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Reptiles and Amphibians

There is a close familial bond between reptiles and amphibians. The oldest amphibian fossils date back to around 370 million years ago, while reptiles ‘only’ originated some 320 million years ago.

It is believed that dramatic evolutionary pressures sparked changes that led to amphibians becoming more land based. The main evolutionary changes that led to the origins of reptiles as a distinct but related species were the development of lungs and legs, as well as the laying of hard-shelled external eggs; amphibians, of course, lay softer eggs in water. That there are still many living forms of both groups around today is testimony to their resilience. They have survived major extinction events that killed many other animal forms, and adapted to dramatic changes in their environments – feats that countless other species could not manage.

The Iziko Collections
The Reptile and Amphibian collections are made up of two distinct collections.

Reptile and Amphibian Wet Collection
The wet collection includes many southern African forms. The national and fynbos species are well represented – 80–100% of those known – in these collections. Fynbos cannot support large numbers of reptiles and amphibians, but many of the species are unique (endemic) and, also, under threat. Of particular interest is the collection of Cape material donated by Cape Nature, a provincial conservation agency previously called Cape Nature Conservation. The Iziko South African Museum and its natural history collections continue to receive valuable donations of specimens from this source.

Reptile and Amphibian Osteology Collection
A small number of comparative skeletons are primarily used for identification purposes by archaeologists and palaeontologists. The dry tortoise collection consists of the carapaces (shells) of local species, some with associated skeletons as well.


  • Amphibian: A cold-blooded vertebrate animal, distinguished by its aquatic (water-living) gill-breathing larval (early) stages, followed by a terrestrial lung-breathing stage; the group includes frogs and toads.  
  • Fynbos: A distinctive type of vegetation – made up of an astounding 7 700 plant species – found only on the southern tip of Africa. 
  • Reptiles: A cold-blooded vertebrate group that includes snakes, lizards, crocodiles, turtles, and tortoises. They are distinguished by their dry, scaly skin, and typically lay soft-shelled eggs on land.
  • Wet collection: Or wet specimens, aka specimens preserved in liquid chemicals.
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