History of Computerization

The computerization of the Department of Herpetology's specimen-associated data began in October 1986 with a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The grant (BSR-8601255) provided funding for data entry personnel, hardware and software. The retrospective data capture of all records was completed in June 1989 at which point a total of 216,000 records had been entered.

In 1991 the Department received funding from NSF (DEB 9024386) to verify the computerized records against original catalog entries and to proof read the computerized records against specimens and bottle labels, and to build lookup and validation tables. The proof reading project was completed in 1995.

In 1994 the Department of Herpetology, California Academy of Sciences and the Department of Herpetology, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, developed an Internet site with the intent to afford researchers the ability to obtain basic information regarding collection holdings electronically. The Combined index to Herpetology Collections is a searchable database that summarizes the holdings of US and foreign museums. Data are limited to genus, species and number of specimens per taxon for most institutions. Currently, the database contains information for more than 25 museum collections.

In 1994 the Department of Herpetology also introduced an Internet searchable list of the CAS holdings. Data available were limited to genus, species, country, and the number of specimens per taxon per country.

In 2000, a searchable database containing all specimen related data was posted on the Internet. The database can be queried by 20 fields or by a combination of data fields. The main catalog is also linked to a bibliography of publications that cite CAS specimens by catalog number. To date, 1,166 publications have been entered, linking to 72,332 catalog numbers. Overall, 60,124 specimens in the collection have been cited in publications. This is an under-estimation because not every publication cites CAS material by catalog number and not every publication that cites CAS material has been entered into the database.

The database also links to information regarding the Department's tissue collection. In 1999 NSF (DBI 9876766) provided funding for additional tissue storage equipment and supplies so that the herpetological tissues housed in the Osher Molecular Laboratory and the Department of Herpetology could be integrated into one system. Once the two tissue collections were incorporated the data relating to both tissue collections where added to the Department's database and later added to the Herpetology Catalog web site. The Department currently houses tissues for 5,224 individual specimens.

Contact the department

  • Herpetology
  • California Academy of Sciences
  • 55 Music Concourse Drive
  • San Francisco, CA 94118
  • 415-379-5292 (direct)


natural history collection

The Importance of Natural History Collections


Front Cover Hearst Publication

CAS Special Publication: The Coral Triangle - The 2011 Hearst Philippine Biodiversity Expedition


The old saying “You are what you eat” takes on new significance in the most comprehensive analysis to date of early human teeth from Africa.

Our ancestors used to dine almost exclusively on leaves and fruits from trees, shrubs and herbs until 3.5mya when a major shift occurred, according to four new simultaneously published studies.

A series of 4 scientific papers shows evidence of an expanding variety of plant foods, written into the enamel of fossil teeth.