The Great North Museum’s zoology collections are the largest in North East England. There are more than 60,000 specimens, and many more remain to be catalogued. The collection contains a vast range of material from taxidermy and skeletal material through to marine invertebrates and insects. The collection contains many type specimens, particularly marine invertebrates as well as material from a number of extinct species.


The museum holds more than a thousand mammal specimens including mounted specimens, trophy heads and study skins.

Notable mounts include what are thought to be the only mounted specimens of Chillingham Park Cattle in existence, as well as what is believed to be the first Common Wombat (Vombatus ursinus) ever brought to the Britain, which dates to 1798.

The majority of the trophy heads collection were donated by hunter, naturalist and author Abel Chapman (1851-1929) and are from Africa. There are however a number of interesting specimens from Spain, including Spanish Wild Boar and Spanish Wolf.

Selected projects:

  • Variation in squirrel coat colour using museum study skins – Dr Peter Lurtz, Newcastle University
  • Field vole statistics including body length as a function of population variability in Northumbrian Field Voles using Museum study skins - Dr Peter Lurtz, Newcastle University
  • Water Vole DNA. Regional variation comparing Northumbrian Water vole genes with those from Cumbrian Water Voles. Liverpool University.
  • Research on the Hancock Museum holdings of Giant Deer skeletal material – Sian Smith, Newcastle University.


The Great North Museum also holds an osteology collection of several thousand specimens. These range from individual bones to full mounted skeletons, and contain an eclectic selection of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish. Notable specimens include a large collection of over 40 Sawfish rostrums, as well as a large collection of sub-fossil bones recovered from local cave deposits.

Selected projects:

  • Research on the Hancock Museum holdings of Giant Deer skeletal material – Sian Smith, Newcastle University.


The largest vertebrate collection at the museum, the bird collection, contains mounted specimens as well as a large collection of bird skins.

There are over 3,000 mounted birds, containing a comprehensive series of British species as well as smaller numbers of foreign ones. The most important specimens in the collection are the museum’s two Great Auks, which include the world’s only fully juvenile specimen. There are also a number of recently extinct species in the collection, including the Huia and Passenger Pigeon. The collection contains a significant number of mounts by celebrated Victorian taxidermist John Hancock, including many that were exhibited at the great Exhibition in 1851.

The study skin collection contains around 14,000 specimens. These are also mostly British species, with the majority of specimens collected in the local area. Notable foreign material includes the Herbert Stevens collection, just over 4,000 specimens collected from North-eastern India, as well as a Type specimen of Dickinson’s Kestrel (Falco dickinsonii) and several skins collected from Hawaii by the ornithologist Scott B. Wilson.

The museum also houses about 16,000 eggs and nests. There are important collections of seabird eggs from the Farne Islands as well as eggs from the extinct Great Auk and Passenger Pigeon.

Selected projects:

  • Morphological diversity in Brown Babblers from North East India - Dr Pamela C. Rasmussen, Michigan State University.
  • Historical research into John Hancock’s Gyr Falcons – Ruth Pollitt, Newcastle University.
  • Investigating the provenance of an Historic Capercaillie specimen using stable isotopes – Dr Richard Bevan & Dr Les Jessop, Newcastle University.


The museum houses over 20,000 invertebrate specimens, representing most major groups. They include significant numbers of Type specimens. Important type collections include G.S. Brady’s Ostracod and Copeopod specimens and the extensive marine invertebrate collections of James Alder and Albany Hancock.

The roughly 100,000 insects consist mainly of local material. The largest collections are of moths and butterflies as well as significant numbers of flies and beetles. These include material from important collectors such as T. J Bold and Rev. W J Wingate. Foreign material includes a large collection of Birdwing Butterflies from Indonesia.

The mollusc collection includes both British and Foreign marine shells. There is an important collection of land snail shells collected by George Angas which contains many type specimens. The Alder & Hancock collection includes hundreds of nudibranchs (sea slugs), tunicates (sea squirts) and bryozoans. There are many type specimens in this collection, as well as several species uniquely recorded from British waters.

Selected projects:

  • Taxonomy of excavating sponges – reclassification of the genus Aka - Dr Christine H.L. Schönberg, Carl von Ossietzky University, Oldenburg.
  • Cliona excavating Sponges on the Pacific Window Pane Shell, Placuna placenta (Lamarck) - distribution and economic significance - Dr Susanne Pohler, University of the South Pacific.
  • Checking historic distribution of Diptera from the Wingate collections – Andrew Grayson, Yorkshire Naturalists' Union
  • Checking butterfly records of Northern Argus Butterfly against historic distribution to investigate decline in numbers in Northumberland - P. Summers, National Museums of Scotland.