UNM’s Museum of Southwestern Biology opens to the public for the first time

For nearly a century a magnificent collection of all lifeforms has been quietly growing right here in New Mexico. 

This afternoon the public was invited to see it for the first time. 

Taxidermied rodents, and birds, a platypus in a jar and at least a dozen parasites.

“Schistosomes are a parasitic worm that goes between people and a freshwater snail host,” said Caitlin Babbitt a graduate student at UNM’s Biology Department. 

This is only a small glimpse inside the work of the Museum of Southwestern Biology at the University of New Mexico. 

“We do research on samples we collect from the natural world that we archive and curate and secure behind these walls,” said Dr. Christopher Witt, the Director of the Museum of Southwestern Biology. 

He says there are more than 4 million specimens, big and small from animals to plants, stored in the facility. 

“The research is used to understand species, populations, and communities in the natural world,” said Dr. Witt. 

He says the materials are used in over 150 scientific journals each year. 

“How they evolve, how they interact, how they adapt to their environments and critically how they’re changing over time,” said Dr. Witt. 

For the first time today since the museum launched back in 1938, they decided to put some of the most interesting samples they’ve collected over the last 81 years on display for the general public. 

“Because we’re busy with our research, we don’t get a lot of opportunities to share with the public,” said Dr. Witt. 

It was a chance to see the world and all its creatures through a different perspective. 

“We’re hoping to give people a better understanding of parasites in general how yes, they can be icky and scary but they can also be wonderful complex things that don’t necessarily cause the harm we think they do,” said Caitlin Babbit. 

KRQE News 13 asked if the museum will ever open its doors to the public again, staff told us it’s possible but will be based on the success of Sunday’s event. 

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