Focus: Fossil Amphibians and Reptiles - History

The history of research on fossil reptiles and amphibians dates back to the founding of the museum in 1893. The collection was founded with fossil "herps" from the Ward's Natural Science Establishment exhibit, purchased en masse by the brand new museum.  The collection grew with the hiring of the museum’s first curator of paleontology, Elmer Riggs, who conducted fieldwork in the American West starting in 1894. Among his discoveries was Brachiosaurus, which held the record as the largest known dinosaur for many decades.

In addition to dinosaur specimens added around the turn of the last century, notable expansions of the amphibian and reptile collection occurred shortly after World War II with accession of many Permian vertebrates from the Walker Museum Collections and through the fieldwork of department curators such as Rainer Zangerl.

More recently, John Bolt’s research on early tetrapods and Olivier Rieppel’s research on the origins and relationships of major extant groups of reptiles such as snakes and turtles placed the museum at the forefront of current paleoherpetology.

Lance Grande, Curator of Fossil Fishes, has added important new fossil amphibians and reptiles from the Green River Formation of Wyoming to the collection.

Following a six decade hiatus in dinosaur research, the museum’s acquisition of T. rex SUE (FMNH PR 2081) led to a renewed interest in dinosaur paleontology and the hire of Peter Makovicky as Curator of Dinosaurs. Pete’s work in the Cretaceous of Montana, Wyoming and Utah has added important new dinosaur material to the collection.