The Reptile Evolution Project

Independent Researcher
Saint Peters, Missouri
Earth Science
Open Access
Raised of $5,000 Goal
Ended on 2/24/15
Campaign Ended
  • $50
  • 1%
  • Finished
    on 2/24/15

About This Project

No encompassing, genus-based, phylogenetic analysis of the Amniota/Reptilia has ever been published. Smaller studies and their inclusion sets were based on convention. What is needed is a large analysis of all major reptile clades to settle issues. The present analysis now includes 425 genera and the tree topology demonstrates that many prior conventions are in error. 50 more taxa will be added to complete the project.

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What is the context of this research?

At present the family tree of the Amniota/Reptilia is in flux. Gene studies of living reptiles produce one tree and it is very simple owing to the small number of reptile clades now living. Morphological (anatomical) studies produce other trees, because they include both the ancestors of living taxa, plus all other extinct clades, including the flying reptiles, the marine giants, dinosaurs and assorted bizarre forms. At present no professional paleontologists are attempting to produce a family tree of the Amniota/Reptilia because the task involves cataloging the traits of hundreds of specimens. I have devoted the last four years to these studies with great success.

Current progress can be seen online at with a daily blog post at

What is the significance of this project?

This project removes several enigmas and mysteries from current and traditional paleontology using established scientific methods. The size of this project (employing several hundred prehistoric reptiles) has discouraged previous workers from attempting this much needed study. Prior smaller studies have suffered because they were not based on a large gamut study that established relationships across the entire clade of reptiles. By 'suffered' I mean mistakes were made. These mistakes were identified in the larger study. Future studies will benefit from this new data base. Most of the work is done. The addition of 50 more specimens to the tree will fill in any minor gaps that may remain and clarify relationships.

What are the goals of the project?

This is the 'final lap' of a four-year project. As the project nears completion the addition of each new taxon solidifies and clarifies established relationships. Newly published taxa (several every month) are entered into the family tree. Previously published taxa are entered as I become aware of them. Each taxon takes about two days to illustrate, write up and enter data into the current large matrix of data. Ultimately this family tree will be published in a peer-reviewed academic journal. From that point on it will be the prime resource, the large 'umbrella' study, covering all clades within the Reptilia, for future workers to base their smaller, more focused phylogenetic analyses on.


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I am retired and have devoted every day of 2014 to this project. I have no other source of income, other than the occasional freelance graphic project. Funding will enable continued research, writing, illustration and occasional visits to museums to see the specimens.

Meet the Team

David Peters
David Peters

Team Bio

I wrote and illustrated seven peer-reviewed paper in paleontology for academic journals, including Science and Nature, without a PhD. Four other papers are currently in review covering various aspects of reptile evolution including the origin of pterosaurs, archosauriforms, lizards and the first phylogenetic evidence for a previously unrecognized juvenile pterosaur.

I was the first paleontologist to recover a fenestrasaur origin for pterosaurs. The first to discover PILs (parallel interphalangal lines). The first to identify tiny Solnhofen pterosaurs as hummingbird- to sparrow-sized adults, not juveniles. And the first to discover the origin of turtles in Stephanospondylus.

Press and Media

My academic papers have been published in Nature, Science, Ichnos, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, Historical Biology and Rivista Italiana di Paleontologia e Stratigrafia.

Newsweek and The New York Times cited one of my books as one of the ten best books for children, Christmas 1986. Other books and calendars were featured in People, The New Yorker and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. These can be seen at my website:

Project Backers

  • 3Backers
  • 1%Funded
  • $50Total Donations
  • $16.67Average Donation
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