Natural sciences

RAMM’s natural sciences collection is rich and varied.

Due the sheer size of the collection it is not possible to display it all at once. If you wish to view a stored collection for research purposes please contact RAMM’s Collections Officer. A selection of displayed and stored items can also be viewed on Collections Explorer.

Have you ever seen the leg bone of an extinct moa? Our curator Holly provides a wonderful insight into RAMM’s extensive Natural sciences collection. 

Botany

Botany is the science and study of plants. RAMM has many thousands of plant specimens in its collections. The scientific name for a plant collection is a herbarium (plural herbaria).

Specimens include flowering plants, mosses, lichens, ferns, wood samples, seeds and plant products. Fungi and algae are also part of the botany section.

Notable botany collections and collectors

  • Richard Cresswell – Cresswell was particularly interested in algae. His collection includes contributions from notable algologists – many are women. He and his family were keen artists. RAMM’s Fine Art collection includes specimens drawn by him (usually viewed down the microscope), his daughters and significant Indian artists.
  • Amelia Griffiths – two large bound volumes of pressed algae. Most she collected herself on Devon’s shores.
  • Mary Wyatt – one complete set and one part set of ‘Algae Danmoniensis’.
  • William Hiern – A collection of seed-producing plants, ferns, lichens, mosses and algae. His herbarium is very consistent: there are specimens from almost every month of his life between 1863 and 1925. Many specimens are published in ‘The Flora of Devon’.
  • William Keble Martin – author of ‘The Concise British Flora in Colour’. RAMM holds draft plates for the publication and his personal plant collection.
  • John Jackson – former curator at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew museum. His collection results from his interest in ‘ecconomic botany’. It includes prints, photographs seeds and plant products from around the world.

Geology

RAMM’s geology collection includes over 40,000 fossils, rocks and minerals. They are evidence of changes to Devon’s landscape over the past 490 million years. RAMM’s meteorite is 4.5 billion years old. It is a relic of the early days of our planet. Ichthyosaur skeletons represent a time when large reptiles swam in the oceans. Mammoth tusks are remains of the last Ice Age when most of today’s familiar landscape features developed. Visit RAMM’s Down to Earth gallery or explore the collections at home using Collections Explorer.

RAMM’s meteorite is over 4 billion years old and one of the most awe-inspiring objects in the collection

Fossils

RAMM’s extensive collection of fossils tells an exciting story of life and evolution in Devon. Devonian plants and Triassic reptiles, Jurassic fish and Cretaceous sea urchins, Tertiary leaves and Ice Age Mammal remains. Together they make RAMM’s fossil collection a unique archive of ancient life excavated from local grounds. RAMM also has fossils from all over the world putting the local collections into their global context.

RAMM’s Marketing Officer Nicki McCaskie talks about why she loves the museum’s rhynchosaur fossils

Particular strengths of the fossil collection include

  • Ice Age creatures – It’s hard to believe that 100,000 years ago cave bear, hyaena, elephant, bison and hippo were once alive in England. Kent’s Cavern, Torquay is one of the most informative and important caves in the country. Honiton is famous for the hippo remains found while the first  bypass was built in 1965.
  • The Otter Sandstone is an internationally important source of Triassic fossils. These rich red rocks are 245 – 235 million years old and form some areas of the exposed red cliffs around Sidmouth and Ladram bay. RAMM has some exciting fossils from the Otter Sandstone.
  • The Jurassic Coast is just a stone’s throw away from RAMM. The collection reflects the wide range of fossils found in the Jurassic cliffs in South Devon and Dorset. Small delicate shark teeth, ammonites of the size of a cart-wheel and fossilised tree stems are just some of the fascinating finds. The highlights however are stunning skeletons of ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, swimming marine reptiles that ruled the oceans during the Lower Jurassic.

Rocks and minerals

RAMM holds a comprehensive collection of local rocks and minerals that reflect the geological diversity of Devon. They draw us a picture of the county as we have never seen it before: a terrain covered by ancient tropical reefs or vast desert dunes, an area disturbed by sudden rock avalanches or erupting volcanoes.

Devon’s rolling hills, multi-coloured cliffs, narrow gorges and steep valleys tell us a story of an eventful past. Red sandstones, hard granites or grey slates are the main characters in a tale that started about 400 million years ago on the southern hemisphere of the Earth.

The local minerals reflect the long and eventful mining history of the county and Southwest England. Essential metals such as copper and tin to precious silver and gold are part of the region’s heritage. Arsenic was also mined in Devon and Cornwall. The mineral collection also includes specimens from all the world.

Zoology

There is an astonishing variety of zoological material in RAMM’s collection. Geographically it ranges from Antarctica to the Antipodes, the Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe to the Arctic. The species represented are just as varied. The most important zoology collections include the insects, molluscs, birds and echinoderms. It also includes RAMM’s iconic and much loved mascot Gerald the Giraffe.

Many specimens are on display at RAMM. Yet due the sheer size of the collection it is not possible to display it all at once. If you wish to view a stored collection for research purposes please contact RAMM’s Collections Officer. Or browse a selection of items on Collections Explorer.

Molluscs

The attractive external shells of land and aquatic molluscs have attracted many a Victorian collector. As a result RAMM has some beautiful examples. The majority are dry specimens and still in their original boxes.

  • Colonel George Montagu (1753 – 1815) – In January 2020 Arts Council England awarded the Montagu Collection Designated status. This mark of distinction recognises the collection’s international significance to the scientific community. It is the most intact and taxonomically important collection of British shells of the early 19th century (1800-1816)  anywhere in the UK. Many are type specimens.
  • Miss JE Linter (1844-1909) – Over 15,000 lands snails that were donated to RAMM in 1909. Some are now very rare or even extinct and many are very attractive
  • Miss Florence Jewell – collection of foreign marine shells.
  • Lieutenant George Peard – collected during his voyage of discovery on HMS Blossom.
  • JT Carrington – collection of UK land snail shells including examples of banding patterns.

Birds

RAMM has a large and diverse collection of birds. The ‘In Fine Feather‘ gallery shows as stunning selection of over 140 birds from the collection. Specimens are also displayed in ‘Finder’s Keepers?‘ and ‘Making History‘. Look closely and you’ll find bird feathers used in costume, textiles objects and world cultures objects all over the museum.

Collections Officer Holly Morgenroth introduces Joey the Stanley crane

Birds were especially popular with Victorian collectors. RAMM has a collection of over 12,000 taxidermy mounts, skins, skeletons, eggs and nests from all around the world. Many are very rare in the wild and some are even extinct. Watch taxidermist Jazmine Miles-Long preparing a sora rail specimen for RAMM in this short video.

Notable collectors include:

Microscope slides and echinoderms

Echinoderms are a group of invertebrates that includes starfish, sea urchins, feather stars, sand dollars and other related creatures. Most of RAMM’s starfish and sea urchins are from Percy Sladen‘s collection. They can be seen in the Sladen’s Study gallery. The collection of echinoderms attracts researchers from around the world. It is believed to be the largest and most comprehensive echinoderm collection outside the Natural History Museum, London.

One of RAMM’s hidden treasures is the collection of around 7000 microscope slides. Many are Victorian. They are is unique insight into a strange and colourful world that had previously been invisible to the naked eye. Slides include botanical, zoological and geological specimens. One of the most important collections is that of Drs WB and PH Carpenter which came to RAMM via Percy Sladen.

Insects

RAMM’s collections include specimens from all the major insect groups. View them online or come to RAMM’s ‘Fly on the Wall’ gallery to see them up close.

The size and quality of our collections is largely thanks to the dedication of Major Bertie Gay and Anthony Adams who painstakingly sorted the specimens into consolidated collections that were arranged in taxonomic order. RAMM has over 120,000 butterfly and moth specimens. It is one of the finest, most extensive and scientifically valuable collections of any provincial museum in the country. It includes eggs, larvae, pupae and adults.

Notable collectors include

  • Frank Lees: British butterflies and moths
  • Edward Studd: British butterflies and moths
  • Reverend Hellins: British butterflies and moths
  • Philip Le Hardy de la Garde: beetles
  • John Reading: beetles
  • SG Rendel: beetles
  • Louis Audcent: flies

Mammals

No visit to RAMM is complete without meeting Gerald the giraffe. He is one of RAMM’s most iconic specimens and came to the museum in 1920 from Charles Victor Alexander Peel

Volunteer guide Alison Neely talks about her favourite RAMM object, Gerald the giraffe