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 about 9,500 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 little other information in the database, such as ecological or behavioural information. The database has no commercial
interest and therefore depends on contributions from volunteers. It
is currently supported by the Systematics
working group of the German Herpetological Society (DGHT) and a small grant from the European Union through the Catalogue of Life project.
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 check out the Tree of Life page on amniotes, the CNAAR page on vertebrate taxonomy, or 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), and Jiang et al. (2007). However, in some studies (Mallat & Winchell 2007) turtles formed a clade separate from squamates and crocodiles and thus complicate the situation a bit more.
Where does the information in the database come
Originally we used a number of books, checklists and monographs (see the General References page) as a starting point for the database. About a quarter to a third of the data has been provided directly by contributors in either electronic or paper form (i.e. reprints etc.). Some data come from online sources as listed on the family pages or in the species entries. Recently we have been focusing increasingly on current journals and other publications to keep the database up to date. 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.
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. We don't have permanent staff but a number of volunteers are regular contributors to the database, including Barry Baker, Jirka Schmidt, and a number of Wikipedia authors. Although we are not a wiki, contributions are always welcome!
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.
All species entries have the following structure, e.g. Podarcis muralis.
Current status (28 Jan 2012)
See also out species stat and News.
The web database is updated every 2 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.; Goll, J. & Hallermann, J. (2007) Die TIGR-Reptiliendatenbank. Elaphe 15 (3): 22-25
Uetz, P. (2010) The original descriptions of reptiles. Zootaxa 2334: 59–68
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, 2006.
or by citing the CD version of the database, e.g.
Uetz, P. (2006), The EMBL Reptile Database CD-ROM edition, March 2006.
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: uetz at vcu.edu.
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 are preferred over prints and they should have a size of about 800 x 600 pixels (not much bigger and not much smaller).
Cao et al. (2000) Phylogenetic position of turtles among amniotes: evidence from mitochondrial and nuclear genes. Gene 259: 139-148
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
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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