Marine Invertebrate Collections

The marine invertebrates collection dates to the early 1900s. It is a diverse collection of worldwide specimens, the largest portion being marine shells. It also has specimens of echinoderms, corals, sponges, crustaceans, and other invertebrates. Despite its name, it includes a substantial collection of land and freshwater snail shells. The collection contains nearly 50,000 lots, of which more than half are databased in Arctos with more being added to the database each week. More than half of the databased lots are geolocated, and over 1,000 specimen records have images. 

Specimens in the collection represent nearly 6,000 species in over 450 families. Specimens come from over 150 countries with the majority from the United States and most of those from Florida and Hawaii.   All specimens have been donated to the Museum by shell collectors, including many self-collected specimens.


We are continually adding high-quality images of shells in our collection, particularly micromollusks (species under 5 mm in total length). Images can be viewed via Arctos (see FAQs for more information about these images).

Natural history museums around the world are digitizing their collection data and imaging their specimens. For our marine invertebrate specimens, we are focusing on SEM (scanning electron microscope) and light microscopy images of micromollusks, which tend to be underrepresented on the Internet. An example of a digitized specimen can be seen in Arctos: catalog #29833

Interesting Facts

The largest shell in the collection is a Tridacna gigas—the giant clam—which is on display in the South Pacific diorama on the second floor. Tridacna gigas can grow to be over four feet long and weigh almost 600 pounds. Among our smallest shells are families of micromollusks that are only a few millimeters (less than 1/16”) tall when adults. Although these micromollusks may represent one-third of all molluscan species, they tend to be the least studied and collected because of their size.

The collection contains mollusks that live in marine, terrestrial, and freshwater environments. Mollusks first arose almost 500 million years ago and have evolved to occupy every possible niche from the deepest seas to the mountains. Our collection contains both an Ifremeria nautilei found at a hydrothermal vent in the Mariana Back-Arc Basin at 200 meters depth and a Vitrea subrimata  found at 860 meters elevation in the mountains of Austria. 


Paula E. Cushing, PhD

Senior Curator of Invertebrate Zoology

Andrew Doll, MS

Zoology Collections Manager

Cameron Pittman, MS

Assistant Collections Manager of Vertebrate Zoology

Genevieve Anderegg, MS

Assistant Collections Manager of Invertebrate Zoology

Courtney J. Scheskie, MA

Business Support Specialist III

Frequently Asked Questions

The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is pleased to have this marine collection to share with our Colorado residents and with the scientific community at large. In addition to the research collection, we maintain a teach-and-touch collection that is shared with the public at member open houses and other special events. This provides for Coloradoans (especially young people) who have not yet visited the oceans an opportunity to learn more about the amazing animals that live there. Through our Arctos database, our collection is available to everyone via the Internet, regardless of where they live.

Shell collecting has been a popular hobby for centuries, and many of you may be collectors as well. The Denver Museum of Nature & Science collection has been the beneficiary of many of these collections.  Because ours is a research collection, we can only accept shells or other specimens that have provenance—details about exactly where and when they were collected. Your shells may still be of value to schools or other educational groups, but the value of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science collection has as much or more to do with the accompanying data as the physical shells themselves (despite how beautiful they may be).

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