Biological Collections

Summary Table of Collection Information | Collections growth (1941-present)


Since inception, Archbold Biological Station has prioritized the development and curation of an on-site, multi-taxon, specimen-based, natural history collection. The collection of specimens is necessary for research at the Station and for outside investigators, emphasizing two essential activities -- the identification of species and documentation of biodiversity. After 70 years of steady growth, as of 2009, the Archbold collection includes 230,757 well-preserved, and well-labeled specimens of plants, birds, fish, herptiles, mammals and arthropods. The Archbold collection is probably unrivalled in scope and size among biological field station collections in North America, and is likely one of the largest on-site collections encompassing the taxonomic diversity of a single (3,577-ha) site in the U.S.A. Our diverse natural history reference collection is a key component of the Station’s infrastructure, serving a broad community of staff researchers, visiting investigators and students, and supplying collection material and information to outside investigators. Plant specimens have been used in studies of community ecology, such as the response of vegetation to fire. The vertebrate collection was designed for studies of variation, growth patterns, life histories, and population dynamics of local vertebrates. The arthropod collection contributes to numerous studies needing insect identification, as well as providing large numbers of specimens with ecological data.

The Archbold collection is an important repository for scrub-associated species from the Station and the surrounding Lake Wales Ridge ecosystem, and includes some of the rarest species in North America. The Archbold collection also helps guide land management decisions for protected areas of Florida scrub habitat. Because the Station is used heavily for education programs, the collection is a source of ideas and study specimens for undergraduates/graduates from around the world and by college classes; it also provides interpretative materials for K-12 education and public outreach.

Despite the breadth and secure status of the Archbold collection, it is representative of many natural history collections recently reviewed by the Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections (2009) and NSF (Skog et al. 2009) in still having a dearth of information from the collection available online, and limited interoperability of the data with regional, national or international collections. In July 2009, ABS submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation’s Biological Research Collections program to computerize the majority of the Archbold collection. If funded, this project will greatly improve user access to Archbold collection data via standard Internet protocols, leading to better collection management, enhanced research and conservation activities, and increased education and outreach. This will meet the science community’s high priority for projects that integrate collection information to provide resources for research.


Collections of local biological specimens have been an important component of the Station’s scientific facilities since its founding in 1941. Trained in museum traditions, Richard Archbold, founder of Archbold Biological Station, prioritized the development and curation of the secure on-site Archbold collection. His emphasis continues to this day. In the early years, the Archbold collection was built by founding staff with Richard Archbold taking an intense personal interest. The biological specimen collections grew at various rates during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s depending on the activities of resident staff and on donations (primarily insects) by visiting scientists. Station Botanist Leonard J. Brass founded the Herbarium in the mid-1940s and was its curator until he retired in 1967. Visiting Entomologists Stuart Frost gave the insect collection a big boost during the 1950s and 60s when he spent his winters at Archbold, and Karl Krombein, Smithsonian Institute helped build the Hymenoptera collection. Station Vertebrate Biologist Austin L. Rand started the bird and mammal collections in 1941. Richard Archbold was curator and collection manager of the animal collections until 1967 when the Station hired a zoologist, James N. Layne, as Scientific Director. Under Layne’s direction the vertebrate collections grew rapidly. Richard Archbold continued as collection manager for all the biological specimen collections until shortly before his death in 1976.

During 1976-1981, Fred E. Lohrer was collection manager for all the collections, and continued as manager of the vertebrate collections through 1991. In the early 1980s the Herbarium and Insect collections began to grow rapidly when new biologists were hired in those fields (plant ecologist Ronald L. Meyers and entomologist Mark A. Deyrup). During the 1990s, the arthropod collection increased rapidly; the herbarium, and herptile collections grew moderately; and the other collections grew slowly. Beginning in 1991, Glen Woolfenden was responsible for the burgeoning numbers of bird specimens, arranging a large significant accession in 1995 of Florida and Archbold-relevant species from the former University of Miami collection. The responsibilities for the bird collection were assumed by Reed Bowman after Glen’s Woolfenden’s passing in 2007.

Over the decades, the Station has committed staff and significant institutional support to defray annual operating expenses. Today, each collection is the responsibility of a Station Research Biologist in that field (Deyrup, Rothermel, Bowman, and Weekley). Hilary Swain, Executive Director, has overall responsibility as institutional administrator. The vascular plant and arthropod sections of the collection are integrated into the Plant Ecology and Entomology laboratories, respectively. Bird and mammal skeletons/skins are held in a dedicated collection room in the Rand Building, and the wet collection is housed in a separate room in the Annex.


Beginning in 1967, Richard Archbold created and maintained collection catalogs for all Station scientific specimens. The catalogs were retrospective from the beginning, and were typed on individual species 5x8 cards. In 1976, book-form catalogs (hand-written) were started for the vertebrate collections, but the species cards for plants and for insects were not maintained after Archbold’s death in 1976. Collection information management at Archbold is in transition. In 1999, the herbarium data were entered into Biota®, a "biodiversity database manager" for managing collections. To date, the book catalogs for vertebrates are still maintained, and the bird catalogue is in electronic format. The arthropods are not in a catalogue except for electronic database for Florida ants, and many flower visitor records. Archbold’s aim is to provide Internet access to specimen catalog information, and the Station is now exploring using Specify 6 for collections management software. Our goal is to computerize the majority of the collection data so that it is organized in a single database, readily searchable, directly accessible, and freely available via the Internet. We anticipate that completion of a database for the multi-taxon Archbold collection, and making it accessible via the Internet will enhance advances in biological sciences, promote benefits to conservation, and increase educational outreach.

Taxonomic Breadth

As of 2009, the Archbold collection comprises 230,757 labeled, identified specimens, representing 9,485 species, nearly all of which have been authenticated by taxonomic experts (Archbold Collection Summary Table) Arthropods dominate (95%), and 44% of the remaining specimens are plants. About 70% of the specimens have been collected at the Station, an extraordinary record of biodiversity for a 3,577-ha site. The collection holds a specimen for virtually every species of plant and insect known from the Station; otherwise the geographic emphasis is Highlands County or Florida.

Herbarium is curated by Dr. Eric S. Menges. We now have over 4200 specimens of vascular plants representing over 1500 species. Most specimens (60%) were collected in Highlands County, including many endangered and threatened plants of the Lake Wales Ridge. About ¼ of the specimens were collected at Archbold, many by the late Archbold botanist Leonard J. Brass, for whom the herbarium was named. We also named the collection after Dorothy Mundell, who was instrumental in organizing the herbarium and entering digital data on each herbarium sheet. Separate collections include lichens, mosses, and seeds. Click here for the Station's vascular plant list, which is based entirely on voucher specimens. In 2014, all vascular plant records were photographed and digitized in an effort spearheaded by Archbold staff along with Gil Nelson (Florida State University) and Joanna McCaffrey (iDigBio). We used high resolution photography to digitize about 150 specimens per hour.

Click here to access this online herbarium

You can view Archbold Biological Station specimens by selecting ARCH. The database is searchable on many fields including plant name, collector, locality, and year collected. The Archbold herbarium data is linked to data from multiple herbaria across the United States into one large database accessible to all. Using these data, one can map species distributions and shifts across decades, hone searches for new or extirpated populations of rare species, and create checklists for geographic areas. The digitization of herbaria means less handling of individual specimens thus securing the longevity of the specimen.

Arthropod. Curator, Mark A. Deyrup. The insect collection numbers an estimated 218,000 pinned specimens, and is focused on the Station and the nearby southern end of the Lake Wales Ridge, except for the ant collection, which is statewide in scope. Loans are available. The Station arthropod collection is still growing rapidly. Our goal is to make selected families, or orders, become accessible in digital format as funding becomes available. Priorities for cataloguing and making collection information available over the Internet are:

  • Generate a complete holdings list for arthropods in the collection.
  • Computerize the Ant Collection: Archbold is best known for the 137,450 pinned, labeled and identified specimens of ants. The collection has served as the basis of many taxonomic papers and for Deyrup’s new book, Ants of Florida, currently under peer review, an ambitious endeavor to provide a natural history and identification guide for all 220 species of Florida ants.
  • Catalogue and computerize new specimens from 2009-2010 surveys of  20 LWR sites for 83 endemic LWR “Scrub Invertebrate Species of Greatest Conservation Need” under a State Wildlife Grant. The goal is to evaluate the effectiveness of the established LWR protected area network for conserving endemic invertebrates, and to serve as a benchmark for future surveys. This project is already rapidly expanding the Archbold Collection, with new site-specific series for each species.
  • Incorporate Flower Visitor Records into the collection database. One of our most interesting ecological datasets, added continuously to the Archbold collection since 1983 are insect-flower visitor specimens (~5,000 bees and wasps, ~1,500 flies, ~200 Lepidoptera and ~500 beetle) with labels that record the species of flower being visited by the insect, the location on ABS, and date of capture. One publication (Deyrup et al. 2003) from the datasets has provided tabular data summarizing which bees visit which flowers, but the depth and extraordinary complexity of this dataset is ripe for network analyses of  insect-flower visitor interactions (e.g. nestedness, species persistence, roles of functional groups of flower or insect visitor taxonomic groupings in network structure and dynamics, sensitivity for conservation).
  • Dead Wood Specialists. Insects reared from wood or bark of dead and dying plants are another nexus of useful and relatively scarce biological information that is probably uniquely concentrated in this collection. We have ~5-6,000 specimens with (dead wood) plant host data, and many of the predatory species are associated with an insect host as well. Making these data available online will offer a rare opportunity for researchers interested in unraveling how phytophagous insects and their enemies participate in elaborate, speciose, poorly understood systems that involve decomposition, fungal symbiosis, and disease cycles.

Fishes, Amphibians, and Reptiles. Curator, Betsie Rothermel. A moderately sized collection of preserved specimens of fishes and herptiles is available at Archbold Biological Station. All specimens were collected in Florida, with the vast majority from Highlands County in general, and Archbold Biological Station in particular. The fish collection consists of 2,248 specimens, with ¼ of the specimens from Lake Annie. Approximately 2,068 specimens of amphibians and reptiles are in the collection. Additional specimens were sent to the American Museum of Natural History in earlier decades. The amphibian and reptile collection consists of some of the largest series of local, endemic species such as sand skinks (Plestiodon [Neoseps] reynoldsi) and blue-tailed mole skinks (Eumeces egregius lividus). In addition, large series are available of some introduced species of amphibians and reptiles, such as the Indopacific gecko (Hemidactylus garnotii). Fish, amphibians, and reptiles are preserved in 70% Ethanol.

The fish and herptile collections are available for examination. Visiting courses and researchers may find the collections useful for teaching and reference purposes. Biologists studying vertebrates in central Florida may find the specimens useful for studies of geographic distribution, ecology, genetics, and general natural history. Any interested parties should contact Betsie Rothermel for access to the specimens. In certain cases the specimens may be loaned to individuals at institutions with museum facilities.

Birds. Curator, Reed Bowman. The bird collections at Archbold contains study skins and skeletal specimens. Over 75% of all birds known from Florida are represented by study skins from Florida (through the efforts of Curator Glen E. Woolfenden, 1991-2007). For most species we have only a very few study skins, but for a few we have lengthy series. We have many skins of Florida Scrub-Jays and Blue Jays, species studied extensively at Archbold, and short series for a few other species of specific research interest, such as the Short-eared Owl for example. The skeletal collection also has representatives of almost all of the birds of Florida. The collection is used for reference regularly by members of the Florida Ornithological Society Records Committee and other researchers. Anyone can work with the collection. Permission must be obtained from Reed Bowman in the Avian Ecology Lab. We will respond to inquires as to what we have in the collection.

Mammals.Curator, Reed Bowman. The mammal collection consists of 73 study skins and associated skulls. Some series of skulls are also available, for example the collection includes 51 opossum (Didelphis virginianus) skulls collected in Highlands County, Florida. A long series of mouse species especially Peromyscus floridanus were donated to the Florida Museum of Natural History and additional specimens to the American Museum of Natural History. The mammal collection is available for examination. Visiting courses and researchers may find the collection useful for teaching and reference purposes. Biologists studying vertebrates in central Florida may find the specimens useful for studies of geographic distribution, ecology, genetics and general natural history. Any interested parties should contact Reed Bowman for access to the specimens. In certain cases the specimens may be loaned to individuals at institutions with museum facilities.

Scientific Value of the Archbold Collection

Archbold’s natural history collection contains a unique record of life in the Florida scrub and surrounding environs that is irreplaceable and notable for its depth of ecological and distributional information on native, introduced, and rare (threatened and endangered) species. Our specimens are especially rich in associated ecological data because they reflect the collecting perspective of ecologists with strong taxonomic abilities, often drawn to collecting specimens with useful and interesting natural history observations.

Of 260 Archbold publications during 2004-2008, information and materials from the collection have contributed directly to 37 peer-reviewed journal articles and eight other publications. Most publications relate to systematics, descriptions of new species, distribution information for regional endemics, as well as exotics. Others address topics in evolutionary biology, invasion biology, conservation biology and behavioral ecology. We illustrate the range of impact with five examples of publications, some by staff scientists and others by visiting investigators.

Five significant examples of recent publications based on the Archbold collection

  • Siefferman, L., M. D. Shawkey, R. Bowman, and G. E. Woolfenden. 2008. Juvenile coloration of Florida scrub-jays (Aphelocoma coerulescens) is sexually dichromatic and correlated with condition. Journal of Ornithology. 149:357-363. Demonstrates a novel use of Archbold’s collection in behavioral ecology studies. The authors showed that the plumage of male Florida Scrub-Jays has greater UV reflectance than that of females, and that this sexually dichromatic trait is correlated with at least one measure of juvenile condition. Their intriguing finding suggests there could be sexual selection on plumage coloration and provides the basis for further research examining the adaptive significance of this potential signal of individual quality.
  • Price, P. W., W. G. Abrahamson, M. D. Hunter, and G. Melika. 2004. Using gall wasps on oaks to test broad ecological concepts. Conservation Biology 18:1405-1416. Used data on the species richness of gall wasps (Hymenoptera: Cynipidae) in scrub-oak habitats at ABS to test predictions based on island biogeography theory, plant-architecture, and knowledge of foliar phytochemical effects. In some cases, trends in species richness within this group ran counter to ecological theory, suggesting that concepts that apply at large spatial scales do not necessarily hold at smaller spatial scales or within a narrow set of species. The work yielded 17 new species of gall wasps.
  • Deyrup, M. 2005. A new species of flightless pygmy mole cricket from a Florida sand ridge (Orthoptera: Tridactylidae). Florida Entomologist 88:141-145. Drawing on his familiarity with pygmy mole crickets represented in the Archbold collection (such as the endemic Neotridactylus archboldi), M. Deyrup discovered a new species of flightless pygmy mole cricket, which he named Ellipes eisneri. Whereas other tridactylids tend to be restricted to wet habitats, E. eisneri and N. archboldi live in burrows in seasonally dry scrub habitat, migrating upward after rain to feed on algae in subsurface soil crusts. The description of this species stimulated a large number of ecosystem studies of this unique and poorly known cryptogamic crust ecosystem by other investigators.
  • Morrison, J. L., J. Abrams, M. Deyrup, T. Eisner, and M. McMillian. 2007. Noxious menu: Chemically protected insects in the diet of Caracara cheriway (northern crested caracara). Southeastern Nat. 6:1-14. Used the collection extensively for reference materials during a diet study of Caracaras in Florida. In addition to finding differences in the relative proportion of vertebrate and invertebrate prey between breeders and non-breeders they found a wide array of chemically protected insect prey in Caracara pellets. Their finding suggests this raptor may have evolved tolerance to many noxious compounds.
  • Deyrup, M., N. D. Deyrup, M. Eisner, and T. Eisner. 2005. A caterpillar that eats tortoise shells. American Entomologist 51:245-248. Using specimens collected at Archbold, Deyrup et al. pieced together the natural history of a previously unknown example of extreme dietary specialization by the clothes moth, Ceratophaga vicinella. Larvae of this species are scavengers, feeding exclusively on the keratin plates of shells of dead gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus). This interesting natural history story has a conservation twist, because C. vicinella becomes one more species (in a long list) that depends on the threatened gopher tortoise, a keystone species in sandhill and scrub ecosystems.

Education and Outreach

The Archbold collection has contributed to the appreciation of scrub biodiversity, and has served many functions in addition to providing materials essential to biological research. First, it provides resources to train students. Many graduate students who conduct research at Archbold as well as undergrad/ post-baccalaureate students in the Station research experience program received training in the use of the collection. Archbold is used for teaching by many colleges and universities. Visiting classes can consult the collection under curator supervision. Archbold’s K-12 Ecology program hosts 2,000-3,000 3rd-5th grade and middle school children annually and the 3rd-5th grade curricula material is derived extensively from Station research, and uses surplus collection specimens as teaching material for classroom activities.

Archbold hosts a large number of regional and national conferences and workshops, including meetings focused on taxonomic collections (e.g., annual Black Fly Society, NSF Scarab Beetle Research Coordination Network 2005, Florida’s Exotic Plant Pest Council). Station facilities are used frequently by agencies for mid-career training; e.g. we have provided access to the collection for the Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem Working Group (land managers from 11 state, federal, and local agencies) so they can identify scrub species on the sites they manage. Similarly, citizen science programs such as “Ridge Rangers” have used the collection for volunteer training to identify scrub plants. The Archbold collection has been key to training parataxonomists such as the Records Committee of the Florida Ornithological Society, and amateur entomologists such as Vince Golia, whose skills have added a considerable number of specimens to our Coleoptera collection.

Camponotus floridanus major
Drawing by Mark Deyrup

The Archbold collection has been a source of inspiration and materials for many visiting artists, such as Turid Forsyth and Mollie Doctrow. Mark Deyrup, ABS entomologist, is a skillful illustrator, speaker, and author. His exquisite drawings of ants entice public eyes towards the beauty and excitement of the collection. Likewise, his literary contributions (also stemming from the collection) such as the immensely popular coffee table book “Florida’s Fabulous Insects”

(Deyrup et al. 2000) expose many to science and nature. Scientific Illustrator Nancy Lowe offered a 2009 class at ABS for high school students and undergraduates and was thrilled to have them draw from the teaching collection of skulls and seeds

Collection Policies

The Archbold Collection Policies provides detailed guidelines for use of the collection. In summary: loans are available but preference is given to investigators that justify the need for an Archbold specimen (ex. for edge of range data). New accessions will be primarily Station, Lake Wales Ridge, or research project-related. We have no plans for de-accessions except discarded specimens to our teaching collection. We require staff and visitors to provide copies of collecting permits. Although there are no fees for use of the collection, we have a $10/day Station use fee and we require users pay shipping expenses for loans. Once it is available we will provide unlimited Internet-based access to collection data, but we will request users to credit Archbold in acknowledgements, and inform us of publications from their work to add to our online publication database.