University of Illinois Museum of Natural History Amphibian and Reptile Collection

History of the Collection

Hobart Smith began his career at the University in Illinois in 1947.  At the time Hobart arrived in Illinois, the UI Natural History Collections had already been catalogued by Frank Smith (see History of the University of Illinois Natural History Museum).  Those first ledgers show that there were less than 100 specimens of amphibians and reptiles and most of those were mounted for display or were skeletons. Hobart started a new set of ledgers specifically for the Amphibian and Reptile Collection, and he personally entered the first 2,775 specimens into the ledger.  The first 23 entries into the new ledgers are specimens collected in from 1941 to 1945 by Henry Seibert and James Peters, and mostly from Illinois.  The next 75 entries were collected by Alvin Cahn, from 1925 to 1933, mostly from Illinois, with a few from Brazil and Louisiana.  This supports the notion that there were not many (if any) herpetology research specimens in the Museum at the time of Hobart’s arrival.  Given the nature of the first 7,000 or so entries, it also appears that Hobart did not bring any specimens with him from his previous faculty positions and collecting trips. We do know that at the time he arrived at Illinois, he had collected prodigously in Mexico, but these were most likely in Ed Taylor‘s collection at this time.

Upon Hobart’s departure in 1968, the Amphibian and Reptile Collection went into a long period of inactivity.  A renaissance occurred in 1988 when Thomas Uzzell took the reigns as Director of the Museum and Curator of Amphibians and Reptiles.  This reprisal did not last long, however as University administrators decided that the study of natural history was passe and the collections were a financial burden.  In October of 1997, after an attempt to sell the collections was squashed by the citizens of Illinois, curation and management of the collection was transferred to the Illinois Natural History Survey.  After several yeas in a storage warehouse, in 2002 the entire collection was moved to the Natural Resources Building and housed with the INHS Amphibian and Reptile Collection.


In addition to adding thousands of specimens from his and his students’ research, Smith was instrumental in acquiring specimens and collections from herpetologists and commercial collectors.  With nearly 100,000 catalogued specimens, the UIMNH Amphibian and Reptile Collection is among the largest in North America. The geographic emphasis is Mexico, but there are large holdings from the United States, Canada, Ecuador, Cuba, the Philippines, and Venezuela. There are approximately 2,000 type specimens; including over 170 primary types. With the exception of a few skeletons and dried skins, the vast majority of the specimens are preserved in ethanol.  The UIMNH collection  includes specimens collected by other famous herpetologists, including Hobart Smith’s mentor, Edward Taylor, whose Mexican collection is the most extensive in the world. Other famous collectors include Fred Shannon, a physician from Arizona; Robert Ridgeway, an ornithologist with the National Museum of Natural History who collected in Richland County, Illinois early in the 20th century; Alvin Cahn, who collected throughout Illinois in the 1930s; and Chapman Grant, who collected in Cuba and Guatemala in the 1950s.  Included in this collection are 176 primary types and numerous secondary types.  See UIMNH Herpetology Type Catalogue for details.

Specimen loans

Specimen loans are available to qualified researchers.  Loans are generally made for a period of one year, renewable upon request.  Primary types are generally loaned for a period of one month from the date received by the borrower and are non-renewable.  Details of the collection policy.

Acquisitions and maintenance

New specimens are not being accessioned as the UIMNH collections are considered closed. Standard methods of preservation and maintenance are followed.


Label data for the entire collection holdings are accessible via our local database or via the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) portal, VertNet, and iDigBio.