker © 2003 H.W.Brandenburg

Amphibians and Reptiles

With more than 12,300 fluid-preserved specimens and 200 skeletons, this collection contains large holdings from Colorado (40%), Nevada (32%), and Nebraska, Arizona, Utah, and California combined (18%). The collection includes early (1920s-1940s) food habits reference specimens (skeletons) collected by Sperry. Also included is the Colorado State University herpetological teaching collection with specimens collected by Dave Pettus, A.W. Spencer, D.D. Post, and T.P. Maslin. A large series (3,500) of reptiles collected from the Nevada Test Site in the 1960s was recently catalogued and includes many side-blotched lizards (Uta stansburiana) and Western whiptails (Cnemidophorus tigris), as well as other lizards and snakes. These specimens were donated to the collection by USGS researcher Phil Medica. Drs. Bruce Bury and Steve Corn have supported the collection as well. Recent voucher specimens were deposited from national parks on the Northern Colorado Plateau and Southern Colorado Plateau networks, in support of the NPS Inventory and Monitoring Program. All Federal specimens of amphibians and reptiles have been integrated with the MSB collection.

herp images


The oldest specimens date from 1912 with the majority of specimens collected before 1960. A valuable collection of skeletons comprises nearly half of the 3,100 specimens, and includes Sperry's original reference collection of skeletons from the Denver Food Habits Laboratory. The remaining specimens are traditional skins and a few fluid-preserved specimens. Geographic coverage spans the United States, although the majority of birds are from California, Colorado, Kansas, Utah, and Texas (in descending order of abundance). The California specimens were collected throughout the state by R.E. Genelly between 1932 and 1980. The USGS bird collection is physically integrated with the MSB collection and all data are accessible online via Arctos. Dr. Bob Dickerman, Curatorial Associate of the MSB, was primarily responsible for merging the USGS specimens into the MSB collection.

bird images


The 26,000+ mammal collection contains large numbers of bats and rodents from Federal lands, particularly from national parks and wildlife refuges in the western United States. Almost since its inception, the collection has served as a repository for mammals collected in support of basic biological surveys of Federal lands. Such surveys increased beginning in 1982 under the leadership of the collections's third curator, Dr. Michael Bogan. Most recently, the collection has supported National Park Service Inventory and Monitoring efforts on the Northern Colorado Plateau and Southern Colorado Plateau networks. The collection is a repository for black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) that represent the last of the historical population of ferrets (founders) from Wyoming before that population went extinct and captive breeding efforts began. USGS specimen data are fully integrated with MSB mammal data, and are served online via Arctos. Approximately 35% of Federal specimens are physically integrated with MSB specimens and integration should be completed by July 2010. Dr. Robert B. Finley, Jr., added many specimens from Colorado and Wyoming to the collection and Dr. Michael A. Bogan oversaw the addition of specimens from Colorado, Utah, South Dakota, Wyoming, and New Mexico to the collection.

mammal images

What's in a name?

The American Society of Mammalogy (ASM) has published a survey on the holdings of mammal collections in North America since 1923 and every 10-20 years subsequently. The USGS vertebrate collection was not listed in the first two surveys (Howell 1923, Doutt 1945), and first appears in the 1963 survey as "a reference collection for study of food habits of the Denver Wildlife Research Center, Fish and Wildlife Service, United States Department of the Interior" (Anderson et al 1963). In subsequent ASM surveys, the collection is listed as follows:

1975: Denver Collection of the Bird and Mammal Laboratories (DCBML), U.S. Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife (Choate and Genoways 1975).
1987: Biological Surveys Collection/Fort Collins (BS/FC), Denver Wildlife Research Center, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Yates et al. 1987).
1997: The Biological Surveys Collection, Fort Collins (CO) is mentioned as having been "incorporated" into the UNM Museum of Southwestern Biology, New Mexico (Hafner et al. 1997).

Present: USGS staff in Albuquerque refer to the collection as the "USGS Biological Surveys Collection, Albuquerque" in the Museum of Southwestern Biology. The name helps distinguish this collection from the much larger Biological Survey Collection in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

For additional information about the collection click on Cryan, P.M., C. Ramotnik, and M. Bogan. 2006. Natural history collections: a scientific treasure trove. Fact Sheet 2006-3079. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Geological Survey, Fort Collins Science Center. 2 pp.