Fish Collection

The term "fish" generally applies to three groups: bony fishes, cartilaginous fishes and the so-called jawless fishes (e.g. lampreys). At present more than 24,000 recent species are known. This makes them by far the largest group within vertebrates: Every second extant vertebrate species is a fish-species.

Fish live in nearly all aquatic habitats: in Tibet loaches are found in hot springs at 5,200 m above sea level, in Lake Titicaca - the highest large lake of the world (3,812 m above sea level) - several species of killifishes live, and the deep-sea specialists are to be met as deep as 7,000 m below surface. Besides strictly freshwater or marine fishes we know about 200 species, spending their lives partly in fresh and partly in salt water (e.g. eel, salmon).

Some species developed organs for air-breathing which enable them to survive out of water, e.g. in seasonally drying up swamps, and others even undertake regular excursions on dry land (e.g. mudskippers).

Fishes are extremely important to man, on the one hand as food (exploitation of natural resources, aquaculture), on the other hand for recreation and leisure activities (game fishing, aquariums). They also serve as indicator species for water pollution.


The scientific fish collection


  • Nearly 1.000,000 alcohol-preserved specimens (c. 150,000 lots)
  • About 1,800 skeletons (mounted or disarticulated on plates).
  • About 2,000 taxidermy specimens.

Type collection

Some 2,000 species are vouched by type specimens.
Some 2,000 species are vouched by type specimens.

Special features

Material from South America (Natterer, Steindachner); Heckel-, Kner-, Steindachner-types.

Use of the scientific collection/Loan of scientific material

Examination of our holdings is possible at NHM by arrangement. Because of losses of material and several not-returned specimens in the past no more loans are available. Only tissue samples can be sent by mail by appointment.


70 % of the holdings are catalogued on card-index (binary names sorted alphabetically). Special card-indices exist for the skeleton collection, taxidermy specimens and for type specimens. Computer cataloguing has started in 1998.