Exhibitions & displays

The Museum is closed to the public for major refurbishment work.

History of the Museum’s permanent displays

The Museum was opened on this site in 1865. The displays were an Aladdin’s cave of skeletons and other specimens.

Finback Whale in the old Museum of Zoology

Elephants in the old Museum of Zoology

Some of the specimens are still recognisable today. You can see the Finback Whale in the centre of the top photograph. Look closely and, amongst others, you can see the Giraffe and Aurochs in the skeletons to the right, and hanging from the ceiling the Killer Whale skeleton and our two-tusked Narwhal. On the right in the lower photograph is the  African Elephant. The  Asian Elephant skeleton is still in the Museum too, but kept behind the scenes in the stores rather than on display.

Museum lower gallery

The original museum was demolished in 1965 and the current Arup building erected on the site. Between 1968 and 1970 the Museum was moved into the current purpose-designed accommodation. The large modern display galleries with 300 metres of steel and glass display frontage were reopened in 1973. The new displays were a leading example of best practice ion Zoology museums of the time. The permanent display aimed to show at least one specimen of every group of animal, both fossil and living, that the Museum holds. In this way, a large and comprehensive part of the Museum’s collection were represented by the displays.

Artist's impression of the new museum entrance

Today the Arup building is badly in need of renovation. Inside, the museum displays are looking tired and in need of refreshing. After a complete renovation, we plan to re-open in 2016 in the same space as before but with new, updated displays.

This artist’s impression (above) shows the new entrance to the museum, proposed home for the Finback Whale.

Beetles, Finches and Barnacles:
the zoological collections of Charles Darwin

Darwin's beetle box. c UMZC

On December 27th 1831, at the age of 22, Charles Darwin set sail aboard HMS Beagle bound for South America. During the five year surveying voyage, Darwin collected many specimens of animals, plants, rocks and fossils. The observations he made were important in the formulation of his theory of descent with modification, and many feature in his revolutionary work ‘The Origin of Species’, published in 1859. Some of the material collected on the Beagle voyage is now housed in the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge.

Other Darwin material, including the box of British beetles, a diverse collection of invertebrates collected on the Beagle voyage, and the barnacle material studied by Darwin for his taxonomic work on the Cirripedia.

To celebrate the bicentennary of the birth of Charles Darwin in 2009, the museum opened a permanent exhibition showcasing these Darwin specimens from its collections. A guide to this exhibition can be downloaded here:

Temporary exhibitions

Temporary exhibitions with a scientific, usually zoological theme are staged at various times throughout the year.

find out more

Last updated: 7 June 2013