The Marine Invertebrates Collection is currently represented by 23 phyla and holds more than one million specimen lots including 1,700 holotypes, 11,300 secondary types, 33,000 registered lots and 1,400 microscope slide preparations. Specimens include molluscs, crustaceans, worms, sponges, jellyfish, corals and sea anemones, sea stars and sea urchins.
They are preserved in spirit (mostly in 75% ethanol solution and formalin solution for the gelatinous plankton), dried or stored on microscope slides. Most of the specimens have been collected from marine environments, but some also come from coastal, freshwater and terrestrial habitats in Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand and Antarctica. These include freshwater and land snails, leeches and earthworms, freshwater and terrestrial crustaceans.
A library of nearly 5,000 images of invertebrates in their natural habitats, as well as historical, rare and out-of-print scientific papers, complement the animal specimens.
Australian and international scientists rely on the Marine Invertebrates Collection at the Museum as a critical source of material for research. Identifying new species of invertebrates, tracking how and where they live, and learning about their rates of change and extinction can give scientists important insights into diversity, evolution, and changing world climates and habitats. The Marine Invertebrates Collection is the most comprehensive reference collection of South Australian marine organisms in Australia, and constitutes a valuable record of the State’s fauna.
The Museum’s Marine Invertebrates Collection has a long and interesting history. The oldest specimen is a chiton mollusc shell collected in 1802 by French explorers on King Island, Bass Strait. The collection grew in strength more substantially from the late 1800s and early 1900s onwards from donated collections of prominent South Australians and other scientists. For example, Edwin Ashby’s donated collection of chitons of the southern hemisphere is one of the largest and most comprehensive in the world. The British Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition of 1929–1931 also contributed a variety of invertebrate specimens.
The collection of specimens continues to this day. The Museum is in the process of expanding the collection to embrace aquatic representatives including unique populations of freshwater invertebrates from eastern, southern and Western Australia.