Tony Parker, Curator of Vertebrate Zoology, reveals the weird and wonderful collection of reptiles and amphibians… in jars!
“One of the things I find compelling about our collection of reptiles and amphibians is that they are stored in glass jars with strange-looking fluids, as if they are museum specimens straight out of the Victorian era. In fact, most of the specimens are actually from a much later period, including significant additions to the collection in the 1950s and 60s.
Herptile is the scientific word for reptiles and amphibians. Although reptiles and amphibians aren’t very closely related, they do share some similar characteristics, including how they regulate body temperature. They are “cold-blooded” or more accurately, ectothermic. This doesn’t mean their blood is actually cold, just that it they use the outside environment to warm up or to cool themselves. That’s why you can see them basking in the sun!
The reptiles and amphibians in our collection come from all over the world. Of particular importance is a large group of East African snakes acquired from John Mills and Captain Pitman between 1957 and 1962.
In 1963 an important collection of British reptiles was contributed by Ian Prest. British reptile species have declined in number in recent years and it is unlikely now that such a large number of specimens could be collected from the same site in such a short time. This makes the collection a useful research resource, especially with all the data which goes alongside the specimens. It could enable researchers to compare populations at locations to see if numbers have increased or decreased, or to carry out tissue analysis to see how populations have adapted to changes in environment. It could also allow us to explore the effects of climate change with regard to breeding and hibernation.”
These British reptiles can be found online, along with other specimens in our herptile collection, along with all the useful extra data that goes alongside it.
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