What's new? (May 2021)
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New species and name changes. Since our last release in December, we have added 130 species records to the Reptile Database which stands now at 11,570 species and 2,192 subspecies (previously 11,440 species and 2,211 subspecies, excluding nominate subspecies, respectively). 111 species have been newly described, 12 have been revalidated or elevated from subspecies, and 11 have been synonymized during the past 5 months or so. While 2020 has gained a record 250 newly described species, an all-time high, we are hot on its heels with a similar number this year (90 new species so far this year) — if things continue as in the past few months.
In addition to new and resurrected species, 83 species names have changed, including 29 species that were moved to other genera, most notably the skinks of the genera Mochlus, Riopa, and Subdoluseps (see also below). We also gained 5 new genera this time, including Incaspis (see below), Levitonius, Kataphraktosaurus, Myanophis (see below), and Nyctophilopython, another change for the recently erected Nawaran oenpelliensis, which used to be in Morelia (or Simalia) before then.
For a complete list of all 248 new species and species-level changes, please download our updated checklist at http://www.reptile-database.org/data/ (Excel spreadsheet).
Selected taxonomic changes:
Dipsadid snakes. In the dipsadine department, Incaspis is a new genus in what used to be Philodryas. The Philodryadini contain about 2 dozen species and were independently studied by two groups that came to slightly different conclusions regarding their phylogeny: namely Melo-Sampaio et al. 2020, who proposed the split of the genus into 3 genera, and Arredondo et al. 2020 who proposed a split into 4 genera (Chlorosoma, Incaspis, Philodryas, and Xenoxybelis). However, Arredondo et al. published their paper a few weeks before Melo-Sampaio et al. and so we adopted their taxonomy for the time being, but please take a look at both papers for more information.
Diploglossid taxonomy. Schools & Hedges 2021 published a revised taxonomy of the family Diploglossidae just after the deadline for this newsletter. It was too late to be included in the database, but we still want to mention that they broke up the genera Celestus and Diploglossus and created 4 new genera, Advenus, Mesoamericus, Caribicus, and Comptus. This study will be reflected in the next database release.
New phylogenies. After the recently published phylogenies of pythons and monitors, Thomson et al. 2021 presented a comprehensive phylogeny of turtles, representing 80% of all turtle species and 98% of genera. Sim?es & Pyron 2021 recently reviewed the state of the squamate tree of life, integrating data from genomics, morphology, and the fossils. While they do not present fundamental new insights, they highlight some open questions, e.g. regarding the uncertain relationships of pleurodont iguanians or colubroid snakes.
Diagnoses and descriptions. Even if you don’t find a photo of a particular species in the Reptile Database, there is a 53% chance that you can find a verbal description or diagnosis (even if many of them are older and potentially out of date). In fact, if you are looking for either a photo OR a description, there is a 78% chance that you find at least one of them (i.e. in one of ~9000 species).
Information on genera. If you are looking for the diagnosis of a genus, or other general information on that genus, try the type species. For instance, the type species of Atheris, Atheris chlorechis, has a diagnosis for the genus but also references to the phylogeny and to a key of the genus. Admittedly, this is a workaround until we set up a separate database for higher taxa (or until we indicate type species more clearly :) For now, to find the type species of a genus, try the species described first within a genus. That returns the type species in about half of all genera, otherwise the second- or third-oldest is likely going to work (in >70% of genera). Alternatively, you can look up the type species in our checklist.
Literature database. This release contains 61,495 references (plus 9,243, compared to 52,252 last December). This huge jump happened because we finally managed to import a number of missing references from several journals such as Copeia, the Journal of Herpetology, Herpetologica, Amphibia-Reptilia and a few others which should now have pretty much complete lists. However, many papers are not cited in the species database as we do not know which species they deal with. The references were generously provided by Frank Slavens and Jan Grathwohl — Thanks! We still haven’t imported all the missing reptile references from Herpetological Review and a few other journals but working on that.
Librarians wanted! Given the ever-increasing flood of literature we need your help. If you are have a strong hunter-and-gatherer instinct for herpetological literature, please let us know. Ideally, we would need 2 or 3 people to collect new papers, including someone who has some programming or scripting experience to automate the whole process. Since this is such an important job, the librarian(s) will be co-authors on future releases of the Reptile Database and at least some of its publications. And since we are talking about libraries, here is a new ...
Book received: Mark O’Shea (2021) Lizards of the World — A guide to every family. Princeton University Press, 240 pp. Mark O’Shea's new book provides a gorgeous overview of the lizard families and species of the world, illustrating all families and about 200 species of lizards in full color, with countless details on their biology, behavior, ecology, and taxonomy. Get a 30% discount -- enter promo code LIZRD at checkout through 12/31/2021.
Database has now photos of 50% of all species. We are excited to announce that this release has reached photos of 50% of all 11,570 reptile species — Thanks to your help! And this doesn’t even include the photos on CalPhotos or Flickr that we link to. With the latter it’s more like 70%. Just this release added 1,067 photos from exactly 100 photographers (with the top-3 highlighted), namely A. Suneth Kanishka (1 photo), A.A. Thasun Amarasinghe (6), Aarón Quiroz (5), Abdel Bizid (35), Achyuthan Srikanthan (1), Adam Bowley (2), Adam Clause (6), André Koch (2), Andrea Glässer-Trobisch (2), Aparna Lajmi (5), Apostolis Trichas (9), Aryeh Miller (1), Avi Zobel (3), Beiker Castañeda (3), Benny Trapp (1), Bob Golding (1), Brian Bush (2), César Barrio-Amorós (16), César Luque-Fernandez & Luis Villegas Paredes (6), Chaiyen Li (3), Daniel Jablonski (54), Dario Perez-Garcia (1), Dave Barker (6), Dawn Green (1), Diego A. Gómez-Sánchez (35), Djoko T. Iskandar (1), Drew Dittmer (3), Dwain Holmes (5), Dylan van Winkel (2), Ed Galoyan (2), Edmundo Pérez-Ramos (1), Eduardo Boza Oviedo (3), Eric N. Smith (1), Fernando J.M. Rojas-Runjaic (1), Francesco Ficetola (2), Frank Glaw (2), Gabriel Martinez (1), Gernot Vogel (18), H.T. Lalremsanga (1), Harald Nicolay (7), Hartmut Sänger (3), Heather Ketebengang (5), Hectonichus (1), Ian Smales (2), Jennifer Daltry (3), Jiang Ke (1), Jimmy A. McGuire (3), Jin-long Ren (1), Jinlong Ren (2), Johannes Els (3), John Cavagnaro (4), John Murphy (8), John Sullivan (360), Jorge Eguis Avendaño (5), Julio Rivera (2), Justin Lee (6), Kai Wang (20), Karim Daoues (2), Kier Mitchel E. Pitogo (2), L.J. Mendis Wickramasinghe (1), Laurent Chirio (1), Laurie Vitt (3), Law Ing Sind & Law Ingg Thong (1), Luciano Avila (10), Marcelo Ribeiro Duarte (24), Marco Antonio de Freitas (38), Martha L. Calderón Espinosa (2), Mat Suraj (2), Michael McGuire (7), Mircea Nita (1), Morris Flecks (3), Nikolay Poyarkov & Parinya Pawangkhanant (1), Patrick Campbell (15), Paul Freed (42), Paulo Roberto Melo-Sampaio (1), Peter Janzen (1), Peter Uetz (6), Petr Ne?as (2), Richard D. Sage (22), Richard Montanucci (5), Robert W. Hansen (25), Robert Williams (3), Ross Maynard (2), Rushen Bilgin (3), S. Harikrishnan (2), S.R. Chandramouli (1), Salvador Carranza (6), Sanoj Wijayasekara (3), Scott Trageser (1), Severiano Cruz Suárez (1), Stuart Nielsen (1), Suranjan Karunarathna (4), Teddy Angarita-Sierra (1), Thai National Parks (1), Thore Koppetsch (1), Uwe Schlüter (1), Victor Vásquez-Cruz (11), Vimukti Weeratunge (1), Vivek Sarkar (1), and William M. Lamar (120). This number of photographers is most likely a record too. As always, we are deeply grateful for your contribution. Thanks!
Please keep sending photos for species that do not have any. You can also look up the supplement of our recently published survey of reptile photos online. We may also try something new soon and email you directly to ask you for specific photos, so please be prepared for a request in your inbox.
Skink conservation and species checklist. Chapple et al. and the IUCN skink specialist group have just published a survey of skink conservation including an updated species list (1,727 species!). We have adopted that list and reconciled it with the Reptile database so that both are almost identical now (there are still a few minor differences, down from about 60 before corrections).
IUCN links and maps. Talking about conservation, we finally got the links to IUCN species pages working again, after they were down for about a year after IUCN had re-organized their website. The good news is that the linked pages not only have the latest on reptile conservation and species assessments, but more than 8000 of them also have range maps. Check out Ablepharus chernovi for a random example. Thanks to Yannick Perret who provided the links.
Geographic updates. This release has also updated species checklists for the countries of Morocco and Sudan / South Sudan, the latter of which having created some confusion as both used to be one country until 2011 but are now independent states with their own reptile fauna. Thanks to Gabriel Martinez and Andrew Durso for helping with these countries.
Country checklists. We do not provide country checklists per se (yet), but you can usually find such lists by searching for a country name. However, there are several that cause problems due to ambiguities, e.g. a search for “Congo” finds both the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire) but also the “Republic of Congo”, which is a different country. There is a trick to distinguish between the two: just search for “Brazzaville” which we left attached to the Republic, or search for “Zaire” if you are looking for the DRC (it may not be politically correct but it does help with searches). We have supplemented a couple other country names for the same reason: to find Sudan search for “Jumh?riyyat” (from the Arabic name), which is admittedly very esoteric, but at least it’s a (temporary) solution. We should probably add a second name to South Sudan as well. Similarly, the cheat term for Guinea (in West Africa) is “Conakry” to distinguish it from Equatorial Guinea or Papua New Guinea. In any case, we are planning to provide separate country checklists sometime soon to solve such problems.
Geography editor wanted. We are looking for a volunteer with some experience in GIS and/or map making, for both the database and a couple of publications. Ideally with some experience in automating he process as we may need many maps :) Please get in touch if you are interested.
Request for collaboration 1: Urotomy and pseudoautotomy in snakes and amphisbaenians. A team of Brazilian herpetologists lead by Mario Moura is looking for collaboration from any part of the world for research to be submitted to a special crossover issue in the journals of The British Ecological Society (https://animalecologyinfocus.com/2021/05/11/does-your-research-intersect-with-a-natural-history-collection/). Mario needs snake and amphisbaenian specimens with the following data: (i) Collection number, (ii) geographic coordinates, (iii) snout-vent length, (iv) sex; (v) tail intact or broken+healed. These data will be used to investigate the influence of biological and environmental factors in the probability of tail loss (urotomy) in snakes and amphisbaenians in a multitaxa approach. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org by May 29 for details.
Request for collaboration 2: Snake pupils. We are doing a survey on snake pupils led by Sascha Steinhoff. The idea is to go through either the literature or collections of photos to record the shape of pupil in snakes. If you are interested, please contact Sascha at email@example.com for more details.
Statement of the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) regarding taxonomic vandalism. The issue of taxonomic vandalism came up again with a recent recommendation by the International Comission of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) that the scientific community should make decisions on a case-by-case basis. Consultation with the SAB reveals that a majority supports our decision not to accept any AJH names at this point. See the full statement here.
Social Media. Our new social media editor, Rocio Aguilar, has started to post new species and other news to our new Twitter feed and Instagram accounts. Note that the Twitter handle changed after we lost access to the previous handle, @ReptileDatabase, so please update your Twitter followships to @DatabaseReptile. Also, take a look at our Facebook page and leave a note there if you have comments, questions, or any relevant news.
Next release: September 2021.
New species and name changes. Since our last release in August, we have added 99 species records to the Reptile Database which stands now at 11,440 species and 2,211 subspecies (excluding nominate subspecies). 86 species have been newly described and 23 have been revalidated or elevated from subspecies during the past 4 months or so. Taken together, 2020 has already gained 231 newly described species, again an all-time high (last year we added 221 newly described species). In addition to new and resurrected species, 27 names have changed, including 11 species that were moved to other genera, most notably the 7 species of Mesaspis (which was synonymized with Abronia by GUTIÉRREZ-RODRÍGUEZ et al. 2020). We also gained a couple new genera this time, including Habrophallos (for what used to be Epictia collaris) and Nawaran for Morelia (or Simalia) oenpelliensis, following ESQUERRÉ et al. 2020 who produced a new phylogenomic analysis of pythons. Finally, MELO-SAMPAIO et al. 2020 resurrected 3 genera from Philodryas, namely Chlorosoma, Pseudablabes, and Xenoxybelis. For a complete list of all species and all changes please download our updated checklist at http://www.reptile-database.org/data/ (Excel spreadsheet).
Literature database. Our literature database count stands now at 52,252 references, up from 51,314 in the last release (i.e. 938 were added since August), and up from 49,782 in December 2019 (+ 2,470 in the past year). Of the new publications, 1,357 were published this year. 41,427 out of the 52,252 references (~79%) have links to online sources. This time we also updated more than 2,700 references with DOIs from Crossref (including many historical ones at BHL), which should make the links more reliable. However, that update was largely automated and is known to produce erroneous DOIs, so please let us know if you encounter any incorrect links.
1 million reptile photos. No, admittedly, we don’t have 1 million reptile photos in the database (per se), but we have identified all reptile photos in six major image repositories online a couple months ago. These repositories included iNaturalist (which had photos of 6,349 species), the Reptile Database (5,144 species), Flickr (4,386), CalPhotos (3,071), Wikimedia (2,952), and Herpmapper (2,571). When combined, these sites had 1,193,764 individual images of reptiles, representing 8,207 of 11,242 reptile species (73%). Notably, less than a 1000 species had photos on all 6 sites and more than 2000 were available in only one of the 6 sites (with iNaturalist and the Reptile Database having 945 and 749 species only on their sites, respectively, with all others having much fewer).
The study was led by Ben Marshall and was mostly done last summer, so all numbers are certainly higher now. In any case, you can find the details in a new Zootaxa paper. Alas, at the time of publishing, the data in the paper will be already out of date (using data from the August release of the Reptile Database), and we can proudly say that we now have photos of 5,568 species (49% of all species) in this release of the database. Since we also show photos (or thumbnails with links) from iNaturalist, Calphotos, Reptarium and Flickr, you can find photos of about 7000 species (61%) in the Reptile Database now.
Importantly, there are no photos of about 3000 species in any of the 6 sites, so if you happen to have any of these, please let us know. We have included a list of those missing photos in the supplement of the aforementioned Zootaxa paper (see Table S2).
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to include Facebook in our analysis, despite the countless reptile photos on its various groups. It turned out to be difficult if not impossible to programmatically or systematically access those posts. We shall revisit this issue, but we would also like to remind you that the best places to share photos to help with reptile science and conservation is via platforms that enable researchers to access data systematically and without delay (e.g., iNaturalist).
Why do we emphasize photos so much? Photos are not just "nice to look at” — they provide critical information about morphology and variation, including sexual dimorphism and ontogenetic changes, on localities and thus distribution (ideally over time, hence we encourage you to submit your observation to iNaturalist). Photos also provide insights into ecology (habitat, diet) and behavior and other things.
New photos in this release of the Reptile Database. If your head is not spinning yet, here are the updates specifically for this release. We received a record of 1,320 new photos this time, representing 788 species. As said above, these add up to a total of 5,568 species = 49% of all species and 85% of all genera (1,032 of 1,218 genera) with photos (last release: 5,144 species), an increase by 428 species. We will crack the 6000 species mark and 90% of all genera next year, not the least because we have the advantage over iNat that we also use preserved material from museums (currently only a few hundred species but bound to increase significantly in the future).
Overall, we received >3,100 photos representing 1,715 species in 2020, i.e. 8 or 9 photos per day, although the bulk this year came from just a few photographers. Photographers for this release include the following 96 individuals: Abhijit Das (1 photo), Alexander Pieh (9), Amit Sayyed (2), Arthur de Sena Santos (1), Arthur Diesel Abegg (10), Awal Riyanto (5), Barbod Safaei-Mahroo (3), Bill Branch (1), Brad Maryan (203), Brian Bush (80), Chinmay Kanchi (2), Chris Jones (16), Christian Supsup (11), Claudia Koch (1), Cuong Pham (2), Daniel Alarcón (1), Daniel Jablonski (34), David Thomas (4), Diego Quirola (11), Ed Galoyan (3), Ely David Gómez Fonseca (3), Eric Vanderduys (4), Frank Colacicco (10), Frank Glaw (6), Gernot Vogel (11), Guarino Colli (2), Guido Fabian Medina Rangel (24), Gustavo Pazmiño (8), Igor Joventino Roberto (1), Ishan Agarwal (3), Jairo Maldonado (4), Jakob Hallermann (304), James Reardon (1), Jiansheng Peng (1), Joaquin V. Gonzalez (1), John Lyakurwa (30), Juan Carlos Sánchez (3), Juan Pablo Hurtado Gómez (2), Kathrin Glaw (3), Ke Li (1), Larry D. Wilson (1), Laurie Vitt (213), Law Ing Sind & Law Ingg Thong (15), Leandro Malta Borges (1), Lucas Bustamante (3), Luciano Javier Avila (23), Luis Ceríaco (2), Luiz Carlos Turci (1), Maël Dewynter (7), Manuel Iturriaga Monsisbay (3), Marcelo Ribeiro Duarte (46), Marcos Di Bernardo (1), Mariana Marques (1), Maricela Rivera (4), Mark O'Shea (1), Martha L. Calderón Espinosa (4), Mauro Teixeira Junior (1), Maxim Ryzhov (5), Melt de Kock (1), Natalia Ananjeva (1), Nathalie Citeli (1), Nikita Pokhilyuk (16), Nikolay Tsapko (4), Omar M. Entiauspe-Neto (3), Omar Torres-Carvajal (9), Ortwin Bourquin (2), Patrick Campbell (1), Paul Freed (5), Paula Hanna Valdujo (1), Paulo Sérgio Bernarde (1), Pedro Bernardo (2), Peter Janzen (5), Peter Xiong (1), Pratyush Mohapatra (4), Rémi Bigonneau (2), Richard Sage (28), Robson Avila (1), S. R. Ganesh (1), S.R. Chandramouli (5), Santiago R. Ron (5), Santiago Ron (11), Shuo Qi (9), Silvia Aldás-Alarcón (4), SR Chandramouli (1), Stefaan Temperman (4), Stephen Spawls (2), Suranjan Karunarathna (1), Thore Koppetsch (11), Tim Colston (1), Truong Nguyen (1), Vicente Niclos (8), Vinh Luu (3), Werner Conradie (11), Wolfgang Wüster (1), Zeeshan A. Mirza (2). As always, a million thanks to all photographers for their outstanding contributions :)
By the way, since we cannot pay you for your photo donations, we did acknowledge our top-14 photographers (who contributed photos of more than 100 species each to the database) as co-authors on the aforementioned Zootaxa paper, namely Paul Freed, Laurie Vitt, Pedro Bernardo, Gernot Vogel, Sebastian Lotzkat, Michael Franzen, Jakob Hallermann, Dick Sage, Brian Bush, Marcelo Ribeiro-Duarte, Luciano Avila, David Jandzik, Boris Klusmeyer, and Brad Maryan. Outstanding job, thanks guys!
Special thanks go to Omar Entiauspe-Neto who went through more than 1400 photos of Brazilian snakes and helped to find more than 60 photos that were misidentified. With all the species splitting going on, this will become an ever-increasing problem as there are many genera in which not even experts can identify a species from a (good) photo any more. This problem also applies to books and museum collections, DNA repositories etc which may need to re-label thousands of specimens, a problem that has barely been addressed (and honestly, we avoid to think about …).
Books received: Tuniyev et al. 2019 Snakes of the Caucasus. Petersburg, Moscow. KMK Scientific Press. 2019. 276 pp. A comprehensive book on the snakes of the Caucasus, and apparently an update of the 2009 book in Russian by the same authors. The Caucasus comprises an area spanning ~1500 km from S Russia through Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, NE Turkey to NW Iran. The authors describe a total of 44 snake species from this area in great detail, with excellent, large photos and maps (polygons, but not dot maps), including numerous habitat photos. The area is based on the caucasian eco-region, not on political borders. The Reptile Database currently only recognizes only 37 of the44 species with the discrepancy mostly stemming from controversies about the status of Pelias, for which we follow the phylogenetic analysis of Freitas et al. 2020 who synonymized some and relegated other species to subspecies status. The book provides a detailed history of the snake fauna as well as taxonomic information (types, limited synonymy, distribution, morphological description) but also detailed information on habitats and conservation. A separate chapter is dedicated to snake ecology with tables for habitats, elevational distribution, diet, reproduction patterns and pairwise sympatries. A comprehensive 25-page bibliography tracks the numerous sources that were used for the book.
By the way, have we mentioned that the Reptile Database just turned 25? Not bad for a project that has received next to no funding for most of its lifetime (except to 2 small grants from the EU via the Catalogue of Life project in its early days). More on this anniversary in the next newsletter.
User survey (last call!). In case you have wondered … Our user survey has been open for some time but finally we have enough responses for an informative analysis, so we will close it in a few weeks. If you haven’t taken it, please take 3 minutes to fill it out. We will announce results in our next newsletter!
Social media. After our social media activities have slowed down a bit recently, we are happy to welcome Rocío Aguilar as our new social media editor. Ro is a Research Associate in David Chapple's Lab and the Museums Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. Please keep an eye on her posts on Facebook and other media.
Finally, if you have any spare change from your X-mas shopping, please consider donating some of that to the Reptile Database. While we all of us work on it on a volunteer basis, we do have costs, ranging from servers to software, but currently no funding :( We did get a couple hundred $ this year but this barely cover our expenses. Please check out the Donate (Paypal) link on our homepage. Thanks!
New species and other name changes. Since our last release in April / early May, we have added 99 species records to the Reptile Database which stands now at 11,341 species and 2,224 subspecies (excluding nominate subspecies). 92 species have been newly described during the past 4 months or so. The year 2020 has already gained 145 newly described species, again bound for an all-time high this year. In addition to new species, 38 names have changed, including 11 species that were moved to other genera. This includes 2 new genera, namely the gymnopththalmid genus Magdalenasaura and the colubrid genus Persiophis. 15 subspecies were elevated to full species and another 7 species were revalidated from synonymy. Eleven species were either synonymized or downgraded to subspecies since our last release, resulting in a total of 141 name changes in a mere ~4 months, or at last one new species or changed name per day. The good news is that you can find all changes, as usual, in our updated checklist, available for download at http://www.reptile-database.org/data/. As always, you can also see a continuously updated list of new species on our new species page.
Literature database. Our literature database count stands now at 51,314 references, (764 more than the 50,550 references in the April release), including 770 that were published this year. 36,751 out of the 51,314 references (~72%) have links to online sources, although there are still many that are either behind paywalls or that have to be ordered as hardcopies. It’s difficult to estimate the number of open access papers, but we have close to 3000 papers linked to the Biodiversity Heritage Library, mostly out of print and out of copyright papers.
Tuatara genome published. A noteable highlight among recently published papers is the tuatara genome that was released earlier this month. At 5 Gb, it is not only one of the largest vertebrate genomes yet assembled, but it also completes, in a sense, the genomes of lizards, snakes, crocodiles and turtles published so far. As expected, the genome also confirms the unusual position of tuataras in the tree of life and among reptiles in particular. It also supports, by the way, synonymization of the tuatara, Sphenodon punctatus and its (former) sister species, S. guntheri, which represents a highly inbred population.
Snake trade: A more conservation-related paper was published by Hierink et al. 2020 who made an attempt to track down worldwide snake trade over the past 50 years or so. In order to get that data, they analyzed a database of traded species maintained by CITES. The database records over 40 million snakes and the analysis finds that cmmercially traded pythons dominated the global snake trade, comprising 38.8% of all traded snakes. Live snakes were mainly exported by Ghana, Indonesia, Togo, and Benin, and mainly imported by China and the USA. Venomous snake trade comprised 10.8% of all traded snakes, and over 75% of wild-sourced venomous snakes came from Indonesia. This study emphasizes that trade is a notable threat to natural snake populations, apart from habitat destruction such as deforestation.
Photos. Since our last release in April, our users (you!) have sent us 1,209 photos of 678 species — also a new record! That makes it a total of 15,446 photos of 5,151 species in the database (>45% of all species). If we add photos from outside sources (from Calphotos, Flickr etc.) to which we link, we have photos of about 65% of all species. Only iNaturalist has more species covered by photos, namely about 6,000 species. Obviously, we work with and link to iNaturalist and encourage everybody to submit their observations there, but since you can simply email your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org that may be even easier :) We will provide more details about online photos of reptiles in our next newsletter and let you know which species are not covered by any major database or citizen science project.
The new photos in this release were contributed mainly by Laurie Vitt (570 photos), Paul Freed (151) and Suranjan Karunarathna (98) who donated two thirds of the new crop. The remaining photos were submitted by the following photographers: Abdel Bizid (45), Akshay A. Khandekar (6), Albedi Andrade (2), Alejandro Comte (1), Alex Slavenko (21), Andy Boyce (2), Anthony Cheke (1), Aviad Bar (31), Avrajjal Shosh (1), Ayushi Jain (1), Bekkay el Bekkaoui (2), Bill Duellman (1), Brad Maryan (1), Brian Bush (16), Christian Molls (3), Daniel Ariano Sánchez (4), Davi L Pantoja (1), Dineth Danushka (3), Elí García Padilla (1), Ely D Gómez (9), Eskandar Rastegar Pouyani (1), Esteban Alzate (1), Estefany Cano (3), Evan Quah (1), Fernando Castro-Herrera (2), Frank Tillack (1), Fred Kraus (5), Gabriel Martínez (36), Gernot Vogel (3), Harald Nicolay (3), Harsimran Singh (1), Jian Wang (3), Jin-Long Ren (9), John Cann (24), Jorge Alberto Zúñiga Baos (1), Juan M. Daza (3), Karim Daoues (12), Kurt Orionmystery (5), Lee Grismer (1), Luis Ceríaco (4), Lukáš Pola (2), Mahdi Rajabizadeh (1), Marcelo Ribeiro Duarte (20), Márcio Borges (1), Maria Kaufman (2), Mark Sabaj (1), Michael Poole (1), Nelson Jorge da Silva Jr (1), Paul Henric P. Gojo Cruz (8), Peter Uetz (4), Petrus de Ruijter (3), Pham The Cuong (6), Rafaqat Masroor (2), Rafe Brown (8), Rafe M. Brown & Marites B. Sanguila (4), Rasoul Karamiani (3), Rodrigo Castellari Gonzalez (3), Roger A. Anderson (1), Rubén Alonso Carbajal-Márquez (2), S.R. Ganesh & S.R. Chandramouli (5), Salman Baloch (1), Sebastian Kirchhof (2), Shai Meiri (4), Soheil Sami (4), Stephen Richards (2), Suneth Kanishka (8), Tiago Gomes dos Santos (3), Tim Colston (1), Tim van Wagensveld (1), Tony Jewell (3), Werner Conradie (6), William R. Branch (3), Youcef Islem Bezzaz (2). As always, thank you so much — we really appreciate every one of your contributions!
Species descriptions and etymologies. With this release we have descriptions or diagnoses of more than 5,000 species (only partially overlapping with photos, so that we have either photos OR descriptions of almost 8000 species). If we also count comparisons that include many other species, we may be close to 10,000 species with some kind of descriptive information (see Diploderma menghaiense as a rather extreme example). On top of that, we have now etymologies of more than 50% of all species (5,892 species to be precise). Still a long way to go but we are getting there. Let us know if you want to contribute any kind of data, ideally for a larger number of species :)
Spanish common names: with the help of William Farr, we have added hundreds of Spanish vernacular names to this release, mostly of Mexican species. If you have lists of Spanish names for other Latin American species, please let us know. We would be happy to add them as well.
5000 recipients of this mailing list. 5,000 seems to be the magic number this time, so it may sound like a coincidence, but our mailing list also exceeded 5,000 email addresses this time around — although about 20% of them are already defunct and bounce back, so we have removed them — which leaves still more than 4,000 people. Feel free to pass this newsletter on to your friends and ask them if they got it — they may not have received it due to an old email address or a full mailbox (which gives us a “quoata exceeded" error). Thanks for your continuing interest and support!
Social media officers wanted. After Mark Herr and Amy Macleod stepped down as social media editors, we need help on that front! If you like reptiles and you don’t have enough to post on your Facebook page or Twitter feed — join us: as you can see in the intro above, there are plenty of news we need to tweet or post about. Let us know if you are interested.
Stephen Spawls & Bill Branch (2020) The dangerous snakes of Africa. Bloomsbury Wildlife, London etc., 336 pp. The best thing about this book is that the authors not only describe all the 137 species of dangerous snakes of Africa, but also the 70 other snakes that look like dangerous snakes. With 400 color photos and maps of all the dangerous species (but no maps for the harmless ones, unfortunately) the book is the only book that covers the whole continent at such depths (although, to some extent, 3 other books are similar in scope, namely Dobiey & Vogel’s 2007 Terralog book, and the rather obscure 2013 books published for military personnel by Shupe and Brown). At on online price of £24 ≈ US$32 for the paperback (£22 ≈ US$30 for the pdf) the Spawls & Branch book is a bargain everybody with an interest in African herpetology or venomous snakes should have.
Hans-Dieter Sues (2019) The rise of reptiles - 320 Million Years of Evolution. Johns Hopkins University Press, 400 pp, US$85 (hardbound). This large-format book traces the fossil history of reptiles with frequent reference to living clades of reptiles (for those that are still extant, obviously, although there are far more fossil species than extant ones). Sues puts both fossil and extant reptiles into a phylogenetic context in about 20 cladograms, so you can understand both their origin and relationships. The format is twice the size of Spawls & Branch, lavishly illustrated with more than 350 photos and diagrams (even most fossils are shown in color) and just the references fill 68 pages, so it’s the most up-to-date and complete summary of reptile paleontology you can get. You can take a peek at Google Books and find a more detailed (very positive) review by Walter Joyce in Herpetological Reviews, 51 (1): 169-170.
Interview and Youtube videos on the Reptile Database. If you don’t have enough on reptile databasing yet, Peter gave an interview on the Reptile Database on Jayaditya Purkayastha's herp-related interview series in June that you can watch both on Youtube and listen to as podcast. Similarly, he also gave a short presentation on the database in Masud Salimian's Facebook series on Wild Snake Ecology Other presentations are available on Youtube, so for those of you who are not that much interested in the boring details of reptile databasing, there are other, more interesting biological topics too.
With a slight delay, we just released a new version of the Reptile Database (originally scheduled for release in April).
Since our last release in December, we have added 106 species to the Reptile Database, of which 81 have been newly described during the past 4 months or so. The new species count for 2019 stands now at 220, an all-time high. In addition to new species, 76 names have changed, including 35 species that were moved to other genera. This includes 6 new genera, namely the colubrid genera Baliodryas and Trimerodytes, the new gymnophthalmid genera Centrosaura, Rheosaurus, and Wilsonosaura, a new agamid genus, Pelturagonia, and the new viperid Metlapilcoatlus (for some former Atropoides). 13 subspecies were elevated to full species and another 18 species were revalidated from synonymy. Four species were synonymized since our last release, resulting in a total of 162 name changes in a mere ~4 months, or at last one new species or changed name per day. Unusual times indeed. The good news is that you can find all changes, as usual, in our updated checklist, available for download at http://www.reptile-database.org/data/.
Since our deadline for this release (about 2 weeks ago), another half dozen new species have already been described. You can see a continuously updated list of new species on our new species page.
What is a species (or subspecies), anyway? With unabated splitting, this remains a relevant question and we re-iterate our recommendation to read the recent essays by David Hillis on the topic, both in the Journal of Herpetology and in Herpetological Review. We usually follow the literature when new species are described, even when the evidence for a new species is not fully convincing (although in certain cases we do decide to hold back on adding them), hoping that someone will clarify or synonymize those new names. In many cases we do consult with independent experts or our scientific advisory board. As David predicted, the pendulum seems to swing back, at least in some cases, such as Eurasian vipers, many of which are now thought to be synonymous.
New checklists. In this release, we have integrated the new checklists for the Mexican states of Sonora, San Luis Potosi, and Durango (Lemos-Espinal et al. 2018a, 2018b, 2019) and the new Atlas of Brazilian snakes (Nogueira et al. 2019). In addition, we have also incorporated the new checklist of Chinese reptiles, including their Chinese common names (generously provided by Kai Wang). Just these 5 papers update the information of more than 1,100 species, not counting countless other singular observations and reports.
Literature database. Just after our last release in December, we have crossed the 50,000 references mark in our literature database (now at 50,550 references), of which 392 were published this year, and 1739 publications published in 2019). Our literature curation team is working hard to read those papers and help to transfer that information into the database. Let us know if you want to join by reading papers and sending us your excerpts :)
Habitat data. So far, we have not added much habitat data, but such data is becoming available on larger sets of species, so we have started to add some of those. One of the first large-scale studies added to the database, was that of Harrington et al. 2018 who identified more than 600 (partly or fully) arboreal snakes. Including those, we have habitat data for about 2,000 reptile species now, although many more are needed for global macro-ecological analyses. This data will be searchable in a forthcoming release. Let us know if you have any other datasets that you want to be imported!
Temperature-dependent sex determination. There are various interesting data points in the database that may not be obvious. For instance, you should be able to find most reptiles with temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD) in the database, although there is no direct way to search for this trait. However, you can search the references for “temperature-dependent” and you will get 23 species, at least 18 of which show TSD (if you know others, please let us know!). The mechanism of TSD appears to have finally been solved, at least in Trachemys scripta elegans, in a recent study by Weber et al. 2020, which reminded us of this phenomenon. They show that temperature regulates the expression of Kdm6b, a histone demethylase, which is responsible for testis development. At warmer, female-producing temperature, STAT3 is phosphorylated and silences Kdm6b transcription to repress testis development.
Photos. Since our last release in December, our users (you!) have sent us 584 photos of 340 species. That makes it a total of 14,256 photos of 4,860 species in the database. If we add photos from outside sources (from Calphotos, Flickr etc.), we have photos of 6,813 species or >60% of all species. The new photos were contributed by the following photographers: Alan Watson Featherstone (7 photos), Alexander Pieh (8), Andre Koch (3), Andrea Gläßer-Trobisch & Dietmar Trobisch (11), Andrej Susor (1), Brad Maryan (1), Brian Bush (59), Brooke Bessesen (1), Carlos Rivero Blanco (3), Carmelo Lopez (15), César Luis Barrio Amorós (4), Cristopher Antúnez Fonseca (1), Daniel Hofer (3), David Thomas (2), Diego Miguel Garces (1), Ed Galoyan (84), Edgar Lehr (1), Elson Meneses-Pelayo (1), Ely Gomez (25), Frank Ziemann (2), Fred Kraus (3), Gary Brown (6), Geoff Carpentier (16), Gerald T. Dunger (4), Gernot Vogel (1), Hamzeh Oraie (3), Hans Wolf (9), Harald Nicolay (14), Harith Morgadinho Farooq (24), Hector M. Diaz Perdomo (1), Henrik Bringsøe (3), Ishan Agarwal (1), Jean-François Trape (2), Jesús Alberto Loc Barragán (1), Juan Manuel Pérez Iglesias, Maximiliano Pardo, Samuel Ernesto Olivieri Bornand (4), Karim Daoues (1), Kell Nielsen (2), Krishnan Kalpat (1), Leonardo Barros Ribeiro (3), Luis Ceríaco (2), Marc Faucher (1), Mauricio Ocampo (3), Mauro Teixeira Junior (82), Mendis Wickramasinghe (3), Montri Sumontha (5), Nick Poyarkov (2), Pablo Garcia (3), Paul Freed/Barbara Lester (38), Peter Janzen (5), Peter Uetz (35), Philippe Geniez (3), Robin Gloor (1), Salvator Carranza (13), Sandeep Das (3), Saunak Pal (3), Seyed Mahdi Kazemi (3), Sofia Velasquez (3), Soheila Javanmardi (7), Achim Ritter (1), SR Ganesh (4), Steve Spawls (21), Tony Gamble (3), William Farr (6), and Yahaya Musah (2). As always, thank you very much!
Genus photos wanted! The 14,256 photos in the database represent 1,037 genera, about 86% of all reptile genera. However, we do not have any photos of 172 genera (representing 408 species). If you happen to have any of these, please let us know — we would love to post them! A list of these genera is available (as Excel spreadsheet).
Volunteer wanted for bioinformatics project related to reptile photos. We are looking for a student or other volunteer who wants to practice his/her programming skills (e.g. in Python, R, or some other scripting language). It’s (hopefully) a relatively small project, involving the extraction and databasing of photos from pdfs. One of our collaborators has developed a tool to extract photos and their captions from pdfs, and we need someone who is interested in processing that data, mapping photos back to papers and taxa. Let us know if you are interested. This may also lead to a publication relatively quickly.
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Created: 2 July 1997 / Last updated: as indicated on top