Fossil fish collection

Fossil actinopterygian fish, Ellimichthys

Fossil actinopterygian fish, Ellimichthys

The Museum’s large collection of fossil fishes contains approximately 90,000 specimens, of which 5,000 are type or figured specimens.

90,000                      5,000          

Specimens                           Type specimens 


The fossil fish collection started when two substantial collections were purchased in the late 1880s from:

  • William Willoughby Cole, the 3rd Earl of Enniskillen (1807-1886)
  • Sir Philip de Malpas Grey Egerton (1806-1881)

The size and scope of the fossil fish collection continues to increase through donations and fieldwork by Museum staff most recently in Morocco and Oxford. In 2007, a large donation by David Kemp added considerably to the UK Eocene taxa represented.


Looking for a specimen?

The fossil fish collection is being digitised

Major collections

The fossil fish collection originated from the collections of the Earl of Enniskillen and Sir Philip de Malpas Grey Egerton.

Other important collections include:

David Kemp Collection

Tertiary UK fishes, donated in 2007.

Gogo Collection

Collected by Harry Toombs in the 1960s from the Late Devonian Gogo Formation of western Australia. Fossil taxa include lungfish and other sarcopterygians, a variety of placoderms and actinopterygians.

Stan Wood Collection

UK Carboniferous fishes, including actinopterygians and chondrichthyans.

Frederick Dixon Collection

Specimens from the Chalk of Sussex, the Tertiary Bracklesham Beds, as well as Brazil, Monte Bolca in Italy.

Westoll Collection

A wide variety of Devonian Scottish fossils including jawless fish (Achanarella), and gnathostomes such as the placoderm Coccosteus and the sarcopterygians Osteolepis, Thursius, Dipterus and Gyroptychius.

Alfred Nicholson Leeds Collection

Fossil fishes include the largest actinopterygian known, Leedsichthys problematica. It was a plankton feeder, straining food by passing water over its gills. The other fishes from this collection are notable for the preservation of the skull bones.

Gideon Mantell Collection

Mantell’s early collection consists of many fossils from the Chalk of the Upper Cretaceous of Sussex, including fish such as chondrichthyans (represented by shark teeth) and actinopterygians.The first portion of the collection was acquired from Mantell in 1838 after the failure of his museum.

Country of origin

The collection includes specimens from every continent:

  • the majority come from Europe
  • UK fossil fishes are well-represented, across all taxonomic groups
  • the Museum currently houses fossil fishes collected in the Antarctic, which belong to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS)    

Digitisation project

We are currently involved in a large scale digitisation project called eMesozoic. Over the next year we will digitise and make our permanent collection of British Mesozoic vertebrate fossils available online.

Any questions ?

If you would like to use any specimens for research   

Geological range

Ordovician to Pleistocene

Recent (non-fossil) fishes are held in the Museum’s zoological collection.

Important historical collections

  • Earl of Enniskillen
  • Sir Philip de Malpas Grey Egerton
  • David Kemp Collection
  • Gogo Collection
  • Stan Wood Collection
  • Frederick Dixon Collection
  • Westoll Collection
  • Alfred Nicholson Leeds Collection
  • Gideon Mantell Collection

Material type

  • skeletons
  • slides
  • scales
  • teeth

Related information

Collections on the move

We have set out on an ambitious programme to develop a new science and digitisation centre. As we prepare for the move, access to some collections will be affected. 

Find out more and sign up to our newsletter to receive updates on changes to collections access, relevant news and opportunities to get involved.

Accessing the collections

Scientists and collections management specialists can visit the collections and borrow specimens for research.

Collections management

Our duty is to provide a safe and secure environment for all of our collections.