Images of Natural History Specimens from the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC

As long as there have been natural history collections there have been natural history illustrators. These artists were charged with rendering in perfect detail every aspect of specimens housed within these collections in order to share them with the scientific community at large. Come and explore digital scans of some of these original drawings and radiographs, which are housed in the UBC Beaty Biodiversity Museum’s fish and insect collections.


About the fish images:


  • The UBC Fish Collection holds over 500 x-ray radiography plates of almost 1,500 fish individuals, whole bodies or only body trunks (for vertebrae counts). About half of them are specimens preserved in the Collection, others come from various collections in North America and Europe, others were not preserved. In addition, a manuscript ledger gives more information on each specimen as well as a 1978 print out of a database that was lost. The plate numbers are the ones in the ledger (that were slightly shifted in the database, but the ‘x-n’ individual numbers are the same in both). Unfortunately, there is no indication when and by whom these x-rays were done, or if they were used in publications (maybe by C.C. Lindsey who worked and published many times on fish vertebrae counts). This digitization project makes these plates available, including those where aging had some bad impact but are still readable. Only the ones where nothing is visible anymore are not shown, and some plates were apparently lost. Fish names given are the current valid ones. When the ledger gives a UBC catalogue number (under the pattern BC YY-N where YY are the two last digit of a year and N a sequence number in the year), names in the ledger and catalogue numbers can be searched in the collection database online. See more about the Fish Collection at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.
  • In the mid-1960s, Norman J. Wilimowsky, then curator of the UBC Fish Collection, launched the project to write a book about the fishes of Alaska. He commissioned drawings of specimens of the UBC Fish Collection between 1965 and 1974, that were executed by the artists Patricia Drukker-Brammal, Rachel Goby and Rachel Wood. The project was not achieved but the drawings were sent to Alaska when colleagues there decided to write this book. More detailed historical information can be found in the introduction of the Fishes of Alaska, book that was finally published in 2002 by C.W. Mecklenburg, T.A. Mecklenburg, and L.K. Thorsteinson. More than half of the 129 drawings that the digitization project makes available here were used in this book. Note that some drawings that are not used in the book should be taken with some precaution regarding the identification of the species and the exactness of representation. Each drawing is linked to the specimen record in the UBC Fish Collection database, and in the Open Library digital collection UBC Institute of Fisheries Field Records that presents the card catalogue used until 1990. Note that A. Peden joined Wilimovsky’s project, and that drawings of specimens of the fish collection the Royal British Columbia Museum (RBCM) were commissioned to the same and other artists, some of them used in the book, some of them available online.

About the insect images:

  • Long before everyone had a camera in their pocket, unique details of an insect species were captured by professionally-trained biological illustrators. An insect specimen, sometimes no more that a few milimetres long, would be placed under a high-powered microscope and every hair, every puncture, every pattern would be rendered in pain-staking detail. Each drawing could take upwards of 40 hours to complete but the final result provides a depth of information often not possible with a photograph. Afterwards, these drawings were published in the scientific literature in order to introduce a species new to science or one of particular interest to the entomological community at large.
  • Dr. Geoff Scudder, director of the Spencer Entomological Museum from 1958-1999, employed several of these natural history illustrators. Some of their creations are highlighted in this online digital archive. Part science, part art, completely amazing - please enjoy this glimpse of entomological history in the making.