Invertebrate zoology is the study of all animals without backbones. Of the major divisions (phyla) of animal life, about 97 percent are invertebrates.

Our Invertebrate Zoology Collection began as a malacology collection (mollusks) under Thompson Van Hyning, the first director of the Florida Museum. In 1966, Fred G. Thompson joined the Museum as curator of Malacology and Gustav Paulay joined in 2000. In those years, the collection expanded tremendously to move beyond its malacology focus, but it currently houses one of the five-largest mollusk collections in the US.

Exhibit Objects

Invertebrate zoology includes:

Sponges live attached to the ocean floor, lack a nervous system and filter water for food. Except some deep-sea species turned to snagging plankton with specialized, hooked spicules.

Corals build reefs visible from space, the largest structures created by living things, including humans.

Worms make up more than half of the animal phyla. They are elongated, muscular organisms that swim in the ocean, burrow in the sea floor or reef, live in soil or crawl inside most plants and animals.

Mollusks, the second-largest phylum, include worms, clams, slugs, flying squid, tusk shells, chitons, limpets and sea butterflies. Our collection represents about a third of the 100,000 known species.*

Arthropods have a wide variety of body forms, from parasitic, pulsating blobs, to centipedes, horseshoe crabs, and butterflies.

Echinoderms are found at every depth of the ocean. These symmetrical but unusual animals include the conspicuous sea stars, sea cucumbers and sea urchins.

Chordates are the most familiar animals — fish, frogs, eagles and humans — and several are not invertebrates. Some chordates are included in invertebrate zoology such as lancelets, salps, larvaceans and sea squirts.

*Collection numbers were accurate at the time the exhibit was on display in 2017. Please visit the collection website or collection database for updated holdings information.