Digitizing reptile and amphibian specimens at the Bombay Natural History Society

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Chamaeleo zeylanicus
Indian chameleon (Chamaeleo zeylanicus) observed near Dalaj, Maharashtra, India by Swanand Kesari. Photo via iNaturalist (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Occurrence data is an invaluable resource to understand species distributions across space and time. Although essential for threat assessments, this information lacks for many species, especially among reptiles and amphibians. Data from field studies alone is often incomplete, given the elusive nature of these taxa. Museum collections on the other hand, provide much needed information on morphology, historical occurrence and distribution in the form of specimens and associated metadata. Unfortunately, this information is often not utilized to its full potential as it is not readily available.

With more than 135,000 faunal specimens collected from across the Indian Subcontinent over a period of 135 years, the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) is one of the finest natural history collections in Asia. This project aims to address a data gap of Indian reptiles and amphibians by digitizing BNHS specimens and associated metadata to make it readily available for conservation assessments, policy makers and stake holders.

The project team will assemble a digital database of specimen information, photographs and maps for publication in biodiversity informatics portals such as GBIF.org. This will add much needed information from the Indian subcontinent and promote data sharing and collaboration among various museums. Digitized access to more than a century of museum data in the form will support the global scientific community and policy makers towards further studies, biodiversity management and conservation initiatives in Asia.

Project Progress

In the first phase of the project, 5,000 entries for amphibian and reptile specimens in the collection at BNHS has been digitized. The people behind the project has published a catalogue of reptiles in the collections of BNHS on GBIF to help researchers across the globe in their studies where type specimens are a priority. As the project has targeted specific groups of taxa, a catalogue of sea snake specimens from the collection has been recorded and published. The project has held two workshops so far; the first one was held in May 2019 introducing the use of ERDAS imaging software to train participants in methods of morphological studies and mapping, and the second one was held in June 2019 introducing participants to amphibian and reptile taxonomy.

€ {{ 14006 | localNumber }}
€ {{ 14828 | localNumber }}
1 May 2019 - 31 December 2021
Project identifier
Contact details

Rahul V Khot
Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS)
Hornbill House, Dr. Salim Ali Chowk, Bhagat Singh Rd, Opp. Lion Gate
Mumbai 400001