Amphibians & Reptiles

(Hall 27 - 28)

In the exhibition rooms for amphibians and reptiles (herpetology collection) there are about 930 specimens preserved in alcohol and 130 taxidermy and skeletal specimens on display. This is less than 0.5% of the entire scientific collection, which consists of more than 200,000 objects.
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The Collection

According to current scientific knowledge, there are about 7,500 species of amphibians (Anura, Urodela, Gymnophiona). With about 10,100 known species, reptiles (crocodiles, lizards, snakes, turtles, and tuatara) form a somewhat larger group. Together the two groups make up the topic of the herpetological collection. Herpetology is the study of amphibians and reptiles, using methods relating to morphology, embryology, physiology, ecology, systematics, taxonomy, molecular biology, chorology, and ethology. At present, the scientific herpetological collection includes about 200,000 specimens, the majority have been preserved in alcohol. A smaller portion is preserved as dry preparations (skeletons, skins, dermoplastics). The beginnings of the collection – and thus the oldest specimens - date back to around 1800.

At the core of the scientific collection one finds the type specimens, currently including types of about 210 taxa of amphibians and 570 reptile taxa. Type specimens and dry preparations have been published in the form of catalogues.
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Apart from the collection database used to manage the scientific inventory, the collection runs a database on the geographic distribution of autochthonous amphibians and reptiles. This herpeto-faunistic database includes more than 114,000 species sightings, recording not only the place, date, and time of the sighting, but also a great deal of relevant environmental data.

Highlights

Tuatara
Sphenodon punctatus. New Zealand. Mounted specimen, circa 1885. Tuataras are now found only on about 30 small islands off the coast of New Zealand. The Sphenodon collection at the NHM Vienna is one of the largest collections outside New Zealand.
Abingdon Island Tortoise
Chelonoidis nigra abingdonii. Pinta Island (=Abingdon), Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Mounted specimen, circa 1914.
The one-hundred- year old historic specimen of the now extinct Abingdon Island tortoise is irreplaceable and thus valuable on two counts.
 
Ganges Gharial Pair
Gavialis gangeticus. Also Indian gavial. India. Mounted specimens, circa 1900. At four and five meters long, these two mounted specimens are some of the largest Ganges gharials on display in any museum.
 
Komodo dragon
Varanus komodoensis. Komodo Islands, Indonesia. Mounted specimen, 1932.
Very few museums have mounted specimens of the largest lizards in the world. The NHM also has a komodo dragon preserved in alcohol – an unusual method of preserving such a large animal.
 
Dwarf caimans
Paleosuchus palpebrosus. Paraguay River, Mato Grosso, Brazil. Mounted specimen, circa 1830.
The caiman, which arrived at the museum from Brazil in about 1830, is an example of early taxidermy, but also represents an exciting piece of zoological research history.
 
Arrau turtle
Podocnemis expansa. Manaus, Brazil. Mounted specimen, circa 1834.
As a mounted specimen, this Arrau turtle is an example of early taxidermy. Furthermore, such large specimens are rarely found today.
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Hall 27 Amphibians, Snakes, Lizards and Tuataras

Display case 23 shows the colorful poison-arrow frogs (Dentrobatidae). Their distribution is restricted to the rain forests of Central and South America. Native Indians used the dermal secretion of theses frogs to poison their arrows, thus the frogs got their name. They gain their dermal venom by eating poisonous prey.
 
Chameleons (Chamaeleonidae) are on display in cases 63 – 66. They live mainly in Africa and India and are highly specialized climbers, characterized by their claw-like, gripping fused digits (fingers and toes), prehensile tail, rapidly extendible tongue, and the ability to change colors.
 
Giant salamanders (Andrias sp.) are the largest living tailed amphibians and on display in case 3. They can grow a length of 1.8 m and have a life-span of more than 60 years. They live in the mountainous regions of China and Japan.
 
Display cases 8 and 16 show olms (for example Proteus anguinus), which can live for more than 100 years. They live in subterranean river systems in the karst caves of Slovenia, Croatia, and Hercegovina and require well oxygenated and very clean water. They are perfectly adapted to life in permanent darkness.
 
The „living fossils“ Tuataras (Sphenodon punctatus), display case 61, are today surviving on only 30 small islands off the New Zealand coast. They differ very little from their ancestors that lived 200 million years ago. The German name „Brückenechse“(„Bridge lizard“) refers to the construction of its skull: the complete double bony bridge in the temporal region is a primitive feature exclusive to tuataras and crocodiles.
 
The Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum), display cases 91 and 106, lives in the Sonoran Desert in the southwestern USA and in northwestern Mexico and is very well adapted to dry environment. It can regularly survive periods of famine lasting several months. Gila monsters are venomous lizards with a striking color pattern.
 
The reticulated python (Malayopython reticulatus) can reach a length of 10m and weigh up to 200 kg. They are good swimmers and have colonized all the larger islands of the area of tropical southern and southeastern Asia.
 
The anaconda (Eunectes murinus), shown on the window side, can grow to a length of more than 9 m and weigh over 150 kg. Anacondas live in the riverine landscapes of South America, always close to the water and kill their prey by crushing them with their immensely powerful muscles.
 
Display case 31 shows the common cobra (Naja naja). It can reach a maximum length of 1.7 m and hunts for little mammals (mainly mice). The venom of this species includes a strong neurotoxin and, therefore, can be dangerous to humans as well.
 
The western diamondback rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox) can grow to more than 2 m in length, which makes them the largest of the rattlesnakes. Like all rattlesnakes, their tail ends in a conspicuous rattle of horn rings with which they can produce a clear warning sound.
 
In the display cases on the long wall you see sea snakes (Hydrophiinae). They live in warm, tropical seas, and their bodies are perfectly adapted to life in seawater.
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Hall 28 Amphibians and Reptiles, especially Turtles and Crocodiles

A touchscreen shows the 35 autochthonous species of amphibians and reptiles in short portraits. Here the visitor will find information about the distribution, the activity, and habitat of these speciesand also learn about threats to the various Austrian species.
 
The display cases 25-29 show amphibian and reptile species distributed in Austria. Tree frogs cover a large number of various frog species from different families. In Europe there are only four species, which are very similar. Of these, only the common tree frog (Hyla arborea), ca. 5 cm long, is widely distributed, and it is the only Austrian species. A grass-green back with a black loop at the hip, and a spotless, cream-white belly are the typical markings.

The common toads (Bufo bufo) are, along with common frogs, the edible frogs, and common newts, the most prevalent central European amphibians. Their squat bodies, sturdy, short hind legs, and skin with many glands distinguish toads from the slimmer, long-legged, and smooth-skinned frogs. They must return to water only during their reproductive phase in spring.
 

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The adder (Vipera berus), display cases 15 and 28, belongs to the family of vipers. Along with the nose-horned viper (Vipera ammodytes) and the, now considered eradicated in Austria, Meadow Viper (Vipera ursinii rakosiensis), it was originally the third species of venomous snakes in Austria. Its distribution reaches from outermost western Great Britain to the Russian island of Sakhalin in the east (11,000 km).

On the window side you see monitor lizards. Salvador’s or Papuan monitors (Varanus salvadorii) live only along the southern coasts of New Guinea. They live in mangrove swamps and dry forests keeping mainly to the canopy, preying on birds and eggs.

 
The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is the largest lizard species in the world. Fully grown males can grow a length of 3 m and weigh 70 kg. This rare, gigantic monitor lizard lives on Komodo and its surrounding Indonesian islands in open savannas and dry forests.

Display cases 1-5, 16-20, 24 and 35 show turtles (Chelonians). The taxidermy specimen of a mata- mata (Chelus fimbriatus) was brought to Vienna by Johann Natterer from his Brazil Expedition (1817-1835). The mata-mata is widely distributed in northern South America. The fringes serve as fish bait.
Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) are the largest and heaviest of all the modern chelonians. They can reach a length of more than 2 m and weigh more than 800 kg.
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Giant tortoises can live for more than 200 years and weigh up to 250 kg. These huge but rather defenseless reptiles have only survived on the Seychelles and on the Galápagos Islands.
  
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