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Reptiles and Amphibians

Introduction

The Amphibians and Reptiles Collection comprises just over 23,000 catalogued specimens of amphibians and reptiles from all over the world. Most specimens are from Israel and Sinai, collected with an effort to record geographical distribution and variation. The collection is considered the most extensive regional record of Middle Eastern taxa. It is the world’s only collection containing all the taxa extant in Israel.  The better part of the inventory (ca. 85%) is stored (usually following initial preservation in formalin) in ethanol; the minority consists of stuffed or dry specimens, i.e. skeletons and skins. Since 1994, tissue samples from fresh specimens have been preserved separately for future DNA analysis (several hundred samples). The collection also includes several hundred uncatalogued items (shed skins, faeces, shells of reptile eggs, fragments of animals, as well as donated specimens awaiting cataloguing).

The collection evolved from the personal collection of Dr. Israel Aharoni, pioneering zoologist and teacher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem during the 1930’s and 1940’s. It grew and developed during the 1950’s and 1960’s under the direction of Prof. Georg Haas and from the mid 1970’s until the late 1990’s under the direction of Prof. Yehudah L. Werner. Originally housed on Mt. Scopus, the collection eventually found its current home and is situated in the Berman-Lubin building on the Edmond Safra Campus at Giv’at Ram.

Current activities

Acquisition of new material. For several years, the collection has reduced the number of new accessions from deliberate collecting in the field. Most new material, ca. 250-300 specimens each year, is obtained through donations from various sources:
Student expeditions, mainly undergraduate courses (the most recent expedition took place in summer of 1999).

 Local donations from the Israel Herpetological Information Center (IHIC) of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI); park rangers of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA); students; and the general public. Often, the Collection is instrumental in helping concerned members of the public by identifying and educating, particularly about snakes.

Local field surveys and projects that involve collection of animal remains (e.g., from pitfalls; from the Nizzanim Sand Dune Management project, collected by B. Shacham et al. since 2004).

Absorption of teaching collections from retired researchers, most recently from Prof. M. Pener and Prof. M.R. Warburg.

Researchers, private breeders and enthusiasts outside Israel.

Repository for tissue samples. In addition to the tissues collected in recent years from voucher specimens for (future) genetic analysis, the collection is housing dozens of tissue samples from an ongoing field study in Nizzanim sands, southern coastal Israel. The samples are from toe clippings of lizards (for individual identification) captured and released as part of the Ph.D. study of B. Shacham, under the supervision of A. Bouskila, Ben-GurionUniversity of the Negev. All reptilian remains collected from this study, which was initiated in mid-2004, are donated to the collection.

Public outreach activities. Obviously the Collection does not exist in vacant space, and strives to reach out and inform the general public, as well as the Hebrew University populace, as to what we do here and why we do it. This outreach includes:

Tours of the Collection. The Herpetological Collection participates in the “Nature Park & Galleries” project, opening its doors to guided tours of the collection. Tours are limited to a maximum of 15-20 participants at one time, depending on group demographics, and usually are 35-60 minutes long. The Collection Manager, the Professor Emeritus or guest researchers, depending on their availability, guide these tours. The collection also serves as a platform for specific seminars for the student guides of the “Nature Park & Galleries”, giving the guides basic herpetological background and help with guided projects.

Media exposure of the Collection. In recent years the Collection has been highlighted or featured in various Israeli media, including two articles in the popular monthly nature magazine “Teva Ha-Devarim” (e.g., “Teva Ha-Devarim”, no. 137, pp. 84-86, February 2007 (in Hebrew)) and short segments on three different television stations. These have been excellent opportunities to publicize some recent scientific discoveries made in the Collection, stressing the importance of natural history collections and their role in preserving biodiversity.

Educational outreach by the Collection. The Collection helps concerned members of the public by identifying reptiles, particularly, snakes, and educating about them. There has been a slow but steady increase in the numbers of young herpetologists from various Near East countries, as far as Iran, who consult the Collection’s staff (mainly by e-mail) or request data.

Collection Staff

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