Amphibians and reptiles are included under a single discipline. Historically,
they were considered "lower forms" not worthy of detailed investigation. But
herpetologists have discovered an incredible diversity of ecology, behavior,
morphology and physiology in these animals.
They account for almost half of existing species -- there are over 4,500
species of amphibians and over 6,500 species of reptiles.
Herpetologists work in colleges, universities, government, medicine, parks
or museums. More recently, industrial and medical biotechnology have emerged
as areas with new and exciting opportunities for biological research.
Most herpetologists work as professors or researchers in colleges and universities.
With few exceptions, a person must have a PhD in biology to teach in these
The herpetologist is expected to teach a variety of biology courses, such
as introductory biology, anatomy, physiology or ecology, as well as herpetology.
In addition to teaching, a herpetologist employed by a university must perform
research and publish the results.
Some research is conducted in the field, and some may occur in a laboratory.
The location and the methods of the research depend on the aspect of herpetology
that is being examined.
Studies in physiology, immunology, embryology, genetics, anatomy and biochemistry
are usually conducted in a laboratory. Generally, they are subjects that require
a strictly controlled environment if the results are to be useful.
Research in ecology, behavior, population biology, reproductive biology
and biogeography involve a great deal of fieldwork. These are subjects that
involve situations and conditions that can't be replicated in a laboratory.
Most fieldwork is conducted at times when school isn't in session, such
as summer holidays. This is especially true if the research involves extensive
traveling. In all cases, data has to be analyzed, summarized and eventually
published in a scientific journal.
Scientific knowledge is communicated through publication, and most employers
look for people who have the ability to carry out research and then publish
it. Anyone interested in herpetology should be able to communicate clearly
and concisely, both orally and in writing.
Museums offer several other jobs for herpetologists, such as curators,
scientists and collection managers.
Collection managers take care of preserved amphibians and reptiles. They
catalog specimens, keep records and make specimens available for research.
Collection manager positions require a master's degree in biology or museum
studies. Other museum jobs are available for museum assistants.
Curators or scientists usually devote most of their time to research --
these positions require a PhD in biology. In museums that are associated with
universities, the jobs of professor and curator are combined, so that one
individual both teaches and does museum research.
Mark Greene is a professor of biology. In addition to teaching students
in the classroom, he guides skeptical, and often frightened, visitors through
the double-bolted doors of the venomous-snake room at Berkeley's Museum of
Greene believes that we should suspend our fear of everything that slithers
and he tries to communicate that during his tours. Plucking a yard-long rattlesnake
out of its cage, he often tells visitors: "Touch his skin or feel his rattle.
They're really works of art!"
There are various herpetological jobs available in zoological parks. Zoo
curators and supervisors are senior positions that may involve the supervision
of a herpetology department, the management and implementation of educational
programs, or other administrative duties. A zookeeper specializing in herpetology
usually works exclusively with reptiles and amphibians.
A herpetologist's work environment varies according to the position. Although
many work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, some situations may require overtime or
Fieldwork may require working at night to observe or collect nocturnal
specimens. For herpetologists involved in research, long nights spent pouring
over notes, books and journals are common.