Our Museums

Natural Sciences Collections

Collections Online
Natural Science
Our natural sciences collections hold more than half a million specimens from Northern Ireland and beyond. Mighty whales and tiny snails, flowers and fungi, fossils and meteorites, are just a few of the diverse specimens that we hold.
The finest specimens are on display in our museums, while many more form an important reference collection.

The natural sciences collections have been built up since the late 1700’s, with collections from various early naturalists and societies eventually being brought together to form the Belfast Natural History Society in 1821.

The collection contains animal specimens including taxidermy mounts, skeletons and skins of many birds and mammals found in and around Northern Ireland, and from all around the world. Many mounts were prepared in the early 20th century by the famous Sheals taxidermists of Belfast.

The records of past species distributions tell us where the organisms occurred, and allows for comparison with new records from targeted surveys.  Museums play an important role in the connection between specimen vouchers, correctly identified, contributing to conservation of important habitats. The specimens represent life at a moment in time, whether recent time (the last few 100 years), or deep history (geological time), and are of great value to science.

Marine Invertebrate Collection

This collection is of international significance. Multiple marine surveys were undertaken from 1973, with reports published with NIEA during the 2000s by Bernard Picton. Data from those surveys underpins marine conservation in Northern Ireland, culminating in the 2004 publication of Marine Habitat Classification. These important marine invertebrate collections are producing species still unknown to science today.

Life Sciences Collections

A significant collection of molluscs, both marine and non-marine, includes part of the Robert J. Welch (1859-1936) snail collection from across Ireland, and new material is being added. The insect collection has over 80, 000 specimens, mostly from the UK and Ireland, some of international provenance. The plant collection contains over 91,000 specimens of which two-thirds are flowering plants. The remainder of the collection consists of algae, mosses, liverworts, lichens, fungi and slime moulds. Both collections are being developed.

Geological Collections

The geological collections are actively growing and researched by Mike Simms. Ireland's only dinosaur bones are on display in the Ulster Museum, following their formal description in 2020. Several research articles cover newly discovered fossils, and our museum continues to make a significant contribution to this field of science.