Share this page:

Alan M. Peters

Supervisory Zoologist
Animal Care Sciences, Reptiles and Amphibians

As the curator of herpetology, Alan Peters oversees animal programs, exhibits, and staff of the Reptile Discovery Center (RDC). His primary focus is identifying, managing, and encouraging the work of the Homo sapiens within the department. RDC exhibits nearly 100 species with over 400 specimens, and participates in collaborations within the Smithsonian as well as with other zoos and universities. RDC staff regularly publish research in peer-reviewed journals.

Peters approaches saving species by directing RDC’s current and planned reptile and amphibian activities into cohesive programs with clear priorities. His strategy has resulted in 7 focal groups of animals with species that are in need of conservation. Peters’ goal is for staff to publish the findings of their research and exhibit the animals that raise public awareness of the need for conservation. RDC collaborates with other institutions in breeding and conservation efforts. Peters is responsible for upholding the high standards of animal care at the Zoo, and works diligently to continue facilitating innovative research. Peters is also dedicated to sharing knowledge with the general public and colleagues through, talks, social media, and publications. With nearly half of RDC’s collection being critically endangered or vulnerable species, Peters, the RDC staff and associates are fully engaged in animal management, research, and education focused on species needing conservation. They additionally concentrate on applying conservation knowledge to regional wildlife, such as studying and exhibiting salamanders with the ultimate goal of mitigating extinctions.

Peters started work at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in 1978, with research on heat production in pythons after feeding. He continued with education program development in the Reptile House. Peters received a B.S. in zoology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1980 and an M.A.T. in museum education at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. in 1984. At the Zoo, he was part of the team that developed, built and opened an innovative exhibit hall representing a broad array of invertebrate diversity. He served in the Invertebrate Exhibit for 27 years. During this time his work gravitated to the corals, octopus, and cuttlefish. In addition, Peters led a development team to exhibit a single biological process—pollination—adjoining the Invertebrate Exhibit. The Pollinarium opened in 1996. During Peters’ career at the Zoo, he has worn many hats: animal keeper in the Reptile House, Bird House and Invertebrate Exhibit; collection manager, assistant curator, and curator of invertebrates. Peters has also curated the Small Mammal House, hoof stock, Lion/Tiger and Bear unit, American Trail, and Amazonia.

Peters was active in Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) original Invertebrate Taxon Advisory Group before it split into separate terrestrial (TITAG) and aquatic (AITAG) groups. He currently serves on the AITAG steering committee, since 2004. Peters is the author of many presentations and publications, which came out of his work on corals, giant Pacific octopus, common cuttlefish, and nautilus. In addition, Peters helped execute the first AZA-wide aquatic invertebrate space survey for the Regional Collection Plan (RCP). Further work helped develop methods to share coral conservation information with colleagues utilizing emerging technologies, such as the first-time use of federal government wiki technology to organize and conduct conferences on conservation. In addition, Peters maintains NOAA’s Science on a Sphere® technology and program at the Zoo.

Peters’ ultimate goal is two-pronged: to help his team be the best they can be and to lead an inspiring aquatic and terrestrial facility for endangered species that inspires people to inquire about, discover, and respect the world they inhabit. He hopes that his work will inspire people to think critically about how they use the planet’s precious resources and to try to conserve ecosystems around the world.

Notable Publications:

  • “Preliminary observations on endogenous heat production after feeding in Python molorus.” Journal of Herpetology, 1982: Vol. 16, No. 1, pp. 92-95. D. Marcellini and A.M. Peters.
  •  “Understanding irregular shell formation of Nautilus in aquaria: Chemical composition and structural analysis.” Zoo Biology, 2014: 33: 285-294. M. Moini, A. O’Halloran, A.M. Peters, et al.
  •  “Arachnophobia or Arachnophilia: Exhibition and culture of Nephila madagascariensis.” In Proceedings of First Annual Conference of Invertebrates in Captivity, pp. 115-122. A. Peters and P. Hawkes.