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Herpetology Histor

Herpetology Collection

The University of Arizona (UAZ) Herpetology Collection has a history dating back to the early 1900s when Herbert Brown, the first curator of the Arizona State Museum, began to acquire reptile and amphibian specimens from the American Southwest. Additional specimens from Southern Arizona were added to the collection’s holdings by University of Arizona Zoologists Charles T. Vorhies and Walter P. Taylor of the U.S. Biological Survey. By 1950, the collection consisted of approximately 2,500 specimens, the majority of which were from the Tucson area and Southern Arizona. 

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In 1950, Dr. Charles H. Lowe came to the University of Arizona. Lowe was a dynamic and enthusiastic herpetologist and immediately began to build the collection. Lowe and his colleagues added many reptile and amphibian specimens from the American Southwest and Mexico to the collection. Dr. Lowe and his students made major advances in numerous fields including genetics, systematics, physiology, population biology, and ecology utilizing the specimens collected.


The current collection has approximately 58,000 specimens and is part of the University of Arizona Natural History Museum in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.  The collection is managed by Melanie Bucci under the direction of Dr. Peter Reinthal and faculty curator Dr. John Wiens. 

Dr. Charles Lowe 

Herpetology Specimens

The majority of specimens are formalin-fixed and preserved in isopropyl alcohol, but the collection also includes skulls and skeletons, dehydrated specimens, photographic specimen vouchers, and tissue samples.

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The UAZ Herpetology Collection acts as a central repository for voucher specimens collected for faunal and ecological studies. Each new cataloged specimen is assigned a unique identification number and has associated geographic, temporal, and ecological data recorded with it.

Cuora amboinensis from the Philippines
Phrynosoma solare
Ichthylogy Histor

Ichthyology Collection

In 1956 Dr. Donald A. Thomson, professor emeritus in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, established the University of Arizona (UAZ) Ichthyology Collection. The collection was intended as part of a Marine Sciences Program later founded in 1963 and focused on the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez).  By 1968 the UAZ Fish Collection contained numerous specimens from the Gulf as well as specimens from the Tropical Eastern Pacific. Dr. Thomson and his students conducted extensive ecological research on Sea of Cortez marine life with a focus on reef fishes. 

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Dr. Donald A. Thomson

In 1968 Dr. Lloyd T. Findley became Assistant Curator of Fishes, where he established proper curatorial methods for the cataloging and preserving of specimens. Several biodiversity studies in the 1970-1980s added numerous specimens. These included a series of collections of tide pool fishes from the northern Gulf of California and collections from islands and mainland reefs throughout the Sea of Cortez. These and other efforts to document the diversity of fishes in the Gulf of California culminated in 1979 with the publication of Reef Fishes of the Sea of Cortez by Thomson, Findley and Kerstitch with a 2nd edition published in 2000. 

In the 1970’s and 1980s the role of Curator of Fishes was held by various graduate students and in the early 1990s the title was given professional status with responsibilities expanding to include the UAZ Invertebrate Collection. The current Fish Collection contains approximately 175,000 specimens and is part of the University of Arizona Natural History Museum in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Dr. Peter Reinthal, Director of Zoology Collections, curates the UAZ Ichthyology collection. 

Ichthyology Specimens

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The majority of fish specimens are preserved in alcohol and consist mainly of species from Arizona freshwater, the Gulf of California, and Northwest Mexico. The collection includes more than 175,000 specimens representing over 950 species and over 7,500 cataloged lots.

The earliest specimen dates to 1925, with the majority of the collections made between 1964 and 1978. Additionally, collections of freshwater fishes from Arizona and northern Mexico made by Dr. Charles H. Lowe (UAZ) and his students between 1950 and 1970 have been added to the collection. These include about 300 collections of freshwater specimens.

Heterodontus mexicanus
Myliobatis californicus
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Atractosteus spatula
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Urobatis halleri
Mammalogy History
Thomomys bottae
Macrotus waterhousii

Mammalogy Collection

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The University of Arizona (UAZ) Mammal Collection has a rich history dating back to the late 1800s when Herbert Brown became the first curator of the Arizona State Museum. The oldest catalogued specimens date to 1899, and were originally part of Brown’s private collection. In 1937, Charles T. Vorhies, professor of Zoology and Entomology, became curator of the UA Natural History Collections. In 1939 he oversaw the transfer of specimens from the Arizona State Museum, to the Department of Economic Zoology and Entomology. Under the curation of Dr. Vorhies the collection grew to nearly 1000 specimens and was formally recognized as an official Mammal Collection. 

Herbert Brown

In the 1940s the Department of Zoology took charge of the vertebrate collections, including the Mammal Collection. In 1952 Dr. E. Lendell Cockrum joined the Dept. of Zoology and in 1954 was named Curator of Mammals. The Mammal Collection grew to nearly 27,000 specimens. 


The current collection has over 28,000 catalogued

specimens and is part of the University of Arizona

Natural History Museum in the Department of Ecology

and Evolutionary Biology. The collection is under the

direction of Dr. Peter Reinthal and is managed by 

Melanie E. Bucci. 

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Charles T. Vorhies

Mammalogy Specimens

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The UAZ specimens consist mainly of skins prepared as museum mounts with accompanying skulls and mandibles. Additional specimens consist of skeletal material, furs, and specimens preserved in alcohol. Specimens are obtained by past and ongoing field studies depositing specimens as vouchers, engagement in national and international exchange programs, private and government donations, and through photographic specimen vouchers.

Skulls of Ovis canadensis
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 All specimens are given a unique identification number and cataloged with geographical, temporal, and ecological data. Additionally, there are >1,000 uncataloged specimens designated for education and outreach purposes.

The UAZ Mammal Collection is particularly strong with regard to endemic mammals of the American Southwest and Mexico. Twenty-four of the twenty-nine current mammal orders are represented in the collection with emphasis on Rodentia and Chiroptera. 

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Ornithology History
Four Masked Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus ridgwayi) skins from the Santa Cruz Valley (Arizona) prepared by Herbert Brown in the 1890s. Photo by Randall Babb, 2011.  
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Ornithology Collection

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The American southwest attracts numerous ornithological researchers due to its vast avian biodiversity. Herbert Brown, Arizona’s first resident ornithologist, made extensive collections of avian specimens from Arizona and the surrounding regions in the 1880’s. In 1894 he established the University of Arizona (UAZ) Ornithology Collection with specimens from his private collection and became the first Curator of Birds.

Herbert Brown 

Herbert Brown was a pioneer naturalist for the Southwest U.S and published numerous articles on the birds and other vertebrates of the Arizona Territory between 1879 and 1911. Brown also discovered several new species through his extensive field research, including a new quail, known as the White Bobtail Quail (Colinus virginianus ridgwayi). Specimens deposited by Herbert Brown and others continue to hold great scientific and historic value in the University of Arizona Bird Collection.

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Ornithology Specimens

Brown examining an Elf Owl nest in a Saguaro, 13 June 1910. Photo courtesy of Arizona Historical Society 

The UAZ Bird collection specimens are comprised mainly of museum skin mounts representing over 1,100 species. The skeletal collection consists of full skeletons of 781 species. Partial skeletons include wings, tails and flat skins representing 328 species.

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The UAZ Bird collection also has a rare egg and nest collection. The collection of bird eggs and nests is now illegal in many countries, making existing collections of such items extremely valuable. Egg and nest specimens are an important resource for studies of geographic variation, breeding phenology, and determining the effects of synthetic contaminants on fledglings. 

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Invertebrate History

Invertebrate Collection

Hugh Samuel Benton’s family emigrated from England, and originally settled in Virginia but moved westward. As a young man, Hugh joined the army and left his family farm in Amarillo, Texas at the start of World War I. The U.S. Army sent him to Nogales, Arizona, as a clerk in the Quarter Master Corps. In Nogales, he met the love of his life, Maria Dolores Quintero, also known as “Lola”.

Lola was born in a small town close to the Pacific Ocean in the state of Nayarit, Mexico. Her family emigrated from Spain in the late 1700s and settled in west central Mexico. After her father’s murder, her mother moved their family to Nogales, Sonora in Mexico, just on the other side of the U.S. / Mexico border of Nogales, Arizona. At the age of sixteen, Lola worked as a clerk at Victor Wager’s confectionery called “Palace of Sweets”. Hugh Benton was a patron of this confectionery and caught Lola’s eye. They married and had one daughter and two sons.

Hugh and Lola loved adventure and learning. The couple settled for a time in a new international port of entry to Mexico named Lukeville in 1941. Lola’s newly found interest in learning about seashells and marine life started the beginning of a collection that lasted for 40 plus years.

During those 40 years, Hugh and Lola moved, yet again, to California. They collected shells along the West coast of North America, from Canada to Southern Mexico. Hugh and Lola also travelled to Cuba, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, and other locations in between to collect shells. The couple enjoyed collecting shells for their beauty and role in the ecosystem.  In their home, the shells were in display cases for all to see. With all certainty, the Benton’s would have been pleased to know that the University of Arizona is caring for their collection.

A memorial fund was established in the Benton name. The fund was recently increased to support a graduate assistant fellow. Various students have been named the Graduate Research Fellow and their projects include listing shell photos and families on the website, and building shell kits for various grade levels to aid grade school students in learning about shells and marine life.

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