Interview with Peter Uetz about the Reptile Database
Last week’s Gecko Time article featured a number of links to the Reptile Database and made us very curious to find out more about it. Peter Uetz of the Reptile Database has been good enough to answer some of our questions and enlighten us further:
How did the Reptile Database get started and from where is it published?
I started the Reptile Database in 1995 when I was a graduate student in molecular embryology. Ironically, I wanted to start a database on gene expression patterns in embryos but my supervisor did not like the idea very much, so I decided to do something independent of him. You can find a more detailed history of the Reptile Database in Herpetological Review 47(2), 330–334 (2016).
What does the Reptile Database include?
A list of all extant reptile species together with their synonyms, common names, rough distribution, type specimens, photos, etymology, bibliography, and some biological information such as reproductive mode (viviparous, oviparous, parthenogenesis, etc.)
How do you gather your information?
Initially I used a pile of books and papers to compile a species list. Then I used checklists and books to add distribution data. Over the 20 years of its history I sifted through more than 10,000 original species descriptions to add all kinds of taxonomic details. Currently we have more than 40,000 references in our bibliographic database of which I have about 17,000 as pdfs or scans and another 3,000 or so as paper copies (including books). Not surprisingly, I do spend a lot of time in libraries and online 🙂
In your opinion, what is the value of having a Reptile Database?
It’s the only comprehensive catalog of reptile diversity I know of. It not only gives you information about what is there but also what it looks like and how things are related to each other (via the links to the phylogenetics literature, for instance). Importantly, we also contribute to several global projects such as the Catalogue of Life which integrates about 150 species databases (such as the Reptile Database) into a global catalogue of all life on earth.
If someone is interested in a class of reptiles, such as geckos, for example, how would they go about accessing information about geckos without needing to type in the name of each species?
You can use the Quick search on our home page to search for “gecko” or the Advanced Search and search for either higher taxon = “geckos” or “Gekkota” or one of the constituent families (Gekkonidae, Eublepharidae etc.). You can use the Advanced Search also for more sophisticated searches such as the geckos of Mexico. We also offer a species checklist (Excel spreadsheet) of all reptiles for download from which you can extract the geckos or whatever group you want to have a species list of.
What does a volunteer working on the Reptile Database do?
There is lots of stuff to do. We need more volunteers to curate papers, i.e. transferring published information into our accessible and searchable database. We also would like to add more biological data, e.g. about reproduction, behavior, ecology (food, predators etc.). Also, we need more photos and characters extracted from those photos. One goal would be to have a table of characters which would allow a user to identify a species from a photo, e.g. by searching for the location, its size, color, pattern, etc. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Peter Uetz (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more details.
What materials are available to those who volunteer to work on the Reptile Database?
We can provide the literature and other data. Unfortunately we cannot pay people at this point as we are a free resource and don’t have any outside funding.
Is there anything else about the Reptile Database you would like to tell us?
There are a million things we like to do (see list above) — it’s literally a bottom-less pit. If your readers have any suggestions, they are welcome too, but it would be even better if some of them would be willing to volunteer. This would help the global community of reptile enthusiasts too!
Aliza is a home care speech therapist living in the Boston area. She has been breeding leopard geckos since 2005 and has also been successful in breeding Coleonyx, African Fat Tail and Gargoyle geckos. Other interests which she pursues in her copious free time include work in ceramics, practicing tai chi and surfing the internet.