Departments | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

Departments

Explore the diversity of research and collections at NHMLA. The 35 million specimens and objects in our collections document much of the history of life on earth and human accomplishment. The diverse range of our collections includes fine gemstones, a golden feather from ancient Peru, fossilized ancient sea creatures, a taxidermied great auk, and Charlie Chaplin’s tramp costume.

 

 

Anthropology (Archaeology & Ethnology)

Anthropology is the study of humankind — past and present. The Archaeology collection includes ancient artifacts, the majority from the Americas, such as tools, decorative and utilitarian objects, and samples of shell, animal bone, soil, and plant remains. The Ethnology collections include cultural objects from North, Middle, and South America, Pacific, Australia, Asia, and Africa. The tools, costumes, and art objects in these collections document the changes in material culture of indigenous societies caused by the dynamic global interactions of recent centuries and the inherent vitality and continuing diversity of traditional cultures around the world.

 

Citizen Science

Citizen Science mobilizes volunteers from the community to work with scientists to help answer real world questions. This relationship is as symbiotic as some of the species they study: Scientists get more and otherwise inaccessible data, and citizen scientists get better acquainted with the world around them, make discoveries, collaborate with scientists, and, sometimes, co-author scientific publications. Through this process, science becomes accessible to everyone.

 

Conservation & Collection Care

Conservation is a field devoted to preserving cultural, natural history, and art materials for future generations. Long-term preservation of these materials is achieved through research, documentation, treatment, and preventive care.

Crustacea

Crabs, shrimps, and lobsters are well-known crustaceans. However, barnacles, pill bugs, amphipods, copepods, krill, crayfishes, sea fleas, clam shrimps, fairy shrimps, and many others are also crustaceans, an ancient group that arose in the early Cambrian nearly 600 million years ago. Crustaceans come in all shapes and sizes, and can have many different legs and other appendages. Crustaceans are primarily marine (living in or near the sea), but many also inhabit freshwater and terrestrial habitats.

Dinosaur Institute

The Dinosaur Institute houses the Museum's collection of Mesozoic tetrapods (four-limbed vertebrates), dating from 250 million years ago to 65.5 million years ago. This collection includes fossils of dinosaurs spanning the Mesozoic Era, as well as fossils of other tetrapods that lived alongside the dinosaurs, such as flying and marine reptiles, crocodiles, turtles, amphibians, and early mammals.

 

Echinoderms

Echinoderms are sea stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, brittle stars, feather stars, and related animals. Our current research is wide ranging, dealing in part with the adaptations of hermaphroditic species and using scanning electron microscopy to examine how echinoderms generate their bones from single crystals of calcite. Our field work invariably leads to the discovery and description of new species, whether we are in California or in the tropics where echinoderms are most diverse.

 

Entomology

The Entomology collection has insect and spider specimens from all over the world. The collection’s strengths lie in its holdings of specimens of flies, ants, scarab beetles, moths from North and Central America, and fossil insects in amber. Museum scientists conduct world-class research on systematics, studying species and their relationships, the evolution of major groups, and inventories of tropical habitats.

Herpetology

Herpetology houses the Museum's collection of amphibians and reptiles, containing catalogued specimens from around the globe, including skeletal preparations and cleared and stained specimens. Other special collections include a growing frozen tissue collection, digital and slide photographs, histology slides, and gut contents from a number of species. 

History

The History Department is committed to preservation, research, and public access that enable people of all ages, backgrounds, and interests to understand and appreciate the history and culture of California and the West, with an emphasis on Southern California. 

Ichthyology

The Natural History Museum's fish collection is one of ten internationally recognized ichthyological collections in the United States,  including representatives of most fish families. We also hold special collections of fish eggs and larvae, otoliths, frozen tissues, skeletons, cleared and stained specimens, and radiographs, in addition to an extensive book and reprint library.

 

Invertebrate Paleontology

The Invertebrate Paleontology department houses fossils of animals that lack a backbone (non-vertebrates), such as arthropods like crabs and shrimps, molluscs like clams and snails, and echinoderms such as sand dollars and sea urchins. The Invertebrate Paleontology department also houses collections of ichnofossils (traces of previously living organisms), which may include track ways, burrows, borings, and coprolites (fecal pellets).

 

Malacology

Malacology is the study of mollusks, an incredibly diverse group that including snails, clams, and octopuses, just to name a few. The Malacology collection at the Natural History Museum is worldwide in scope with an emphasis on the eastern Pacific Ocean (arctic Alaska to southern Chile).

Mammalogy

The Mammalogy collections include terrestrial and marine mammal specimens prepared as study skins, skulls, skeletons, tanned pelts, and fluid preserved bodies, and includes the largest natural object in the Museum’s collections: a 17-foot-long, 2.5-ton skull from a blue whale. 

Marine Biodiversity Center

The Marine Biodiversity Center is the Museum’s core facility for the curation of marine invertebrates, animals without a backbone that live in the ocean, an incredibly diverse group including worms, crabs, jellyfish, sponges, sea stars and squid.

Mineral Sciences

The Mineral Sciences Department curates a world-class collection that includes minerals, rocks, gems, ores, and meteorites and conducts research focusing on furthering scientific understanding of these materials. The department actively maintains the Museum's world renowned Hall of Gems and Minerals.

Museum Archives

The collections housed in the Museum Archives preserve the history of the Natural History Museum. The Museum Archives has an extensive photographic and digitized video collections of the Museum building, the La Brea Tar Pits, the Exposition Park surroundings, current and former staff, as well as the Los Angeles Zoo and Southern California landscape.

Ornithology

Ornithology, the study of birds, is one of the founding disciplines of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. At the core of the program is a research collection representing over 5,400 species. The bird skeleton collection is among the three largest in western North American and is an important resource for the Museum’s well-known studies of fossil birds.

Polychaetous Annelids

The class Polychaeta ("poly-keet-a") consists of a very diverse group of segmented worms (unlike round worms or flatworms, which are not segmented) that live primarily in ocean habitats. The closest relatives of polychaetes are the earthworms and leeches. Among the over 80 polychaete families and more than 10,000 described species there is an amazing array of body forms and sizes. 

Rancho La Brea

Rancho La Brea is one of the world's most famous fossil localities, recognized for having the largest and most diverse assemblage of Ice Age plants and animals in the world. The Rancho La Brea collections are housed on-site at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum in Hancock Park. The collections include specimens representing over 600 species of plants and animals. 

 

Registrar

The Museum’s registrars are responsible for organizing and maintaining accurate records of all specimens and artifacts at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, and the William S. Hart Museum. They manage the documentation of all collections-related transactions including donations, purchases, incoming and outgoing loans, exchanges, deaccessions, and field-collected specimens. This includes oversight of collection and loan movements, condition reporting of objects, and negotiating insurance coverage. 

Research Library

The Research Library collection consists of materials in a variety of fields, including anthropology, ethnology, history, mineralogy, paleontology, and zoology. The collection contains over 200,000 books, journals, maps, and over 30 Special Collections.

Seaver Center

Part of the History Department, the purpose of the Seaver Center for Western History Research is to collect, preserve, and make available to the general public research materials documenting the history of the trans-Mississippi West, with special emphasis on Southern California and Los Angeles. Historic records include two-dimensional and flat objects such as manuscript materials, books, serials, pamphlets, broadsides, maps, posters, prints, and photographs.

Urban Nature Research Center

The Urban Nature Research Center is devoted to exploring, studying, and sharing discoveries of L.A.’s incredible biodiversity. By engaging the public to collect large amounts of data, scientists and educators can answer real-world questions about L.A. biodiversity and spotlight ways to boost and sustain that biodiversity. The goal is to ultimately make L.A. a hospitable place for wildlife — and, by extension, humans — to thrive.

 

Vertebrate Paleontology

Vertebrate Paleontology is the study of fossil animals that have a vertebral column, including fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals (spanning over 450 million to 10,000 years in age). Our research collections house rare and important specimens from around the world with an emphasis on Western North America. The specimens and their associated data provide scientists with opportunities to study evolutionary processes, recognize new species, and construct interpretations of ancient environments and ecological communities.

 

Scanning Electron Microscopy Lab

Purchased with financial support from the National Science Foundation (grant DBI-0216506), the Scanning Electron Microscopy lab includes a Hitachi S-3000N variable pressure scanning electron microscope, Oxford INCA x-sight energy dispersive spectrometer, and Emitech K550x sputter coater.