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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 Zoology at the National Museum of Natural History is the largest, with over 580,000 catalogued specimens and lots, and one of the most important herpetological collections in the world.   The collection is global in scope, has extensive taxonomic coverage, and is an important repository for many thousands of type specimens, particularly of North, Central, and South American taxa.  The National Collection of Amphibians and Reptiles is growing rapidly, having increased 200% over the past ca. 40 years (190,000 specimen records in 1970 to over 575,000 specimen records in 2010).

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

Specimen preparations of several types are maintained in the USNM herpetological collection.  While 95% of the specimens are stored in 70% ethanol, the collection also contains dry skeletal specimens, glycerine-stored cleared and stained skeletal preparations, 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.

With the move of the lizards, snakes and frogs in 2009 and amphibian larvae in 2012 to the Museum Support Center (MSC) in Suitland, MD (about six miles from the Natural History Building on the Mall), the majority of the collections are now housed at a single locality for the first time following ca. 25 years of separation. Those specimens, plus salamanders, turtles, and crocodilians that had been previously moved, were transferred to a recently built state-of-the-art facility at the MSC.

(rev. June 2012)

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