Museum collections are invaluable scientific and education tools that celebrate the past, define the present and inform the future. Embedded in our cupboards, shelves and freezers is hidden information waiting to be teased out by current and future scientists. Our collections provide opportunities and access for CU students to gain real world experience in preparation for careers essential for solving the challenges of tomorrow.

Each and every week, here and on Facebook, we will focus our lens to highlight the history of a single cataloged item from our vast collection of more than 5 million objects. Each WoW will post on Wednesday—offering something new to anticipate for the next 77,000 years!


mimbres bowl

Mimbres Bowl

March 3, 2021

Mimbres bowls are likely the most famous ceramics in Southwest archaeology and are preserved by natural history, anthropology, and art museums around the country. Mimbres refers to the Mimbres Valley of present-day southwestern New Mexico, where Indigenous peoples lived and created these pottery artifacts from 1000 to early 1100 AD. ...

Aliciella Sedifolia

Plant Hunting for Aliciella (Gilia) sedifolia, the stone crop gilia

Feb. 24, 2021

This alpine-endemic plant is now known from four sites in the San Juans of southwestern Colorado. The species was originally collected in 1892 at an uncertain type locality. (The “type locality” is that site from where a species is first described.) In the case of Aliciella sedifolia , there was...

postman butterfly

Heliconius Butterfly

Feb. 17, 2021

The Heliconius or passion-vine butterflies are tropical butterflies from Central and South America that show a huge diversity of wing patterns. They have undergone rapid speciation and divergence (being different from one another), and also show an amazing amount of convergence (having traits similar to one another) in wing pattern...

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Feb. 8, 2021

The magnolia warbler (Setophaga magnolia) is a small songbird with a distinctive black mask and streaked “necklace” laid on a brilliant yellow breast. Each spring and fall these birds make a long-distance migration, flying from their tropical posts in the Caribbean, Central America, and Southern Mexico to breeding grounds in...

Brown rock-like object 8x8 centimeters with bits of bone and other material embedded.


Feb. 3, 2021

Can you guess what kind of fossil this is? Hint: the light-colored fragments in the specimens are many pieces of chopped-up bone. Although this may not look like much, careful study by CU scientists who examined the fragmented bone contents, chemical composition, and geological context of the specimen, it was concluded that the only way that this mineralized bone-filled mass could have formed in the ancient environment was through the fossilization of carnivore feces. AKA coprolites—this one was likely produced by a large carnivorous dinosaur around 140 million years ago.


Mountain Bluebird

Jan. 27, 2021

A charismatic species associated with high elevations, this mountain bluebird specimen was collected in Colorado Springs in 1898 (that’s 123 years ago!). Male mountain bluebirds are cloaked in a striking cerulean plumage, while females are colored an ashy grey with only a hint of blue tinting their wings. Many species...

Two Navajo women holding blanket in textile shop

Chief Blanket

Jan. 20, 2021

In 2019 Jen Shannon, CU Museum’s Curator of Cultural Anthropology, commissioned a replica of a Navajo First Phase Chief's Blanket for the collection—a modern artwork that was created using traditional materials (Churro wool and indigo), equipment and techniques.

Lumpy, conical shell with tan net-like texture.


Jan. 13, 2021

Each hole you see in this image at one point housed a miniature animal. Together, these tiny animals created a netlike colony: the bryozoan. While this image displays an encrusted fossil from the Pleistocene (2.58 million to 11.7 thousand years ago), there are many bryozoan varieties alive today, their habitats ranging from the shallow reefs of the tropics to the frigid waters of the poles.

Tan colored clam with red tendrils coming out of the mouth of its shell. A light blue reflective strip runs between the two outer shells.

Disco Clams

Jan. 6, 2021

This saltwater bivalve goes by quite a few names including “electro-flame scallop,” “electric clam,” and “disco clam” and it’s easy to see why. These animals are vibrantly colored and are among only a couple bivalves that can display a light show. Disco clams light up—flashing “lights” along their red mantle to confuse and deter predators.

pressed pinion pine needles with pinecone

Piñon Pine

Dec. 23, 2020

Piñon Pine (Pinus edulis) is a relatively small tree found on dry slopes and mesas at lower elevations (4,500-9,000’) of southwestern North America. In Colorado, this pine most often populates the canyon country of the Western Slope and in the oak-shrub zone of the southern mountains and plains. Amazingly, this tree can live up to 1,000 years, making it a fixture in high desert landscapes.