Hidden away inside Cheatham Hall, there are thousands of animals — specimens of Virginia Tech’s very own natural history museum. Housed on the first floor of Cheatham Hall, the museum is supervised by Professor Carola Haas, who started a basic vertebrate identification and natural history class after arriving at Virginia Tech in 1993. “Having a specimen collection made it possible to give students hands-on exposure and to teach basic identification skills,” she said.

The collection, which was initiated more than 70 years ago, has become a big part of coursework for students in the college as well as a research tool. Undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation help maintain the museum.

Doctoral student George Brooks has managed the collection — which includes 1,000 skulls, 1,000 wet specimens (fish), and 3,000 dry specimens, such as birds, mammals, eggs, and pelts — since 2015. “I manage all of the undergraduates in terms of what they do and coordinate general maintenance of the museum,” he said. “It’s a balancing act of preserving the collection for posterity and making the specimens available for teaching and research.”

Songbird eggs and nests are among the thousands of specimens housed in Cheatham Hall.

Over half of the mammal skins and skulls and a third of the bird skins were collected in Virginia. “Having a series of animals collected here in Southwest Virginia over time can allow us to see how they might have changed as invasive species moved in, as certain contaminants were released in the area, or as forests regrew and the area became more heavily wooded,” Haas said.

Several classes, including herpetology, ichthyology, mammalogy, ornithology, and wildlife field biology, use the specimens in their teaching. Several departments collaborate in the museum for research, and the specimens are lent to K-12 groups and different organizations for outreach events. “Getting students some hands-on experience with the animals that they actually hope to study is crucial for both enthusiasm and understanding,” Brooks said.

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