CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Notes on Our Taxonomic Lists








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This web site was created to promote an appreciation and understanding of the amazing diversity of reptiles and amphibians and their habitats occurring in California by illustrating them in their many forms. To accomplish this in an organized manner it needs a list of all of the known forms of reptiles and amphibians currently or recently occurring within the state of California and in nearby coastal waters, including some introduced species with well-established reproducing populations, and formerly-occurring species that may now be extirpated from the state. The list used here is based on the most recent list of scientific and common names published by experts in this field.  This site intends only to report the current standard nomenclature and taxonomy, not to present personal opinions, but there are differing views on the subject, so I have had to make some choices that not everyone will agree with. I will attempt to document these differing views as well as I can.  As a consequence of using the latest taxonomy, many of the names here differ significantly from long-accepted nomenclature used in most books and publications and with the California Department of Fish and Game list, which codifies the laws regarding California's herps. So I have tried to indicate the older and often more established names also.


This site has used the common and scientific names list published by the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles since 2001. The latest complete list that I know about is the 7th Edition, published in 2012. The list is now available online at the SSAR North American Species Names Database and apparently they are making changes to it without publishing it first and without changing the name or edition number of the list. This makes keeping up with new changes here even more of a challenge.

Scientific and common names are basically opinions. I try to use the opinions of respected authorities rather than my own, but sometimes I have to make a choice whether or not to use a new name, or keep with the old one until the new one is widely accepted. Any choice I make invariably upsets somebody, including myself. I use some new taxonomy that even I don't believe should have been adopted.

The nomenclature used here is not necessarily definitive. It is a challenge to keep up with the continual changes in scientific nomenclature and common names. Classifications keep changing in order to more accurately reflect evolutionary relationships.There is frequent disagreement about the concept of what determines a biological species or subspecies (or even the validity of subspecies at all) and how to classify and name them. The science of naming and classifying animals (taxonomy or systematics) is constantly evolving and there are often conflicting interpretations. Recent widespread DNA analysis has identified many new species and led to new classifications of species, and this has changed the nomenclature considerably. Since there is no one list made by an organization that is unanimously accepted as the final authority on nomenclature (as there is for birds) herpers are left with a confusing variety of multiple common and scientific names.



We use the SSAR list here, but there are other lists worth paying attention to regarding the common and scientific names of California's herps.


CNAH

Another version of common and scientific names of North American reptiles and amphibians based on the most current Collins & Taggert Standard Common and Current Scientific Names for North American Amphibians, Turtles, Reptiles, and Crocodilians is available online at the site of the Center for North American Herpetology. This list is continually updated as new species are described and other changes are made, something which is not possible with a published guide. (Admirably, they do not appear to rush to adopt new changes immediately. Instead they list the new recommendations in notes.) This list will remain popular and influential due to the excellent web site and those behind it.


Robert Stebbins' Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians

In the spring of 2003 the Peterson Field Guide: Western Reptiles and Amphibians 3rd Edition, by Robert C. Stebbins, was published. The names used in this guide are likely to become the popular standard, due to its wider availability and historical use as the authority on Western reptiles and amphibians since the 1950's. On page 14, Stebbins writes that he reviewed and followed, for the most part, the recommendations of the committee which produced SSAR circular 29. He has made some changes from the SSAR list, in many cases because the taxonomy is in need for future study.


Stebbins and McGinnis Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition

Published in the summer of 2013 the names used in this guide vary slightly from the 2003 guide, with most subspecies not coverred.


California Department of Fish and Wildlife

The CDFW uses a list of herps in its annual fishing regulations in the sections governing the take of reptiles and of amphibians which is important to know if you plan to take herps. Their list sometimes differes from the others. You can see my interpretation of their list here along with links to the CDFW regulations and CDFW site.




Taxonomy and Species Concepts

Humans like to put things in categories and make lists - some of us more than others. But living species appear to be less well-defined than we would like, especially now with the use of chemical DNA analysis, which has called into question traditional concepts of what makes a species. Our traditional species categories may not be as meaningful as we would like them to be. DNA studies are showing that species can exist even when there are no differences in appearance or morphology between them and another species. This means that separating species based on how they look to us may or may not have any relevance to the animals themselves. There are subtleties that are not observable to us, without chemical analysis. This presents complications for identifying species and for determining where the range that a particular species inhabits. It also presents a huge problem for species conservation, and it's getting to be a real pain in the cloaca for me since I have to spend a great deal of time trying to keep up with newresearch.


"…I began to see that science was neither the best nor the only valid way to order and name the living world. Instead, I realized that the ordering and naming of life was and always had been, at its heart, something much more democratic, subversive to the dominion of science even, and much more interesting. I eventually came to see that science itself might be undermining the very thing it sought to perfect: humanity's understanding of life. Even more unexpected, I realized that the thoroughly modern, entirely evolutionary new science of taxonomy was actually helping regular folks everywhere to become more and more disconnected from living things - a tragedy that has made it possible for species after species to disappear around the world with hardly anyone noticing or much caring."

Carol Kaesuk Yoon. Naming Nature - The Clash Between Instinct and Science. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2009.


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