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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Department of Vertebrate Zoology

Division of Amphibians & Reptiles

Oxyrhopus petola
Oxyrhopus petola Ecuador, Napo Province. Photographed by William W. Lamar
Cochranella midas
Crochranella midas Ecuador, Napo Province. Photographed by Roy McDiarmid


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History of Collection

The National Collection (USNM) of Amphibians and Reptiles in the Department of Vertebrate Zoology at the National Museum of Natural History is the largest and one of the most important herpetological collections in the world with over 590,000 catalog records and over 828,000 specimens.  The National Collection of Amphibians and Reptiles is growing rapidly, having increased 300% over the past ca. 50 years (190,000 specimen records in 1970 to over 590,000 specimen records in 2018).  Nearly all of the catalog records are digitized. 

Wet Snake Collection
Wet Snake Collection at the MSC
Photo by James Poindexter II.

The vast majority of the collection is housed at the Museum Support Center (MSC) in Suitland, MD (about six miles from the Natural History Building [NHB] on the National Mall). Currently, only the dry lizard collection is housed at NHB.

The collection is global in scope and has extensive taxonomic coverage with strong representation of North, Central, and South American taxa.  

The Division is a very important repository for type specimens, which serve as reference points for scientific names.  Currently, we have over 14,100 type records on our data base; over 2,600 of these are holotypes and syntypes.  Because many of the early types were cataloged as "lots," the total number of primary types under the care of the Division is nearly 3,000.

Specimen preparations of several types are maintained in the USNM herpetological collection.  While most of the specimens are stored in 70% ethanol, the collection also contains dry skeletal specimens, cleared and stained skeletal preparations stored in glycerin, specimens stored in formalin (mostly amphibian larvae), and histological preparations mounted on microscope slides.  A single cataloged specimen may be a composite of more than one preparation type.

The Division also manages a variety of materials integral to documentation and use of the research collections including field notes and maps, original illustrations, prints, sonograms, radiographs, histological slides, and reprints.

(rev. July 2018)

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