The vertebrate collection of Naturalis is rich in extinct and rare species. Some parts are important historical collections made in the 19th century during expeditions in Africa, Asia and the Americas.
The long history of Naturalis is particularly well represented in the vertebrate collection, which contains 1.9 million objects. Specimens collected in the 19th century form the core of the collection, together with the substantial quantity of type specimens. These historic collections have been collected from all over the world, although there was a focus on Indonesia and Japan.
The oldest Asian material dates from the 1820s, and it was gathered by the Natuurkundige Commissie, a group of naturalists sent to the Dutch East Indies to study and collect animals and plants for the museum. Among the naturalists were H. Kuhl, J.C. van Hasselt, H. Boie and H. Macklot. Important vertebrate collections are those of W.C. van Heurn, P. von Siebold (Japan) and Bartels.
Mammals & Birds
The mammal and bird collections are rich in (sometimes unique) extinct and rare species. For example, the Madagascar collection of lemurs, collected by Pollen & Van Dam (1860-1870) and Audebert (1870-1880) is of a great beauty and scientific importance, as is the osteologic collection of dolphins and whales which documents the studies to monitor the decline of cetaceans along the Dutch coast. The national avifauna is represented by the collections of Wickevoort Crommelin and P.A. Hens. The interest in birds of prey of the first director of the museum, J. Temminck, is still illustrated by the diversity of species in this collection.
The collection of freshwater and marine fish from the Indonesian archipelago, collected and described by Pieter Bleeker between 1840 and 1860 is of great scientific importance. Bleeker described 1996 new species of fish, ranking him as the most productive fish taxonomist ever. His types are housed in Naturalis. Of more recent date is the collection of Lake Victoria cichlids. This collection of Haplochromine cichlids contains hundreds of undescribed species, some of which recently became extinct as a result of the introduction of the Nile Perch in Lake Victoria.
Reptiles & Amphibians
The herpetological collection goes back largely to the beginning of the 19th century. It includes material mainly from South-east Asia and the Amazonian region, as well as several valuable collections from other localities. The Natuurkundige Commissie is responsible for the Indonesian core of the herpetological collection. Important collections from Africa (H.S. Peel and H.B. van Horstok), Central and South America (H.H. Dieperink, P. Wagenaar Hummelinck, and M.S. Hoogmoed) and Indonesia (F. Kopstein and C.P.J. de Haas) have been added to the museum collection all through the last two centuries. Many new species have been described based on this material, making the RMNH types collection of great scientific significance.