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Amphibians and Reptiles Collections

The collection serves as a major research resource for the national and international scientific communities and contains unique material of special historical and ecological significance. The collection database is accessible online on this website and through HerpNET.… more
The collection serves as a major research resource for the national and international scientific communities and contains unique material of special historical and ecological significance. The collection database is accessible online on this website and through HerpNET. During the 1970’s, it was recognized as one of the five largest and most representative collections of amphibians and reptiles in the United States (Wake et al. 1975). Currently it ranks among the top six herpetological collections in the United States and one of the twenty largest in the World. Collection use has been growing steadily. Loan requests, visits by researchers, and information requests are at high levels. Zoologists, paleontologists, wildlife disease researchers and other disciplines utilize the collections. Regular collection users include professional scientists, agency personnel and students (undergraduate and graduate).  

The collection in the Division of Amphibians and Reptiles: 
  • Contains over 290,000 specimens in 278,000 catalog entries and 20,000 tissue samples.
  • Includes frogs, salamanders, caecilians, turtles, snakes, lizards, amphisbaenians, rhynchocephalians, and crocodilians.
  • Contains over 7,500 species, 1,250 genera, 99 families, and all orders.
  • Contains 46% of the approximately 16,500 extant species of amphibians and reptiles.
  • Contains more amphibians (56% of catalog entries) than reptiles (44% of catalog entries).
  • Is global in origin and almost equally divided between the New and Old Worlds with the Old World holding a slight edge.
  • Includes fluid preserved specimens, skeletons, cleared & stained preparations, tissue samples, DNA extracts, histological slides and and an extensive herpetological library.

A substantial portion of the growth of the collection was the result of the field programs of former curators. The first curator in the Division, Karl P. Schmidt, conducted fieldwork in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Chile, the Galapagos Islands, Guatemala, Panama, Belize, Honduras, Mexico, West Indies, Arizona, Texas, Illinois and the islands of the Pacific. Clifford H. Pope's field efforts were directed towards plethodontid salamanders in Mexico, California, and the eastern United States. By contrast, Robert F. Inger and Harold K. Voris conducted their field programs in the Old World, specifically Asia and the Indo-Australian region.

Graduate students have been instrumental in collection building through field work. James Bacon, Karl Frogner and Ronald Heyer were key personnel during field work in Thailand and Malaysia during the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Bryan Stuart deserves special mention. His indefatigable field efforts as a student in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam beginning in 1999 and extending well into the 2000’s have resulted in numerous specimens, tissues and new taxa. The efforts of Lucinda Lawson and Division of Mammals Negaunee Collection Manager William T. Stanley in east Africa have complemented the Division’s collections in that region.  

Curators in other Divisions in the Museum contribute important material. The work of Danny Balete of the Laksambuhay Conservation Foundation, Division of Mammals Curator Lawrence Heaney, and colleagues in the Philippines have complemented the strong historic holdings from the Philippines with fresh specimens and tissue samples.  

Strategic purchases, long-standing open exchange programs, sponsorship of field collectors, and networking, particularly by Hymen Marx and Robert Inger, which resulted in the donation of substantial collections, have added to the depth and breadth of divisional holdings. Significant accessions, measured in terms of quantity and quality include the Harry Hoogstraal collections from east Africa through Turkey, the Sherman C. Bishop collection (including the University of Rochester collection), and the massive Edward H. Taylor collection. The Edward H. Taylor collection was the single, largest collection received from an external source. This 35,000-specimen collection, which included material from Mexico, Costa Rica, the Philippines, Thailand, Liberia and Kansas, added to the taxonomic, geographic and typic diversity of the Division's collection. Of particular note is that Taylor, Hobart M. Smith and others published extensively on large parts of this collection. The South American crocodilian skull collection of Federico Medem becomes more valuable as the decades pass. This important collection is heavily used by paleontologists and morphologists. The salamander collection of Robert E. Gordon is particularly voluminous and well documented by field data sheets. Maureen Kearney was instrumental in the receipt of the amphisbaenian collection and associated library of the late Carl Gans.  

As smaller institutions shift from the study and retention of preserved specimens, either due to the retirement of herpetologists or a change in focus, collections of preserved specimens become “orphaned.” The Division has acquired orphan collections from universities and government agencies. Significant are the specimens and skeletons amassed during J. Alan Holman’s tenure at Illinois State University early in his career. Doctor Lauren Brown kindly and graciously facilitated the transfer of the Holman collection as well as other valuable specimens.  

Geographic Coverage-The collection is global in origin and almost equally divided between the New World and Old World (47.7% and 52.3% respectively). The breakdown of collection holdings by major geographic area is: North America (31.6% of catalog entries), Indo-Australia (20.2%), Asia (16.6%), South America (10.2%), Africa (9.0%), Central America (4.8%), Australia (2.5%), Caribbean (1.2%), Pacific (0.9%), Europe (0.8%), Madagascar (0.7%), Atlantic Ocean (0.03%), and Indian Ocean (0.04%). Some of the strongest foreign holdings (major collectors/donors in parentheses) are from Australia (David Liem, William Hosmer); Malaysia (Robert F. Inger, Harold K. Voris, Edward O. Moll); Philippine Islands (Dioscoro S. Rabor, Harold Hoogstraal, Danny Balete, Lawrence Heaney); Thailand (Edward H. Taylor, W. Ronald Heyer, Robert F. Inger); Laos and Cambodia (Bryan L. Stuart); Taiwan (Robert F. Kuntz); China (Cheng-chao Liu, Clifford H. Pope, Robert F. Inger); Egypt (Harold Hoogstraal); Colombia (Federico M. Medem, Kjell von Sneidern); Chile (Tomas Cekalovic K., Luis E. Pena); Peru (John E. Cadle, Karl P. Schmidt, Luis E. Pena, Felix Woytkowski); Mexico (Edward H. Taylor, Hobart M. Smith, Clifford H. Pope, Ernest G. Marsh, Howard B. Shaffer, James Hanken); and Central America (Karl P. Schmidt, Harold Trapido, Edward H. Taylor, Emmett R. Dunn). The Division's Malaysian collections undoubtedly constitute the largest accumulation of preserved Malaysian herpetofauna in the world. Additional areas of strength include Brazil, Sri Lanka, India, South Africa, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and southwestern Asia. The total number of catalog entries from the United States is approximately 53,500. States representing from five to ten percent of this total include (ranked highest to lowest): Illinois, New York, Texas, North Carolina, Indiana and Mississippi. Significant collections of United States material were made by or received from the following individuals (states given in parentheses): Sherman C. Bishop (New York); Denzel Ferguson (Mississippi); Edmund Heller and Sherman C. Bishop (California); and Walter Stille, Thomas Anton and Alan Resetar (Illinois and Indiana).  

Systematic Coverage-The collection contains 7,540 species, 1,297 genera, 99 families and 9 orders. These constitute 98% of recognized families, and 100% of the orders. The taxonomic breadth of the collection is revealed by comparing the number of species in the collection to the total number of extant species. The Field Museum's herpetological collections contain approximately 46% of the 16,500 extant species of reptiles and amphibians. The breakdown of collection holdings by order or suborder is: frogs (43.1% of catalog entries), salamanders (11.9%), caecilians (0.23%), turtles (1.8%), rhynchocephalians (0.006%), lizards (26.6%), snakes (15.3%), amphisbaenians (0.66%) and crocodilians (0.01%).  

Frogs-Much of the diversity and quantity of the frog collection is due to the field work of Robert Inger in Malaysia, Thailand, China, India and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Particularly significant are the collections made in western China by Cheng-chao Liu and studied by him while resident in the Division during 1946 and 1947 and the New Guinean and Australian specimens received from David Liem. Bryan Stuart’s recent work in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam as well as the work of Danny Balete and Lawrence Heaney in the Philippines bolstered the specimen and tissue collections for Asian frogs.  

Salamanders-The salamander collection contains specimens assembled by some of the most important collectors and researchers including Sherman C. Bishop, Clifford H. Pope, Karl P. Schmidt, Richard J. Newcomer, Robert E. Gordon, H. Bradley Shaffer, Cheng-chao Liu and Edward H. Taylor.  

Caecilians-The caecilians (including type specimens) that formed the basis for Edward H. Taylor's classic 1968 monograph were acquired through the purchase of his collection.  

Turtles-The Edward O. Moll collection from Malaysia contains species that were previously not or only poorly represented in our collection. Bryan Stuart’s work in southeast Asia contributed additional significant turtle material including tissue samples. The turtle holdings from areas of geographic strength such as Malaysia, mainland southeast Asia and Mexico are well represented, taxonomically and numerically.

Rhynchocephalians-Two species comprise the recent sphenodontidans. The collection contains only one of these species. The holdings number fifteen specimens. Several of these are skeletonized or cleared and stained.  

Lizards-The lizard collection contains eight specimens of the extremely rare, earless monitor (Lanthanotus borneensis), the sole species in the subfamily Lanthanotinae. The specimens of Lanthanotus are in demand by researchers worldwide and several are usually on loan. Particularly valuable, for example, to researchers are the large series of Bornean lizards. Our holdings of the agamid genus Draco (flying dragons) dwarf the combined holdings of other museums. Such large series support studies that would be impossible otherwise. Additionally, such large series also allow several researchers to work on subsets of the material simultaneously, thereby alleviating the need to shift the same material from one researcher to another. Significant also are holdings of the family Xenosauridae which contains only two rare genera, Shinisaurus and Xenosaurus, and two adult, whole body, fluid preserved Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis).  

Snakes-The snake collection contains representatives of all families except the Bolyeriidae, 87% of all genera, and approximately 65% of all species. One of the single, most important subsets of the collection are the sea snakes (Hydrophiinae and Laticaudinae) collected by Harold Voris. Significant also are several specimens of the rare viperid, Azemiops. The snake skull collection is extremely varied taxonomically and contains large series of single species of aquatic snakes.   Amphisbaenians-The extensive Carl Gans collection is a significant recent addition. It includes a significant number of histological slides.

Crocodilians-The crocodilian collection contains representatives of all families, 100% of all genera, and all except one species. Several species are present in large series of skulls. The crocodilian holdings (particularly skulls) were enhanced by the purchase of Federico Medem's collection (1955-1966). This collection is heavily used by paleontologists and morphologists.  

Type Collection-The type collection contains over 1,300 named forms (species and subspecies) of which almost 500 are represented by holotypes. The lists of type specimens have been published (Marx 1958, 1976).  

Skeletal Collection-The skeletal collection contains over 8,000 dry skeletons and cleared and stained preparation. The snake skull collection is particularly taxonomically representative due in large part to the research efforts of Curator Emeritus Hymen Marx. The sea snake (Hydrophiinae and Laticaudinae) skull collection is particularly valuable not only because of its taxonomic representation but also because of the large series of each sex of selected species. These skulls were prepared through the efforts of a dedicated, long term volunteer, Sophie Anne Brunner. Cleared and stained turtle, lizard, and crocodilian embryos, prepared and published on by Geology Curator, Olivier Rieppel, form a valuable subset of the collection. Large series of cleared and stained lizard and snake skeletons prepared in the lab Associate Curator Maureen Kearney form a sizable and valuable part of the collection.  

Tissue Collection-Over 20,000 tissue and extract samples are stored in a liquid nitrogen dewar. The tissue collection is derived from material from Asia, Africa and the midwestern United States.  

Auxiliary Collections-The Division maintains the following auxiliary collections: histological slides (>10,000); stomach contents (>3000); tape recordings archived on CD’s (33); color slides (>1,900); black and white photographs (>1,230); X-ray negatives (>200); field notes and donor catalogs (816 sets), maps (>200) and original illustrations (>150).  

Karl P. Schmidt Memorial Herpetological Library-This branch of the main Field Museum Library contains approximately 2,000 books and 36,000 reprints on herpetology. Donations of extensive herpetological libraries (Karl P. Schmidt, D. Dwight Davis, Emmett R. Dunn, Robert F. Inger, and Walter L. Necker) as well as an active reprint exchange program have enhanced the breadth of the library.  

Archives-The archives, housed in the main library, include the Karl P. Schmidt and Emmett R. Dunn correspondence.  

The entire Field Museum herpetological collection was moved from the third floor to the ground floor location in 1952 and 1953. Serious overcrowding due to tremendous increases in the size of the collection necessitated the initial move from the third floor and three separate ground floor expansions beginning in the late 1970's. The last ground floor expansion occurred in 1994. In 2006, the collection was moved to the newly constructed Collection Research Center (CRC). Temperature and humidity controlled compactorized storage in the CRC provides ample space for satisfactory housing of the existing collections and a comfortable measure of expansion potential for future growth. A large, modern lab is steps away from the collection range.


    The Division of Amphibians and Reptiles database contains 278,000 records that indicate the nature and extent of our collection. The records should not be treated as primary data.