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. 


In the spring of 2020, like many organizations around the world, the CU Museum of Natural History Boulder was forced to close its doors due to COVID-19. Each and every week, for over a year, the museum highlighted the history of a single catalogued item from our vast collection of more than 5 million objects. Each Wonder of the Week, or WoW blog posted on a Wednesday—offered something interesting and new to anticipate. To view the collection through a post-lockdown lens, explore the following posts.



Two large shells, coiling counterclockwise, sit amongst seven snail embryos on a cotton sheet.

Rocky Mountain Snail

Sept. 8, 2021

The Rocky Mountain snail is a species of land snail common throughout North America's Rocky Mountains but is one of 40 varieties endemic to Colorado. These shelled gastropods are identified by their low to moderately well elevated spire relative to their size. These particular snails have sinistral shells, meaning they coil counter-clockwise. The names of the directions that shells coil are dextral for right-handed (clockwise) and sinistral for left-handed (counterclockwise)–these are the same roots for the words dexterous and sinister.

Ovoid brown bug with long antennae

Western Conifer-Seed Bug

Sept. 1, 2021

The Western Conifer-Seed Bug is a true bug native to the pine forests of western North America that has quickly spread eastward since the 1950s. Pest specialists surmise that these bugs were accidentally introduced to eastern North America through wooden shipping crates on trains or through commercial Christmas trees. After becoming established in eastern North America, they were repeatedly introduced across Europe, Asia, and northern Africa. By the late 1990s, the Western Conifer-Seed Bug was recorded in Northern Italy and has since been found on almost all continents with the exception of Antarctica.

Top view of butterfly with wings, spread widely reveals a dark brown body, hairs antennae and mostly dark wings, highlighted by yellow, fringed tips and some iridescent blue markings.

Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Aug. 25, 2021

The Mourning Cloak Butterfly (Nymphalis antiopoa ) is one of the earliest (and the latest) flying butterflies in its native range, which spans widely across temperate North America and Eurasia. These butterflies are relatively large, with up to 4” wingspans. Their wings are purplish black with a bright yellow margin and one set of iridescent blue dots around the edges of both sets of wings. The common name “Mourning Cloak” is similar in many languages throughout its range, referring to the darkened wing color representing a cloak, and the yellow margin as the fringe of a yellow dress worn underneath the cloak.

Rectangular slab of rock with wing imprint

Fossil Mantis

Aug. 18, 2021

This specimen, Lithophotina floccusa, was found and officially described by TDA Cockerell (Curator CU Museum of Natural History) in 1908 as the first fossil mantis known from the United States 1 . This fossil from the Eocene (56-33.9 million years ago) provides a link between the Cretaceous Terrestrial Revolution (125-80...

brownish orange bug with a face resembling a toad

Toad Bug

Aug. 11, 2021

Toad Bugs (Family: Gelastrocoridae) really live up to their name as they spend much of their time in or around water. Their hopping about can cause them to easily be mistaken for their Amphibian counterparts. These true bugs can be found in temperate zones near water, but their diversity increases near the tropics. Immature nymphs in this family will cover their exoskeleton with sand, which is thought to increase protection and provide a layer of camouflage to potential predators. As adults, these big-eyed bugs exhibit intricate color patterns and textures on their exoskeleton, which increases their ability to blend into their shore-line habitats as they sit and wait for unsuspecting prey.

brown lizard with spiky skin

Giant Horned Lizard

Aug. 4, 2021

The giant horned lizard is endemic to the Pacific coast of southern Mexico. It is the largest species of horned lizard, reaching up to 8 inches from snout to tail. Multiple rows of scales that have been modified into large pointy spines cover its body, forming an intimidating armor.

Monarch butterflly view from underside

Monarch butterfly

July 28, 2021

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are perhaps one of the most well-known insects in North America. They are easily recognizable by their bright orange wings with black veins and their jet-black abdomens speckled with white spots. Males can be distinguished from females by the two black spots in the center of their hind wing, which females do not have. Can you tell if this Wonder of the Week is a male or female? The caterpillars of this species, found on milkweed, are striped yellow, black and white. The chrysalis is light green with yellow spots along the edge.

Pressed plant with thin leaves and small blue flowers

Blue Larkspur

July 21, 2021

Blue Larkspur (Delphinium nuttallianum) is one of nearly a dozen species of this genus in Colorado and is a native of western North America. Delphinium comes from the Greek word for dolphin, which may refer to the shape of its flower bud, or perhaps the nectaries inside the flower that attract bees and hummingbirds.

Black and white bee about 9 mm long

Leaf-cutting bee

July 14, 2021

Like most bees, this leaf-cutting bee, Megachile brevis, is solitary, with each female building her own nest cells out of bits of leaves and petals without the help of a worker caste.

Red beetle with black spots

Convergent Lady Beetle

July 7, 2021

There are 80 species of lady bird beetles in Colorado, and the Hippodamia convergens or Lady Beetle (like this species found in Delta County), is the most frequently observed across North America.