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.
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.
“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.”
The museum was established in 1928 as the Museum of Southwestern Zoology.
The collections are growing steadily.
“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.”