The insect collection is the largest collection curated in Naturalis. It contains some 18 million individual specimens.

In terms of quality and quantity the collection of Coleoptera is one of the best beetle collections in the world. It contains many type specimens. Systematically and geographically some of the highlights are the Cetoniids, the Scarabeoidea and beetles from the Indo-Australian region (Ritsema & Van Vollehoven). Further highlights are the Hymenoptera from Southeast Asia (e.g. van der Vecht and Lieftinck) with the Braconidae being one of the largest in the world, the Diptera (van Doesburg and Bonne-Webster), Lepidoptera (Indonesia), Microlepidoptera (Diakonoff) and Odonata and other families. (Lieftinck and van Doesburg), again one of the larger collections in the world.

Butterfly collection
Beetle collection


The vertebrate collection of Naturalis is rich in extinct and rare species. Some parts are important historical collections made in the 19th century during expeditions in Africa, Asia and the Americas. 

The long history of Naturalis is particularly well represented in the vertebrate collection, which contains 1.9 million objects. Specimens collected in the 19th century form the core of the collection, together with the substantial quantity of type specimens. These historic collections have been collected from all over the world, although there was a focus on Indonesia and Japan.

The oldest Asian material dates from the 1820s, and it was gathered by the Natuurkundige Commissie, a group of naturalists sent to the Dutch East Indies to study and collect animals and plants for the museum. Among the naturalists were H. Kuhl, J.C. van Hasselt, H. Boie and H. Macklot. Important vertebrate collections are those of W.C. van Heurn, P. von Siebold (Japan) and Bartels.

Black leopard
The collection

Mammals and birds

The mammal and bird collections are rich in (sometimes unique) extinct and rare species. For example, the Madagascar collection of lemurs, collected by Pollen & Van Dam (1860-1870) and Audebert (1870-1880) is of a great beauty and scientific importance, as is the osteologic collection of dolphins and whales which documents the studies to monitor the decline of cetaceans along the Dutch coast. The national avifauna is represented by the collections of Wickevoort Crommelin and P.A. Hens. The interest in birds of prey of the first director of the museum, J. Temminck, is still illustrated by the diversity of species in this collection.


The collection of freshwater and marine fish from the Indonesian archipelago, collected and described by Pieter Bleeker between 1840 and 1860 is of great scientific importance. Bleeker described 1996 new species of fish, ranking him as the most productive fish taxonomist ever. His types are housed in Naturalis. Of more recent date is the collection of Lake Victoria cichlids. This collection of Haplochromine cichlids contains hundreds of undescribed species, some of which recently became extinct as a result of the introduction of the Nile Perch in Lake Victoria.

Reptiles and amphibians

The herpetological collection goes back largely to the beginning of the 19th century. It includes material mainly from South-east Asia and the Amazonian region, as well as several valuable collections from other localities. The Natuurkundige Commissie is responsible for the Indonesian core of the herpetological collection. Important collections from Africa (H.S. Peel and H.B. van Horstok), Central and South America (H.H. Dieperink, P. Wagenaar Hummelinck, and M.S. Hoogmoed) and Indonesia (F. Kopstein and C.P.J. de Haas) have been added to the museum collection all through the last two centuries. Many new species have been described based on this material, making the RMNH types collection of great scientific significance.


The invertebrate collection comprises 5,800,000 specimens. Amongst the highlights of the collection are shrimps, crabs and lobsters from Southeast Asia, the Northeast Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea. The important Parasite Collection Utrecht has been housed in Naturalis since 2006.

Shrimps, crabs and lobsters (decapods) from Southeast Asia, the Northeast Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea are among the highlights of the Crustacean collections. Curators, including L.B. Holthuis (1941-2008), have been actively involved in these groups since the museum was founded in 1820. During the last two decades research has focused on symbiontic shrimps.

The collection of stony corals (Scleractinia, Milleporidae and Stylasteridae) started to develop from the 1920's onwards. Most material is from Indonesia, based on collections by Boschma, Umbgrove and Verweij and later by Best, Moll and Hoeksema (1980-present). The  collection of Fungiidae may be considered as the most comprehensive worldwide. Also the collection of soft corals (Alcyonacaea) can be considered the largest in the world. Stiasny (gorgoneans) and Verseveldt (soft corals) are just two of the scientists who worked on these collections.

An important part of the Coelenterate collection consists of Hydrozoa, especially due to the scientific activities of professor W. Vervoort (1940-2010), former director of the museum.

Brittle star
Bathynomus giganteus

Parasite Collection Utrecht

The collection of animal parasites collected by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and the University Museum of Utrecht University was transferred to Naturalis Biodiversity Center in 2006. The collection has been restored. Parasites were transferred to new vials and made accessible by a database, which can be downloaded here. These activities were supported by a grant from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Foundation for Academic Heritage (SAE) and the Mondriaan Foundation.

Read here an article about the history of the Parasite Collection Utrecht
Look at the Excel database of the parasite collection
Download the explanation to the database


The botanical collections of Naturalis consist of the herbaria from Leiden, Utrecht, and Wageningen universities. The focal areas are Southeast Asia, tropical America, tropical Africa and the Netherlands. 

All objects in our botany collection have been digitized with basic data. They can be found in our Bioportal  
Also the following historical collections have been digitized completely and can be consulted on the internet: 

  • The herbarium specimens of George Clifford
  • The 16C herbarium of Petrus Cadé
  • A herbarium from  the Leiden professor of botany Paul Hermann containing the oldest known Surinam herbarium specimens
Cadé apothecary herbarium
Flower models in the herbarium

Contents and focus

Our herbarium database has been built over the years for various purposes and from various sources. The majority of records relate to specimens present in one of our herbaria (Leiden, Utrecht and Wageningen). The database also contains records of duplicates that have been sent to other herbaria, of materials databased for taxonomic revisions, and of specimens collected in areas of special interest (for instance Gabon) that were databased for that reason.

The three herbaria each have their own focus. Leiden is by far the largest of the three, with about 4 million specimens and well-known for its extensive collections from Southeast Asia, especially from Indonesia and New Guinea, but it also holds a large collection of palearctic plants, and is the principle herbarium for Dutch plants. As the oldest Dutch herbarium, it also contains several historic collections.

The former herbarium of Utrecht University, now housed in Leiden, has a strong focus on tropical America, especially the Guyanas and the Netherlands Antilles. It has around 800,000 specimens.

The herbarium of Wageningen University houses approximately 900,000 specimens. It focuses on tropical Africa, with particular emphasis on material from the rain forests of West and Central Africa, but it also holds an important collection of Ethiopian plants. Since Wageningen was originally an agricultural university, this collection also contains a fair number of cultivated plants


The geological collection of Naturalis consists of 3,200,000 fossils and 800,000 rocks & minerals. The collection has samples from all over the world, though the larger part of the collection originates from Europe. A substantial part however, has been collected in Indonesia.

The 19th century Dubois Collection is worldfamous and, consists of more than 40,000 fossils from Pleistocene vertebrates of Indonesia. The crown jewels are the femur, molar and skull-cap of Homo erectus, which are on display in the museum. Another important collection from Indonesia is the Martin Collection, which consists of fossil shells from the Cenozoic of Java. This collection contains almost 2000 type lots, which are the basis for the scientific names of many molluscs from the Indo-Pacific.

Naturalis houses many Pleistocene vertebrates from the Netherlands and the surrounding area (North Sea), including the largest collection of woolly mammoth bones in the world. Other species represented are woolly rhino, bisons, giant deer, cave hyena and cave lion, all dating to about 50.000 years BP. Older periods are represented by the Tegelen (Tiglian) collection covering over 5000 dental Late Pliocene elements of small mammals and numerous remains of reptiles and amphibians. The Miste Collection from the famous locality 'Miste' near Winterswijk, the Netherlands, is evidence of a subtropical fauna during the Middle Miocene of the North Sea Basin area with over 500 species of molluscs. Other molluscs have been collected  from the Dutch beaches and estuaries, with over 600 species currently present in the collection.

Skull-cap of Homo erectus
 Emerald crystal
  • One of the most significant collections from other parts of Europe is the Gargano collection of Neogene mammals. It has in it some remarkable species such as the giant hedgehog Deinogalerix and the five-horned artiodactyle Hoplitomeryx. It is the largest in the world, with tens of thousands of fossils.
  • From the UK there is the Reid & Reid collection of fossil seeds, which marks the boundary between the Tertiary and Quaternary.
  • A special category is formed by the collections of unbalanced endemic island faunas of vertebrate fossils from Flores, Sulawesi, Cyprus, Majorca and Crete, including strange island forms like giant rats and pygmy elephants.

Mineraloog Frances Versluis neemt je mee voor een kijkje achter de schermen bij de geologische collectie van het TU Delft Science Centre en Naturalis. In haar serie Frances' Mineral Madness laat ze de meest bijzondere objecten zien, van woestijnroos tot de kwartshuisjes van schietmotlarven.

Je kan de gehele videoserie terugkijken met de YouTube playlist. Klik hier

Het logo van Frances' Mineral Madness
External video URL
Mineraloog Frances Versluis met een stuk calciet