Echinoderms are a group of invertebrates that includes starfish, sea urchins, feather stars, sand dollars and other related creatures. They only live in marine environments. The name ‘echinoderm’ literally means ‘spiny skin’ when translated from ancient Greek. These spines are particularly noticeable on live sea urchins. When specimens are dried or kept in alcohol the spines often fall off.
RAMM’s collection of Echinoderms
The majority of RAMM’s echinoderms are from Percy Sladen‘s collection.
RAMM stores most of its echinoderm specimens in alcohol in ground glass jars. Others are in rectangular display jars and carefully mounted on a glass sheet in attractive patterns. Some starfish and sea urchins in our collections are dry and stored in boxes. Others are small enough to fit inside a microscope slide.
In life, starfish and sea urchins have bright colours and also beautiful markings. Museum specimens often look dull in comparison because they lose their colour when preserved in alcohol or dried..
Thanks to Sladen our collection of echinoderms has attracted researchers from around the world. It is believed to be the largest and most comprehensive echinoderm collection outside the Natural History Museum, London.
Sladen and HMS Challenger
Percy Sladen had a particular interest in echinoderms. His knowledge of these attractive creatures brought him to the attention of Sir Charles Wyville Thompson – a Scottish scientist who was in charge of the Challenger expedition. This oceanographic survey and collecting expedition took place on HMS Challenger between 1872 and 1876. Thompson asked Sladen to identify and describe the enormous wealth of Echinoderm material brought back from the voyage.
Museums all over the world have specimens from HMS Challenger. A RAMM project has reunited them on a single website. Please explore HMS Challenger Collections.