The Ulster Museum’s collection of animal specimens reminds us of some of the threats facing the natural world. Some of our most treasured specimens are of creatures that were driven to extinction by hunting. Our collection covers all types of creatures and is divided into vertebrates (with backbones), and invertebrates (without backbones).
There are taxidermy mounts, skeletons, and skins of many birds and mammals found in and around Northern Ireland, and from all around the world. Among the invertebrates we have huge collections of insects and molluscs.
Our collection holds examples of every mammal species living in Northern Ireland today, and skeletons of whales and dolphins that have washed up on our shores. The enigmatic thylacine is here, as is the bizarre duck-billed platypus. The collection contains more than 2000 mammal mounts, skins, and skeletons. The finest of these are on display, while many more form an important reference collection.
More than 300 bird species are known from Northern Ireland, and our collections include mounts of nearly all of them. Many were prepared in the early 20th century by the famous Sheals taxidermists of Belfast. Today, vital conservation regulations restrict this type of collecting, and the museum no longer engages in it. The collection is an important scientific reference collection—some the best of these are on display, or on loan to other organisations.
Aquatic and marine life
Northern Ireland’s seas are rich with life. Some of our freshwater lakes and rivers are home to rare animals and plants. Our collection holds many of these specimens— from minute molluscs to mighty whales, and from endangered freshwater pearl mussels to types of lake trout found nowhere else in the world.
Insects and invertebrates
Just as there are more insects on the planet than any other animal group, so there are more insects in the Ulster Museum collection than all the other specimens combined. Most of our insect specimens are from the UK and Ireland, but many are from further afield. Among them are the exceptional collections of Morpho and Parnassius butterflies. We also have a significant collection of other invertebrates, particularly snails from across Ireland.