Zoologia

Scientific sections

ZOOLOGY

DID YOU KNOW

... invertebrates are 90% of the animal biomass on Earth and play a key role in biodiversity?

What is preserved in the Zoology Section?

Both the historical collections (prior to 1980) acquired from the Zoology and Comparative Anatomy Museums of the University of Turin and the latest acquisitions, as outcome of research, exchange, and purchasing campaigns.

Why are the collections renowned?

Together with the large quantity of holotypes (reference specimens upon which a new taxon has been described) and fossils of extinct and endangered species, the number and distinctive characteristics of specimens of almost all animal groups make the collections an essential reference source for taxonomic, ecological and conservation research.

Foto di Tucano toco (Ramphastos toco)
Toco toucan, Ramphastos toco

Other collections of Invertebrates

The MRSN houses over 30,000 specimens (from the University of Turin) and some 20,000 recent specimens. The Echinoderm group (sea urchins, starfish, sea cucumbers, etc.), in- depth studied by the zoologist Enrico Tortonese (1911-1987), and the Crustacea group, thoroughly analysed by Giuseppe Nobili (1877-1908) and Alceste Arcangeli (1880-1965), stand out for their uniqueness. Other collections include lesser-known specimens and groups.

Esemplare di Pandinus Sp. conservato nella sezione Zoologica del Museo Regionale di Scienze Naturali di Torino
Pandinus sp.
Foto di Salamandra lanzai
Lanza’s salamander, Salamandra lanzai

When and how were the collections created?

The historical collections, whose creation dates back to the first half of the 18th century, gained international prominence in the early 19th century, as eminent zoologists surveyed specimens acquired by donation, exchange and purchase or shipped from Asia Minor, Equatorial Africa and South America.

More recent acquisitions are the outcome of both collecting researches in Italy, South America, and Madagascar and purchases for exhibition purpose.

Geco dalla coda piatta di Sikora
Sikora’s leaf tailed gecko, Uroplatus sikorae

Who are the pre-eminent figures?

In chronological order:

  • Giovanni Battista Bianchi, a physician keenly interested in zoology and founder of the Zoology Museum of the University of Turin in 1739;
  • Franco Andrea Bonelli and Giuseppe Gené, both of them zoologists and directors of the Museum of the University of Turin, increased its scientific reputation from the turn of the 19th century;
  • Filippo De Filippi, a physician and zoologist, during his voyage around the globe (1865-1867) aboard the Royal Corvette Magenta, assembled such a vast collection that the Department of Comparative Anatomy at the University of Turin, founded by De Filippi himself in 1848, had to be converted into a separate museum (1891) in order to house all the specimens;
  • Mario Giacinto Peracca (1861–1923), a renowned herpetologist and taxonomist, enriched the Museum collections of amphibians and reptiles through a steady network of zoologists and naturalists, such as George Albert Boulenger from the British Museum – Natural History (now called Natural History Museum) in London;
  • Michele Lessona, a zoologist and scientific populariser, and Lorenzo Camerano, a herpetologist and entomologist, gave such an impetus to scientific research (second half of the 19th century – first decades of the 20th), that the Museum became one of the most noteworthy all over Europe.

From the post-war period onwards, the collections users declined, due to the emerging research trend, not longer oriented towards the morphological-descriptive and comparative approach that had marked out the collections until then. Accordingly, the preparation and arrangement of the collections took on a radically different approach.

More recently, the urge to revamp taxonomic and conservation studies has helped revitalise the mission of natural history museums for a deeper understanding of our planet. Collections have thus become unrivalled resources for a new vision of biodiversity.

What about the insects?

The richness of the MRSN's insect collection, both in number and rareness of specimens, made it necessary to create the Section of Entomology.

15,000

specimens and a hundred or so osteological and anatomical preparations from all over the world (historical ichthyological collection)

2,500

specimens, mostly from the fresh waters of Piedmont and the Atlantic Ocean (more recent ichthyological collection)

37,000

specimens constitute the herpetological collection, the largest of all vertebrate ones

12,000

specimens and 300 osteological and anatomical preparations from all over the world (historical herpetological collection)

25,000

specimens belonging to the more recent herpetological collection, with noteworthy specimens representative of Italian, Malagasy, and South American herpetofauna

The voucher specimens

The preserved specimens, technically called 'vouchers', are specimen collected in the field during research studies and cataloguing process. They make it possible to gather information that would be difficult to collect in any other way (photos, videos, recordings, environmental DNA analysis, etc.)

The collection of new vouchers is crucial to describe new species, confirm the presence and /or the distribution of a species in a specific area, and provide evidence of the genesis of emerging infectious diseases, as demonstrated with COVID-19, even decades or centuries later.

The Invertebrates Collection

How are they preserved at the MRSN?

Invertebrates are preserved both dry and in alcohol.

Which zoological groups does the Invertebrate collection comprise?

The invertebrate collection comprises a startling number of specimens belonging to specific taxonomic groups. The largest, the molluscs, makes up the Malacology collection.

Malacology = branch of zoology that deals with the study of Molluscs.

The malacology collection includes a range of over 330,000 specimens from the historical collection of the University of Turin. Many of them were studied by the malacologist Carlo Pollonera (1849 – 1923), who described quite a number of new specimens, all preserved as dried-out ones.

Furthermore, the MRSN hosts over 70,000 specimens more recently collected both by researchers and the museum staff.

Esemplare di Conchiglia regina conservato presso la collezione invertebratologica
Queen conch, Aliger gigas

Other collections of Invertebrates

The MRSN houses over 30,000 specimens (from the University of Turin) and some 20,000 recent specimens. The Echinoderm group (sea urchins, starfish, sea cucumbers, etc.), in- depth studied by the zoologist Enrico Tortonese (1911-1987), and the Crustacea group, thoroughly analysed by Giuseppe Nobili (1877-1908) and Alceste Arcangeli (1880-1965), stand out for their uniqueness. Other collections include lesser-known specimens and groups.

The Ichthyology Collection

Ichthyology = branch of zoology that deals with the study of Osteichthyes (bony fish) and Chondrichthyes (cartilaginous fish)

What is it made up of?

  • The historical collection includes about 15,000 specimens, mostly preserved in alcohol, and a hundred or so osteological and anatomical preparations from across the globe, all highlighted in research papers by Enrico Tortonese (1911-1987);
  • The latest collection numbers about 2,500 specimens, preserved in alcohol, mainly from Piedmont fresh waters and the Atlantic Ocean.

The Herpetology Collection

Herpetology = branch of zoology dealing with the study of amphibians and reptiles

Does it include quite a number of specimens?

It is the largest among those of vertebrates: over 37,000 specimens

How is it organised?
Historical collection:

  • 12,000 specimens preserved in alcohol and a small part in dry storage for exhibition purposes;
  • 300 osteological and anatomical preparations from all over the world, assembled by Mario Giacinto Peracca in the second half of the 19th century;

Latest collection: about 25,000 specimens, with a significant proportion of Italian, Malagasy and South American herpetofauna. The Malagasy collection represents one of the richest in Europe as a result of fieldwork successfully carried out by the zoologisr and curator Franco Andreone and his staff for more than three decades.

Rhombophryne regalis
Green toad, Bufotes balearicus

The Ornithological Collection

Ornithology = branch of zoology that deals with the study of birds

The ornithological collection consists of two main clusters:

  1. the 'closed historical collection', from the former Museum of Zoology of the University of Turin (which still owns it) and, to a lesser extent, from the Museum of Comparative Anatomy of the same university;
  2. the 'open collection', which includes specimens acquired by Regione Piemonte through acquisitions or donations since 1980.

The historical collection consists of about 21,000 specimens representing some 6,000 species from all continents.

The large number of type specimens (492) gives it an undeniable historical and scientific relevance.

They all come from purpose-built collections, donations, purchases, exchanges with other scientific institutions and voyages of scientific exploration to different parts of the world (beginning of the 19th century - middle of the 20th century).

Northern rufous hornbill,Buceros hydrocorax
Southern rockhopper penguin, Eudyptes crysocome

The Theriological Collection

Theriology or mammalogy = branch of zoology that deals with with the biology of mammals

What the collection is made up of?

  • Naturalised specimens from different geographical and environmental ranges, preserved by adopting different techniques: taxidermy, tanning, immersion in alcohol;
  • Osteological finds (skeletons and parts of them) of captive animals that had been kept in menageries and in the Royal Zoological Gardens of Turin.

Which is the most complete collection?
The bear collection, which includes four specimens of Tramarctos ornatus from Ecuador, is the most complete in Italy

Eastern grey kangaroo, Macropus giganteus

Franco Andreone
Conservator-restorer
Contact person for herpetological and ichthyological collection

franco.andreone@regione.piemonte.it
Tel. +39 011 4326306

Luca Ghiraldi
Contact person for ornithological and theriological collection

luca.ghiraldi@regione.piemonte.it
Tel. +39 011 4326326

Roberta Tota
Invertebratological collection contact person

roberta.tota@regione.piemonte.it
Tel. +39 011 4325614

Zoology section
zoologia.mrsn@regione.piemonte.it

How many things can one learn about the natural world? Find it all out at the Regional Museum of Natural Sciences!