3 herpetologists at the Academy pose with specimens in the collections

The Academy's collection of amphibians and reptiles is one of the 10 largest in the world, containing more than 315,000 cataloged specimens from 175 countries.

Important holdings include those from the western United States and Mexico, Southwest and Southeast Asia, Oceania, and northern, southern, and eastern Africa.

Database Overview & Instructions

This site provides access to specimen-associated data housed in the Department of Herpetology, California Academy of Sciences. These data are also distributed through other portals including HerpNet, VertNet, and GBIF.

The herpetology collection catalog currently contains records for approximately 315,000 specimens. The collection is comprised of the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) collection (~262,000 specimens) and the Stanford University collection (CAS-SU) (53,288 specimens). The SU specimens are still tagged with their original SU numbers. Amphibians and reptiles were cataloged together in the CAS collection and separately in the SU collection. Therefore, the collection contains triplicate numbers for the first 24,299 catalog numbers and duplicate numbers for catalog numbers between 24,300 and 28,999. To search for a particular specimen use the catalog number in combination with the correct acronym.


Terms of Use

These databases and all images within them are owned and copyrighted by the California Academy of Sciences or licensed to it. The data and images may be used freely by individuals and organizations for purposes of basic research, education and conservation. These data and images may not be used for commercial or for-profit purposes without the express written consent of the California Academy of Sciences, and may not be repackaged, resold, or redistributed in any form.

Use of the data or images in publications, dissertations and theses, or other scientific reports, should be accompanied by an acknowledgement of the Department of Herpetology, California Academy of Sciences, as the source for the information. Please provide the Department with electronic versions of articles resulting from the use of these data or images. This helps us to document the use of specimens as “vouchers” in the literature. It also helps us to justify continued funding for the collections so that these resources remain available into the future. In our collections database, you will note that we now include information on citations to individual specimens including publications and GenBank records.

Click to view the Department of Herpetology’s collection loan policy

Most specimens from the Department of Herpetology are available for loan to reputable individuals from other recognized research institutions, museums, government agencies, and universities. We do not loan research specimens as teaching material, and loans are not made to the general public. Loans are made with the understanding that all specimens will be used for scientific purposes, and that the receiving institution has all the necessary and current permits to possess these specimens in accordance with state and federal laws. General inquiries about specimens in the collection can be made directly to the collection manager.

Loans of all herpetological specimens or tissues require a formal request. This request should be on institutional letterhead and specifically identify the specimens or tissues requested. The letter should include sufficient information about the research project and the intended use of the specimens so that an evaluation of the request can be made by the curatorial staff in the department. Loan requests should be signed by the researcher requesting the specimens, who assumes responsibility for the use, storage, and safe return of borrowed material. Loans for graduate students must be made to, and co-signed by, their primary graduate advisor who assumes full responsibility for the loan. Visiting or adjunct professors must have their loan cosigned by a permanent staff member. An email attachment (.jpg, .pdf) of the signed letterhead request may be sent to expedite the request.

Approval of the request will be based on the following criteria:

  • Scientific merit and feasibility of the project

  • Rarity of the species and representation in our collections

  • Condition of the specimen(s)

  • Qualifications of the investigators

  • Status of outstanding loans, and

  • Previous loan history

Usually, no more than one-half of our total specimens for a species will be lent at a time. The remaining specimens may be requested but will not be sent until the first loan has been returned. Our standard loan period is six months for non-type material and one month for type specimens. Extensions of loans should be requested in a letter or an e-mail message before the loan’s due date. Uncatalogued material, unprocessed specimens, and specimens under study by staff or other researchers normally are not available as a loan.

Loans may not be transferred from the borrower to another individual without prior written permission from the department. Similarly, specimens may not be transported to a different address without previous approval.

Endangered or threatened species of amphibians and reptiles covered under the most recent CITES list can be sent only to other institutions that possess a current CITES Certificate for Scientific Exchange. If the borrowing institution is not covered by such permits, other arrangements will need to be made. Check with the collections manager in such cases.

Because of increasingly complex laws regarding trans-border shipment of specimens and specimen parts, and the reality that seizure of specimens by a government agency through misinterpretation of laws does happen, loans via mail to countries outside the U.S. are made on a case by case basis. If an international loan is declined, we fully welcome international researchers to visit the collections and examine our material in person.

Specimens may not be altered in any way (including dissections for sex determination) without explicit written permission from the department. Any products resulting from an approved alteration (e.g., stomach contents, skeletal preparations, cleared and stained preparations, hemipenial preparations, SEM stubs, histological slides, etc.) are regarded as part of the specimen and must be returned to CAS with appropriate labels or documentation, including the date of the alteration and the CAS catalog number.

Once specimens are received by the accepting institution, all care should be taken to house the specimens in the appropriate preservative, out of direct sunlight, and not accessible by personnel other than the researcher. Sent with the specimens will be a loan form listing all of the specimens that were shipped. Please confirm that all specimens arrived safely, and sign and return the appropriate loan form acknowledging the receipt of specimens.

We request that investigators using CAS specimens, tissues, and associated data bring to our attention any questionable localities, misidentifications, or other presumed errors so that we can amend our collection records. Any publications or documents using samples derived from Academy specimens must cite the CAS catalog number for the specimen. If data obtained from our research specimens is used in a published report, thesis, or scientific article, please acknowledge the Department of Herpetology, California Academy of Sciences. Additionally, we request a reprint or .pdf of any such publication when it becomes available.

State of California regulations require us to notify users that some specimens may contain chemicals deemed harmful by title 8 section 5214 of the California Code of Regulations. Alcohol-preserved specimens may have been fixed in formalin, and residual amounts may remain in the specimen, and most egg/larval specimens are stored in formalin. Some skeletal specimens preserved before 1950 may contain minute amounts of inorganic arsenic trioxide. These substances have been identified as potential cancer-causing agents. In many cases research specimens are not marked as to which have or lack such substances, so care must be exercised when handling all specimens.

All borrowers must agree to abide by this loan policy. All borrowers must agree to abide by this loan policy. Failure to comply with our loan policy may result in loss of loan privileges.

Loan Returns

When loaned specimens are returned, care must be taken to pack and ship them in a manner which maintains the maximum level of safety and protection. Wet specimens should be wrapped in ethanol-moistened cheesecloth and triple bagged in heat sealed sleeves with absorbent material. A list of specimens to be returned should be sent separately via email to alert the department that specimens are in transit.

Please contact the collection manager regarding the return of unused tissue samples.

Loan returns should be sent to the following address:

Lauren Scheinberg
Department of Herpetology
California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118

Collections Contact

Lauren Scheinberg
California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Drive
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA 94118
415.379.5292 (lab)
415.379.5823 (direct)