Reptiles & Amphibians

Thorny Devil. Image: Mark Hutchinson.

Thorny Devil, Moloch horridus.

Herpetology, a term derived from the Greek word for ‘creeping animals’, is the scientific study of reptiles and amphibians.

The South Australian Museum Herpetology Collection consists of 75,000 registered specimens, and includes whole animals preserved in alcohol, dry skins, entire skeletons, skulls and frozen tissue samples.  Most of the specimens are of South Australian origin, although the rest of Australia and Melanesia (including Papua New Guinea) are also well represented.


Clawless Gecko

Micro-CT scan of the skeleton of a clawless gecko, Crenadactylus horni.

Importance & History 

The collection includes more than 1,600 type specimens — this means they are the essential reference specimen examples on which the descriptions of new reptile or amphibian species were based. Such specimens have enormous historical and scientific value. 

Nine of the type specimens are reptiles endemic to South Australia: 

  • The red barred dragon (Ctenophorus vadnappa)
  • The Lake Eyre or salt lake ground dragon (Ctenophorus maculosus)
  • The Gibber dragon (Ctenophorus gibba)
  • The Ochre dragon (Ctenophorus tjantjalka)
  • The Pernatty knob-tailed gecko (Nephrurus deleani)
  • The Flinders worm-lizard (Aprasia pseudopulchella)
  • The Woomera slider (Lerista elongata)
  • The Musgrave slider (Lerista speciosa)
  • The Pygmy copperhead (Austrelaps labialis) 

Registration of reptile and amphibian specimens in the Herpetology Collection began in 1911. Some older, unregistered samples from the early days of the Museum are also present, although they lack accompanying data regarding site of collection and other necessary details.

To find out more about our collections the data can be accessed via the Online Zoological Collections in Australian Museums (OZCAM). OZCAM is the key repository for fauna collections from Australian collections institutions. The same data can also be found at the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) site, where a wide range of biological data from museums, herbaria and even microbiology collections are available online


Current Contributions

Specimens are still regularly added to the Herpetology Collection. Whole animals and frozen tissues regularly come in from biological surveys of South Australia. These are conducted in association with the requirement for environmental impact statements and other activities. Other specimens are donated by scientific researchers, members of the general public, or special interest groups.


Staff in Herpetology