Comprised of the dry-mount skeletal preparations of modern vertebrate animals, the osteology collection is heavily used within the Five College area for teaching purposes. Some courses that regularly utilize osteological holdings include comparative vertebrate anatomy, studio arts, and paleontology, where they serve as modern analogs for fossil vertebrates. Many of the skeletons were originally part of Amherst’s biology department’s teaching collection, but were transferred to the natural history museum sometime in the 20th century. Although the collection consists of recent fauna (as distinguished from fossil fauna), some of the oldest mounts date back to the earliest teaching collections of the College, including some historic specimens that bear labels written by the first curator of zoological and geological collections, Edward Hitchcock (1793-1864).
In sum, the collection numbers approximately 1,500 cataloged specimens comprised of 10,600 elements. The holdings include all of the vertebrate classes, but the mammals are the strength of the collection; all major eutherian orders and several marsupial and monotreme orders are represented. Most specimens are not associated with detailed locality or collection information, limiting their use for biogeographic studies. Several specimens were collected and donated by Amherst College geology/biology professors including Frederic B. Loomis (1873-1937, class of 1896), Albert E. Wood (1910-2002), and Margery Coombs (professor of biology, University of Massachusetts, adjunct professor of geology, Amherst College); typically these were incidental surface finds collected during paleontological expeditions.
The value of the osteology collection increases as global biodiversity is steadily eroded within the current mass extinction. Examples of vulnerable or endangered species present in the collection include the Asian Elephant, bandicoot, black and white ruffed lemur, great hornbill, green turtle, hippopotamus, leopard, lion, loggerhead turtle, slender loris, and all of the great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, gibbons and orangutans). Also included is the critically endangered Atlantic Ridley sea turtle and the recently extinct great auk, as well as species that are endangered or vulnerable in Massachusetts, including the bog turtle, Blanding’s turtle, timber rattlesnake, and wood turtle.