The historic core of this collection comes from the 18th century private collection of Antonio Vallisneri, albeit there are only a few items datable with certainty to this period, among them the slender sunfish (Ranzania laevis) and the bills of swordfish (Xiphias gladius) and smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata). Most of the items came with acquisitions and bequests that were arranged principally during the course of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The collection has been catalogued and, to date, comprises 693 items, the majority of which preserved in liquid, along with a number of naturalised specimens from the 19th century that are of singular beauty and scientific interest.
Actinopterygii fish (bony fish characterised by a ray-finned appearance) are the most numerous, with more than 3,500 specimens covering 247 species, whereas elasmobranchii (cartilaginous fish such as sharks and ray or skate) are far fewer in number, a hundred or so, covering just 20 species.
Many preparations (around 40%) unfortunately are without any indication as to provenance; where the origin is known, most are from Europe.
Worthy of note is the taxidermied white shark 4 metres in length, caught in the Adriatic in 1823.
The original core of the collection can be traced to that privately owned by Antonio Vallisneri, to which important acquisitions were added subsequently, deriving from donations and explorations that came about mostly during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Overall, the collection comprises some 500 catalogued and restored specimens, preserved for the most part in liquid. For many of these, regrettably, the geographical provenance is unknown.
Of notable scientific importance is the historic specimen of a leatherback sea turtle (Tyrrhenian Sea), donated to the University by Pope Clement XIII in 1760 and declared a holotype (an exemplar on which the description and name of a new species is based, hence the scientific reference) for the species Dermochelys coriacea (Vandelli, 1761), which appears in the 12th edition of Linnaeus’s Systema naturae (1766).
There are 163 specimens of amphibians catalogued, most of which preserved in alcohol, covering 74 species overall.
The majority of these items are of Italian origin, coming from north-east Italy (Trentino Alto Adige, Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia).
In 2013 the museum acquired a collection donated by professor Pietro Cardellini, consisting of specimens from South America, which includes items belonging to extinct and endangered species.
The number of reptile samples catalogued is 330, which takes in 131 species. The geographical provenance of these items is predominantly Italian, although there are also species originating in Africa and Australia. 24 specimens bred in captivity were added to the collection in 2008, donated to the museum by Mr Mauro Ghidotti and naturalised for educational purposes.