Fish and ichthyology collection

Ichthyology, the study of fishes, concerns at least six groups of vertebrates: two groups of agnathans (Myxini + Petromyzonti); cartilaginous fishes (Chondrichthyes); bony fishes (Actinopterygii); lungfishes (Dipnoi); and coelacanths (Coelacanthimorpha). Bony fishes are the most highly diversified vertebrate group, both in numbers and shape.


The ichthyology collection comprises around 440,000 specimens (132,000 lots) representing some 14,000 valid species, a bit more than 40% of all described species. The specimens have been collected worldwide, from fresh and marine waters, from high-altitude lakes to the depths of abysses, from the Arctic to the Antarctic through the tropical zones.

Most specimens are preserved in ethanol, but some are stuffed and stored in the herbarium or mounted on stands. The indisputable scientific value of the collection lies in the wealth of type specimens available (over 22,000).

Some of these types have been referenced in a series of publications started by L. BERTIN in 1939: catalogue of the type specimens in the fish collection of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (list of catalogues). Most of these publications are available as off-prints.

Acanthurus leucopareius (Jenkins, 1903)

© MNHN - Collection d'Ichtyologie


The museum’s national fish collection, constituted from the 18th century onwards (circa 1750), is one of the largest and oldest in the world. For the past 20 years, it has been growing constantly with 12,000 additional specimens per year.

Since July 1998, the GICIM database, whose name stands for "Gestion Informatisée des Collections Ichtyologiques des Musées d’histoire naturelle de France" ("Computerised Management of the Ichthyological Collections of the Natural History Museums of France"), has included data on all fishes registered in the collections of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, as well as data on type specimens in the collections of the Muséum d’histoire naturelle de Lyon (MHNL), the Muséum d’histoire naturelle de La Rochelle (MHNLR), the Musée océanographique de Monaco (MOM), the Musée zoologique de Strasbourg (MZS), and the Université Claude Bernard, Lyon I (UCBL). GICIM was created in 1982.

All this information is copied into the various international database networks with which the curators collaborate, including FISHBASE, FISHNET, ENHSIN and the GBIF.


In recent years, the main activities of the curators of the national collection have been the computerisation and organization of the collection, the publication of type catalogues, the incorporation of data from other natural history museums in France, and the coordination with international databases. The latter refers especially to FISHBASE, a database of which the Muséum is a consortium member, in cooperation with several of the world’s great museums and the GBIF. The dry skeleton, tissue, and otolith collections have also been computerised. These collections contain thousands of  samples. The tissue collection includes over 12,000 samples from more than 8,000 species. Many photos and x-rays are being digitised.

The curators make specimens and information available to researchers all over the world, through visits or loans, used for taxonomical, biogeographical, ecological and anatomical studies. Specimens of high historical or educational value for public exhibitions are as well loaned. Every year, the Muséum counts many visitors (French and foreign) that come to the ichthyology collection in order to examine its specimens, for periods of time ranging from a few days up to several months. Since 2000, over 58,000 lots have been made available and over 3,700 requests have been processed.

The ichthyology collection team mainly works on species:

  • from the marine environment, in the Atlantic, Antarctic, Sub-Antarctic and Indo-Pacific zones in collaboration with the Ifremer, IRD and IPEV;
  • from fresh water in the zones of mainland France, the DOM-COMs (overseas departments and collectivities of France) and Indo-Pacific insular systems.

Many taxonomy publications are released each year based on the material in this collection

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