Data Collection at the Paleontological Research Institution

Paleontological Research Institution

My summer research began with a trip to one of my favorite places: the Paleontological Research Institution and the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, New York. The Paleontological Research Institution, or PRI for short, houses one of the top 10 largest fossil collections in the U.S, with over 3 million specimens. Its particularly well known for its invertebrate collection, which researchers frequently visit to study specimens housed at the institution. I was a research intern at PRI last summer and learned a lot from everyone who works there. It was a treat to spend a day going through the collection once more.


With the help of the amazing collection staff I took body size measurements and detailed notes on every C. gigantissima we could find. Body size measurements include the length, width, and thickness of each relatively complete shell. None of the data I collected was “destructive.” This means that each oyster is still in the same condition as it was before I measured it. 

All together I measured about 15 relatively complete valves. This may not seem like very many, but few collections have any C. gigantissima, especially any that are so well preserved. I was very pleased with the quality and quantity of data this trip provided. I’ve realized that my research wouldn’t be possible without carefully curated collections. Many of the locations where C. gigantissima was historically found have been built over by humans. Therefore museum collections preserve data that would otherwise be lost to science. 

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The Museum of the Earth, opened in 2003 as an educational branch of PRI.

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The Paleontological Research Institution. Originally closer to Cornell’s main campus, the institution moved to this location in 1969.