Reptiles and amphibians

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

The South Australian Museum's herpetology collection consists of 75,000 registered specimens, and mainly comprises whole animals preserved in alcohol, along with skeletal collections, including entire skeletons, skulls and CT-scanned skeletal images.  Most of the specimens are of South Australian origin, although the rest of Australia and Melanesia (including Papua New Guinea) are also well represented.

Importance & history 

The collection emphasises the reptiles and frogs of South Australia and central Australia. It also holds specimens representing the herpetofauna of all of Australia as well as refernce material from outside Australia. It provides an irreplaceable resource for studies of the diversity, anatomy and evolution of these animals.

The collection includes more than 1,600 type specimens — the essential reference specimen examples on which the descriptions of new reptile or amphibian species are 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)

In addition, the type collection is one of the most important repositories for type specimens of frogs from Papua New Guinea.

Registration of reptile and amphibian specimens in the Herpetology Collection began in 1911. The collections include some old  samples from the early days of the Museum but the Herpetology Collection was a small one until the last third of the 20th Century when research into reptile and amphibian diversity greatly intensified. 

Since 1980, almost all specimens added to the collection have also supplied a tissue sample for generic studies.  These samples are held by the Australian Biological Tissue Collection of the South Australian Museum.

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.

Inland Bearded Dragon skulls, adult and hatchling. Photo: Paul Stokes  Inland Bearded Dragon, Pogona vitticeps, adult and juvenile skulls

Reptile and frog skeletons

The study of reptile skeletons (osteology) lags behind that of mammals and birds.

This is, in part, because comaparative collections of reptile skeletons are small in most museums, and preparation of dried skeletal material can be slow and delicate work, due to the small size of most species.

Coming up next


Up next:

Spiders, scorpions & ticks