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Dark Data

Iowa Lakeside Laboratory was founded in 1909 for “the study of nature in nature.” It is owned by the State of Iowa, operated through the Board of Regents, and is a member of the Organization of Field Stations. The Dark Data Project began as an effort to bring the thousands of early 20th century natural history specimens sitting in storage “to light”.  Natural history collections, because they document life in earlier times, are important tools for investigating understanding the broad questions of climate change, evolution, genetics, conservation, resource management, and education.  By digitizing, transcribing, and releasing this data set to researchers around the world, the legions of ecologists that have worked at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory continue to contribute to science.

Our natural history specimens are included in the following collections.

Bird collection

eastern meadowlark


  • Specimens: 362
  • Taxa present: 197 species + 57 specimens not labeled with a taxa
  • Oldest specimen(s): 1835, upland plover
  • Specimens from Iowa: 129 + many not labeled with location
  • Specimens from Dickinson County: 24
  • Notable: One of the starling specimens was collected in 1935, which was 13 years after the first starling observed in Iowa.  The founding population of starlings in the US was established in New York City in 1890
  • Data can be found here (for now)





Mammal collection (Skins and Skulls)

Plains pocket gopher


  • Specimens: 192
  • Taxa present: 26 species + 35 specimens not labeled
  • Oldest specimen(s): 1934, unidentified
  • Specimens from Iowa: 158
  • Specimens from Dickinson County: 143
  • Data can be found here (for now)







Non-vascular plants

This collection is scientifically significant as it was part of the Connard Bryophyte Clinic, which was a globally attended workshop.

moss specimen

  • Specimens: 913 specimen packets containing 1118 species
  • Taxa present: 374 species
  • Oldest specimen(s): label age suggests that some specimens are from 1862 or 1886, but most likely the earliest specimens are from 1894. 
  • Specimens from Iowa: 491
  • Specimens from Dickinson County: 111
  • Notable: 105 Specimens were collected by Shimek and 256 specimens collected by Connard
  • Data can be found here (for now)




Insects: Butterflies and moths

monarch butterfly

  • Specimens: 1137
  • Taxa present: 23 Species + 6 specimens unlabeled
  • Oldest specimen(s): 1901, cabbage white butterfly
  • Specimens from Iowa: 1126
  • Specimens from Dickinson County: 742
  • Notable: There are 46 monarch butterflies in the collection collected from 1941-1991
  • Data can be found here (for now)





Vascular plants

Sunflower specimen


  • Specimens: 5745
  • Taxa present: 1375
  • Oldest specimens: 1879, Carex hyalinolepis & Cystopteris bulbifera
  • Specimens from Iowa: 5670
  • Specimens from Dickinson County: 3906
  • Data is currently being processed






Remaining collections to digitize

  • Lois Tiffany’s Fungi teaching collection
  • Other insect orders
  • Fish
  • Mollusks and other invertebrates
  • Diatoms & algae
  • Iowa Lakeside Lab course catalogs
  • Historical photographs
  • Data files