Amphibian and Reptile Atlas of Peninsular California

By now, the Museum’s Atlas programs should be familiar to you. Years ago, we published the renowned San Diego County Bird Atlas, and we continue to work toward completion of the Plant Atlas and Mammal Atlas.

We are proud to announce one more addition to these highly successful citizen science research projects. The Amphibian and Reptile Atlas of Peninsular California is an online resource that aims to document trends in species’ distributions using the Museum’s extensive research collections along with contributions from citizen scientists.

The Atlas is centered around an online field guide with photographs and distribution maps of every amphibian and reptile in our region. Each species is the entry point into our interactive mapping feature, giving you full access to our databases.

Our region, Peninsular California, is defined as the geological peninsula, which extends from southern California to the tip of Baja California. Within the region, there are 192 species of amphibians and reptiles, some native and some introduced, some widespread while others endemic.

At the heart of the Amphibian and Reptile Atlas is a streamlined website that should make participating as easy as uploading a photograph to our site via an iNaturalist portal. From there, a team of experts will help confirm the species identity and give you feedback about your contribution. The next time a snake shows up in your backyard or you photograph an unknown lizard during one of our Canyoneer hikes, you can turn this observation into a scientific voucher, archiving it to be used in biodiversity research.

The Atlas will display your uploaded observations on the same map as our Museum’s own collection data.  This means that the observations and digital photographs you upload today will be featured alongside our specimens that date back more than 100 years.  

We hope to track changes through time, whether it is the spread of an invasive exotic species, or the decline of species that are limited to a very restricted area.

Combining your data with the Museum collection information will not only increase the resolution of biodiversity data, it will add meaning.

As a citizen scientist, your altruistic contribution will enhance our understanding of the region’s biodiversity, and your participation will leave you with a better understanding of our natural heritage.

While many professionals often access our Atlas, it is also being embraced by the younger generation. Engaging children in hands-on science is one of the central missions of the Museum, and the Atlas is now being used in summer camps and education programs. As Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in the Woods aptly stated, the citizen scientist movement will be a powerful antidote to the nature-deficit disorder of our species.

Posted by Bradford D. Hollingsworth, Ph.D., Curator of Herpetology.

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