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.
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...)
the Commercial Online Services
smart when posting.
not expect people to keep posting the same lengthy documents
over and over again.
get upset if no one answers your question.
check, if at all possible, the information you get on
commercial services and websites.
you join an email list, read and the Welcome
letter you receive!
I'm An Expert!
For more information on assessing and validating information in general, please see
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 rec.pet.herps 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.
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 site:www.site.name keyword. If I want to search a couple of keywords, I just enter site:www.site.name keyword +keyword. For example, site:www.anapsid.org 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 more information on searching herp info, see the Resources page.
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:
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.
information from the Web
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.
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 Amazon.com 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.
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.
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):
in a name?
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.
so how do I find the name to begin with?
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 Enature.com'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.
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