Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Researching Herp Information

©1997 Melissa Kaplan


Despite all of the information I have linked to my page, some people are looking for species not covered there. Others do not appear to realize just how to use the information and resources that are there. There is an increasing amount of information and it can be overwhelming, especially if you are relatively new to the Internet. So, here's a little information on how to go about finding what you need.

Offline Resources
Commercial Online Services
What's in a name?
Finding Names/Species ID
Surf the 'Net
The Art of Getting Help


Explore the Hyperlinks
I do not include lots of links to other sites at my webpages as there are literally thousands of them out there. I just include them where I think they are most relevant, such as links to some other good turtle and tortoise sites in my chelonian page, or links to a site on boas and pythons at my snake page, and to a tegu site in my lizard page. Because my iguana care information is so extensive, there is a separate iguana section with links to all of the iguana-related articles.

In the Resources section of my Herp site, you will find links to some master linking sites. These sites contain hundreds of links to other sites, and many of those sites contain links to still more sites. Use them to look for the species or information you are looking for, being prepared to spend some time doing so. (See What's In A Name before going too far on your search...)

Explore the Commercial Online Services
If you belong to CompuServe, AOL, Earthlink, Prodigy, or Delphi, there may well be a folder in the message board area that pertains to the species you are researching. If the forum isn't set up with topic folders, just post your inquiry in the appropriate folder. If you aren't sure which one is appropriate, contact the forum, folder, or message board host and ask.

Be smart when posting.
Don't say "Tell me about alligator lizards." The response you will get will likely be "Well, what do you want to know about them?" Instead, be specific about what you are looking for. If you are interested in captive care because you just caught one, say so. If you are trying to find out how to recognize the different species, say so (but before you do, see the section on Offline Resources below!). Do not expect to be given a dissertation with everything possible to know about the subject matter. The people who respond may be giving you the basics of selection, care, etc., but many species are so complicated that you must still seek additional information from other sources. When these folks refer you to a website or an online library, go there - you are likely to find much of the information you need and/or links to other sites for the information.

Do not expect people to keep posting the same lengthy documents over and over again.
The articles very likely have been loaded into libraries or websites because they are so often requested. My website, for example, has grown out of my answering the same questions over and over again to the point where I started saving my responses and just pasted them into my letters or posts when someone asked the question. With my website, I can also link related articles to each other, giving someone access to even more information than I could possibly post in a message board or give by email.

Don't get upset if no one answers your question.
Review the way you posed your question or request, and modify it if necessary. If you still don't get an answer, don't get all mad and post a note about how mean everyone is. It may be that no one who read your post knew the answer. It may be that no one knows the answer, or the person or people who do haven't signed on for a while and so haven't read your post, or missed it when they did sign on. Does this mean you should repost every day? No! Pursue other avenues of research, and check back in to the message board occasionally to see what's going on, maybe reposting again in a month or so when you see some new names posting in there.

Double check, if at all possible, the information you get on commercial services and websites.
While there are many very knowledgeable and experienced people who take the time to post good, accurate answers to questions, there are also many people who only think they are very knowledgeable and experienced. So, before you post, take some time and spend a week or so reading older posts (where you may find the answer to your question!) and read the current ones, identifying individuals who appear to know what they are talking about, and those who don't.

When you join an email list, read and the Welcome letter you receive!
Not only will it tell you how to unsubscribe when the time comes, they generally have information such as web addresses or FAQs where you may find the answers to the questions you were about to post. Most mailing lists also have archives of past daily digests available to members online. Search these archives before posting. There is nothing like annoying 800+ people around the world when you post a question that was already answered in the materials you received or were referred to. People notice when people can't follow simple directions.

Hi! I'm An Expert!
When it comes to forums, message boards, newsgroups and email lists, I personally suspect anyone who posts "If you have any questions about herps, email me at email@name.given" or "I know everything about reptiles! Just ask!" Too often they turn out to be people who don't know very much and so don't those who do to comment on their misinformation if they post it publicly. All too often, these well-meaning individuals turn out to be kids (or adults) whose entire experience has been a single animal they have kept alive for a month or two, or they base all their answers on information found in one or two grossly inaccurate or out-of-date books.

For more information on assessing and validating information in general, please see

Explore the 'Net

There are two newsgroups (also called "usegroups") that relate to herps on the net. One,, handles the scientific aspects of herps, and does not welcome questions relating to captive care, healthy, breeding, or the pet trade (other than as conservation issues). The other is rec.pets.herp and, as you can tell by its "rec.pets." designation, it welcomes the questions and discussions that will get you nowhere on

If you are accessing newsgroups through a commercial service provider, there is likely a feature whereby you can click on a button or link and get a screen in which you just need to input the newsgroup name. Spelling and punctuation count: if you type in instead of rec.pets.herp, you will not get the newsgroup. (On AOL, bring up the Keyword screen, and type in the word "newsgroups" without the quote marks. Hit OK or your Enter button, and you will be taken to the Internet Newsgroups area. Click on the Expert Add button, type in the newsgroup name, follow the instructions to process your request and you are off and running. You can have all new posts in the newsgroup retrieved when you run Flashmail; follow the directions in your Flashmail Session screen to have it do so.).

If you are accessing newsgroups through a regular Internet Service Provider (ISP), the service probably offers only a text-based newsreader such as Lynx. This is certainly serviceable, and with some poking around and experimenting, and reading the extremely poorly written and unhelpful online help provided, you will be able to figure out how to subscribe to the newsgroup you want, and read and post messages to it. Or, you can make it a little easier and download a shareware program such as FreeAgent, or use a web browser program, such as Netscape, Internet Explorer, or Mozilla Thunderbird, which have newsgroup access that is more graphically interfaced than the text-based Lynx. More downloadable shareware and freeware can be found at C|Net Central's website. If you use Windows, your machine may already be installed with Outlook and/or Outlook Express. Both can be used to access newsgroups and are a bit more graphically oriented by Lynx.

Looking for other newsgroups but don't want to scroll through a listing of thousands of names? Check out Virtual Interactive Centers and Google Groups (formerly Deja News) usenet group listings to find, access, read and post without using a newsgroup reader program.

 Search Engines
Also known as web crawlers, or spiders, these are websites through which you can initiate a search of websites to find specific information. The only problem is that you are likely to get more returns to your search statement than actually apply to what you input. As there is no one completely effective search engine, you should plan on using at least two or three of them to do your search.

I use Google for most of my searches. When I am in a site I found through Google, I can do a site search even if the site doesn't have its own search engine, simply by typing into the search window keyword. If I want to search a couple of keywords, I just enter keyword +keyword. For example, research +herps

I prefer to use the Advanced Search options on the search engines when I do searches. That lets me narrow down the search more specifically. For example, if I wanted to search for Komodo dragons, and just typed in komodo dragons, I would get returns for any document (registered with or otherwise found by the search engine used) containing the words "komodo" and "dragon". Just cast your mind to all the other reptiles with the word "dragon" as part of their name, and then think of all the possible uses and contexts in literature, art, mythology, and gaming that the word "dragon" may be used, and then, for good measure, throw in all the possible appearances of the word "Komodo" in the science and travel area, and you may well get thousands of returns having absolutely nothing to do with this most interesting of monitor lizards. As search engine programming becomes more refined, it will sort some of this stuff out, but you should be prepared to do some weeding out and get familiar with the advanced search features these metasites offer. One excellent way to narrow your search parameters is to use the scientific, rather than common name. For example, the word "chameleon" is used to refer to dozens of species of "true" chameleons, several species of anole lizards, and used to describe any animal's ability to change color and. A quick glance at the first several entries brought up in Yahoo reveals Chameleon Transport, Chameleon Casting, Chameleon Design and Chameleon Twist - none of which have anything to do with Chameleo the lizard. See What's In A Name for more information.

Web surfing isn't the fastest of all methods, but it will get you more information in most cases than you could hope to find in your local library. So, be patient, think creatively, sip a beverage, listen to the news or a nice CD, and give your mouse finger and eyes a workout.

 For generally faster and more comprehensive searches, look into the various good metasearch engines. A couple of free ones include Dogpile and the basic Copernic. There are more sophisticated ones that you can buy, such as Copernic. What makes all of these useful is that they several different search engines at the same time. Scirus is good for a more focused science search, and Onelook's metadictionary is great when looking for definitions and information.

For more information on searching herp info, see the Resources page.

Email Discussion Groups
Despite there now being well over 30,000 newsgroups out there, some just aren't specific enough for some folks. Thus, during the last couple of years, there has been the proliferation of private email discussion groups, or lists. These may be moderated (someone actually screens every post to the list, deciding whether it is suitable for release to the entire list or not) or unmoderated (be prepared to have whatever you post read by hundreds of people around the world).

Anyone can join the lists; very few have any sort of membership requirements or agreements to be signed. There is no cost associated with joining or subscribing to a discussion list other than what you are already paying for your online service and any connect time charges. Lists that generate high volumes of mail every day are usually offered only in digest form - all the posts are collected and emailed to you as a single file, with each digest numbered so you can keep track of them. Particularly heavy lists may actually mail out two digests a day. Many list owners (the dear, dedicated person who founded the list and maintains it), or a willing list member with lots of webspace, store archives of the digests at a website somewhere so if you really have nothing else to do, you can download back issues, so to speak, and read all the old posts.

I maintain a list of many (but not all) herp-related email discussion lists linked to my Herp Care and Iguana Care pages. Before subscribing, please read the introductory paragraphs in my document. After you subscribe, be sure to read and save the welcoming letter and instructions you receive from the list owner. After you subscribe, be sure to read and save the welcoming letter and instructions you receive from the list owner. After you subscribe, be sure to read and save the welcoming letter and instructions you receive from the list owner. After you subscribe, be sure to read and save the welcoming letter and instructions you receive from the list owner. No, my computer did not just hiccup. Nothing annoys a large, international group of people and overworked moderators more than someone who doesn't bother to RTFM. It's better for everyone if you don't make the moderators grumpy. Trust me. I know. I'm a moderator.

If you are interested in finding out about other email discussion lists, you can search for listings on the various search engines. Here are some list-finder resources:

Public Libraries
Some public libraries are better than others. Usually, it has more to do with the ability (or willingness) of the community to fund it than anything else. One little known fact about public libraries these days is that an increasing number of them are getting computerized. Instead of forcing your fingers into dusty card files, you can sit down at a computer hooked into the library's mainframe and do your subject, title, and author searches in there.

I have found that people who do know that their libraries are "computerized" don't realize that many of them can be dialed into from home using your modem communications program. So you can look books up, in some cases even arrange for books and videos currently checked out to be held for you or sent to your closest branch.

Further, what folks don't realize is that many of these library systems are linked into the local junior college and university library systems! So, from home or at the public library branch, you can do your subject searches in the college/university library systems. If there happens to be one of those colleges or universities near you, you can go into their library and read the journals or books in there (some may have limited check-out privileges for the general public rather than restricting the ability to check out books to registered students). Most college/university libraries do not allow journals to be checked out by anyone. All, however, have photocopiers that you can use to make copies of articles or pages of books to take home with you.

An increasing number of library systems have separate stand-alone computers and printers that can be rented by the half-hour or so, enabling library patrons who do not have their own computers at home or work can get web access. With the plethora of free email services available now (every major search engine, major television network and other computer-based businesses offer free email accounts for the asking), one can access the Internet and send and receive email without actually having a computer of their own.

If you do not have an ISP at home nor belong to a commercial service such as AOL, you can still surf the 'net from home if you have a modem by dialing into the library's system and entering the web from there. When you do this from home, you are stuck with whatever browser the library uses but at least you can get text information, and even save it to a disk or print it out. If you use the computer at the library, however, you may be able to read it only; some may not currently have the facilities to let you print it out or save it to a disk you bring from home. To find out if your public library has a website, head to Yahoo's Reference:Libraries:Public Libraries search engine.

Saving information from the Web
Okay. You've found a great article at a website, and you want to get your hands on it for future reference without having to keep going back to that website to read it. No problem! You can either save it to your own computer's disk, or print it out. Web browsers always have some function whereby you can do either one. If you are accessing the 'net through a modem protocol program, check the File menu for a Capture or Log feature. If you are a browser like Netscape or Internet Explorer, use the File menu's Save As... feature to save it to disk, or the Print function to print it out, or use the printer icon on the task bar running along the top of the browser window.

Once you have saved a file to disk, you can view it later in one of two ways. If you saved it in a graphical browser such as Netscape, you can launch the browser without actually dialing into your ISP. Just launch the browser, then open the File menu, and select the Open File... function. This will open up your file listing window - just click on the drive, subdirectory and file name where you stored the file, and open it up. It will appear in your browser window just as it did when you saw it for the first time.

If you do not have a browser, you can still bring the file up. Just launch your word processing program, and open the file as a generic or text (.txt) file. The only drawback here is that depending on the software you are using, the file may have all the HTML coding (the stuff behind the scenes that makes websites look the way they do) in it that you will have to wade through. You can always delete all that code if you want, or use your word processing software's Edit, Find... function to search for key words. (If you have ever wondered how webmasters get their documents to look like they do, you can take a peek behind the scenes, so to speak: next time you have a web document up in your graphical browser, click on the View menu, then click on Source Document. In the bad old days, we had to do all that by hand. Ouch.


Offline Resources
Strange as it may seem at times, not only is the entire world not yet hooked up to the web, but all the information available in printed form is not yet all up on the web. So there are times when you will need to go to resources off the 'net to find your answers.

You remember books, don't you? Printed on paper, with funny non-glowing black marks appearing in orderly progression across the pages, sometimes interspersed with non-animated pictures? Believe it or not, sometimes you still gotta use 'em.

One common reason I refer people to books is when they are asking me to identify a herp they found while on a hike or in their back yard. I refer them to a field guide for their area. My favorite ones are the Peterson Field Guides to Reptiles and Amphibians, which come in two volumes (Western U.S. and Eastern/Central U.S.; see my personal library list for author and publisher information) or go to the herp books at page and check them out there - there are guides for both kids and adults. There are other field guides, including ones for specific states and countries. You can often find general and local field guides in your local library reference section, as well as a regular and science/nature bookstores. They can also be ordered through the mail from the several herpetological booksellers.

A note to parents: Learning how to use a field guide yourself, and teaching your kids how to use one, is not only a fun activity you can do together, but it teaches your child some important research and practical skills, like cross-referencing, comparing, reading maps, and more.

Each year that passes sees the publication of new herp books, including encyclopedias and atlases. These books may be narrow in focus (such as South African snakes) or more broad (living snakes of the world) or full-blown atlases that cover the entire range of known herps around the world. Some of these texts are very expensive. They are rarely stocked in pet stores, and less commonly found in bookstores and libraries, although, given the title, author, publisher and ISBN, any bookstore should be able to order it for you. The best place to see what is available out there is to get copies of the herp booksellers booklists.

Herp Societies
As interest in herps has been growing, so too has the memberships of existing herp societies, and it seems new ones are being formed almost every day. Not only can herp societies be good places to find others with interests similar to yours, they can also be a good source of information. Some members are bound to have surprisingly extensive personal libraries of herp books. Most are willing to share information, including perhaps letting you come over and look through the books to find the information you need, or they may be willing to bring the books containing the information you are looking for to a herp society meeting to let you look at them there.

I have lists of herp societies and reptile rescues, and reptile vets, at my site for the US, Canada, UK, and the rest of the world. There you will also find separate lists for reptile rescues and venomous snake relocators, as well as articles of interest for those thinking about a career in herpetology or veterinary medicine.

Please keep in mind that herp societies are run by volunteers. Don't expect to be able to just "drop" in at their mailing address - it is very likely a post office or mail box, or someone's home. Very few have lending libraries - when you borrow something, you are most likely borrowing someone's personal possession, not something paid for by the society. The people who run societies all have day jobs - that is, they have to work for a living just like you (or your folks) do, so contacting them and getting together with them has to be fit into their time schedule, not just yours.

If you still cannot find a herp society through my pages or other Internet sites, that doesn't mean that one doesn't exist. Contact the following organizations/people and ask if they know of any herp societies or anyone doing reptile rescue (who can then lead you to any local/regional societies):

  • University/Colleges: Biology, Ecology, Environmental Science, Vertebrates, Botany departments

  • Zoos Curators: Reptiles; Vertebrates

  • Natural History Museum Curators: Reptiles; Vertebrates; Invertebrates

  • City and County Reference Librarian: Community Resources/Associations Directory (this may be available online through your library's dial up system)

  • City and County Department of Animal Regulation/Humane Society/Animal Shelter

  • Wildlife Rescue/Bird Rescue Center/Facility


What's in a name?
Many species in the pet trade today have never before been in the pet trade. If you are new to keeping reptiles as pets, you may not realize that there has been relatively little quality information available for species that have been kept as pets or otherwise in captivity for decades, let alone the new-to-the-export-trade species coming into the country. As a new section of forest in some remote section of the world is destroyed, its wildlife captured and sent off all over the world, even the experienced herpers have to guess at the care. Most importers, dealers and pet stores do not use the scientific name of these animals on their invoices to stores or middleman distributors. Many species do not even have common names that are known outside the very small region they come from. So importers, dealers and pet stores slap names on them that may describe some physical feature, or that they think will entice the public into buying them. Don't expect herpers around the country, or world, to know what you are talking about if you use one of these uncommon "common" names.

When asking for information about an animal, be prepared to be asked for the scientific name or another common name. You can speed things up considerably (and start getting pet stores to maybe be a little more responsible) by getting these names before you start your inquiry process. If the pet store doesn't know, ask them to contact the dealer or wholesaler they got it from and get it from them. The more herp buyers refuse to accept a shrug and "I dunno" from the pet stores, the more the the stores will be forced to get this information as a matter of course (in a very few states, it is mandated by law that the species and common names be displayed on each tank). You might also sweetly ask the store how they have the nerve to sell an animal when they do have no idea what it is nor how to care for it...but that gets into a whole 'nother herp issue!

For another herper's take on the subject of "common" versus scientific names, see Steve Campbell's article, A rose by any other name, or Making sense of those long, funny names we give herps.

Ellin Beltz has compiled an extensive database at her site, Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained, that can be used to search for scientific names. Another excellent resource is the TIGR Reptile Database.


Okay, so how do I find the name to begin with?
Fortunately, that's always been pretty easy, even before the advent of the illustrated Internet. Field guides, animal atlases and encyclopedias have always been around and available at public and university libraries, most bookstores (including university bookstores), and science/nature stores. Whether you are looking for an exotic animal (one not native to the country you live in) or a native one, browsing through these books can be an interesting way to spend some time.

Another resource is a human one: the folks at your local herp society or rescue. Many of them are able to and willing to answer questions, but please be prepared with a description more detailed that "it was huge and brown". To someone who may keep a snake that is 16 feet long and 125 pounds, that 1.5 ft baby garter snake you saw isn't as huge to them as it is to you.

For local species, you have a couple more resources you can try before calling someone. There are now some online resources you can use, such as's illustrated field guides. Not as comprehensive, information-wise, as the ones in print, they are still useful in helping to identify what you found or saw.

More herp identification resources can be found in the Resources and General Herptology pages.


In closing...
The Internet, in all of its various forms and features, can be a marvelous source of information. In the past 5 years alone, there has been an explosion of quality information on the 'net, appearing in newsgroups, websites, and message boards. Local BBSs are also benefiting as their users draw from the information available on the 'net. The 'net is in flux, however, constantly evolving as it grows. We have not yet reached the day where our personal computers are embedded in our skulls or wrists, with world-wide (or galaxy wide!) databases at our finger tips. We still have to work at getting information, often the old fashioned way - using books, journals, and magazines, talking to many different people - as well as letting our fingers do the surfing. Used properly, the resources on the Internet will provide great benefits to you. Used improperly, and you will likely end up little more than very frustrated...

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