Biology of the Reptilia— online

by Greg Mayer

Biology of the Reptilia, the 22 volume, 13,800 page, 150+ contributor, magnum opus of the late Carl Gans is now online, thanks to the efforts of the Gans Collections and Charitable Fund, a private foundation run by Carl’s family and colleagues. Carl inaugurated the series in 1969, with the last in 2010, the year after Carl’s death. In the tradition of the great German-language compendia, the series sought to compile all of the scientific knowledge about reptiles. The 22 volumes consist of 9 on morphology, 5 on physiology (including much on physiological ecology), 3 on neurology, 2 on ecology, 2 on development, and a final volume of bibliography. Carl had wanted even more to be included, but the series is a tremendous achievement, a monument to his editorial skill and sagacity, and to the breadth of his knowledge, interests, and influences. It is fabulous to have the full text available online.

Biology of the Reptilia Gans 1 (2)

The title page of my copy of volume 4 of the Biology of the Reptilia, signed by Carl.

An appreciation of Gans and the series is given in the foreword to the final volume by Harry Greene, and the preface by Kraig Adler is also invaluable as an appreciation of the series and its accomplishments. I knew Carl through our association with the Museum of Comparative Zoology, where we both did our doctoral work (Carl completing his in the year I was born!). Volumes in the series were fairly expensive, and I have only 4: one of my favorite volumes in the series, the one above (signed by Carl himself); another favorite, volume 16 on ecology; and two others. I have not been able to get a copy of one of my other favorite volumes, volume 7, on ecology.

The online version provides a convenient table of contents to the full series, and a very useful comprehensive index. Each volume is rendered as a series of single-page-per-pdf files. You can advance or go back a page at a time, or jump to a particular page by entering its number in a box. Searches can be done within pages using control-f. On my computer, the number typed into the box cannot actually be seen (the box is too small– the text of the numerals extends out the upper margin, so only a tiny part of the foot of the number can be seen). I’m not sure if this is browser or computer specific, or something they can fix at the site. The page-by-page pdfs means that it is not possible to download a pdf of an entire article (except by doing it one page at a time). With five different publishers over the years, three of them for-profit, this was probably a necessary compromise to get the full text online. So, the online version will most conveniently be used for onscreen reading.

When Matthew emailed me that the complete text was online, I emailed him back

I didn’t know– this is fabulous! Just last night I was thinking, “Man I wish I had the volume on the squamate skull.”

Well, now I can read the volume on the squamate skull, and it really is fabulous.

h/t Matthew Cobb


  1. Posted December 29, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink


  2. Posted December 29, 2014 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    I love the logo in the upper-right, which I assume is in Karl Gans’s own hand.

    Making this available online is a great and generous thing to do. I hope Matthew found what he needed in re squamate skulls. I was just telling my daughter last night about third eyes!

    • Posted December 29, 2014 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      Got that backwards: Matthew shared the compendium, and Greg sought the squamate skull.

  3. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 29, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    I would like to learn more about the squamate skull, and how it compares with other skulls like those of mammals. I saw pictures somewhere that seemed to show that reptiles (like squamates) have more bones in their skulls and that mammal embryos start out with cartilage elements that seem to match those bones. But they soon join into the smaller number of cartilage elements that becomes the template for the bones we later develop.
    Anyway, that also would be an interesting post.

  4. mordacious1
    Posted December 29, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Permalink


  5. Paul S.
    Posted December 29, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    I thought I’d give this a quick scan and see if it’s accessible to lay people. I doubt I’ll finish because I’ve just started Chapter 1 Origin of Reptiles and I’m already off on a turtle tangent. At this rate I’ll be on chapter 1 forever.
    You’re never too old for homework.

    • mordacious1
      Posted December 29, 2014 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      It’s only 14,000 pages, zip through it on a weekend.

      • Posted December 29, 2014 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

        Piece of cake🍰

      • Paul S.
        Posted December 30, 2014 at 8:47 am | Permalink

        No problem, it’s got pictures. 🙂

  6. Posted December 29, 2014 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Thanks. It is great to know this is available.

    I am happy is hosting and paying for this website; this does seem like a good fit for BitTorrent distributed data storage.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted January 1, 2015 at 4:38 am | Permalink

      Found this a couple of weeks ago; I can’t imagine why anyone thought the single-page-pdf scheme was a good idea, but as soon as someone makes whole chapters available it will be about a hundred times more useful. It would of course be best if this were done by the Carl Gans site, but be assured that someone will do it.

  7. Diane G.
    Posted December 29, 2014 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    What an awesome accomplishment.

  8. Blue
    Posted December 29, 2014 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    The online presentation thereof is stunningly generous:
    this compilation likely contains every secret of the Universe!

    “ … … every single, freakin’ thing that one needs to know about how things actually came to be and, now, work ! ” exclaimed the Big Lebowski, er, I mean Blue as she sipped from the cordial her white Russian !

    ! Thank you INDEED, Gans Family !

  9. Lars
    Posted December 29, 2014 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this, Greg – very helpful for me, as most of our campus library’s set is off in high-density storage, and I need to refer to more than one of them as I struggle to get my dissertation written.

  10. madscientist
    Posted December 29, 2014 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    I’m no herpetologist but it’s always good to see the efforts of so many scientists made freely available to the public. Even though I may never read the volumes I’m very grateful to Carl’s family for what they have done.

  11. ToddP
    Posted December 30, 2014 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    This is wonderful! Thanks for posting, Greg. As a lifelong lover of reptiles I’m excited to dive in and explore.

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