Student working in the fish collection

Something Fishy at the Bell

Learn what these students are doing in our fish collection


Keiffer Williams, a master’s student studying conservation sciences at the University of Minnesota, examines the gills of fathead minnows to determine if they have disease pathology (above). Williams works as a teaching assistant with conservation genetics and a research assistant in the Bell fish collection. Williams is particularly interested in a marine fish called the combtooth blenny. Many species of blenny have evolved teeth that don’t directly attach to their jaw bones but instead are weakly attached by connective tissues. Williams studies why and how this evolution occured, and specimens like those in the Bell fish collection may provide clues. Before pursuing his master’s degree, Williams studied biology as an undergraduate and conducted research in sharks and other marine species.

Alex Franzen knows a thing or two about mollusks. Having worked with the Bell’s fish collection for the past two years, Franzen became acquainted with a fraction of the more than 18,000 specimens of mollusks and crustaceans in the Bell collection. The Bell Museum houses a vast collection of mollusk specimens, including snails, slugs, clams, octopus, and squid, as well as a few of the malacologists who study them.

Some of the Bell Museum’s mollusks and crustaceans date all the way back to 1875, and most are collected from Minnesota, making this a critical collection for studying mollusks over time in the Upper Midwest. Franzen recently completed a Bachelor of Science degree in fisheries, wildlife, and conservation biology and now focuses his research on the freshwater snails in the Bell’s collection. Hailing from Hastings, Minnesota, Franzen’s interest in freshwater ecosystems began as a high school volunteer doing citizen science research with Dakota County, where he studied an important but often overlooked wetland ecosystem: stormwater retention ponds. Franzen continues to contribute to citizen science research of freshwater ecosystems through the Citizen Stream Monitoring Program at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Claire Rude, a senior at the University of Minnesota, has conducted research with the Bell collections since her junior year. When we visited Rude, she was hard at work identifying species of catfishes, including yellow bullheads, black bullheads, and tadpole madtoms. These fish were collected from popular fishing lake Lake Reno by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and now Rude has the sometimes slimy job of identifying them for the museum collection. Lake Reno is a popular lake for fishing but also faces threats from excess nutrient runoff, pollution, zebra mussels, so Rude’s work is critical for understanding lake management and conservation. While Rude didn’t expect to study fisheries, wildlife, and conservation biology when she entered college, she has found it to be an interesting and fulfilling career path that she is excited to pursue further.