Micrarium: The Museum of Microscopic Animals

Jul 23, 2021 1 comments

It is said that more than 95 percent of animal species are smaller than your thumb, yet the vast majority of the creatures that are displayed in museums across the world are vertebrates—dinosaur skeletons, dioramas of African savannah with lions, zebras and buffaloes, and taxidermied monkeys and birds. Big animals are impressive to look at, and their anatomy is easy to relate with that of our own—skeletons, eyes, and limbs. But focusing only on the invertebrates does not accurately represent the diversity of the animal kingdom.


The Micrarium. Photo: Kate McNab

Lost of museums have thousands of zoological microscope slides of invertebrates but few have them on display, and those that do display only a handful of them, usually fixed under a microscope that one has to peer into. The Grant Museum of Zoology at University College London tries to fix this with their “Micrarium” dedicated to the smaller end of the scale. There are over two thousand slides on display in the Micrarium, lining the walls from floor to ceiling and lit from behind, allowing visitors to see details like the leg muscles of fleas and cross section of a fly. Aside from whole animals, the Micrarium also features sections of larger animals such as squid and microscope slides of whales, mammoths and giraffes.

Though two thousand is a lot of slides, thanks to their size, the entire collection fits snugly inside a walkable closet-like thing that previously functioned as a storeroom. The ceiling is mirrored which gives the impression that the collection continues to infinity.

“The wow we’re getting [at the Micrarium] is from the volume and the prettiness of the display,” acknowledged  Jack Ashby, Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology. “One specimen on its own wouldn’t get the same response.”

Announcing the opening of the Micrarium in 2013, Jack Ashby wrote:

The Micrarium at the Grant Museum is an experiment. We are trying something new with no real idea of how people will respond. Given their sheer number – meaning that attempts to label them individually would be impossible – the intention isn’t for visitors to get specific insights into individual specimens or species, but to appreciate the sheer vastness of invertebrate diversity. There may be 30,000,000 species on the Earth, nearly all of them invertebrates, so obviously the number we display here is miniscule, but it’s a step in the right direction for museums.


Photo: Kate McNab


Photo: Kate McNab


Photo: Josefine S/Flickr


Nick Richards/Flickr


A slice through a tortoise mite. Photo: Grant Museum of Zoology / Richard Weedon


A young cuttlefish. Photo: Grant Museum of Zoology / Richard Weedon


(Left to right) a whole sea spider, mantis shrimp, beetle slice and a pair of stained brine shrimps. Photo: Grant Museum of Zoology / Robert Eagle


  1. The large animals are cute, impressive. Their puppies, cubs, chicks, calves, etc, the little fuzzballs with this big eyes are cute as heck so people love them. The microscopic creatures are considered repulsive, disgusting, scary. No one wants to see a flea the size of a lion.


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