Vertebrate Paleontology

Vertebrate paleontology in the United States originated in Philadelphia through the efforts of physicians and natural historians associated with the American Philosophical Society and The Academy of Natural Sciences. Native Philadelphian, Dr. Joseph Leidy (1823-1891) was a particularly brilliant anatomist working at the Academy during the growth of paleontology as a scientific discipline. Many call Leidy the father of vertebrate paleontology in this country. Edward Drinker Cope, another Philadelphian, made tremendous contributions to vertebrate paleontology from his home base at the Academy. After a hiatus of almost a century, research in vertebrate paleontology is active again at the Academy of Natural Sciences (see below).

The historical core of the Academy's collection includes the Thomas Jefferson Fossil Collection, the first dinosaur fossils from North America, the only fossil collected by Lewis and Clark, as well as the extensive collections of Leidy and some of the Cope collections. Although many of these specimens have great historical value, they also remain crucial for primary research. Today, the vertebrate fossil collection houses more than 22,000 specimens and that number is rapidly growing through recent research efforts. Recent and ongoing collections projects have included renovation of the fossil preparation lab and some of the collection space as well as upgrading the conservation of all specimens.

Researchers interested in the collection should consult the loan policy and loan agreement page. Contact people for the department are Ned Gilmore, Collections Manager ( and Ted Daeschler, Associate Curator ( Written queries should be addressed to either of these two at:

Department of Vertebrate Zoology
Academy of Natural Sciences
1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19103-1195

Current Research

Current paleontological research at the Academy of Natural Sciences is focused on Late Devonian-age fossils (375 to 365-million-years-old) from the Catskill Formation in northern Pennsylvania and from the Okse Bay Group in the Nunavut Territory of the Canadian Arctic. This work has already uncovered thousands of new fossils that dramatically illustrate the diversity of life and the evolving ecosystems during this critical interval in earth history. Fossils uncovered in this project are also providing important data on the origin of limbed animals (tetrapods) from fishy precursors. Research from the Catskill Project is presented at the Devonian Times web site.