Staff & Research
Stephen P. Rogers, MS
4400 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-4080
4400 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-4080
The first “caretaker” of the Amphibian and Reptiles collection was D. A. Atkinson who began as an undergraduate student while attending Western University of Pennsylvania, later renamed the University of Pittsburgh. Atkinson was an overall naturalist, which was common at the time, and added specimens to many of the collections at the museum. He spent one full summer in 1899 surveying Allegheny County, providing the baseline data for studies that would follow later. After further schooling, Donald obtained a medical degree but continued to be connected with the museum and was an integral partner in a number of field trips to several counties in Pennsylvania and one grand collection trip through Oklahoma and Texas which provided a number of specimens that were mounted for exhibit. Atkinson accompanied Jennings on a trip to Isle of Pines in 1910. Atkinson served Amphibians and Reptiles as a field collector 1900–1902, volunteer custodian 1907–1914, and honorary curator 1923–1938, and was instrumental in laying the foundation of the collection, collecting well more than 4,000 specimens.
The second person to be connected with the section was a professor of biology at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Lawrence Griffith. Griffith was a snake specialist who began cataloguing some of the early specimens obtained from Herbert Huntington Smith and John D. Haseman; both had made interesting collections in South America. Griffith had done previous fieldwork in the Philippines but field trips while in Pittsburgh were to California, Arizona, New Mexico, and New Jersey, where he built a good overall collection of more than 800 specimens from those parts of the US. His tenure here was 1915-1920 and he functioned more as an honorary curator though his title was custodian. He published a number of important papers during his stay here, working up much of the South American collection.
M. Graham Netting’s association with Carnegie Museum started when he was an 18-year-old student at the University of Pittsburgh, working initially in the bird lab for the sum of 35 cents an hour. He began to also work in Amphibians and Reptiles in 1924 and became the first full-time staff member in the section in 1926 upon graduation. In 1928 Netting left to pursue a doctorate at the University of Michigan, but the stock market crash ended that dream and he came back to his beloved museum.
Graham was the consummate curator and “museologist” before the term had been invented. Netting initially went on field trips to various parts of Pennsylvania and to California in 1925, but by 1927 he had visited Guadeloupe, Barbados, and Trinidad. He returned to South America in 1929, visiting Trinidad and Venezuela, continuing into 1930 spending 5 months in the field. After this trip his attention was drawn to the Appalachian region of eastern North America, primarily concentrating on salamanders but still collecting all groups from North Carolina, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania and states in between, though he did go to Panama in 1934. Netting facilitated relationships with quite a number of herpetologists and either persuaded them to donate their collections here, provide funds to help with field work, or purchase their specimens. Important collections were obtained from Roger Conant and others from eastern Pennsylvania, Paul and David Swanson from northwestern Pennsylvania and then Indiana, and others such as John Dolan, Coleman Goin, Carl Gans, James A. Fowler, Neil Richmond, Leonard Llewellyn, and N. Bayard Green who provided specimens from wide-ranging regions of the US. There was also growth in the early years from outside the US with collections from Africa by Albert Irwin Good (ca. 1,500 specimens) and Rudyerd Boulton (1,000 specimens), South America by Jose Steinbach (1,200 specimens), and the Philippines with an important collection from Edward H. Taylor (more than 2,000 specimens).
Dr. Netting’s museologist aspects (an honorary degree was conferred) began by his building and organizing a strong collection from the bits and pieces contributed prior to his employment and using the aforementioned associates. By 1949 the Amphibians and Reptiles collection had grown to almost 58,000 specimens and was one of the top collections in the country. He kept meticulous records and was aware early in his career of the importance of locality information and geography. To supplement his museum pay, Netting taught geography, zoology, and herpetology 1944-1963 at the University of Pittsburgh. Netting served as secretary of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists 1931–1947 and President 1948–1950.
Netting was a curator 1931–1954, but 1949–1953 he also served as assistant director. In 1954 Graham became director of the Natural History Museum and served until 1975 when he retired to a house near Powdermill Nature Reserve, the museum's environmental research station that he helped create in the mid-1950s. He helped found many of the environmental organizations in Pennsylvania including the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the concept of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Because of the increased importance of the collection, along with the administrative duties in which Netting became involved, a second employee in the section was hired. Grace Orton arrived in 1945 after obtaining her degree from the University of Florida, concentrating her study on early development in frogs. During her stay here until 1950, she built a very nice collection of comparative stages for many amphibian species with more than 400 developmental series.
Neil D. Richmond was hired to replace Grace in 1951. He had a long association with Carnegie Museum, initially through Graham Netting when he was doing fieldwork in West Virginia. Richmond had surveyed much of WV when he was employed at Marshall College 1938–1939 and Netting had spent much time in that state doing field work. Richmond also had spent a fair amount of time in Pennsylvania doing field work in the state mammal survey 1948–49. While serving as curator until 1972, he conducted fieldwork in Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and four expeditions to the Bahamas, ultimately depositing close to 5,000 specimens in the collection.
C J "Jack" McCoy was hired as an assistant curator in 1964 and immediately began to have a major impact. Like Netting, McCoy had been trained in collection management and began a rigorous program to curate and update the collection, and then to build the collection through exchange and friendships with colleagues.
Unlike most of the predecessors in the section Jack was more interested in reptiles, doing most of his previous research on lizards but with occasional papers on snakes. Beginning in the mid-1970s he added turtles into the mix and over the next two decades built one of the largest turtle collections in North America.
Jack befriended a large group of field researchers over his span as curator from 1964 until his untimely death in 1993. Many of them considered him their mentor and he instilled in them a great desire to understand the environment through amphibians and reptiles. The section had unprecedented growth over those 30 years, adding at least 100,000 specimens. The collections came here by purchase, targeted fieldwork, orphaned collections, or surveys conducted either through Jack or from friends who sent the collections here for safekeeping. The collaborators are almost too many to name, but a few of the most important contributors include Richard C. Vogt, Michael A. Ewert, Stephen D. Busack, Paul S. Freed, Edwardo C Welling M, Donald E Hahn, Arthur C. Hulse, Anthony C. Krzysik, Stephen R Williams, Edward O Moll, Barry Valentine, Andrew H. Price, David J Morafka, James J. Bull, Russell J. Hall, Robert G. Jaeger, and Joseph C. Mitchell, who brought much of his collection here along with those made in Virginia by Chrispher Pague, Kurt Buhlman, and David A Young.
During the search for a successor to McCoy, two curators ended up being hired. In 1994 Ellen J. Censky became assistant curator after assuming head of section in 1993. She had worked in the collection since 1979 and been trained in all manner of collection maintenance as well as doing research via Jack McCoy. She had previously done field work in many states in the US as well as in Belize, Paraguay, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean, where she conducted research toward her PhD in Anguilla. John J. Wiens came here after completing his dissertation at Kansas in 1995.
Having two curators had occurred many times in the past, with McCoy's overlap with Richmond for eight years and Netting's overlap with Orton and Richmond for many years. Duties could be split between two curators, and Censky primarily handled collection duties with Wiens being able to concentrate on research. Censky left in late 1998 but two post-docs filled the offices 2000–2001—Christopher L. Parkinson and Robert E. Espinoza.
John J. Wiens left to become a professor at Stony Brook University in New York at the end of 2002, leaving the section with only a collection manager until November of 2012 when José Padial became assistant curator in the section.
Padial worked at Carnegie Museum of Natural History for just over four years until December of 2016. He took four very successful field trips in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 to Amazonian Peru, exploring in each successive trip new areas of the jungle and documenting the fauna of the area. The last trip was funded by the Carnegie Discoverers. There is great probability that at least a dozen new were discovered on that expedition. Study on the specimens and publication of the results is currently being done by Padial as a research associate to the section.