The Herpetology Division and its collection of amphibians and reptiles is one of the research units of the Texas Natural History Collections in the Texas Natural Science Center at The University of Texas at Austin. The collection began as a nucleus of research and teaching materials assembled by W. Frank Blair and his students in the Zoology Department; these were transferred to the (then) Texas Memorial Museum in 1950's. The holdings consist of about 63,000 catalogued specimens, which are used for research by faculty, staff and students at the University, as well as by qualified researchers throughout the world. The collection is also used for teaching courses (e.g., Vertebrate Natural History, Comparative Anatomy, and Herpetology) in Integrative Biology.
David Cannatella, Curator
Travis LaDuc, Assistant Curator
The majority of specimens in the Herpetology collection were fixed in formaldehyde and are currently stored in 70% ethanol; this is a standard museum procedure for this type of material. The specimens are housed in specially designed rooms at the Texas Natural History Collections building at the J. J. Pickle Research Campus. Each specimen is given a unique number through which the data associated with the specimen (such as where and when the animal was found, and who found it) can be looked up, either on computer or in older, hand-written catalogs. Each jar has a label listing the specimens it contains, and the jars are arranged on shelves by species, genus, family, etc., in a phylogenetic system that indicates the evolutionary relationships of the animals. Over the past few years, the herpetological collections from Texas Tech University (~12,000 specimens) and the University of Texas at Brownsville (~400 specimens) were acquired by the TNHC. We are working on cataloging the specimens into the TNHC herpetology collections and we will make the data available as soon as possible.
There are about 1300 catalogued skeletons, including 500 or so cleared and stained specimens. Cleared and stained skeletons, such as the one on the right shown here, are treated with an enzyme solution to dissolve muscle tissue, a red stain specific for bone, a blue stain specific for cartilage, and then cleared with a bleaching agent. The skeletons are stored in glycerine, which helps to render the muscle transparent. Dried skeletons are prepared using dermestid beetles, which eat away the muscle while leaving (hopefully) only the bones. The "bugged" skeletons are then treated to an ammonia bath (to rid them of any excess grease and smell) prior to storage.
The TNSC supports a collection of more than 35,000 tissue samples stored in liquid nitrogen freezers at ultra-low temperatures (-140ºC). This material is used primarily for research in which DNA sequences are used to determine evolutionary relationships among the organisms. The entire collection was recently inventoried through an NSF Biological Research Collections improvement grant ($135K, 2006–2009). The collection supports research of UT personnel, but material is available for loan to other investigators. More information can be obtained from the Curator.
The TNHC collection of record frog calls is the second or third largest in the U.S., with about 400 catalogued tapes and as many more waiting to be cataloged. Some sample frog calls:
The geographic coverage of the herpetology collection is world-wide. About 65% of the specimens are from the U.S., mostly Texas (84%) and the Southwest. But there is important material from the New World tropics (Mexico, Central and South America, 15%), tropical Africa (8%) and Southeast Asia (9%).
Most of the catalogued specimens are frogs (56%). Lizards make up 23%, and snakes another 12%. Salamanders are 7%, and turtles are only 2%; neither of these groups has many species worldwide. Caecilians, crocodilians, tuataras, and amphisbaenians are each represented by less than 0.1%
You can search our database via HerpNet.
Loans may be made to qualified researchers associated with scientific institutions. Qualified researchers are welcome to visit the collections provided they contact the Curator/Assistant Curator in advance to arrange logistics.