British Museum (Natural History). Dept. of Zoology.

Guide to the galleries of reptiles and fishes in the Department of zoology of the British museum (Natural history) Illustrated by 101 woodcuts online

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Online LibraryBritish Museum (Natural History). Dept. of ZoologyGuide to the galleries of reptiles and fishes in the Department of zoology of the British museum (Natural history) Illustrated by 101 woodcuts → online text (page 1 of 8)
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THE dry and mounted specimens of Reptiles and Fishes are
exhibited in two parallel Galleries on the west side of the ground
floor behind the Bird Gallery. The Batrachians are contained in
one large table-case placed in the cross gallery between the last
named and the Fish Gallery.

This Guide gives a general account of the animals belonging to
these three classes. The first edition was written by Dr. Gunther,
late Keeper of the Zoological Department, and published in 1887.
The present (the fourth) edition has been revised by Mr. G. A.
Boulenger, the changes being mostly in the sections devoted to the
classes Reptilia and Batrachia. That of the Fishes,, except for
some corrections necessitated by alterations in the arrangement of
the specimens, has been left much as written by Dr. Gunther.



January 31st, 1898.




General Notes on Reptiles 1

Crocodilia (Crocodiles and Alligators) 3

Rhynchocephalia (Tuatera) 5

Lacertilia (Lizards) 6

Ophidia (Snakes) 16

Chelonia (Tortoises and Turtles) 24

General Notes on Batrachians 31

Tailless Batrachians (Frogs and Toads) . . . . . 3.3

Tailed Batrachians (Salamanders and Newts) .... 42

Limbless Batrachiaus 46


General Notes on Fishes 47

Acanthopterygii (Perches, Mackerels, &c.) 58

Pharyngognathi (Wrasses) 76

Anacanthini (Cod- and Flat-fishes) 78

Physostomi (Carps, Herrings, &c.) 82

Lophobranchii (Pipe-fishes) 91

Plectognathi (File-, Globe-, and San-fishes) .... 92

Ganoidei 96

Chondropterygii (Sharks and Rays) 100

Cyclostomata (Lampreys) 112

Leptocardii (Lancelet) 114



THERE is but a short step from the Class of Birds to that of
Reptiles. No doubt, as regards external appearance, the dissimi-
larity between the living animals of these two classes is sufficiently
great to allow of a sharp line of demarcation being drawn between
them : Birds being shortly characterized as warm-blooded vertebrate
animals clothed with feathers, Reptiles as cold-blooded, and covered
with horny or bony shields, tubercles, or "scales." But there
are numerous and important agreements between these two classes,
especially in the structure of their skeleton, in their internal
organs, and their mode of propagation ; and their close relation-
ship becomes still more apparent when fossil forms, such as
Archaeopteryx, are examined.

Reptiles are termed " cold-blooded " because the temperature of
their blood is raised but a few degrees above, and varies with, that
of the outer atmosphere, owing to the imperfect separation of the
divisions of their heart, which allows more or less of a mixture of
the arterial arid venous currents of the blood. Reptiles are ovi-
parous or ovoviviparous ; no important change takes place after
exclusion from the egg ; they breathe by lungs throughout life.
Their skull articulates with the vertebral column by a single occi-
pital condyle (see fig. 1), and their lower jaw with the skull by a
separate bone (quadrate) (see figs. 1, 13, and 14).

The remains of the oldest known Reptiles, those found in the
Permo-Carboniferous formations, belong to the Rhynchocephalian
type, of which only one representative is still living (in New Zealand).
Reptiles flourished and attained their greatest development in the
Secondary period Pterosaurians (large flying Lizards, see Guide


Fig. 1.

Back view of skull of Crocodile.
o, single occipital condyle ; g, quadrate bone.

to Fossil Reptiles and Fishes, p. 1), Dinosaurians (huge terrestrial
Reptiles far exceeding in size our largest Crocodiles, p. 8),
Ichthydsaurians, and Plesiosaurians (large marine creatures,
Geological Guide, pp. 32, 47), Dicynodonts (p. 55), Crocodiles,
Lizards, and Turtles lived in abundance; Snakes, however, did not
appear before the Tertiary period. At present some 4000 species
of Reptiles are known, which are unequally divided among five
Orders, vh. Crocodilia (Crocodiles and AlYigatorB^Rhynchocep/ialia,
Lacertiiia (Lizards), Ophidia (Snakes), and Chelonia (Tortoises
and Turtles).

In this classification of Reptiles the naturalist is guided much
more by the structure of the skeleton and the other internal organs
than by the external appearance. In fact, in Reptiles, as in many
other classes of the Animal Kingdom, outward similarity is decep-
tive as to the natural relationship that is, as to the degree in
which they are related to each other as descendants from a more or
less remote common ancestor. Take, for instance, a Crocodile, a
Lizard, a Slowworm, and a Snake. The observer who, like the
naturalists of the last and preceding centuries, is guided by external
appearance only, would without hesitation place the Crocodile and


Lizard together, and associate the Slowworm with the Snake ;
whilst a study of their internal structure shows the Lizard and the
Slowworrn to be most closely related to each other, and both
nearer to the Snake than to the Crocodile.

Reptiles are most abundant in hot climates, become less nume-
rous in higher latitudes, arid are altogether absent in the Arctic
and Antarctic regions.
In the Gallery

Wall-Cases 1 9 contain the Crocodilians.

10 Rhynchoeephalians.

10-17 Lizards.

18-22 Snakes.

23-44 Tortoises and Turtles.

Large specimens are exhibited separately on stands placed on the
floor of the Gallery.


The Crocodilians differ in many anatomical characters from [Cases
the Lacertilians, or true Lizards, with which they were formerly
associated on account of their external resemblance. The organs
of their chest and abdomen are separated from each other by
a muscular diaphragm their heart is divided into four cavities,
as in the higher vertebrates. The ribs are provided with two
heads for the articulation with the vertebrae, and with processes
directed backwards; and their abdomen is protected by a series of
transverse bones, as may be seen in the skeletons of the Gavial
and Crocodile (opposite Wall-Cases 4-9). The teeth are implanted
in sockets, while in other recent Reptiles they are grown to the bone
of the jaws. The tongue is completely adherent to the floor of the
mouth. The nostrils are situated close together on the upper side
of the extremity of the snout ; the eyes and the ears likewise are near
to the upper profile of the head, so that the animal can breathe, see,
and hear whilst its body is immersed in the water, the upper part
of the head only being raised above the surface. When it dives, the
nostrils are closed by valves, a transparent membrane is drawn over
the eye, and the ear, which is a horizontal slit, is shut up by a
movable projecting flap of the skin. The limbs are weak, the ante-


rior provided with five, the posterior with four digits, of which three
only are armed with claws, and which are united together by a more
or less developed web. The tail is long, compressed, crested above,
very powerful, and admirably adapted for propelling the body
through the water. The back, tail, and belly are protected by a
dermal armour formed of quadrangular shields, of which the dorsal
and, in several Alligators, also the ventral contain true bone.

The Crocodilians are thoroughly aquatic in their habits, and
the most formidable of all the carnivorous freshwater animals.
Crocodiles and Alligators, when young, and the Gharials through-
out their existence, feed chiefly on fish ; but large Crocodiles
attack every animal which they can overpower, and which they
drown before devouring. The eggs, of which one (of Crocodilus
porosus) is exhibited in Case 4, are oblong, hard-shelled, and
deposited in holes on the banks of rivers and ponds. The flesh
of these animals is not eaten, but their hides have lately been
introduced as an article of commerce; a portion of the skin pre-
pared for the trade may be seen in Case 4.

The large stuffed Crocodilians are arranged in a row along the
left side of the Gallery, those nearest the entrance being the
Old-World forms, the other the American kinds. The smaller
specimens occupy Wall-Cases 1-9.

About 25 species are known.

Crocodiles proper (Crocodilus) are distinguished from the Alli-
gators by having the fourth lower tooth passing into a notch of the
lateral edge of the upper jaw. They inhabit Africa, Southern
Asia, the tropical parts of Australia, Central America, and the
West Indies. The Indian Crocodile (Crocodilus porosus) is very
common in the East Indies and Tropical Australia, and has been
said to grow to a length of 30 feet. This, however, is very
doubtful, as a very large specimen obtained in North-east Australia
and exhibited in the Gallery measures only 17^ feet. The African
Crocodile (Crocodilus niloticus) attains nearly to the same size as
the Indian species. It was worshipped by the ancient Egyptians,
and was once common in Egypt proper. It has now been almost
exterminated in the lower parts of the Nile, but infests in great
numbers all the freshwaters of Tropical Africa; and it is believed
that more people are killed by Crocodiles than by any other of the
wild beasts of Africa.


The false Gharial (Tomistoma schlegelii] is intermediate
between Crocodiles and Gharials. It has long been known from
Borneo, but its presence has recently been ascertained in Sumatra
and the Malay Peninsula. A stuffed specimen from Perak is
exhibited in a Case opposite to Wall-case 1.

The Gharials (Gavialis) may be readily recognized by their
extremely long and slender snout. The Gharial of the Ganges
(G. gangeticus), of which a large specimen and a skeleton are
mounted in the middle of the Gallery opposite to the entrance, is
abundant in that river and its tributaries, and attains to a length
of about 16 feet. It feeds chiefly on fishes, for the capture of
which its long and slender snout and sharp teeth are well adapted,
but occasionally devours human bodies. Old males have a large
cartilaginous hump on the extremity of the snout containing a small
cavity, the use of which is not known.

In the Alligators (Alligator] the fourth lower tooth is received [Oases
in a pit in the upper jaw, when the mouth is shut. With the
exception of one species which occurs in the Yang-tse-kiang
(Alligator sinensis), they are found only in America. They do not
grow to the large size of the true Crocodiles. The species most
generally known is A.mississippiensis,w}i\ch abounds in the south-
ern parts of North America. The Black Alligators (Caiman
niger and sclerops) are common in South America as far south as
32 lat. S.


Of this Order, which seems in the Permian and subsequent forma- [Case 11.]
tions to have been represented by various genera, one species only
has survived to our period. It is the Tuatera of the Maoris, or
Hatteria or Sphenodon of naturalists. Case 11 contains examples
of this interesting Reptile, with skeleton and skulls. It is the
largest of the few Reptiles inhabiting New Zealand, but scarcely
attains to a length of 2 feet. Formerly it was found in several parts
of the northern island and in the Chatham Islands ; but at present
it is restricted to a few small islands in the Bay of Plenty and Cook's
Straits, where it lives in holes, feeding on lizards, insects, worms,
and other small animals. Externally there is nothing to distinguish


the Tuatera from ordinary Lizards; but important differences
obtain in the structure of its skeleton, viz. the presence of a double
horizontal bar across the temporal region, the firm connection of
the quadrate bone with the skull and pterygoid bones, biconcave
vertebrae (as in Geckos and many fossil Crocodilians), the presence
of a plastron formed of numerous small bones and of uncinate
processes to the ribs (as in Birds and Crocodiles).


[Cases The Order of Lizards comprises over 1900 species, which

"-^'J exhibit a great variety of form and structure. Some, like our
common Lizards, possess four legs and a long tail, and are
endowed with great rapidity of motion ; others, like the Chamse-
leons, are arboreal, and have their limbs and tail adapted for climb-
ing on the branches of trees ; others, like the Geckos, can ascend
smooth vertical surfaces^ their toes being provided with special
adhesive organs. The limbs may be rudimentary or disappear
entirely, as in our common Slowworrn, in which case the Lizard
assumes the appearance of a Snake j but, in all, rudiments at least of
both pectoral and pelvic bones are hidden under the skin. Lizards

Fig. 2.

Hind legs of Lizards, to show the gradual abortion.

a, Chalcides ocellatus ; b, Chalcides mionecton ; c, Chalcides tridactylus
d, I/ygosoma lineo-punctulatum ; e, Chalcides yuentheri.


may be characterized as Reptiles with the skin covered with scales
or tubercles ; with non-expansible mouth, the rarni of the mandible
being firmly united anteriorly by a suture ; with four or two limbs,
or at least rudiments of pectoral and pelvic bones; with teeth which
are ankylosed to the jaws, and not implanted in sockets ; with a
transverse anal opening. Movable eyelids and an ear-opening are
usually present. If the limbs are developed, they are generally
provided with five digits armed with claws; but as in some kinds
the limbs get weaker and shorter, the number of toes is gradually
reduced ; and there are Lizards in which the little limb terminates
in a single useless toe, or is even entirely toeless (see Fig. 2). The
tongue offers very remarkable differences in form and function. It
is simple, broad, short, soft in the Geckos, Agamas, and Iguanas, and
is probably an organ of taste; in the majority of the other families
it is narrow, more or less elongate, often covered with scale-like
papilla?, and with a more or less deep incision in front, assuming
more and more the function of an organ of touch. It is of extra-
ordinary length, worm-like, and terminating in two fine, long points
in the Monitors, in which, as in Snakes, it acts as a feeler only.
The tongue of the Charnseleons will be noticed subsequently.

Lizards are spread over the whole world except the very cold
regions, and are, like all othei' Reptiles, most numerous, both as
regards species and individuals, between the tropics. They are
divided into many families, some of which can be alluded to here
by name only :

Families 1. Geckonida. 2. Eublepharida. 3. Uroplatidce.
4. Pygopodidae. 5. Agamidce. 6. Iguanida. 7. Xenosaurid<s .
8. Zonurida. 9. Anguidce. 10. Anniellidce. 11. Helodermatida.
12. Varanidce. 13. Xantusiidee. 14. Teiidce. 15. Amphis-
bcenidce. 16. Ltwertida. 17. Gerrhosaurida. 18. Scincidce.
19. Anelytropida. 20. Dibamidae.

The last family, the Chamaleontida, is so distinct from all the
others that some herpetologists would remove it from the Lacertilia

The majority of Lizards, especially the smaller kinds, are not
suitable objects for exhibition in a dry state ; they must be pre-
served in spirit ; consequently only a selected series is exhibited
in this Gallery.


[Case 10.] The Geckonida, or Geckos,, are Lizards of small size, the largest
measuring about a foot,, and have always attracted attention by
their possessing the faculty of ascending smooth surfaces, or even of
running on the ceilings of rooms like a fly. For this purpose the

Fig. 3.

Head of Gecko verticitlattts (East Indies).

lower surface of their toes is provided with a series of movable
plates or disks, by the aid of which they adhere to the surface over
which they pass. Geckos are found in almost every part of the globe
between and near the tropics, frequenting houses, rocks, and trees.

Fig. 4.

Hind leg of Gecko verticillatus.

With few exceptions they are nocturnal, and consequently large-
eyed, animals, the pupil being generally contracted in a vertical
direction. Geckos are extremely useful in destroying insects, and,
though greatly feared by those not acquainted with their habits, are
perfectly harmless. Nearly all Geckos possess a voice ; and the
large Gecko verticillatus, which is extremely common in the East-
Indian Archipelago, utters a shrill cry, sounding like " tokee " or
" took."


The Varanida, or Water Lizards, are the largest of Lizards, [Cases
some exceeding a length of six feet. A few (Varanus griseus,
Case 11) are terrestrial, but the majority semi-aquatic, the former
having a rounded, the latter a compressed tail, with a sharp saw-
like upper edge, which assists them greatly in swimming, and at
the same time constitutes a formidable weapon with which these
powerful animals can inflict deep wounds on the incautious captor.
They range all over Africa, the Indian region, and Australia. Their
prey consists of other vertebrate animals small mammals, birds
frogs, fishes, and eggs. In India they are well known under the
misnomer " Iguanas " as dangerous neighbours to poultry-yards.
Among the species which grow to the largest size may be men-
tioned the gigantic Monitor (Varanus giganteus, Case 16), from
N. Australia; the two-streaked Monitor (V. salvator, Cases 15-17),
common in the East-Indian Archipelago; the common Indian
Water-Lizard (V. bengulensis) ; and the African Monitor (V.
niloticus), ranging over the whole of Tropical Africa (Case 14).

The Helodermatida contain a single genus, the remarkable [Case 14.]
Heloderma, of which two species are known (H. horridum and
suspectum], inhabitants of Arizona and the western parts of
Mexico. So far as is known at present, they are the only Lizards
whose bite is poisonous. Their teeth are fang-like, provided with
a deep groove as in some Snakes, and the submaxillary gland is
enormously developed and secretes the poisonous fluid. They are
about two feet long.

The Tejida (Case 13) are the American representatives [Case 13.]
of the Lizards proper, from which they somewhat differ in
their dentition. The Teguexins (Tupinambis teguexim and nigro-
punctatus) are the largest, attaining to a length of about four feet,
and found in most parts of the South -American continent. The
Drac&na guianensis is a rare Lizard, found in the Guianas and
Brazil, and was considered a kind of Crocodile by old authors, who
saw a distinct resemblance to those animals in its compressed,
keeled tail, as well as in the large tubercles which are arranged
pretty regularly on its back.

Of the Amphisb&nidce, singular worm -like Reptiles, a few [Case 14.]
specimens and a skeleton are exhibited. All their external cha-
racters testify to their mode of life; they are burrowing animals.


passing; the whole of their existence under ground in loose soil,
sand, or ant-heaps. The skin is not protected by either scales or
scutes, but divided by circular and longitudinal folds into quad-
rangular segments arranged in rings. The colour of the skin is
either whitish, reddish, or greyish, sometimes marbled with black.
Legs are absent (with the exception of the genus Chirotes, in which
a pair of very short fore legs are developed). The head and tail
are both short; and the superficial similarity of the two extremities
in some of the species has led to the belief that they could progress
backwards and forwards with equal facility ; they are often described
as " Two-headed Snakes." Their eyes are quite rudimentary,
hidden below the skin ; ear-openings are likewise absent. The
Amphisbsenians are inhabitants of hot countries Africa, America,
and the countries round the Mediterranean. About 50 different
species are known.

[Case 14.] Lizards proper (Lacertidte) are confined to the Old World, and
found in Europe, Asia, and Africa. They seldom reach a length
of eighteen inches (Lacerta ocellata) ; they feed on small animals,
insects and worms being the principal diet, but a few, like the small
Lizards of Madeira, have taken to a vegetable diet, and cause some
injury to grapes and other soft fruit. The Common British Lizard
is Lacerta vivipara ; the Sand Lizard (L. agilis) and Green Lizard
(L. viridis) being more locally distributed in the Southern Counties
and the Channel Islands, but very abundant in various parts of
the continent of Europe.

[Case 14.] T^ Anguida include limbed as well as limbless forms; of
the latter the Slowworm or Blindworrn (Anguis fraffilis), common
in Great Britain, is the best known. The Glass Snake, or Shelto-
pusik (Pseudopus pailasii or Ophisaurus apus), common in South-
eastern Europe and Western Asia, is another example.

[Case 14.] The Scincida or Skinks, recognizable by their round imbricate
scales, also include forms in which the limbs are rudimentary
or absent. The largest forms of this family are Australian,
as Tiliqua gigas and nigrolutea, and Trachydosaurus, the last
remarkable for their rough scales and short tail, somewhat re-
sembling the cone of a fir-tree. A very curiously ?haped form,
also from Australia, is Egernia stokesii, with its short conical
tail armed with dagger-pointed spinous scales.



The Iguanida are American pleurodont Lizards (see Fig. 7) exhi- [Cases
biting an astonishing variety of form. The largest and best known H-13.]
are the Iguanas (Iguana rhinolophus and tuberculata, Case 12), found

Fig. 5.

Iguana tuberculata (Brazil).

in the forest-regions of Tropical America only, in the neighbourhood
of water, into which when frightened they jump from the overhang-
ing branches of trees, to escape capture by swimming and diving.
Feeding exclusively on leaves or fruits, they are themselves highly
esteemed as food, and their eggs also are eagerly sought for by the
natives. Iguanas grow to a length of five feet. The marine
Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatm, Case 13) is an inhabitant of the
Galapagos Islands, living on the rocks of the shore and feeding on
seaweeds. No other Lizard enters sea-water. Among the smaller
representatives of this large family may be mentioned the Anolis,
extremely numerous in Tropical America and the West Indies
small, slender, agile, thoroughly arboreal Lizards, of rare beauty

Fig. 6.

Californian "Toad" (Phrynosoma cornutum).



and variety of colour, and forming a striking contrast to the species
of Phrynosoma (Case 11) of North America and Mexico, which,
on account of their shape and sluggish habits, have earned the name
of Horned or Californian Toads (fig. 6).

Case 10.] The Ayamida represent the Iguanas in the Old World. They
are distinguished by the acrodont dentition, the teeth being anky-
losed to the upper edge of the jaws, an arrangement which occurs

Fig. 7.

Lower jaws, showing the acrodont (a) and pleurodont (6) dentition.

also in the Rhynchocephalians 5 some Amphisbsenians, and the
Chamseleons. Lizards of this family are most abundant in the
Indian and Australian regions, showing a great variation of form
analogous to that of the preceding family. The perhaps most
highly specialized Agamoid is the genus Draco, small winged Lizards
from the East Indies (fig. 8). The Dragons are tree-lizards, and
possess a peculiar additional apparatus for locomotion : the much-
prolonged five or six hind ribs are connected by a broad expansive
fold of the skin,, the whole forming a subsemicircular wing on each
side of the body, by which they are enabled to take long flying
leaps from branch to branch, and which are laid backwards at the
sides of the animal while it is sitting or merely running.

The Frilled Lizard (Chlamydosaurus kingii, fig. 9) is an Australian
Agamoid, growing to a length of two feet. It is provided with a
frill-like fold of the skin round the neck, which, when erected,



Fig. 8.

Dragon (Draco tcmiopterus) j Siam.




resembles a broad collar, not unlike the gigantic lace-ruffs of Queen

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Online LibraryBritish Museum (Natural History). Dept. of ZoologyGuide to the galleries of reptiles and fishes in the Department of zoology of the British museum (Natural history) Illustrated by 101 woodcuts → online text (page 1 of 8)