Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Museum is Out There

From the desk of Kelly Sendall, Manager of Natural History at the Royal BC Museum
After leading many tours of various groups through our natural history collections over the years, I have come to realize that most of what I talk about is usually surprising news to at least half the group.

One important aspect of the work we do in natural history collections is the loaning of specimens to other museums or universities. Although you might think it’s for display purposes, it’s usually for research. That branch of research is called taxonomy or systematics, and can be thought of as the ongoing argument in journals over the evolutionary history of species and their relationships to one another. But it’s also the place for official descriptions or re-descriptions of new species or revisions of more general groups such as genera, families, orders and so on up the hierarchy.

Loaning specimens are a significant part of the process and we are very much involved. Here is the link to a file (GoogleEarthLoanMap) that can be used on Google Earth to see our loans activity over the last 10 years or so. Over 400 loans to museums and other institutions worldwide!

We are also working on a static map of the world showing our loans activity for the entrance area of the Behind the Scenes exhibition.

There are a wide variety of plants and animals loaned out for this purpose for six-month or one-year terms. Spiders, worms, grasses, fossils, fish, voles, bats or gnats…we’ve probably loaned some to another museum. When the loan is returned it sometimes comes with better identifications for the specimens. This is a very valuable improvement to our collections and is a common co-operation among natural history collections. Experts in different groups of organisms such as sea stars or bats may be spread all over the globe, so this type of interaction is crucial to our scientific community.

In mid-January I approved a loan of 30 flies from the family Anthomyzidae (small group of tiny flies) to a researcher at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. We don’t have a staff member that is an expert on this family, so cannot identify these flies to species. When this researcher learned they were here he was pretty excited. Without this type of co-operation the flies would have sat in the collection – unknown, unrecognized and waiting.


  1. That Google map is cool, Kelly. It's incredible how RBCM is involved in research around the globe.

  2. Kelly,
    Thanks for the opportunity to look at the info on the loans collection. I also was surprised and now informed on one of the roles of the RBCM. When I went to Google Earth I wondered what part of the RBCM collection was borrowed and sent to Lethbridge Alberta.
    Dave Mitchell

  3. Since 1970 there have been 3 loans shipped to Lethbridge.

    1. Agriculture Canada; 1980; 2 specimens of Solifugae (wind scorpions/sun spiders)
    2. U. of Lethbridge; 1990; 20 herbarium sheets of Senecio jacobaea (ragwort)
    3. U. of Lethbridge; 2009; 42 bird specimens


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