Herpetology collections

Helmeted toad, Calyptocephallela gayi

Helmeted toad, Calyptocephallela gayi  © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

The Museum's large collection of amphibians and reptiles is one of the longest maintained collections in the world, originating in the late eighteenth century. The collection is particularly notable for the thousands of type specimens that it contains.

The collection of non-fossil herpetofauna consists of more than 200,000 individual specimens that have been prepared as fluid-preserved specimens, skins, skulls, skeletons, taxidermy mounts and models.

As of April 2021, the collection contained 83,378 jars of alcohol-preserved specimens and 17,493 dry storage specimens. There is also a growing collection of frozen tissues taken from voucher specimens prior to preservation. 

The herpetology collection includes over 8,000 types of amphibian and reptile species and subspecies, making it one the most scientifically important collections in the world.

Strengths

The herpetology collection is one of the largest and most taxonomically comprehensive in the world. With most known genera represented, it is a key reference collection for systematic and evolutionary biologists.

Due to the taxonomic and geographical range, the number of preparations and historical depth, it is a highly significant collection for research into a wide range of studies, including those outside of zoology.

It is used by researchers and students from all over the world and on average, we host over 100 visitors per year, including neontologists, palaeontologists, historians, and materials scientists.

Postgraduate students also use the collection as they pursue their degrees in collaboration with institutions like Imperial College London and University College London.  

Museum staff

Dozens of students, scientific associates, and research assistants have contributed to the development and perpetuity of the herpetology collections.

The following is a partial list of permanent staff who have served the collection.

Collection history

Since ca. 2010, the prefix NHM or NHMUK has increasingly been used to report specimens in the collection in publications, reflecting the change in institutional name from British Museum (Natural History) to Natural History Museum in 1992.

It might be noted that catalogue numbers of specimens in the NHMUK collection were previously (and are sometimes still) reported using a BMNH or BM(NH) prefix. Specimens in the NHMUK collection bear tags with specimen numbers having NHMUK and/or BMNH prefixes. Many (but not all) specimens accessioned prior to 1946 were re-registered in the aftermath of World War II, and so have original and 1946 or 1947 numbers. 

Geographical range

  • Worldwide: all continents excluding Antarctica, most islands, all oceans (marine snakes, turtles, lizards).
  • Substantial collections from Africa, Asia, and Oceania.
  • Moderate collections from South America.
  • Small collections from North America and Europe. 

Expeditions

  • Beagle voyage
  • Malay Archipelago Expeditions 
  • Frontier Tanzania
  • University expeditions led by Cambridge and Oxford
  • Staff expeditions to Africa and Southeast Asia 1970s (Grandison and Dring collections)
  • Recent expeditions by staff and scientific associates to Central America, South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. 

Looking for a specimen?

The herpetology collection is being digitised

Senior Curator in Charge/Principal Curator

Jeffrey Streicher

Senior Curator, Reptiles

Patrick Campbell

Any questions ?

If you would like to use any specimens for research

Associated staff

Principle Curator in Charge, Vertebrates

Dr Simon Loader

Accessing the collections

Scientists and collections management specialists can visit the collections and borrow specimens for research.

Collections management

Our duty is to provide a safe and secure environment for all of our collections.

Collections on the move

We have set out on an ambitious programme to develop a new science and digitisation centre at Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire by 2026. As we prepare for the move, access to some collections will be affected.

Find out more and sign up to our newsletter to receive updates on changes to collections access, relevant news and opportunities to get involved.