Natural Diversity

Archives of life



Natural diversity and archives of life

Natural Diversity – Archives of Life

Objects like the supposed skull of the lindwurm (a legendary dragon) were long displayed as trophies and curiosities. Collecting for collecting’s sake was superseded from the early nineteenth century by a scholarly approach that focused on scientific study of the multiplicity of species (today we would talk about biodiversity), genetic information and ecosystems on the Earth. The around four million objects currently preserved at the Kärnten Museum, holdings that are continuously being expanded, illustrate this natural diversity and can thus be called ‘archives of life’.

Trophy and museum piece

When a massive animal skull was discovered near Klagenfurt hundreds of years ago, it was immediately associated with the legend of the lindwurm (a dragon that had allegedly once menaced the city) and proudly displayed on a chain in the town hall. Not until nineteenth-century zoologists realized it was in fact the head of a woolly rhinoceros from the last ice age did the trophy become a museum piece.

Natural sciences in Carinthia

The first issue of the journal Carinthia in 1811 marked the beginning of regular scientific publications on Carinthia’s natural history. This eventually led to the founding of the predecessor of the Naturwissenschaftlicher Verein für Kärnten (Carinthian Natural Sciences Association) in 1848. Today, alongside publications in Carinthia, public lectures, meetings and excursions provide regular information on the wide spectrum of research undertaken by the eleven specialist groups of this long-standing institution.


Over 500 known minerals testify to the mineralogical and geological diversity of Carinthia. Whether gold finds in the Tauern, garnets around Radenthein or the multicolored minerals from the Hüttenberg area, from the Bleiberg valley and the regions south of the Drau, interesting and visually attractive finds come to light everywhere. Generous donations from well-known collectors in the 19th century formed the basis of the inventory of minerals in the "Natural History State Museum" of the Natural Science Association, which was handed over to the state of Carinthia with the museum after the Second World War and today has well over 50,000 exhibits from all over the world .

World of minerals

Over 500 known minerals attest to the mineralogical and geological diversity of Carinthia. Whether it’s gold in the Tauern mountains, garnets around Radenthein or the multicoloured minerals from the region of Hüttenberg, the Bleiberg Valley and the regions south of the river Drau – everywhere interesting and attractive finds come to light. In the nineteenth century, generous donations from renowned collectors formed the basis of the mineral holdings in the natural history museum of the Natural Sciences Association, which after the Second World War was handed over together with the museum to the State of Carinthia and today boasts well over 50,000 exhibits from across the world.

Hüttenberg mineral mix

The Hüttenberg mining district is known for its many minerals. Blue chalcedony is typical of this region; here it is seen in combination with cacholong (a form of opal) and calcareous spar (calcite crystals) on the iron ores siderite and limonite.

The fascination of wood

Whether in trees or herbaceous plants, grasses and palms: wood manifests itself in various structures, colours and patterns. The direction of cutting also entirely changes the appearance of wood. In many kinds of timber one can observe a division between a central heartwood and a peripheral sapwood. To protect the wood, its bark and growth tissue, tree trunks develop an outer layer or periderm, which in some species remains thin and smooth for decades. Others form thick bark, which ruptures on its outer surface as the girth of the tree increases. Depending on the way it ruptures, the bark forms characteristic patterns of rings, scales or tessellations.

A Carinthian discovery in the desert

The noted Carinthian explorer Friedrich Welwitsch (1806–1872) discovered a curious plant in the desert sands of South-west Africa which was subsequently named Welwitschia mirabilis in his honour. A distant relative of the conifers, during the course of its long life it develops a thick woody stem, the surface of which is covered with a deeply furrowed layer of cork; this can absorb droplets of water like a sponge and thus contribute to supplying the plant with water. It is pollinated by insects, in particular wild bees, flies and ants. Welwitschia is also host to a special kind of bug that feeds on its sap and possibly also contributes to its pollination.

In the water, on land and in the air

Over millions of years evolution has spawned a wealth of diverse life forms, particularly as regards the number of insect species. Magnificent butterflies, flies, gnats, beetles, alongside marine mollusc shells attest to the wide variety of the collection at the Kärnten Museum. Rare tropical moths are real eye-catchers and fascinate experts and amateurs alike. The holdings of molluscs have been given a valuable boost through the donation by the Naturwissenschaftlicher Verein of the Dr Heinz Mayer collection which has a special focus on marine snails and shells.

Love is in the air

Originally from East Asia, the Japanese silkworm moth was farmed for silk production (among other things for parachutes) in southern Styria in the early part of the twentieth century. Released when production ceased, it gradually spread into Burgenland and northern Slovenia, eventually reaching Carinthia. The coloration of these striking creatures ranges from bright lemon yellow to chocolate brown. The characteristic eye spots on the wings serve to repel potential predators. The males have broad feathery feelers to detect female pheromones. Speed is of the essence, for the moths do not feed but rely on energy reserves accumulated during the caterpillar stage. Their lifespan is limited to little more than three weeks.

A Goliath among beetles

The Goliath beetle is distinguished by its large size and colourful markings. While its two pairs of wings make it capable of flight, its sharp claws make it an excellent climber. The larvae of this beetle reach a weight of up to 100 g and are a protein-rich food source for the human population in parts of its native Africa.

Dangerous glory

The patterned shell of the Conus gloriamaris or Glory of the Sea Cone snail makes it popular with collectors. It was first described in 1777 by Johann Hieronymus Chemnitz and deemed to be very rare and valuable. Today its natural habitat – deep in the sandy floor of the tropical seas around the Philippines, Papua-New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Fiji and East Indonesia – is well known. With its small venomous ‘harpoon’ dart, measuring up to a centimetre in length and furnished with barbs, it preys on other molluscs, worms, small fish and the like, mainly by night. Its venom is potentially fatal to humans.

Spiny Venus

Distributed from East Africa to the West Pacific, the Venus Comb snail lives at a depth of down to 340m on sandy or silt floors on the coast or on coral reefs, and feeds mainly on other molluscs. Its shell has over a hundred spines that protect it from predators and also prevent it from sinking into the soft ocean floor. Humans hunt it for its edible flesh and bizarrely shaped shell, which is popular among collectors.

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