Terrestrial invertebrates are animals without vertebral columns (backbones/spines) that live primarily or totally on land, and fall within the phylum Arthropoda.


Terrestrial invertebrates are animals without vertebral columns (backbones/spines) that live primarily or totally on land, and fall within the phylum Arthropoda. This phylum includes insects, spiders, mites and crustaceans. Arthropods have been described as the most successful organisms on the planet. The insects (titled Hexapoda) in this phylum alone account for about 55% of all species known to science. Terrestrial arthropods inhabit every terrestrial habitat and have influenced and continue to influence the evolution and maintenance of biotic communities. They are pollinators, predators, parasites and prey. They play a vital role in the processing and recycling of organic material on the planet, and are vital to the food chain of both vertebrates and invertebrates. They therefore have an impact on human life. At the South African Museum, the arthropod collections (part of the Museum’s entomology collections) are invaluable research tools, used by scientists both locally and abroad. The scientists working at the Museum – a team of taxonomists and systematists primarily – are dedicated to the business of discovering new species, as well as identifying and explaining species associations and ecological relationships. The collections, which spring from research conducted at Iziko and elsewhere, have been assembled by scientists over decades.

The Entomology Collections

The Iziko South African Museum was founded in 1825, and its collections are the oldest of their kind in South Africa with the earliest specimens dating to the 1840s. The entomology collections house specimens of butterflies, moths and dragonflies collected by Roland Trimen or JH Bowker as long ago as the late 1850s and early 1860s. The earliest insect record is from 1853. The natural history research undertaken at the South African Museum and the collections assembled as a result form much of the foundation for our understanding of South Africa’s biodiversity both past and present.


The Iziko South African Museum has an extremely well curated and internationally significant entomology collection. The size of the collection, as of 17 November 2015, includes 325 147 catalogue records digitised on the Specify6 database, including 19 556 types, 3 390 families, 17 126 genera and 48 940 species. There are approximately 600 000 specimens catalogued and digitised to date, of an estimated million mounted specimens, 30 000 bottled Insecta, Arachnida, Myriapoda, Onychophora and Acarina and 5 644 microscope slides. There are a further estimated 5–10 million uncurated and uncatalogued specimens stored in ethanol in the wet collection in bulk samples.

Entomology research

Simon van Noort’s research focuses on the systematics, evolution and biology of Hymenoptera (wasps, bees and ants) from the Afrotropical region (Africa south of the Sahara, including Madagascar and surrounding islands).

ResearchGate profile: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Simon_Noort

Research home page: http://www.figweb.org/Research/Laboratories/van_Noort/index.html

Nokuthula Mbanyana works on the systematics, ecology and biology of southern African ants. Ants are among the most conspicuous organisms in terrestrial landscapes, and have a profound influence on most terrestrial plants and animals through their predatory, scavenging and symbiotic behaviour. Ants are also often used as biological indicators in ecological assessments because of the relative ease with which they can be sampled.

Keywords (Keyword Search)

  • Phylum: A category in the biological classification of organisms.
  • Arthropoda: An invertebrate animal, with an exoskeleton (external skeleton), a segmented body and jointed appendages (limbs), which makes up over 80% of described living animal species.
  • Terrestrial: Relating to the earth, in this case referring to animals who live primarily or mostly on land.
  • Biotic: Relating to living things, especially their ecological relations.
  • Food chain: The hierarchy or organisation of organisms, each dependent on the next as a source of food.
  • Vertebrates: Animals with internal skeletons.
  • Taxonomists: Biologists who groups organisms into categories.
  • Systematists: Specialists in the design of taxonomy, which is the classification of animals.
  • Insecta: A group of animals classified by a set of distinguishing features, such as a three-part body; it includes bees, ants, cockroaches and butterflies.
  • Arachnida: A group of animals classified by a set of distinguishing features, such as its eight legs; it includes spiders and scorpions.
  • Myriapoda: A group of animals that includes millipedes and centipedes. 
  • Onychophora: A group of velvet worms.


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Inside Iziko

Iziko Museums