Most people are familiar with the game animals in British Columbia, but not the vast majority of British Columbia’s small mammals that are not exploited for human use. Non-game organisms form the foundation for ecological communities, and these organisms cannot be ignored if we hope to understand population dynamics in British Columbia. The Royal BC Museum’s collection contains over 101,861 vertebrate specimens, in a wide range of life-history stages from preserved embryos and neonate animals to fully adult individuals. About 346 species of mammals are represented in this collection, with more added every time researchers get out to survey new areas.
The wet collection contains only a few alcohol preserved adult mammals and a range of embryos, including a few foetal whales and pinnipeds. Each jar in the collection may only house one specimen, or in other cases, the jar may be packed with a number of specimens caught at a particular place and time. Each specimen has a label with some collection data and catalogue number, and specimens are ordered in the collection according to a rough pattern of evolutionary relationships. Furs and some mammal taxidermy mounts are held in a secure cold room separate from the main part of the collection. The majority of the mammals in the Royal BC Museum’s collection are prepared as study skins and skeletons. These specimens are housed in steel cabinets, with disarticulated skeletal material housed in clear plastic Durphy boxes. The unique specimen catalogue number is written on each bone if possible, although this is not possible for the smaller bones of bats, shrews and rodents.
This collection contains many type specimens. Type specimensare the best examples of a species at the time a particular species was described. Better specimens may be found years later, but the type specimen designation stays with the original material used to describe a species. There are provisions for designating new type specimens if the originals are lost, but this is the exception rather than common practice.
Type specimens are held in a separate cabinet away from the main part of the research material. They do not go on loan to other institutions, and therefore, researchers must come here to examine these high-priority items.
Most mammals in the Royal BC Museum collection are from British Columbia, but a small portion of the collection comes from outside our borders or exemplifies of closely related organisms for comparison. There are also several exotic species in this collection to document the continued presence of species introduced by humans for hunting, farming or from the pet trade. The collection does contain a small number of other exotic organisms that today would be rejected since they are not representative of British Columbia (e.g., a Cheetah skull; an elephant’s tail). Some specimens not representative of British Columbia have been transferred to other institutions.
The vertebrate collection was likely the first to be established by Jack Fannin when the museum was created to stem the flow of artifacts out of province. New specimens are added each year, but this number varies significantly depending on the source. Small mammals may arrive as a group or as single road-killed animals. The Royal BC Museum has two new specimens of the latest mammal to be found in BC: the eastern red bat. The collection grows from research specimens and public donations, and from specimens transferred from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Environment and regional natural resources officers, as well as a wide range of other sources.
Our collection manager for birds and mammals is Lesley Kennes. Preparation of mammal specimens in the backlog is being addressed over a 2 year period to produce study skin and process skeletal material for the collection (either by boiling to remove soft-tissue, or using dermestid beetles to clean away flesh).