What's new? (July  2022)

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22 July  2022 -- new release

With this release, we have reached 11,820 reptile species (up from 11,733 in our last release, March 2022). In fact, we are approaching 14,000 taxa with a total of 13,987 reptile taxa in this release (11,820 species + 2,167 subspecies, not counting nominate subspecies). Subspecies keep being elevated to species level, hence there is an ever-decreasing number of subspecies, with currently 942 species having subspecies), although 4 new subspecies have also been described this year so far (see also further comments below). Specifically, 157 species-level changes have been added to this release, with 71 new species, 10 species revalidated from synonymy and 16 species elevated from subspecies level. On top of that, we also have synonymized or downgraded 9 species. A whopping 47 species were moved to a new genus, mostly diploglossid species, following the revision by Schools & Hedges 2021, and the African geckos of the genus Cnemaspis (now Ancylodactylus). As always, you can find a complete list of changes as part of our checklist, available at on our download page. Please also see our update page for new species that didn’t make it into this release.

Literature database

We have added 816 references to the database since March, which now stands at 64,420 references. 561 have been published in 2022. As before, Francis Reyes has helped to collect these references.

Photos

This is the first release in which we exceeded 6,000 species with photos (~52% of all species). We received a total of 566 photos over the past ~4 months, representing 303 species, of which 95 species got their first photo. Admittedly, we cheated a little this time by importing 229 photos (of 160 species) from iNaturalist. Of course, we only imported those photos that have a CC-BY license, and we labelled all those photos with their observation ID, so you can go to the linked iNaturalist page and find the photo and its associated meta-data (including the locality).

The new photos in this release were taken by the following 210 (!) photographers (with cryptic names from iNaturalist): Aaron Griffing (1 photo), aepafrica (2), Aiki Yamada (2), Akshay Khandekar (9), alcedo77 (1), Alejandro Calzada (1), Alex Alfil (8), Alexandra Cartagena (1), Alfred-Joachim Sameit (3), Amaru Rubio (1), amurray001 (1), Andrew Scarpulla (1), Andrey Bragin (1), Andy Nguyen (8), angie2304 (1), archypielago08 (1), Arístides García Vinalay (1), Asimakis Patitsas (1), Austin Bohannon (1), Bernard Dupont (1), Bill Lucas (2), Binturong27 (2), Bird Explorers (1), Blair Hedges (1), Brent White (1), Brett (1), Carlos Joaquín Pavón Vázquez (2), Carlos Miranda Levy (1), Carlos Otávio Gussoni (1), caymanmatt (1), Cecibel Cabrera (1), César Luis Barrio Amorós (7), Charles Avenengo (1), cherubs (1), Christina De Jesús Villanueva (1), Christopher J. Thawley (1), coenobita (1), Colin D Jones (1), Cristina Arrivillaga (2), damzc (1), Dan Schofield (1), Daniel Pineda Vera (1), Daniel Rios Gutierrez (1), David Alberto Macías Díaz (1), David Weaver (1), deetsanimals (1), Delton Howard (1), Diego Manzano Méndez (1), Dikansh Parmar (1), Dominik Maximilián Ramík (1), Don Loarie (1), Edgar D. Jose (2), Edgard J Paredes-Torres (4), edgarin (1), eldirko - Naturalist Tours (1), Erland Refling Nielsen (1), Esaú Valdenegro-Brito (1), Fanny Mariel Juarez-Sanchez (1), Fernando Nunes (1), Francis Reyes (2), Franco Goodman (2), Franz Kaston Florez (1), Fredy Ruiz (6), Gavin Campbell (1), Gernot Vogel (7), goaltorrent (Ralph L) (1), gorgonopsia (1), guliwu_island (5), Gus Benson (1), hamster1067 (1), Harendra Srivastava (1), heliastes21 (1), Henrik Bringsøe (35), henrya (1), Herivelto Faustino de Oliveira (2), herpavida - Jeremy P. (1), hongzhi (1), HT Lalremsanga (4), Hugo J. Plata (1), Humberto Yánez-Muñoz (1), hunterefs (1), hyacynthus (1), Idlegrraphics (1), Igor Gerolineto Alves (1), Ing Sind + Ingg Thong (3), Ivan Ahumada (1), Jake Scott (2), Jared Evans (1), Jayaditya Purkayastha (2), jguerlot (1), John D. Reynolds (2), John G. Phillips (2), John Lyakurwa (40), Johnnier Arango (1), Jonathan Newman (1), Jorge Brito (3), Jorge Salgado (2), José Cassimiro (4), José Luis Pérez (1), Josh Weeber (1), Josue Ramos Galdamez (3), Jules Farquhar (2), Karlyn Grafals (1), Katerina Kalogerini (1), Ken Kneidel (1), Kent Ross (2), Khristian Venegas Valencia (1), Kristof Zyskowski (3), lafondn (1), lauramjik (1), Laurel Picklum (1), Laurie Vitt (2), Lee Grismer (1), Lennart Hudel (1), Luis Rivas (2), Luis Vescia da Rosa (1), Marco Aurelio de Sena (1), Marcos Dubeux (3), margot_oorebeek (1), Maria Antonia Jaramillo (1), Mario Humberto Yánez-Muñoz (5), Marius Burger (7), Mark Hulme (1), Martin Reith (2), Matthew Anderson (2), maxon (2), Meghan Cunha (1), miguelaporta (2), mingyoo (1), moses1277 (1), mottled_sculpin (1), Muammer Kurnaz (6), naturepaul (1), Nic Gambold (2), Nicholas Sly (1), Nicole F. Angeli (1), Noreen Baker (1), omnix (1), ong-siau-kun (1), otomops (1), Owen Lishmund (2), Pablo Preliasco (1), Pankaj Maheria (3), Paul Freed (4), Paul Tavares (1), Pedro Genaro Rodriguez (10), Pedro Nahuat (2), petekleinhenz (1), Peter Janzen (25), Peter Uetz (11), Phil Benstead (1), Piter Kehoma Boll (1), pttr (1), Rafael Ferro (1), René Durocher (4), Rey Chupin Hernandez (1), Richard Hoyer (1), ritirene (2), rkstarr (1), Robert Dobbs (1), Roberto Sindaco (2), Rolf D. Leye (2), Ron Savage (2), rosannaguzman2 (1), Ross McGibbon (2), Russell Schmidt (1), S R Ganesh (4), S R Ganesh & Chandramouli (1), Saly Sithivong & Luu Quang Vinh (1), Saunak Pal (20), smart_forest (1), smeierotto (2), Sofía Ballesteros (1), Sophie Giriens (1), Stephen Zozaya (2), steve_cf (1), tarranmaharaj (1), Thomas Calame (1), Thore Koppetsch (2), timoteo_b (1), tobiasrunge (1), Toby Ross (1), Tom Kennedy (3), Tom Murray (1), Tommy Hui (1), Tommy Swift (1), Tony Rebelo (1), Tyrone Ping (1), Valia Pavlou (1), vanihdz (1), Vilmer Herrera (1), Vinh Quang Luu (4), Vladimir Turitsyn (5), Wayne Fidler (6), Wilfredo Falcon (1), William McCord (1), William P. McCord (9), William W. Lamar (74), Wolfgang Böhme (1), Woraphot Bunkhwamdi (1), Wouter Beukema (1), Xianguang Guo (1), yah_japan (1), Yahaya Musah (Faa Ganda) (2), Yasel U. Alfonso (1), Yolanda M. Leon (2), Yu Ching Tam (2), Zack Graham (1), Zeeshan Mirza (1). The 7 top-contributors are highlighted (10 or more photos). As usual, thanks to all of you!

Etymologies

If you have ever wondered where all those names in the reptile world come from, you can now find etymologies of more than 8,000 species in our database. We have focused on updating species epithets this time, but hundreds of genus names are explained as well (you can find those in the entry of the type species). In fact, we have added etymologies to more than 1,300 species just in the past 4 months. If you have a particular interest in classics (or species names), please let us know. There are still more than 3,700 species without etymologies, most of them with some Latin or Greek component that is often not explained in the original description but often can be figured out when you look at the species description, a photo, or the habitat of the species. For instance, we have 74 species names currently without etymology that contain *linea*, so they usually have some sort of stripe (Latin linea = line or border), as in Hebius octolineatus (apparently named after 8 stripes on the body). Of these 74, we actually have photos for 53, so the presence of stripes can be easily verified.

Australian reptiles

With the recent publication of the “Official list of Australian [reptile and amphibian] species" by the Australian Herp Society, we aligned the Reptile Database with the AHS list, so that our list of Australian reptiles is up-to-date. In case you wondered: Australia is the country with most reptile species (1,132) and the country with most reptile species per capita (about 44 species per million people). Other hyperdiverse countries like Mexico or Brazil have significantly fewer species, namely 980 and 855, respectively.

Papers vs databases

Stephen Mahony reminded us of the conflict that may arise between databases like ours and the primary literature. Initially, the Reptile Database was mostly a species list, but the intention has always been to collect biological data as well. However, with more data in databases, authors increasingly use that data without consulting the original sources any more. That can be a problem, not only because we have to interpret (and therefore evaluate) the data in many cases, we also have to reconcile multiple, sometimes contradictory sources. Another problem is the fact that authors sometimes only cite the Reptile Database without even mentioning the original source. That’s a common problem with species descriptions, which unfortunately are undercited for exactly this reason: species are mentioned in checklists and other studies but the original descriptions are hardly ever cited. So, please consider citing these original sources and more importantly, please read and check them, as there is a chance that some of the data has been over-simplified

Reptile conservation update

In April a large team of herpetologists and other experts   published the first comprehensive assessment of reptiles. The assessment, coordinated by the IUCN, analyzed 10,196 reptile species and concluded that at least 1,829 of them (~21%) are threatened by extinction. Among turtles and crocodiles the fractions are even higher, at 57.9% and 50.0%, respectively. Not surprisingly, the most important factors increasing extinction risk in reptiles are habitat destruction from agricultural expansion, urban development and deforestation.

This reminds us of World Population Day, which was “celebrated" 2 weeks ago by the United Nations. The UN predicts that we will reach 8 billion people sometime later this year, just 11 years after humanity had crossed 7 billion in 2011. While much of future population growth will happen in Africa it will be critical to stop both population growth and ever-increasing consumption (including land use) around the world. Some experts disagree with details of the UN projections but it is clear that consumption will keep rising for decades to come. Predictably, population growth will certainly result in further climate change and biodiversity loss.

That said, take a look at the Global Footprint Network which predicts Earth Overshoot Day to happen this week, on July 28. That is, according to their estimate, humanity already has exhausted all resources that our planet can renew this year.

Ukraine and Russia

After our temporary ban of Russian papers after the least release in March, we got quite a backlash of angry emails and comments on social media. While we stand by our decision, our protest was clearly misunderstood: not as a symbolic protest (which it was) but rather as a personal attack on Russian herpetologists (which it explicitly wasn't). We believe that scientists have an even larger civic responsibility than “ordinary" people, given their better access to media and information, and because of the international nature of their occupation. We do not say that Western countries are better informed than others, but most countries now have a press that’s more free (and thus less censored) than that in Russia, at least according to Reporters Without Borders. Clearly, western media are biased in their own way, hence it’s even more important that scientists stay in touch and try to get a balanced view. In any case, imperialist invasions and annexations of other countries are not acceptable, especially when reporting about these aggressions is banned or manipulated.

We have asked Oleksandr Zinenko and Glib Mazepa, two Ukrainian herpetologists, about their experiences. Oleksandr, who is also the president of the Ukrainian Herpetological Society, estimates that there are about 20 professional herpetologists and many more hobbyists in Ukraine.

How is your life affected by the war?

Glib: "I planned to submit my thesis on Pelophylax water frogs [jointly supervised by the University of Lausanne and Uppsala University] by mid-spring. On the 24th of Feb we moved to Kharkiv and started to volunteer. From 2 March to 20 March we spent sleeping in the metro, hiding from air bombs. I managed to come back to work in mid May. Kharkiv was not shelled for around two weeks but since around 20th of May until present, there is a daily bombardment from the neighboring Belrorod region of Russia. Yet, I manage to dedicate time to the monograph and now it is in my supervisors’ hands."

Oleksandr: "Hugely. We are teaching online now, but it’s often disrupted. Some students are under occupation, some had to flee, some are missing without any information, and we have some confirmed death among students and colleagues. There is no hope for normal teaching in the near future. Our lab is abandoned and all projects are on hold with a grim perspective. I am lucky to be in comparatively comfortable conditions, but the majority is living in somebody's house/shelter, far away from home, work, lab, library, colleagues, or fieldwork.”

What happened to the herpetological collections in Kyiv and Kharkiv [which also house the types of about two dozen species]?

Oleksandr: “They are intact yet, but under threat, as long as they are in Ukraine - rocket attacks are everywhere, more in Kharkiv (every day), less in Kyiv and other places."

Have you talked to Russian colleagues since the war started?

Glib: "I am in contact with one person, the rest of the collaborators just disappeared. Also, I was contacted by one person from Moscow University who is against the war. On March 2, the day after the regional administration of Kharkiv (we are living in 1 km airline) was demolished by two Kalibr rockets, I asked on the Facebook page of two Russian colleagues “why are you keeping silent”. They never responded. Just before the war, we were about to submit a paper on Euphlyctis frogs with the participation of these two and another colleague from St. Petersburg. Some Russian co-authors appeared to support the war, so I retracted my coauthorship for that work [now published]."

Oleksandr: "Yes, a few. A few of my colleagues had contacted me and expressed support in the beginning. In the first days of the invasion, I have sent out a letter claiming that all Russian citizens are responsible for this war. I’ve got several replies calling me a nazi. The majority is silent though.”

What would you tell people outside Russia and Ukraine who are trying to understand what happens?

Glib: "Well, I live in a bombarded city, some relatives of my friends are under occupation in the Kharkiv region, and several friends serve in the army. So far two persons that I knew were killed (a Kharkiv volunteer and a Kyiv historian who joined the army).”

Oleksandr: "This war has many layers. It is a rebellion of Russia as a losing nation against the world and its current rules and international laws. They attempt to restore their empire, grab territory, resources and people, before they continue further. It is an existential war for Ukraine, we no other choice except to win. But is it also a personal war of Putin and people of his circle of criminals, who will be persecuted if they lose power, that’s the real reason why it is happening.”

Do you know any Russian-speaking scientists in Ukraine who support the invasion? Why would they?

Glib: "I don’t know any." Oleksandr: "Prior to this war there were several pro-russian scientists I knew. Now they are keeping quiet or become more moderate or even pro-Ukrainian in their views, but even if they remain pro-russian, nobody supports invasion and war, it brings only death and sorrow for everybody."

Are there any attacks specifically at science institutions or are they more random? What do the Russians try to destroy?

Glib: “In my estimate, of 200+ schools more than 110 are ruined. […] I can say that schools were targeted since the end of May on a systematic basis. Several campuses among the many Kharkiv Universities have been destroyed.”

Oleksandr: "Schools, universities, infrastructure, plants, markets. For Russians they all have equal significance as military targets. Specifically several university buildings and research institutes were destroyed in Kharkiv only. The goal is intimidation, terror, to harm the economy and our industry."

———————

Books received

Mexican reptiles and amphibians. Mexico is not only a great tourist destination but also one of the most biodiverese countries in the world. Hence a single book is not enough to cover all the reptiles of Mexico. Luckily, Julio Lemos-Espinal and colleagues have published a whole serious of excellent books that cover the country’s herpetofauna (including 980 reptile species, see above) state by state. Here are some of their most recent volumes, all in large format:

Coral snakes. Another truly monumental monograph on coral snakes was recently published by Nelson Jorge da Silva and colleagues. Besidese having a number of taxonomically relevant chapters, it provides a thorough overview of coral snake biology ranging from coral snake systematic, evolutioy, biogeography,  natural history to venomics and medical aspects:

Wanted: taxonomic editors.

As we are ramping up our efforts to collect species descriptions and (morphological) trait data, we need more taxon experts who are willing to help with this effort. Your job will be both the collection of data but also their analysis (if you are interested). All data will be posted in the Reptile Database for everybody to access. Let us know which families or (larger) genera you are interested in.

Next release: scheduled for December 2022.


20 March  2022 -- Update

After 10 days of protest, we have put the Russian papers back online.   We stand by our original decision to temporarily ban Russian papers. Since we are scientists, we actually did some A/B testing: about half of all recipients got the rather vague message that we will ban Russian papers in "this release" (without specifying when they will go back online) while the other half got the message that the ban will last 10 days. The first half viciously complained, many accussed us of "racism" and "discrimination" ,  and 2 members of the scientific advisory board resigned. Huh! The second half was more measured, with almost half of the respondends supporting our ban and a slight majority still being opposed. Given that  the absolute numbers were relatively small (dozens) we do not present any statistics here -- this was obviously not a representative survey.

10 March  2022 -- New Release!

Usually we don’t get political in this newsletter, but with the invasion of Ukraine we feel we should (you can skip to Taxonomic news if you are not interested or believe that science should not be political). We have an estimated 50-100 Russians on this mailing list and we very much respect them as colleagues. However, Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin have gone too far with the invasion of Ukraine. As a sign of protest, we have temporarily removed more than 1000 Russian papers from this release of the Reptile Database (or rather replaced them by placeholders), mostly papers by Russian authors and publishers (there will be some collateral damage to people outside Russia who co-authored these papers, sorry). No, we don’t want to “punish" our fellow Russian colleagues and we are convinced that they are against this invasion, but this war may only be stopped from within Russia. All the protests and boycotts world-wide make it clear that Russia is rapidly isolating itself on the world stage.

Banning papers will be highly controversial and the scientific community is divided about which actions should be taken. See these reports in Nature (or this), in Science, The Times of Higher Education, Science Business, and many others. 

However, please consider that the world is mostly united in the opposition to Russia’s invasion: 141 countries have opposed the Russian war in the UN General Assembly (with only 5 countries supporting Russia, including North Korea and Belarus). Nevertheless, 60-70% of Russians appear to support the invasion (which is neither called “invasion” nor “war” in Russian media). These numbers prove that Putin is running a massive mis-information campaign to mislead his own fellow countrymen and -women. Accordingly, protests within Russia are swiftly put down by the police, with over 13,000 protesters reportedly arrested just over the past few weeks. Hence we don’t blame anybody who does not take to the streets. However, we do hope that the Russian intelligentsia (including their herpetologists) will communicate to their fellow Russians and the political elite that this invasion is causing global Russophobia and thus will backfire on a massive scale. Russia must retreat from Ukraine. As indicated, this is a temporary protest (about 10 days) — the Russian papers will go back online this coming weekend (no later than Sunday, March 20). If you feel strongly about this, feel free to comment on our Facebook page

Taxonomic news 

Given the global turmoil, we may have a missed a few taxonomic papers and data points, but we still have a pretty long list of updates as far as reptile taxonomy is concerned. With this release, we have reached 11,733 reptile species (up from 11,690 in our last release, Nov. 2021). In fact, we have 134 changes on the level of species, with 41 new species, 12 species revalidated from synonymy and 23 species elevated from subspecies level. Somewhat unusually, we also have 31 synonymized or downgraded species, which has become less common, given the unabated species splitting in the reptile world. A third of those cases involves Galapagos tortoises of the genus Chelonoidis, most of which have been downgraded to subspecies level based on recent genetic studies (Kehlmaier et al. 2021, Poulakakis et al. 2021) that showed their close relationship. 

Overall, we have updated about 3000 species with new information during the past year. Neverthless, there are a number of placeholder entries in the database, representing new species that still need to have details added. We will fill them in until our next release. In any case, you can download the latest checklist with all changes since the last release (as Excel spreadsheet) from our website. 

Turtle update 

That said, we have used the latest (2021) checklist of the Turtle Taxonomy Working Group (TTWG) to update all turtle names in the database (thanks to Anders Rhodin and colleagues).   The two lists should now be identical, except for the few extinct species which they list and we do not. As indicated above, the biggest change was the downgrade of the Galapagos tortoises, but a few other species got changed names as well. As a reminder, note that Thomson et al 2021 also published an updated phylogeny of all turtles, so that this group should be up-to-date for a while. 

Literature database 

Over the past couple of months we have switched our literature collection system to a more automated process that was implemented by Olaf Voß, using automated searches of CrossRef and Google Alerts. Francis Reyes has assisted that process and helps us now to collect references for further curation. This has helped us to reach another record-breaking year of more than 2100 papers published and added last year (with only two previous years, namely 2016 and 2017, in which more than 2100 papers were published and added to the database). Our database now contains 63,604 publications, compared to 62,460 in our last release (Nov. 2021), or an increase of 1,144 papers added since the last release. 

Photos 

This is also the first release in which we exceeded 6000 species with photos (~51% of all species). Even though we received only 293 photos over the past ~4 months, they represent 200 species, of which 95 species got their first photo. The new photos in this release were donated by the following 36 photographers: Cristian Pizzigalli (2 photos), Daniel Jablonski (18), Deepak Veerappan (1), Fábio A. G. Cunha (2), Gilson A Rivas (2), Harald Nicolay (3), Harendra Srivastava (4), Harith Farooq (1), Henrik Bringsøe (18), Igor Doronin (3), Jairo Maldonado (1), Jakob Hallermann (1), John Lyakurwa (36), Jonathan Hakim (1), Kell (3), Laurent Chirio (1), Luis Ceriaco (5), Marcelo Ribeiro Duarte (4), Marco A Ribeiro-Junior (8), Mayke De Freitas (2), Michael Cota (2), Mohsen Kalboussi (29), N. S. Achyuthan (1), Oleg Kukushkin (3), Omar Machado Entiauspe-Neto (2), Patrick Prévost (2), Paul Freed (9), Peter Janzen (22), Philip Griffin (1), Rafe Brown (2), Rolf Leye (1), Scott Eipper (97), Seyyed Saeed Hosseinian-Yousefkhani (1), Tatiana Petrova (1), William McCord (2), and Xianguang Guo (1), with our heroes (10+ photos) highlighted in bold above. As usual, thank you all for your help! 

DNA sequences

 This is the first release in which we exceed 8000 reptile species with DNA sequences in Genbank, or about 70% of all species. You can find cross-links to the NCBI Taxonomy (and thus Genbank) at the bottom of each species entry. Daniel Mulcahy and colleagues just published a new study in which they DNA-barcoded 2260 specimens of 583 named species (mostly lizards). Not surprising, a signficant number of sequences in Genbank were found to be mis-identified. For instance, of 52 sequences submitted to GenBank as Anolis tropidonotus only four were actually A. tropidonotus (the others belonged to 3 different species). Especially with increasing species splitting and taxonomic changes, an increasing number of mismatches between new species identifications and previously determined DNA sequences crops up. Another example is a new study by Paulo Passos and colleagues, in which they found that “above 30% of sequences or specimens of Atractus available in GenBank are misidentified or doubtfully identified" (Passos et al. 2022). The problem is exacerbated by the fact that a lot of sequences are not even updated after they have submitted to Genbank, as we have shown previously. These cases emphasize the need for increased efforts to cross-reference and continuously update existing databases, including the Reptile Database. 

Books received 

Alfred Schleicher, 2020, Reptiles of Namibia; Kuiseb Publishers, 271 pp. — This is the long awaited English translation and update of Alfred Schleicher’s guide to Namibian reptiles which was published in German in 2015. It describes ~100 common reptiles of Namibia in detail, and another couple dozen with brief portraits (usually including a photo and a map). The remaining ones (which you are unlikely to see in the field) are just listed. Overall, the book has 480 color photos, most of which are of good or very good quality and large enough to show details. Note that Schleicher has actually lived in Namibia for decades and is thus a local expert. He also operates an ecotourism company and lodge, which may be one of the best places for herpers to go to in this country. 

Carranza, Salvador; Johannes Els; Bernat Burriel-Carranza 2021 A field guide to the reptiles of Oman. Madrid : Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 223 pp. — This beautiful field guide describes all 111 reptile species of Oman, typically on one page per species with photos and a map. Many species are described in substantial detail with drawings of scalation details. Keys to species and short descriptions of natural history complement the book. And the best part is: the pdf is actually free, published under a Creative commons license. 

Singh J, Dutta S.K., Singh H 2021 Herpetofauna of Punjab: The Field Guide. New Era Book Agency, Chandigarh, 82 pp. — Punjab is a realatively small state in North-East India but nevertheless features a rich herpetofauna of 10 amphibians and 45 reptiles, all of which are described in this field guide, usually with one page per species. Each species is shown in one or several photos. Unfortunately there are no distribution maps, but that may be excusable, given the size of the state. 

Wanted: taxonomic editors

As we are ramping up our efforts to collect species descriptions and (morphological) trait data, we need more taxon experts who are willing to help with this effort. Your job will be both the collection of data but also their analysis (if you are interested). All data will be posted in the Reptile Database for everybody to access. Let us know which families or (larger) genera you are interested in. 

Next release: scheduled for July/August 2022. 

 

 

 6 Nov 2021 -- New Release!

 

New species and name changes. Since our last release in late May, we have added 120 species records to the Reptile Database which stands now at 11,690 species and 2,198 subspecies (compared to 11,570 species and 2,200 subspecies in May, excluding nominate subspecies). 104 species have been newly described, 23 have been revalidated or elevated from subspecies, and 3 have been synonymized during the past 5 months or so. While 2020 has gained a record 254 newly described species, an all-time high, we are hot on its heels with 192 new species so far this year.

In addition to new and resurrected species, 59 species names have changed, including 24 species that were moved to other genera, most notably vipers of the genus Trimeresurus (now Craspedocephalus). We also gained 6 new skink genera this time, namely Alpinoscincus, Nubeoscincus, Ornithuroscincus, Palaia, Praeteropus, and Sepsiscus.

For a complete list of all 163 new species, species-level changes, and new subspecies, please download our updated checklist at http://www.reptile-database.org/data/ (Excel spreadsheet).

Literature database. This release contains 62,460 references (an increase of 965 references, compared to 61,495 last May). We are working on a new mechanism to import reptile-related references directly from CrossRef, which has the advantage of providing DOIs and thus stable URLs. Thanks to Olaf Voß for his programming help and and Francis Reyes for help with managing our literature database :) We are also working with the Biodiversity Heritage Library for better linking to their literature. We should have more details on this next time.

Photos. We are excited to announce that this release has reached 18,491 photos of 5,944 (out of 11,690) reptile species, that is, 51% of all species — thanks to your help! We have added 707 photos from 88 photographers over the past 5 months - about 5 photos every day. Specifically, these photos were donated by Abhijit Das (2 photos), Alex Acuna (6), Alex Rebelo (26), Alex Slavenko (3), Ali Puruleia (1), Ana Luiza Figueiredo (2), Andreas Nöllert (122), Ashaharraza Khan (1), Björn Lardner (1), Barbod Safaei (1), Benny Trapp (1), Boris Tuniyev (1), Bruna Santos (11), Chris Jolly (6), Cliff Hatt (3), Daniel Jablonski (1), David M. Mulwa (1), Dikansh Parmar (2), Ding Li (4), Drew Dittmer (6), Dylan van Winkel (1), Eduardo Boza Oviedo (6), Fernando Rojas-Runjaic (9), Georg Heindl (1), Gernot Vogel (13), Gilson A Rivas (3), Harsimran Singh (1), Hayden Davis (2), Hugo Cabral (2), Ilya Korshunov, Konstantin Shiryaev & Sabina Bunyatova (2), Ishan Agarwal (4), J.A. Scolaro (3), Jakob Hallermann (1), Jane C. F. de Oliveira (4), Javier Lobon-Rovira (4), Jean-François Trape (1), Jian Wang (8), Jichao Wang (1), Jignasu Dolia (2), Jing-Song Shi (1), Joe Tuck (1), John Cavagnaro (1), José Rancés Caicedo Portilla (6), Justin Lee (2), Khoi V. Nguyen (1), Klaus Kabisch (2), Konrad Mebert (2), Le Thi Thuy Duong (1), Luis Ceriaco (5), Lynn Raw (1), Marcello Malpezzi (2), Marcelo Ribeiro Duarte (1), Mauricio Tepos Ramírez (4), MD Ubalde-Mamani (3), Michael Franzen (1), Miguel Landestoy (2), Montri Sumontha (3), Óscar Flores Fillela (1), Pablo Valladares-Faundez (2), Patrick Malonza (10), Paul Freed (15), Pedro Vaz Pinto (1), Peter Janzen (2), Peter Schulze-Niehoff (6), Peter Uetz (21), Reza Babaei Savasari (20), Robert W. Hansen (1), Roman Zuev (4), S. Karunarathna (3), S.R. Chandramouli (1), Samuel Lalronunga (6), Sang Ngoc Nguyen (1), Saunak Pal (17), Scott Johnson (1), Shaobing Hou (11), Steve Spawls (22), Suchismita Sahoo (1), Tejas Thackeray (2), Tigran Tadevosyan (1), Tim Vickers (2), Trung M. Phung (1), Tyrone Ping (2), Uwe Schlüter (13), William W. Lamar (224), Wilson Monia (1), Wolfgang Wüster (1), Worawitoo Meesook (2), Yahaya Musah (2), and Yinpeng Zhang (2). As always, we are deeply grateful for your contribution. Thanks again!

A note on copyright. Occasionally we get inquiries about the copyright situation of photos that are donated to the database. We guarantee that you retain the copyright, which is why we actually add an explicit copyright notice to the photo (although you can do that yourself, of course). However, if you want us to post your photos without copyright or with an explicit Creative Commons license, please let us know. We certainly support open science and the free usage of media, but we also understand that you want to keep control over your intellectual property.
Note that the situation is slightly different for text. We do copy and paste text from scientific papers such as diagnoses, which are usually not protected by copyright, because they consist mostly of factual data without much creative content (in the sense that diagnoses are not made up “creatively"). In all these cases, however, we do add citations of the source publications and links to them, so there shouldn’t be any doubt who was the creator of this information.

Illustrations editor wanted. On top of our photo collection, we plan to add drawings and other illustrations to the database, especially older ones that are out of copyright. The Biodiversity Heritage Library and other sources have countless drawings that are extremely informative and often get forgotten. If you enjoy digging out such material, please let us know. Here is an example, showing Petrosaurus repens (from Van Denburgh 1895), so you know what we are talking about:

Diagnoses and descriptions. That said, if you don’t find a photo of a particular species in the Reptile Database, there is now a 56% chance that you can find a verbal description or diagnosis (up from 53% in May, or plus 470 descriptions). In fact, if you are looking for either a photo OR a description, there is a 80% chance that you find at least one of them (i.e. in ~9300 species), and that’s not even counting the photos linked in from iNaturalist or other sources.

Book received: Silva, Jr., Nelson Jorge da; Louis W. Porras, Steven D. Aird, and Ana Lúcia da Costa Prudente (editors), 2021, Advances in Coralsnake Biology: with an Emphasis on South America. Eagle Mountain Publishing, 775 + xxxiv pp. — In this monumental tome 60 authors summarize our knowledge of coralsnakes in 22 chapters and more than 800 pages total. The basis for the book was a symposium in 2016 and a book on coralsnakes published in Portuguese in the same year. However, this is not just an update of that earlier book but was mostly written from scratch with some chapters updated and translated into English. Five chapters focus on Systematics and Taxonomy, 6 chapters deal with Natural History and Ecology, 10 chapters are on venoms, snakebite, and their effects, and the last chapter is on photographing coralsnakes (by Danté B. Fenolio and William W. Lamar, the latter of which also contributed most of the photos to this database release, see above). The book focuses on the 60 species of coralsnakes in South America, but also discuss the 20 species in Central America. Notably, the 270 pages on taxonomy (!) contain numerous new details, such as an analysis of more than 1000 specimens of the Micrurus lemniscatus complex by Pires et al. (chapter 2) with several taxonomic changes that we haven’t even fully incorporated into the Reptile Database yet (still working on it though). In short, this volume will be a reference for coralsnake biologist for many years to come and is highly recommended for everybody interested in Latin American snakes.

25 years of Reptile Database (and other anniversaries). It’s hard to believe but the Reptile Database went online 25 years ago! Accidentally, AmphibiaWeb was founded 20 years ago, so both of us celebrated their anniversaries this year with a historical perspective in the June issue of Herpetological Review. Also, the Catalogue of Life celebrates its 20th anniversary this year (the Reptile Database provides the reptile data for the CoL which has reached 2 million species earlier this year).

Conservation, climate change and overpopulation. With the COP26 meeting concluding in a few days, we all should be concerned about the seemingly unabated destruction of nature and climate change. As the main causes, human overpopulation and overconsumption needs to slow down, especially with some of the most biodiverse areas having minimum protection and being threatened by climate change(fide Murali et al. 2021). We thus encourage you to join one of the numerous organizations fighting overpopulation and climate change, such as Population Balance or the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, and of course, to reduce your own environmental footprint.

Social Media. We are still working on resurrecting our Twitter account after we lost access to the previous handle, @ReptileDatabase, but we are in the process of re-instating that. You can still take a look at our Facebook page though and leave a note there if you have comments or questions.

Next release: scheduled for late January or February 2022.

 

May 2021 release notes

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.

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 MochlusRiopa, and Subdoluseps (see also below). We also gained 5 new genera this time, including Incaspis (see below), LevitoniusKataphraktosaurus, 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 taxonomySchools & 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 species with complete genome sequences. As a first, Gunther Köhler and colleagues described a new genus and species, Myanophis thanlyinensis, but with a twist: their description is the first that also provides a draft nuclear genome and a complete mitochondrial genome sequence. We believe this is the way of the future and that new species routinely should be sequenced, both for phylogenetic but also for many other purposes. With rapidly decreasing sequencing costs we will certainly see more such cases soon.

New phylogenies. After the recently published phylogenies of pythons and monitorsThomson 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.

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 mariormoura@gmail.com 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 sascha.steinhoff@gmail.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.

 

 

17 December 2020 -- New Release!

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!


17 August 2020 -- New Release!

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 photos@reptile-database.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.

Books received
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.

2 May 2020 -- New Release!

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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