Annales Musei historico-naturalis hungarici

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Author(s): Korsós, Z.
Title: History of the Herpetological Collection of the Hungarian Natural History Museum
Year: 2008
Publication date: 2008-11-30
Volume: 100
Pages: 37-93.

Abstract: The first items documented in the history of the Herpetological Collection of the Hungarian Natural History Museum were 37 amphibian and reptile specimens listed in the handwritten “Catalogus” of the National Museum in 1821. They included specimens of Scincus pannonicus (now Ablepharus kitaibelii fitzingeri) and Proteus anguinus most probably collected by Pál Kitaibel during his travels in 1797 and 1802. Subsequently, important acquisitions have been the result of the activity of Imre and JÁNOS Frivaldszky, Salamon Petényi, and several Hungarian travellers to exotic countries. After the foundation of the Department of Zoology in 1870, János Karl (Károli) gave a synopsis of the amphibians and snakes of Hungary, based on the material deposited in the collection and also literature data. From 1896 to 1915, there was a “golden age” of Hungarian herpetology, and also that of the Herpetological Collection of the museum, highlighting such names as Lajos Méhely, István Bolkay and Géza Gyula Fejérváry.On the 100th anniversary of the Hungarian Natural History Museum (HNHM) in 1902, the herpetological material consisted of 5,066 identified specimens of 973 species. Remarkable parts of the collection were those collected and donated by Sámuel Fenichel and Lajos Bíró from New Guinea, János Xántus from the United States, Mexico and Borneo, Gyula Madarász from Ceylon, and Dániel Anisits from Paraguay. These were all processed by Méhely, and most of the type material have also been deposited in the HNHM. The Hungarian part of the collection included extensive material from the whole Carpathian Basin, 1,433 locality samples of 50 species and subspecies altogether, as summarised by Fejérváry-Lángh in 1943. In 1953, the famous Africa Exhibition of the HNHM was opened, with deligthful dioramas prepared by taxidermist Sándor Őry, who also mounted a number of reptile specimens. Unfortunately, this exhibition was burnt to ash in 1956, and it could never be reconstructed. The destruction caused by Russian bombs during the Hungarian revolution almost totally annihilated the scientific collection in the Department of Zoology in Baross street as well; approximately 40,000 specimens with 20–25 valid type specimens, and the complete herpetological library were lost. The extremely hard work of reconstruction of the collection was the merit of two committed persons, ISTVÁN BOROS director general and Olivér György Dely, the last classic museum herpetologist of the collection. They, with the help of international donations, of many enthusiastic Hungarian zoologist collectors, and with the assistance of Erzsébet Őry, rebuilt the Herpetological Collection from nil to the size of 15,000 specimens reached by the end of Dely’s life in 2003. During Dely’s activity, the collection became a center for Hungarian herpetological research, many visiting scientists were recurring guests, two international conferences were organised in Budapest, and the scientific synopses of the Hungarian herpetofauna were published. We believe that with this period the traditional, collection- and morphology-based museum herpetology came to an end, and opened the gate to the new style investigations focusing on population biology and nature conservation of amphibians and reptiles. With 48 figures.
Keywords: Hungary, amphibians, reptiles, Budapest, museology, 1956, acquisitions
Subject: museology, history of science

Journal: Annales historico-naturales Musei nationalis hungarici
Journal abbreviation: Annls hist.-nat. Mus. nat. hung.
ISSN: 0521-4726
Publisher: Hungarian Natural History Museum, Budapest
Editor(s): Matskási, I. & Merkl, O.