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Hidden treasure revealed

These South American mammals are a sample of the holdings of the Museum of Southwestern Biology, which has the second-largest mammals collection in the world. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

These South American mammals are a sample of the holdings of the Museum of Southwestern Biology, which has the second-largest mammals collection in the world. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The exterior of the Museum of Southwestern Biology blends easily into the University of New Mexico campus.

The inside is a different world: It’s home to a world-class treasure trove of natural history collections.

A minke whale on display at the UNM Museum of Southwestern Biology. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

A minke whale on display at the UNM Museum of Southwestern Biology. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The museum houses more than 4 million specimens of animals and plants and holds the second-largest mammal collection in the world.

The specimens run the gamut from ferns to an Aplomado falcon to the skeleton of a minke whale.

A cross section of a saguaro cactus from Arizona. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

A cross section of a saguaro cactus from Arizona. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

“Our mission is collecting and archiving samples from the natural world, biodiversity for science in order to understand how the environment or species changes over time,” said Christopher C. Witt, director and curator at the Museum of Southwestern Biology.

While UNM students and faculty can access the collection as needed, on Sunday the general public for the first time will have the opportunity to see various collections from the museum’s eight divisions. The divisions include amphibians, reptiles, anthropods, birds, fish, genomic resources, herbarium and mammals.

“We’ve done open houses within UNM and it’s gotten bigger every year,” Witt said. “Last spring, we had a great time and had over 200 people come through. We decided to try and have a second event where we are opening it up to the public to see what all of the researchers and students are doing at UNM.”

Graduate students Chris Anderson and Joseph Barnett handle a Komodo dragon at the Museum of Southwestern Biology on UNM's campus. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Graduate students Chris Anderson and Joseph Barnett handle a Komodo dragon at the Museum of Southwestern Biology on UNM’s campus. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The museum was established in 1928 as the Museum of Southwestern Zoology.

The collections are growing steadily.

Expeditions to locales all around the world collect specimens for the museum. These tanagers are from Peru. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Expeditions to locales all around the world collect specimens for the museum. These tanagers are from Peru. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

“We have collecting expeditions every month and some of them are to far-flung parts of the world,” Witt said. “Our most recent new arrivals in the bird collections are from Australia and the Pacific Islands.”

Witt said the mammal collection is the fastest-growing in the world, with about 1,000 new specimens a month.

“Our researchers collect samples from populations and study them,” he said. “Others do it to understand evolution or how diseases jump around in the world. We’re an active research museum. If this works with opening it to the public, it’s something that we’ll continue to work on annually.”

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