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Osprey eggs showing variation in patterns.
Cofrin Center for Biodiversity

Richter Museum of Natural History

The Richter Museum of Natural History contains one of Wisconsin's most significant collections of animal specimens for scientific research and education. The collection is built around an extraordinary gift from Carl Richter, a former resident of Oconto, Wisconsin, and one of the state's most prominent ornithologists. Richter's specialty was birds and bird eggs, and today the Museum ranks among the 10 largest oological (egg) collections in North America.

The Museum is housed in Mary Ann Cofrin Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and has a spacious hallway display area. Specimens are catalogued and stored in metal cabinets for long term preservation. Access to this scientific collection is available to researchers and to students in UW Green Bay courses such as Ornithology and Mammalogy. The collection also serves as a repository for specimens obtained by biologists, resource managers and graduate students involved in field research and environmental impact reports. Together with voucher specimens from UW-Green Bay researchers, these additions have led to a nearly complete collection of western Great lakes vertebrates and an outstanding resource for scientific reference and teaching.

The Museum sponsors numerous research projects on the fauna of northeastern Wisconsin. Ongoing studies include biological inventories of the Point Sable Nature Reserve in Lower Green Bay, surveys of colonial nesting birds (gulls, terns, herons, egrets, cormorants, and pelicans) on Green Bay, research on breeding and migrant raptors, analysis of bird and bat mortality at newly constructed wind power facilities in Kewaunee County, and an investigation of mammal subfossils from the Brussels Hill Pit Cave in Door County, Wisconsin.

Richter Museum as a Resource

Before the availability of modern field guides, naturalists routinely collected specimens to identify animal and plant species. These specimens were used to describe new species and were often sent to other collectors or museums for verification. Today, photographs and other forms of verification have largely taken the place of extensive field collections. Nevertheless, collection and maintenance of scientific specimens is still a very important part of modern biology. In fact, recent advances in biochemistry, especially the extraction and analysis of DNA, have led to a growing significance of carefully maintained scientific specimens. Older collections like those in the Richter Museum are irreplaceable, and recognition of their importance continues to increase as analytical tools become more sophisticated. Systematics, the science of classifying organisms according to evolutionary relationships, would not be possible without careful studies of specimens. As we accumulate new evidence about the relationships among species, our ability to understand and protect the earth's biological diversity improves in truly meaningful ways.

Specimens from the Richter Museum have been used extensively by researchers in the western Great Lakes Region (e.g., White and Cromartie 1977, Robbins 1991, Nelson 1993, 1996, Lowther 1996, Casper 1996). Hickey and Anderson (1968) used measurements from egg sets of the Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) in the Richter Museum to analyze for historical levels of DDT in avian food webs. As a result of their work, which drew largely from the Richter collections, Wisconsin became the first state to ban the use of DDT pesticides.

Biologists from UW-Green Bay, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Canadian Wildlife Service have used specimens from the Richter Museum to test for other contaminants such as PCB's and dioxin, which are particularly important problems in the Fox River Valley and Green Bay area. Specimens are routinely used as reference materials for identification of small mammals, bird eggs, and other taxa by researchers and resource managers in the region.

Although much larger collections exist at the Field Museum, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota and University of Wisconsin, the Richter Museum houses one of the most historically important collections of birds and mammals in the western Great Lakes states. All of the locally breeding bird species, 95% of the mammal species, 80% of the reptile and amphibian species, and 80% of the fish species are represented in the collection. Standard date/locality information is associated with all but a few specimens, while the historical collections of Carl Richter also include original acquisition ledgers, correspondence, field notes, photographs, and a reference library.


Museum Policies

The Richter Museum is primary a research museum and is usually not open to the general public.  The museum display hallway and the “Gathering Room” across from the Cofrin Center for Biodiversity offices feature specimens from the museum and herbarium collections and are open anytime Mary Ann Cofrin Hall is open.  The curators also conduct a number of tours for groups, such as college and K-12 classes, naturalists, teachers, Learning in Retirement, civic clubs etc. If you would like to arrange a tour of the museum for your class or group please contact Curator Tom Erdman.

Researchers and faculty that would like to visit the museum or are requesting specimens for research or use in classes should contact Curator Tom Erdman at the address below for more information.

Thomas Erdman, Richter Museum Curator
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
Dept. of Natural and Applied Sciences
Green Bay, WI 54311
920-465-2713 / erdmant@uwgb.edu
fax: 920-465-2143