James B. Murphy is the temporary curator of the Reptile Discovery Center. His research interests are centered on developing quantitative methods for assessing the competence of animals raised in captivity, the behavior of pitvipers and other reptiles, and the evolution of herpetological illustrations.
Murphy was born in Oak Park, Illinois, to parents who had never been exposed to reptiles or amphibians. As he developed his interest in these creatures, there was a considerable period of adjustment for them as he filled his bedroom with aquariums and cages of all sizes and descriptions. Throughout high school, he associated with herpetologists at both zoos and museums in Chicago; these professionals were important mentors for encouraging his developing interest. Murphy decided to major 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.