The VIMS Ichthyology Collection began as an uncatalogued teaching collection in the 1950s, but has grown to house extensive cataloged holdings of fishes from the freshwaters of Virginia, the Chesapeake Bay, and the middle Atlantic Bight, as well as large and diverse holdings of demersal deep-sea fishes from the western North Atlantic. VIMS also became the repository for three orphaned fish collections:

  • The Chesapeake Biological Laboratory (Solomons, MD) in 1978. The CBL collection consists primarily of freshwater and estuarine fishes of the upper Chesapeake and Delaware Bays.
  • Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) fish collection in 1985.
  • University of Richmond (UR) collection in 1993. The UR collection contains Virginia freshwater fishes, including a nearly 40-year series of collections from the central Appalachians. 
Specific Collections
Fishes of Chesapeake Bay and the Coast of Virginia

Although only about 30 species of fishes are year-round residents of Chesapeake Bay, about 300 species use the Chesapeake Bay at some point during the year. The Bay is a primary feeding or nursery ground for many species, such as Atlantic sturgeon, American shad, croaker, and striped bass. The VIMS Nunnally Ichthyology Collection is the only institution that is actively collecting new specimens of fishes from Chesapeake Bay and the marine and estuarine waters of Virginia.

Deep-Sea Fishes of the Western North Atlantic

The deep sea is both the largest and poorest known habitat in the world. Many of the fishes that inhabit the deep sea are among the strangest and most unusual looking species found anywhere, and have many adaptations to life in such a unique environment. Collections of deep-sea fishes are rare, and VIMS maintains one of the largest collections of deep-sea fishes from the western North Atlantic in the USA.

Freshwater Fishes of Virginia

The streams, creeks, and rivers of the Central Appalachian Mountains of Virginia provide a natural laboratory for the evolution of fishes. There is a great diversity – more than 200 species – of freshwater fishes in Virginia, particularly darters (Percidae), minnows (Cyprinidae), and suckers (Catastomidae). For more than 40 years, the Ichthyology class from VIMS has annually collected in several streams in southwestern Virginia, establishing a long-term record of fishes from the region. In addition, we are a repository for collections made in state-wide surveys by agencies such as the VA Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Larval Fishes

The larval period is among the most poorly understood life stage of fishes. Particularly in marine fishes, larvae frequently have a morphology very unlike that of the juveniles and adults, reflecting peculiar adaptations to life in the plankton. The VIMS collection is unique among all ichthyoplankton collections on the East Coast in its scope and size, and consists of collections made in the Caribbean, the Mid- and South Atlantic Bights, and the Chesapeake Bay, as well as ichthyoplankton in samples from interdisciplinary long-term time-series and other plankton studies from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern Oceans. Many of the samples deriving from these large, interdisciplinary research projects are complemented by extensive environmental data, including depth, temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen, and by phyto- and zooplankton assemblage information. The larval fish collection (est. 50,000 lots) has yet to be fully incorporated into the Nunnally Ichthyology Collection. The sorting, identification, and digitization of the larval collection is the subject of a recent grant from the National Science Foundation.


The Nunnally Ichthyology Collection contains three major preparation types: fluid preserved, skeletal, and cleared and stained fishes. Fluid-preserved fishes are stored in screw-top glass jars with polypropylene lids and polyethylene liners. Larger specimens are stored in oversized stainless-steel coffins. We also house a large collection of larval fishes that are stored in screw-top vials with rubber liners. The majority of the fish collection comprises fluid-preserved adults, juveniles, and larval fishes. We are in the process of imaging and CT-scanning fluid-preserved specimens. 

We have approximately 300 lots of skeletons, including whole articulated and disarticulated specimens, as well as shark jaws. Skeletons are prepared in our dermestid beetle colony and stored in archival boxes in climate-controlled skeleton cases. 

We also maintain a collection of approximately 1,000 specimens prepared as cleared and stained skeletons, in which the bones are stained red, cartilages stained blue, and soft tissues cleared in order to visualize the skeleton of larval and juvenile fishes. Cleared and stained specimens are stored in glycerin in screw-top glass jars with polypropylene lids and polyethylene liners.

Search the Fish Collection here