This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Frequently Asked Questions


Atlas Project

New Records


What is a "herp"? An amphibian? A reptile?

A "herp" is a non-technical term that refers to both amphibians and reptiles. Despite superficial similarities, amphibians and reptiles are very different from one another and are really no more related to one another than a mammal is to a bird. However, they have been historically studied as a group and that tradition continues here.

What is herpetology? An herpetologist?

Herpetology is the scientific study of amphibians and reptiles. An herpetologist is a scientist that studies amphibians and reptiles.

What is taxonomy?

Taxonomy is the science of naming and classifying living organisms. Biologists today use a hierarchical classification system that was invented by Carolus Linnaeus.

What is a taxon?

A taxon (plural taxa) is a name that refers to a species or higher taxonomic group.

What is nomenclature?

Nomenclature is a term that refers to the name given to an organism. Binomial nomenclature refers to the standard practice of assigning a genus and a specific epithet to every living organism as a scientific or species name. Such two-part names are often referred to as the Latin name, scientific name, or simply the binomial. The scientific name is always underlined (if written) or italicized (in print) to distinguish it from other names. The first letter of the genus is always capitalized and the first letter of the specific epithet is always lowercase, even if it references a proper noun (e.g., Pseudacris illinoensis). While scientific names are fairly stable, changes to them are not uncommon and can cause some confusion as historical material does not always conform to currently recognized names.

What is a synonym?

A synonym is a term that governs the historical usage of scientific names. The usage of synonyms is meant to reduce confusion as scientific names change over time. For example, the Plains Leopard Frog , Lithobates blairi, was known as Rana blairi in Tom Johnson's The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri. Many years before that, it was considered the same species as the Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens), which is also found in Missouri. Thus, Rana blairi and Rana pipiens are both synonyms of Lithobates blairi.

Atlas Project

Why do you require a specimen or photograph to document a new record?

With a few notable and (we believe) necessary exceptions, all data points for the atlas are representatives of fluid-preserved or photographic specimens. (The exceptions are published historical localities.) This allows all specimens and images to be available for future researchers to reference and verify. Furthermore, this methodology relieves us of the unpleasant task of determining who is experienced and knowledgeable enough to properly identify species in the field. This requirement is non-negotiable, even for our own personal sight records.

Why do you include some published locality records?

Many specimens collected during early herpetological explorations have been lost, most notably those from Julius Hurter and Paul Anderson. Two main reasons compel us to include these in the atlas. First, some species (e.g., the smooth green snake, Liochlorophis vernalis) were apparently rare, dependent on high-quality habitats, and quickly eliminated from the state (or drastically reduced) during early modern times. Second, some areas have been so drastically changed in modern times (e.g., Jackson and Saint Louis Counties) that many members of their original herpetofauna are probably gone permanently. While contemporary distributions are important for conservation reasons, published records are critically important to understand historical distributions even if we cannot verify their authenticity with absolute certainty.

Why do you include locality dots for populations that are most likely extirpated?

The atlas is intended to serve as a historical reference as well as a set of modern range maps. Many natural history atlas projects define a "modern period" cutoff for species so contemporary distributions can be better discerned and understood. Individual species pages show maps and data with collection years.

Why don't you have subspecies indicated in the atlas?

There are two reasons that subspecies are not included in the atlas. First, many alleged subspecies in Missouri are problematic at best (arguably, even the very concept of a subspecies is dubious). Second, most of the collection and published records we used did not specify subspecies. Rather than guess at boundaries and distributions, we eliminated subspecies altogether. There is certainly morphological variation present in many Missouri amphibians and reptiles but we prefer to discuss that variation in general terms.

What year did you add records from published sources? A specific museum or collection?

A detailed timeline that includes the year each dataset or collection was added to the database is available on the project page.

Some records appear to be right in downtown Saint Louis or Kansas City. How is that possible?

Many historical records lack specific localities, presumably because early collectors or museums did not record them. Also, localities were not considered as important as they are today and some localities might have been the origin of specimens collected (e.g., a package that arrives from Saint Louis) or even the town where the collecter lived, regardless of the actual collection site. Most of these we tried to accommodate if they were at all reasonable. Many records were labelled with a locality of simply "Saint Louis" or "Kansas City" and they got plotted accordingly. It's difficult to justify removing a record, even as we realize that some are probably erroneous. Which ones are the result of poor (by our standards) record-keeping? It's impossible to tell from just the sparse collection data. If we thought a record was completely unreasonable for an area, we simply omitted the record from the atlas. On the other hand, large urban areas were very well collected due to their proximity to a greater number of collectors than rural areas. It's not unreasonable to believe that the Saint Louis or Kansas City areas have valid records for a large number of species, some of which might no longer be found easily or at all. It should be mentioned that some collections were more likely actually made in the vicinity of a large urban area rather than downtown. However, we would have no way of really guessing from which direction we should plot a locality so we deemed it preferable to just pick the central location. On the other hand, older collections made in the immediate vicinity of urban areas might actually be valid since much of the urbanization and resulting habitat destruction occurred well within the time frame of historical collections.

How did you determine the coordinates for localities?

A combination of techniques were used to plot localities. If a locality was a known geological, geographical, or cultural feature in the GNIS database (or a reference thereof), those coordinates were used to estimate a location. For example, "Saint Louis" was plotted as the actual GNIS location for Saint Louis even though this could mean "Saint Louis, vicinity", "Forest Park", or even "Saint Louis County". If a distance reference was made, that was taken into consideration. For example, "Kansas City, 10 mi E" was literally plotted as 10 air miles east of downtown Kansas City. Much of this was done programmatically since an estimate of location was sufficient for our purposes. The GNIS database is very comprehensive but many localities could not be determined. In those cases, we consulted old maps, searched for on-line references, and even found a few places by travelling through an area. As a general rule, a specified county took priority over a locality. Thus, if a record had a locality of "Jackson Co, Kansas City, 20 mi E" and the literal point 20 miles east of Kansas City put the locality in Lafayette Co MO, the locality was backed off to be included in Jackson Co MO instead. It's possible that the county was added later to match the location (in this case, Jackson Co MO was assumed because Kansas City was in the description), but there is no certain way to determine that. Again, we took the data at face value. The county determination was deemed important because of the historical importance of county records in Missouri herpetology.

Why don't you make records available to the public?

The purpose of the atlas project is to provide distribution maps for Missouri amphibians and reptiles. Although we believe most people would not abuse any additional information provided, it is not necessary to achieve our goals and we find it better to err on the side of caution. Those with legitimate research interests are requested to contact Richard Daniel with specific data requirements.

Aren't you concerned that someone will use the maps to determine specific localities for some species?

No. Most localities are not plotted precisely enough to reveal actual collecting localities. The goal for the atlas project is to plot only as accurately as required for statewide maps at four or six maps per printed page. Currently, each dot covers approximately 20 square miles. Furthermore, each locality has been moved from one to three miles in a randomized compass direction from the actual plotted locality. At the scale of the printed atlas, the location of the randomized localities are indistinguishable from the actual localities. The randomization factor only becomes apparent as one zooms in on a specific part of the state map. The end result is that each "locality" covers about 60 square miles. One downside of using this method is that some localities appear to be in a county other than the one in which they were actually collected. Readers are advised to consult the county record maps as the final authority on all county records.

Why don't the names you use match what is listed in Tom Johnson's The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri?

As our understanding of organisms change, we update their taxonomy and nomenclature to reflect that. Unfortunately, this results in name discrepancies among historical literature sources. Synonyms help alleviate the confusion. Synonyms since Johnson can be seen on the species synonym page.

Why does the MHA newsletter and Tom Johnson's The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri contain county records that you do not recognize?

In the initial phase of the project, we considered Tom Johnson's The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri an authority on herpetological county records. However, Johnson's distribution maps are now more than a decade out of date. Furthermore, a number of county records reported by Johnson have not been subsequently verified with museum voucher specimens and are not recognized as valid for the purposes of this project. Thus, all county records mapped as "open circle" county records in versions of the Atlas prior to 2012 are not considered valid and will therefore not be included on the county records maps. This includes several county records reported in the MHA newsletters as "KU cat. pending". It is not known why these specimens are not catalogued KU specimens.

Why do you have more species than Tom Johnson's The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri?

Species from adjoining states are sometimes discovered or rediscovered in Missouri. Additionally, new cryptic species are sometimes described from a complex that was once considered a single, widely-ranging species. A list of species new to Missouri since the publication of Tom Johnson's The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri can be seen on the species history page.

New Records

How do I report a new distribution record?

New distribution records for the atlas project require a photo that plainly shows the diagnostic features of the species. Required with each photograph is county, exact locality (geographic coordinates, if available, are preferred and are acceptable in pretty much any format), date, and collector. Optional are comments about habitat, other species, size, time, or just about anything else. Photo records can be submitted online. Right now, photos submitted via Facebook, HerpMapper, or other online databases are not considered official records for this project and will not be used.

Do I have to surrender my copyright on photos I submit?

Yes. The university cannot accept a photograph (or anything, really) without the copyright owner surrendering all rights to it. However, you can watermark the photos or submit an inferior photo from a series. Our only purpose in collecting them is to verify species' identity and to have a "specimen" in the collection to represent a data point for the atlas. Thus, watermarked and low-quality photos are not a problem as long as distinguishing characteristics for the species are plainly visible.

What happens to photos submitted as records?

All photos are deposited as image specimens in the herpetology museum collection at the University of Missouri--Columbia. Photos are not used for any other purpose.

What distinguishing characteristics are important to include in a photograph?

Until we can include guidelines for what is most important to include for each species, please consult a field guide or key such as Johnson's The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri or ask us. Generally, snake and turtle species require both a dorsal and ventral view to properly identify them.

Can road-killed specimens be reported?

Yes, as long as distinguishing features can still be discerned in a photograph. It is important to include the fact that a specimen was found dead on the road (DOR) in the comments section of your report.

Are photo specimens a replacement for fluid-preserved specimens?

No. However, we believe photo specimens are a good compromise for two reasons. First, a scientific collecting permit is required to collect animals for museum preservation. Many biologists, educators, conservation workers, and enthusiasts who wouldn't normally apply for or receive a permit can still contribute photo specimens. Second, fluid-preserved specimens simply aren't needed to verify and document a locality occurrence. Some species or populations considered rare or endangered cannot sustain permanent specimen removal. Even common species are not worth sacrificing solely for the purpose of putting another dot on a map.