The Vertebrate Paleontology Collection of the OMNH is a major national collection, and constitutes one of the most important existing records of vertebrate history and evolution in the southern plains. The collection comprises over 70,000 cataloged specimens. All geological time periods in which vertebrates occur (from Ordovician through Quaternary) are represented by specimens. The majority originate from the late Paleozoic through Pleistocene (roughly the last 300 million years) in Oklahoma and the western United States. A small number of specimens come from several foreign countries around the globe. Particular strengths are in land-dwelling vertebrates from terrigenous rocks in Oklahoma, especially the Pennsylvanian and Permian, Jurassic and Cretaceous, and late Tertiary and Quaternary. Much of the VP collection was accumulated with the federal aid of the Works Progress Administration during the late 1930s and early 1940s by local crews under the direction of J. Willis Stovall. More recently, during the late 1980s and 1990s, the collection has grown in specimens especially from the Cretaceous of the western interior of the United States. As of 2008, the VP collection included over 109 type specimens and over 1,346 figured specimens (see Catalog of Type and Figured Fossil Vertebrates).
The Paleozoic portion of the collection is principally composed of Permian tetrapods from Oklahoma. It is one of the largest and most significant of such collections in existence, including several type specimens. Many Permian specimens, such as Labidosaurikos, Eocaptorhinus, and Diplocaulus, are exceptional in their completeness; some unique series, such as the materials of Cotylorhynchus, are represented. The Paleozoic fishes also include type and referred specimens. Of particular significance are specimens from the Bohemian gas coal documenting the ontogeny of xenacanth sharks (the only such material outside of the Czech Republic and the only known juveniles); an Oklahoma Xenacanthus chondrocranium; extensive Oklahoma petalodont material; articulated acanthodians, hybodontoid sharks, and palaeoniscoids from the Upper Pennsylvanian of Kansas; and nearly 100 specimens of the lungfish Gnathorhiza from central Oklahoma.
A significant part of the Meozoic holdings is made up of dinosaurs. Most of these derive from the Morrison Formation of Cimarron County, Oklahoma. Several specimens belong to juveile sauropods, which are otherwise poorly represented in the fossil record. Also abundantly represented are bones (including the type specimen) of the large theropod Saurophaganax. OMNH Mesozoic holdings also include relatively large and significant (and growing) collections of Early Cretaceous dinosaurs (which are poorly known on a global scale) from Oklahoma, Montana, and Utah. These include a large series of articulated skeletons and some of the best-known specimens of Tenontosaurus (including several juveniles), type and referred material of Acrocanthosaurus, paratypes of Eolambia, and Deinonychus, and the type specimen of the brachiosaurid Sauroposeidon, the tallest known dinosaur. Late Cretaceous dinosaur material worthy of note includes a collection from the Big Bend area of Texas and important specimens from elsewhere, including a nearly complete skull of Triceratops from Montana, and materials from the San Juan Basin of New Mexico including one of the most complete specimens of Pentaceratops.
Also among the Mesozoic holdings is one of the most comprehensive collections of Cretaceous microvertebrates in existence, including one of the worlds largest collections of Cretaceous mammals, with a number of type and figured specimens among them (see Cretaceous vertebrates database). Most of the Cretaceous material derives from Utah (Straight Cliffs, Wahweap, Kaiparowits, and Cedar Mountain formations), western Texas (Aguja Fm.), and Montana (Cloverly Fm.). To a large extent, these holdings are unique in terms of geologic and geographic occurrence. The collection also includes the largest sample of the early mammal Morganucodon outside of Europe. Other non-dinosaurian Mesozoic vertebrates of OMNH include Triassic amphibians and archosaurs (including a type) from Oklahoma and nearby parts of Texas and New Mexico; complete Xiphactinus fishes from the Cretaceous of Texas; and marine reptiles from the Niobrara Formation of Kansas and contemporaneous beds of Arkansas.
The Cenozoic holdings, too, include a number of type, figured, and referred specimens. The collection has moderate-sized but representative samples from the Paleocene and Eocene of New Mexico (Nacimiento and San Jose fms.), Eocene of Wyoming (Willwood, Green River, and Bridger fms.), and Colorado, Eocene-Oligocene of South Dakota (Chadron and Brule fms.), and the Trans-Pecos region of Texas (Vieja Group), and Eocene-Oligocene and early Miocene of Nebraska (Chadron, Brule, and Marsland fms.). In terms of numbers of specimens, the bulk of the Cenozoic collection is comprised of significant samples from a large number of Ogallala Formation (Miocene) assemblages. These include local faunas from Clarendon, Texas; Durham, Oklahoma; Laverne, Oklahoma (Clarendonian land mammal age); and Optima, Oklahoma (including type specimens); and also Arnett, Oklahoma; and Higgins, Texas (Hemphillian land mammal age). Other Cenozoic fossils in the collection include a large number of Pleistocene proboscideans and other taxa, including xenarthran and ungulate type specimens.
Dr. Richard L. Cifelli, Curator
Dr. Nicholas J. Czaplewski, Associate Staff Curator
Jennifer Larsen, Collection Manager
Kyle Davies, Museum Preparator
Brian Davis, Graduate Student
Jennifer Roberts, Graduate Student
Sarah Werning, Graduate Student
Charles Baker, Graduate Student
Jennifer Hargrave, Graduate Student
Brandy Humphries, Graduate Student
Sarah Pine, Graduate Student
Andrew Thomas, Graduate Student
Cynthia L. Gordon, Affiliated Research Faculty
William May, Affiliated Research Associate
W. Desmond Maxwell, Affiliated Research Associate
Randall L. Nydam, Affiliated Research Associate
Kent S. Smith, Affiliated Research Associate
Tom Lipka, Affiliated Research Associate
Benjamin Sames, Affiliated Research Associate
Marco Romano, Affiliated Research Associate
Eva Sacchi, Affiliated Research Associate