This database provides a catalogue of all living reptile species and
their classification. The database covers all living
snakes, lizards, turtles, amphisbaenians, tuataras, and crocodiles.
Currently there are more than 10,000 species including another 2,800 subspecies (statistics). The database focuses on taxonomic data, i.e. names and synonyms, distribution and type data and literature references. There is not much other information in the database, such as ecological or behavioural information, although we are working to add such data. The database has no commercial
interest and therefore depends on contributions from volunteers. Most of our data comes from published sources which is curated with help from our editors. The Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) advises us with contentious taxonomic decisions.
What is a reptile?
Traditionally reptiles are lizards, snakes, turtles, and crocodiles as well as the less obvious groups of tuataras and amphisbaenians. These groups are also covered by this database. But strictly speaking, reptiles are not that easy to define. Phylogenetically reptiles are not an isolated evolutionary lineage like birds. In fact, crocodiles are more closely related to birds than to lizards, so the birds should be part of the reptile class as well. Or the crocodiles should be considered as birds! For a more detailed discussion see the Wikipedia page on reptiles. By the way - this database and Wikipedia are quite heavily cross-referenced.
Phylogenetic relationships of crocodiles, turtles, lizards, and tuataras based on mitochondrial DNA sequences. Note that snakes would group with lizards in this kind of tree.
Figure from Zardoya & Meyer (1998). Similar trees were obtained by Cao et al. (2000), Iwabe et al. (2005), Jiang et al. (2007), and Chiari et al. (2012). However, in some studies (Mallat & Winchell 2007) turtles formed a clade separate from squamates and crocodiles and thus complicate the situation a bit more. Snakes nest within lizards (here represented by "Iguana").
We largely follow the phylogeny and thus higher classification of Zheng & Wiens 2016. Their summary phylogenetic tree with species numbers is available here.
Where does the information in the database come
Originally we used a number of books, checklists and monographs as a starting point for the database. About a quarter of the data has been provided directly by contributors in either electronic or paper form (i.e. reprints etc.). Most data comes from journal articles or books as cited in the species entries. Users are encouraged to send us updates or reprints if they notice any omissions or errors.
How can I identify a species using the database?
The database does not allow to search for species characters (yet). However, if you know where a specimen comes from you may simply search the DISTRIBUTION field for the country (or state in some cases) and the FAMILY field for some higher taxon, e.g. "turtle", "snake", or "Polychrotidae" (if it looks like an anole). There are no common names for families (yet) in the database but you may look up the scientific name on the Higher Taxa page. If you combine the different criteria in one search this should narrow down your choice to a few species for most countries. You can help to improve this feature by submitting photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How does the database deal with new taxonomies and species
As Thiele and Yeates (Nature 419, 337; 2002) and many other authors have pointed out, species and other taxa are hypotheses, not facts. We try to reflect different opinions by mentioning them in the database or on the family pages.
Admittedly, we are a little conservative when it comes to new taxonomic concepts. This is mainly because taxonomic hypotheses change frequently and may even do so with each new DNA sequence that becomes available. In such cases we simply wait if the proposed changes are accepted more widely in the literature. We also tend to adhere to the biological species concept because we don't believe that species can be defined based on DNA sequences (which do not allow to predict the reproductive or ecological characters of a specimen or even population). Even if genetic differences are significant this doesn't exclude at all that the underlying specimens are reproductively isolated. So don't be surprised if the database doesn't follow each elevation of subspecies to species level although we may adopt that if it is more widely accepted by independent authors. Please note that assignments of species to different or new genera are listed initially in the synonyms field. Usually this doesn't mean that the new name is not meaningful but rather indicates a "probation period" until the name becomes officially recognized by the scientific community.
How complete is the literature database? Can it replace the Zoological Record or BIOSIS?
The literature in the database is complete for all species descriptions (at least those that are still valid), fairly complete for taxonomic changes (although we cannot put a number on that), and incomplete for the non-taxonomic literature. If you are looking for literature on the behavior, ecology, or husbandry of reptiles, you need to use other resources such as the Zoological Record or BIOSIS.
Who runs the database?
Editor and curator in charge is Peter Uetz, an associate professor of biology at Virginia Commonwealth University. The database software is maintained by Jiri Hosek. Photos are managed by Paul Freed, who has also contributed more than 1,100 photos of almost 900 species to the Reptile Database. Rocio Aguilar is the Social Media editors and manage the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. All team members are unpaid and volunteer as they run the database, but the database depends even more on a large number of additional volunteers as regular contributors, including the curation team (who reads scientific papers and extracts the gist of them), as well as Barry Baker, Jirka Schmidt, and a number of Wikipedia authors. Although we are not a wiki, contributions are always welcome! And we do have a page on Wikipedia!
A short history of the Reptile Database
Peter Uetz founded the database when he was a graduate student at EMBL in 1995. He simply took advantage of a group of people who ran the EMBL DNA sequence database and essentially used their technology. By the end of 2006 everybody who was originally involved in the database had left EMBL and so the lab was not willing to support it any more. In early 2007 the database moved to a new server at TIGR, now the JCVI, which ceased to support the database in July 2010. The database itself has been hosted by reptarium.cz since then. See also Uetz et al. 2021 for more details.
All species entries have the following structure, e.g. Podarcis muralis.
Programmatic Access (API)
You can access the database programmatically by using our webservices. For more details see the interfaces page.
Current status (11 Sep 2021)
See also out species stat and News.
The web database is updated every 3 months or so. Depending on submissions from contributors, the amount of updated material may differ. But usually hundreds of species records get edited and dozens of references added in each new release. The date of the latest update is given on the Home Page headline or on the News Page.
How can I cite the database?
There are several ways of citing the database, either by citing one of the papers about the database, e.g.
Uetz,P. & Etzold,T. (1996) The EMBL/EBI Reptile Database. Herpetological Review 27 (4): 174-175
Uetz, P. & Stylianou, A. (2018) The original descriptions of reptiles and their subspecies. Zootaxa 4375: 257-264
Uetz P et al. (2021) A Quarter Century of Reptile and Amphibian Databases. Herpetological Review 52 (2): 246-255
or by citing the URL according to a publisher's suggested format, e.g.
Uetz, P. (editor), The Reptile Database, http://www.reptile-database.org, accessed May 23, 2021.
Extinct Taxa (Dinosaurs and subfossil
are not covered by this database. A few taxa are included in the Living Reptiles database that most likely have become extinct only recently (i.e. since the Pleistocene or during human history). They can be found by searching for the term "extinct" in the Comments field.
The usefulness of this database depends on your contributions. Send us an e-mail: email@example.com.
How to contribute photos
We are always interested in good photos, especially of species which are not yet pictured in the database. Note that you should be the owner of the photograph or obtain permission from the photographer. Ideally you should also include a copyright statement right in the photo including a locality where the picture was taken. Finally, JPGs should have a minimum size of about 800 x 600 pixels (original files are fine, we can process them). If you can, please take photos of an animal from multiple sides, ideally whole animal and close-up of head from the side and the top, plus additional details. Often details are required for proper identification. Please send photos to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cao et al. (2000) Phylogenetic position of turtles among amniotes: evidence from mitochondrial and nuclear genes. Gene 259: 139-148
Chiari, Ylenia; Vincent Cahais, Nicolas Galtier and Frederic Delsuc 2012
Phylogenomic analyses support the position of turtles as the sister group of birds and crocodiles (Archosauria).
BMC Biology 10:65
Iwabe, N. et al. (2005) Sister Group Relationship of Turtles to the Bird-Crocodilian Clade Revealed by Nuclear DNA-Coded Proteins. Molecular Biology and Evolution 22 (4): 810-813
Jiang et al. (2007) Comparative mitochondrial genomics of snakes: extraordinary substitution rate dynamics and functionality of the duplicate control region.
BMC Evolutionary Biology 7: 123
Mallatt, Jon and Christopher J. Winchell (2007) Ribosomal RNA genes and deuterostome phylogeny revisited: More cyclostomes, elasmobranchs, reptiles, and a brittle star.
Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 43 (3): 1005-1022
Uetz P, Koo MS, Aguilar R, Brings E, Catenazzi A, Chang AT, Chaitanya R, Freed P, Gross J, Hammermann M, Hosek J, Lambert M, Sergi Z, Spencer CL, Summers K, Tarvin R, Vredenburg VT, Wake DB (2021) A Quarter Century of Reptile and Amphibian Databases. Herpetological Review 52 (2): 246-255
Zardoya, R. & A. Meyer (1998)
Complete mitochondrial genome suggests diapsid affinities of turtles.
Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 95: 14226-14231
See also: Publication on and from the Reptile Database
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