Patrick McMillan: Natural Sciences Museum

Patrick McMillan: Most people don’t realize there are museums on the Clemson University campus. I’m Patrick McMillan, director of the Clemson University Museum of Natural Sciences, and I’d like to tell you a little bit about our museum.

When most people think about a museum, they think about animals mounted in some life-like posture ready to pounce on you, when in fact, the real important material in a museum is behind those displays. The Clemson University Museum of Natural Sciences consists of over 100,000 plant specimens, over 20,000 animal specimens, and over a million insect specimens.

These specimens serve as a link between the living world and researchers, teachers, and students. These specimens are utilized in classes ranging from herpetology, zoology ornithology, plant biology, all the way to psychology and sociology. As an example of the importance of these specimens, the specimen I am holding in my hand is a brown-headed cowbird. Now, this museum specimen is used for research on the biology and the morphology – the way this animal is put together – and it’s preserved in a way that we can easily examine.

But this specimen also contains information on when and where it was collected. Now, the brown-headed cowbird is not a native species in South Carolina. It’s moved west – or moved east from the west – with the cutting of the eastern deciduous forests and transitioned to agricultural and open land. Now this is important because the brown-headed cowbird is actually a parasite of other species’ nests. So, the brown-headed cowbird female will actually lay her eggs in the nest of a wren or a bluebird or any other native bird, and that bird will actually utilize her resources to feed the brown-headed cowbird offspring.

So it has had a detrimental affect on many bird populations, and we can track the movement of the bird from the western United States into South Carolina just by using the specimens we maintain here in the museum. A museum without people is really just a storehouse. What makes this museum special are the people that work here and the people that visit. We hope to see you soon.

Patrick McMillan
Campbell Museum of Natural History