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The Department of Herpetology houses one of the most important collections of reptiles and amphibians, with particular strengths in the fauna of Mexico, Panama, much of South America, Africa, Madagascar, Pakistan, China, New Guinea, Australia, and the Pacific Islands. Moreover, the collection is the repository for the specimens of a number of historically important herpetologists, figures such as Prince Maximillian von Wied-Neuwied, E.D. Cope, E.R. Dunn, C.H. Pope, Al Schwartz, and Sherman Minton.

Since its founding, the department has also been a major center for research in herpetology. Department staff and affiliated scientists have active collection-based research programs in the Americas, Africa, and Asia.

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