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Vertebrate Paleontology

The holotype skeleton of the extinct aquatic herbivore Neoparadoxia cecilialina from the Monterey Formation of Orange County.

Vertebrate Paleontology is the study of ancient animals that have a vertebral column including fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Vertebrate paleontologists are best known for their work with fossils. Our department has grown from housing the fossils recovered from the asphalt seeps of Rancho La Brea during the early 20th century to include a wide diversity of specimens amassed over the years by means of both active excavations and generous donations. Our collection is the fifth largest in the nation and a research standard for universities and colleges in the Southern California region.

The Vertebrate Paleontology Department is responsible for many of the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County's (NHMLAC) exhibits that feature fossils and ancient animal remains. Our department provides the backbone of the Age of Mammals exhibit, currently on display. However, our collection doesn’t end there. Upstairs, our cabinets house over 150,000 fossil vertebrate specimens of all shapes and sizes including representatives of every major group of vertebrates from around the world and spanning in age from the Ordovician to the late Pleistocene. This extensive collection is an invaluable scientific resource and can be viewed, in part, online but also via special appointment for intensive research purposes.


Having access to such a rich collection of resources, our department's research staff is able to simultaneously commit to several different areas of study. The various fields we are able to pursue provide us a deeper understanding of our specimens—and subsequently the history of vertebrate life on our planet—knowledge for us to share with you. As of now, our staff is focusing on:

  • Systematics of fossil marine mammals
  • Terrestrial carnivores
  • The Late Pleistocene

Utilizing the breadth of our collections, our associates from around the world pursue research topics of their own. These most recently include:

  • Fossil history of the Amazon Basin
  • Systematics of fossil sea birds and billfish
  • Paleogeology of the Pacific Northwest
  • The Cenozoic fossil vertebrates of Nevada


Rancho La Brea The largest single collection of Ice Age vertebrate fossils in the world.

Society of Vertebrate Paleontology The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology is a world-wide organization of vertebrate paleontologists and all those interested in fossil vertebrates. Visit them at .

University of California Museum of Paleontology Covering the entire range of fossil organisms the University of California Museum of Paleontology provides a wide range of educational materials on the history of life on Earth.

Search our Collections

We have over 150,000 catalogued specimens of fossil vertebrates, ranging in size from the tiny teeth of fish, bats, shrews, and rodents, to large whales. Our collections are primarily from California, the southwestern portion of the United States, and the northwestern portion of Mexico. They include representatives of every class of fossil vertebrates, but fossil mammals from the Cenozoic (the last 65 million years) form the bulk of the collections. Because of the extensive exposures of marine rocks in Southern California, our collections also include large and diverse holdings of fishes, sharks, whales, pinnipeds, and other marine vertebrates.

Explore our collections by clicking on this Collections Search Form.
View 3D photogrammetry models of VP holotypes on Sketchfab.

Our Staff

Samuel A. McLeod, Ph.D.
Collections Manager, Vertebrate Paleontology

Sam leads Vertebrate Paleontology staff in maintaining, enhancing, and caring for NHM's significant vertebrate fossil collection.

Adolfo Pacheco Castro, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Researcher, Vertebrate Paleontology

Adolfo is studying the Great American Biotic Interchange (GABI) as related to the Mexican fossil record of small mammal species, working with Xiaoming Wang at NHMLA and Jack Tseng at the University of California Berkeley.

James Preston
Preparator, Vertebrate Paleontology

James prepares fossils of mammals, mostly marine mammals including whales, dolphins, and pinnipeds from the Oligocene, Miocene, and Pleistocene, for use in research and display.

Kimberly Schoenberger
Graduate Student, Vertebrate Paleontology

Kimberly is a graduate student at U.S.C. and NHM. She is studying the evolution of Channel Island foxes with Xiaoming Wang.

John Sifling
Assistant Collections Manager, Vertebrate Paleontology

John has assisted the Vertebrate Paleontology department with field, lab, and collections work since 2015.

Jorge Velez-Juarbe, Ph.D.
Associate Curator, Mammalogy (Marine Mammals)

Jorge is a paleontologist and mammalogist who studies the evolution and diversification of marine mammals. As Curator of Marine Mammals, he works with NHM's mammalogy and vertebrate paleontology collections.

Xiaoming Wang, Ph.D.
Curator, Vertebrate Paleontology

Xiaoming is a vertebrate paleontologist whose research is focused on the evolution of terrestrial mammals, especially carnivores.

Alan Zdinak
Senior Paleontological Preparator, Vertebrate Paleontology

Alan Zdinak received his training in fossil preparation and archival specimen housing at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.


Dr. Samuel A. McLeod
Collections Manager