Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



James B. Murphy

Curator, Reptile Discovery Center

  • Manages 90 species of reptiles and amphibians at the Reptile Discovery Center
  • Oversees a team of five keepers
  • Manages research into behavior of amphibians and reptiles as well as training, welfare, nutrition, breeding, and enrichment.

James B. Murphy is the curator of the Reptile Discovery Center, where he is responsible for the management and care of all species in this area of the Zoo.

His research interests are centered on developing quantitative methods for assessing the competence of animals raised in captivity, the behavior of pit vipers and other reptiles, and the evolution of herpetological illustrations.


As an undergraduate, Murphy majored in philosophy at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, with the intention of becoming a college professor in that discipline. Later, he changed course and embarked on a zoo career.
From 1966 to his retirement 30 years later, he was in charge of the Department of Herpetology at the Dallas Zoo. Shortly after retiring, he moved to Washington, D.C., and became a research associate at the National Zoo.
In 1989, he received a Doctor of Science degree from the University of Colorado.
Murphy has served as President of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles in 1981 and has held various positions in several herpetological organizations.
He has published ten books and a number of papers, book chapters and bulletins on topics such as the natural history of Mexican rattlesnakes, ethological and reproductive studies on a variety of amphibians and reptiles, zoo history and philosophy, and husbandry.
He is section editor of the ZOO VIEW column in Herpetological Review.
He was a board member of the IUCN/SSC Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force for 16 years and is currently a member of the Captive Breeding Specialist Group of that organization.