UW’s Zoological Museum: A Hidden Treasure Trove of Knowledge

Preserved Animals and Species Provide a Wealth of Learning Opportunities

Nestled within the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison lies a hidden gem, the Zoological Museum. This unassuming building houses a vast collection of preserved animals, bugs, and species that offer a glimpse into the rich tapestry of our planet’s history. While it may not be open to the public, this treasure trove of knowledge serves as a vital resource for students, researchers, and instructors alike, providing invaluable learning and teaching opportunities across various fields.


A Haven for Researchers and Students Alike

Within the Zoological Museum, students like Mason Polencheck, who is studying microbiology and zoology, find themselves immersed in a world of fascination and discovery. Polencheck’s research project on mud puppies, a type of salamander, has led him to explore the museum’s extensive collection. His focus lies in testing these amphibians for the chytrid fungus, a disease that poses a significant threat to their survival. With an abundance of amphibians to analyze, the museum proves to be a research jackpot for Polencheck and his peers.

Cabinets Overflowing with History and Wonder

Venturing deeper into the museum, one is greeted by cabinets and drawers brimming with bones, skins, and preserved animals of all kinds. Each specimen serves as a window into the past, offering insights into the diversity and evolution of life on Earth. From the delicate wings of butterflies to the intricate skeletons of larger mammals, the collection is a testament to the wonders of the natural world.

A Hidden Gem for a Select Few

Despite its vast array of educational resources, the Zoological Museum remains relatively unknown to the public. Its existence often eludes the casual observer, making it an untapped and unused resource for many. However, for those fortunate enough to discover its hidden halls, the museum becomes a haven of knowledge and inspiration.

A Collaborative Effort

Laura Monahan, the associate director of UW’s Zoological Museum, oversees the preservation and organization of over 750,000 specimens. These treasures come from a variety of sources, including wildlife rehabilitation centers, the Department of Natural Resources, and zoos. Collaborations with nearby zoos, such as the Henry Vilas Zoo, the Milwaukee County Zoo, and the Racine Zoo, further enrich the museum’s collection. Veterinarians seeking to study specific animal anatomy often request access to the museum’s specimens, ensuring they are well-prepared for their work with exotic creatures.

A Hub of Learning and Teaching

The Zoological Museum serves as a vital learning tool for diverse fields, including biology and history. Beyond its role in research, the museum also plays a part in shaping the next generation of museum directors. Monahan teaches to Museum Studies, imparting her knowledge and passion to aspiring curators. The museum’s mission extends beyond being a repository of artifacts; it aims to make its resources available to researchers and the public, despite the limitations imposed by its small staff.


UW’s Zoological Museum stands as a testament to the importance of preserving and studying the natural world. From its vast collection of preserved animals and species to its role in educating future museum professionals, the museum provides a wealth of knowledge and inspiration. While its doors may not be open to the public, the impact of this hidden gem reverberates through the halls of academia, ensuring that the wonders of the natural world are not forgotten. As researchers like Mason Polencheck delve into the museum’s depths, they uncover new information and pave the way for a future where understanding and protecting our planet’s biodiversity is paramount.