Herpetologist  What They Do

Just the Facts

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists Career Video

Insider Info

dotAmphibians 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.

dotHerpetologists 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.

dotMost 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 places.

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.

dotSome 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.

dotMost 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.

dotScientific 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.

dotMuseums 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.

dotCurators 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 Vertebrate Zoology.

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!"

dotThere 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.

dotA herpetologist's work environment varies according to the position. Although many work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, some situations may require overtime or crazy hours.

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.

At a Glance

Study reptiles and amphibians

  • You can't be scared of snakes in this career!
  • Most herpetologists work as professors or researchers
  • Fieldwork may require working at night to observe or collect nocturnal specimens