The Department of Invertebrate Zoology was established at the California Academy of Sciences in 1914, and combined with the Department of Geology in 1982 to form the present-day joint department. Our scientists conduct research on recent invertebrates, diatoms, fossils, and minerals, while our curators and assistant curators oversee the preservation and maintenance of our expansive wet and dry collections.

Conchology and Invertebrate Paleontology

The close association between the disciplines of Geology and Invertebrate Zoology goes back to the early days of the Academy, when invertebrate collections made from living material were accumulated mostly as comparative resources to supplement the fossil collections. During the mid- to late nineteenth century, invertebrate paleontology and conchology (the study of shells) did not present hard-and-fast disciplinary boundaries, as several notable conchologists were authorities in both disciplines.

Included here were the two Civil War veterans John B. Trask and James G. Cooper. As a result of the initial efforts by these two productive individuals, a tradition of research in invertebrates and geology was established at the Academy, where such work continues to the present day. No less than ten curators aligned with paleontology and geology at the Academy have used conchology or malacology (the study of living mollusks) in their research, collected and compared fossil and recent shells, or studied living mollusks as part of their research programs.

The Academy’s timeline begins in the Gold Rush year of 1849. Gold sparked the growth of San Francisco, and led to the founding of the California Academy of Sciences.

Department Milestones

1855: Williams O. Ayres is elected Curator of Zoology and William P. Gibbons is elected Curator of Geology & Mineralogy. Gibbons was succeeded a year later by John B. Trask.

1906: Collections are destroyed in the earthquake and fire. One specimen is salvaged—an ammonite collected by John Trask. The Galápagos Expedition returns with a substantial number of fossils, beginning a new collection.

1914: The Henry Hemphill Collection of marine, freshwater, and land shells—more than 60,000 specimens—is donated to the Academy.

1972: The Stanford University and Hopkins Marine Station collections are “adopted"—the resulting ten tons of material doubles the size of the collections. It includes specimens collected by E. F. “Doc” Ricketts and author John Steinbeck in the Sea of Cortez.

1982: The Departments of Geology and Invertebrate Zoology are combined into a single department, now fondly known as IZG.

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