The zoological museum of Palermo was founded in 1862 thanks to Pietro Doderlein. He was born in Dubrovnik and after his studies, he became professor of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy, he taught at the Modena university and than he came to Palermo where he became director of the Museum until 1894. During this period, helped by many young colleagues, he collected the most important elements of the collections.
In 1913 the collections were transferred from the Theatines priests institute, located in Via Maqueda, to Via Archirafi, where it was built the zoological institute of the University of Palermo. Thanks to many building's maintenances, the furnishings and the decorations are the same as the second half of 1800 and so you can still breath the atmosphere in which students worked and studied in that period. After the new tendencies of the biological research, the Museum was closed to the public for a long period and it was reopened in 2009 after a convention which assigned the management of the additional services to a cultural association.
In these years Doderlein Museum has been carrying out a very important role, preserving and taking care its collections, which are the most important in Italy.
In Doderlein museum are collected Sicilian extinct species, holotypes and specimens of the first fishes which from Red See moved to Mediterranean See after the opening of Suez Canal.
A general introduction to collections and to the taxidermic method
The cartilaginous fish
The visit of the museum begins with the collection of cartilaginous fishes or Condroittes,. Many of them live in Mediterranean Sea and in other sicilian sees. In particular, among the fish with a cartilaginous skeleton, the Elasmobranch, i.e. sharks and rays, generally have 5 pairs of gill slits and a very rough skin covered with denticles. They have ideal organs to detect prey or hidden animals under the sand, their smell is highly developed and they also have an extensive network of pores to capture the weak electric field produced by other animals and a lateral line system to detect the vibrations. Among these fishes sexes are always separated and they have internal fertilization:
males have two fins modified in copulatory organs. The Controittes are generally carnivorous predators such as white shark and blue shark, but some families include plankton filter-feeders such as the basking shark or the Sea-Devil. Sharks have generally elongated spindle-shaped, side-gills and specialized bodies for pelagic or benthic life. Rays and Manta-rays have a body dorsal-ventrally flattered, the gill slits and mouth placed in ventral position.
In the Museum are collected more than 1200 Mediterranean fishes specimens, stored in alcohol or kept dry. The method used by Doderlein in fishes’ taxidermy is actually unknown. This collection shows the richness of species of Sicilian seas during the last century, many of them are currently endangered or extinct.
Bone fishes have a bony skeleton, one gill slit closed by an operculum and their skin is covered by flexible and overlapping scales. Unlike the cartilaginous fishes, bony fishes have gas in their bladder which helps them to regulate their flotation in water.
Bone fishes have separated sexes but hermaphroditism is often frequently and the fertilization is always external. Bone fishes evolved in many ways, adapting their life to different kind of water, such as reef pools and abyssal depth.
In Doderlein Museum are exposed many Mediterranean fishes such as eels, moray, conger eels and Tetradontiformes as the sunfish.
Alien fish species
The collection includes some examples of fish species which are not Mediterranean. The Porcupinefish and the puffer fish belongs to the Tetradontids family and they are tropical and sub-tropical fishes which live often in the coral reefs. They are known for their ability to increase, in case of danger, their body size. As a matter of fact they swallow air and water to send away a possible predator. They have a powerful neurotoxin in their liver, the tetradotoxin, lethal to humans. Other species that you can find are piranhas from Brazil, a sawfish and Lepisosteus osseus, a voracious freshwater sawfish from North America.
Fish species with a particular interest
Among the fish species in the collection, there are some which deserve a special attention, such as the specimens of Acipenser sturio, the sturgeons caught in the Oreto river – in Palermo - today it is a very polluted river and has a low flow rate. These fishes usually spend a large part of their life living in the sea but they often move to the rivers to spawn. They can reach 5-6 meter in length and live for 100 years. They are usually fished because of their eggs, from which we get the caviar. We can also note the considerable differences between the specimens fishing today and the specimens collected in the Museum: they have different body size. The big grouper and the conger eels show us the effects of the overfishing. The modern fishing equipment reduces the size of the specimens and the biological resources in the Mediterranean Sea. In particular, groupers are long-lived animals and they can reach large sizes, but they live only in the protected marine areas be-cause of fishing. These animals are proteroginic hermaphrodites, such as the individual change of their sex from female to male; Many specimens are male.
The herpetological collection, recently renewed, allows visitors to learn about the species present in Sicily and several others belonging to various environments of the Mediterranean biome. Am-phibians include five species native in Sicily an one alien species (Xenopus laevis). The Xenopus, in-troduced accidentally few years ago in the province of Palermo. It is a dangerous animal for other species which are preyed in the larval stage until to determine their local extinction. The native species are resistant to human impact such as the Common Toad, the Painted Frog, the green frog; It is exposed also the Tree-frog , a species with livein the riparian vegetation and the Sicilian Toad, recognized as endemic species in the last years. Among the reptiles preserved in liquid, there are main species of snakes such as the Sicilian white lead, the Austrian Coronella, the common grass snake, the Dice and Lacertidae like the common lizard, the endemic Wagler’s lizard and the Green Lizard. There are also Two Scincidae, the Ocellated Skink and the Three-Toed Skink. The collection of the endemic species from sicilian archipelagos is very important. It includes endangered and protected species such as Maltese Wall Lizard and the Aeolian Lizard.
In these collections you can find also some extra-Mediterranean species. They are from different country, in particularly from Africa and South America: Seba Python, Boa constrictor, several alligators and the rattlesnake. In the collection there is also a Cape Verde Giant Skink, extinct in the last century due to local population that eat them or use them to produce a kind of oil.
All Sicilian turtles species are threatened by extinction and their populations are reduced due to the destruction or alteration of habitats. They are hunted for commercial purposes, causing a human disturbance of the nesting sites. The most famous species is Caretta caretta, a sea turtle that spawns along the southern coasts of sicilian islands and beaches (Lampedusa, coast of Agrigento). The Hermann's Tortoise, a common and abundant species until the early decades of last century, is now completely disappeared in agricultural areas and is highly threatened also in protected areas. Sicilian turtle pond (Emys trinacris) is endemic but localized in wetlands within protected areas.
The dioramas and reconstructions of skeletons
In Doderlein museum you can find 4 dioramas, such as reconstructions of environments in which animals live. Dioramas represent places and environments in which animals can be found. The first diorama shows five species of Sicilian Owls: Barn Owl, Tawny Owl, Long-eared Owl, Little Owl and Scops, in their natural poses, in a semi-anthropic environment, characterized by a ruined building, used for nesting. The other dioramas represents the Mediterranean forest (with the porcupine, the hedgehog, martens and various species of typical wood birds) and rocky shores (with Bonelli's Eagle, Kestrel, Peregrine and Buzzard). The last diorama is dedicated to the North African desert, wit and shows typical species such as Uromastyx. The reconstructions of skeletons in the second half of the 800’s enriched the ichthyological collection. They show the product of patient work of operators that reconstructed, accurately, skeletons for educational purposes. They were used by many biologists also for their studies.
This Museum contains over 1700 specimens of birds from all continents, used for study purposes. In these windows you can see many species that live in Sicily (over 200 species of resident and migratory) belonging to the original collection of Doderlein and many exotic species from Africa, Asia, America and Oceania, result of the work that scientists and explorers carried on in the nineteenth century. There are many rare or endangered species in Sicily such as the Red Kite, the vulture, the lesser spotted eagle, the Dalmatian Pelican, the Rock Partridge of Sicily. This last species has been reintroduced recently in the Province of Palermo.
Extinct an reintroduced bird species
In the last decades of the XIX century many birds species died out due to excessive hunting, poaching, habitat destruction and due to other factors. Among these species: the eagle owl, ex-tinct probably due to the destruction of habitat, the Kurrichane Buttonquail and the Helmeted Guinea fowl, whose disappearance is related to hunting.
The Griffon vulture, extinct in 60 years because of poaching and ingestion of poison for animals, they are reintroduced recently. Today, Griffon flies again in the skies of Nebrodi Park, with a col-ony of 50 individuals. The Purple Swamphen, extinct in the late 50's, probably due to the remedia-tion of several wetlands and to hunting has been reintroduced. Between 2000 and 2003 we counted only hundred specimens in the south-eastern Sicily, and today they are expanding significantly.
The museum mammals collection contains about 200 specimens from different regions of Europe, Africa, America, Asia and Oceania, such as the platypus, a monotreme mammals from the south-ern continent, the woolly Kangaroo and a representative American marsupial opossum. There are many specimens belonging to the order of Primates, recently reclassified, amongst which several baboons, orangutans, Bertucci Gibraltar Ape. There's also a small collection of bats from Europe, Africa and America and a large collection of rodents and insectivores.
Extinct interesting species and reintroduced species
In Doderlein museum there are many interesting sicilian species of mammals: the Sicilian Shrew or Crocidura sicula, an endemic species of the region, two Sicilian wolves, an adult and a puppy, belonging to the period before their extinction . The extinction of wolf in Sicily happened in the first decades of XX century, such as in the same year of the otter extinction. Among the species recently reintroduced in Sicily, we can remember the Fallow Deer and the Wild Pig, which lived in the wild without control and reproduced exponentially duel to the absence of a natural predator. They damage both natural and agricultural environments.
The marine invertebrates
A big malacological collection is presented by several specimens from the Mediterranean sea. They are exposed in the ground-floor windows. The other marine invertebrates are exposed in two windows on the balcony, such as the Giant Spider Crab (Maja squinado), a big European Lobster (Homarus gammarus) and a Spiny Lobster (Palinurus elephas), the sea Squirt Thalia democratica, they are often confused with sea Ctenophores and with various species of Echinoderms. There are also several examples of Porifera and Cnidarians such as Euplectella aspergillum and Pennatula phosphorea.
Enthomologic collection is one of the most important collection and it is composed by 200 enthomologic box, full of many specimens captured in different world’s countries, especially in Sicily. A large part of these collections belong to the old collection of the last 1800 and the early 1900. they were cataloged by Failla-Tedaldi, Destefani-perez and by Riggio, Doderlein first professorship assistant.
The windows show many Sicilian insects such as many coleopterans from the wooded areas of Sicily (Nebrodi and Madonie). Tenebrionidae , which are the main representative insects of “dune succession” such as natural areas threatened by human impact.
A particular window show some of the most important Sicilian endemic beetles. The window show also captions that explain the trophic ecology, the distribution of some species and some particular behaviors of some insect like Dung insects. Among the most important enthomological orders you can see coleopterans, dragonflies, flies, butterfly.