Cnidaria collections

A hydrozoan specimen against a black background

A hydrozoan specimen © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

The cnidaria collections include corals, jellyfish, sea anemones, octocorals and hydroids, with approximately 20% of the specimens known to be types.

The geographical strength of the collection is our Indo-Pacific holdings, particularly material from the Red Sea, Arabian Gulf, Chagos Archipelago, Maldives, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia.

Other geographic highlights include Atlantic and Antarctic material. A largely historic collection, the non-reef corals are from important deep-sea expeditions such as the Challenger Expedition, the Discovery Expeditions and the John Murray Expedition.

We also care for the types and other specimens figured in the seven volumes of the Catalogue of Madreporaria (1893-1928) compiled by George Matthai, Cyril Crossland, J. Stanley Gardiner and J.J. Lister.

The Natural History Museum cnidaria collection is used for taxonomic research, studies of coral richness (species, generic, morphological, genetic), as well as for understanding time series trends in ocean acidification and for climate change research.

Significant collecting expeditions

  • Challenger Expedition (HMS Challenger), 1872-1876, the first global oceanographic voyage
  • Discovery Expedition (RRS Discovery), 1901-1904, Antarctica
  • Discovery Investigations, 1923-1951 [RRS Discovery (1923-1931), RRS William Scoresby (1927-1945), RRS Discovery II (1929-1951), Southern Ocean 
  • John Murray Expedition (Mabahiss), 1933-1934, Indian Ocean
  • Low Isles/Yonge Expedition, 1928-1929, Great Barrier Reef
  • Royal Society Expedition to Aldabra, 1967-1968
  • Percy Sladen Trust Expedition (HMS Sealark), 1905, Indian Ocean
  • British Antarctic Expedition (Terra Nova), 1910-1913
  • Joint Services Expedition to Egmont Island (JSEI), 1972-1973, Chagos Archipelago
  • Joint Services Expedition to Danger Island (JSDI), 1975-1976, Chagos Archipelago

Notable collectors and collections

  • Charles Darwin: 1835 coral collection from the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (HMS Beagle)
  • Ken W. England: sea anemone collections
  • Matthai-Gardiner-Crossland-Lister Collection (1893-1928): Indo-Pacific madreporarian corals
  • Singapore Fisheries collection
  • Charles & Anne Sheppard: corals, Chagos Archipelago
  • Sydney John Hickson Collection (1885-1886): corals, Malay Archipelago
  • William Saville-Kent: corals, Great Barrier Reef and Western Australia
  • Brian Roy Rosen: Seychelles, doctoral thesis collection with ecological index
  • George Busk: historic collection of fluid-filled sea view slides 

Looking for a specimen?

This collection is being digitised

Principal Curator, Crustacea

Miranda Lowe

If you would like to use any specimens for research, please get in touch

Principal Curator in Charge, Invertebrates (non-insects)

Lauren Hughes

If you would like to use any specimens for research, please get in touch


Find out why our 80 million specimens are a globally important resource for scientific reference and research.

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.

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. 

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