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Q: Best way to become a herp biologist
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What is a good (or best) way to get into herpetology? I want to be a biologist of some sort, doing some type of field work ideally. 

I was told to post this here, so hopefully you guys have some good suggestions.

I already realize I will probably have to get a Master's degree at the lowest, and a Doctorate at the Highest, so I have a LOT of schooling ahead of me. This is not a deterrent.

Do you guys know of any schools really known for their great herpetology programs? I googled, but couldnt really find anything definitive.  



Points: 250
Topics: Knowledge Base
Tags: Biologist, College, Herpetoculture, Masters
Administrative: Show/Hide

Accepted Answer 11/5/2012 3:37:57 PM


Bowling Green State University
Eileen M. Underwood, Biological Sciences, BGSU, Bowling Green, Ohio 43403, 419-372-2531
9/2006: Currently at BGSU there are multiple courses relating to herpetology. Undergraduate courses include: herpetoculture, reptile husbandry, amphibian husbandry, and readings (independent study) in herpetoculture. Beyond course work there is a sizeable herpetology lab run by Dr. Underwood that includes multiple genetics projects in snakes, geckos and lizards. The lab, which is staffed entirely by undergraduate and graduate volunteers, does hands-on research along with public demonstrations for schools and other organizations. (J. Shipman)

Colorado State University
Gary C. Packard, Dept of Biology, CSU, Ft Collins CO 80523, 303-491-5376
Courses: 1 undergrad, 0 grad, offered spring semester, alternate years
Master's degree and PhD available.
Undergrads can pursue research in herpetology as I.S. with the approval of a faculty sponsor/adviser. Students concentrating in herps generally have interests in the ecological physiology of amphib and/or reps. Herp Faculty: Gary C. Packard, C. Richard Tracy

Cornell University
Dr. Kraig Adler, Dept of Biology, 410 Thurston Ave, Cornell University, Ithaca NY 14850
1 grad, 1 undergrad (same course), alternate years.
PhD available.
Undergrads can pursue herp research with special arrangements with individual professors. Herp Faculty: Kraig Adler, Antonie Blackler, Howard Evans, George Kollias

Earlham College
Richmond IN
MA, PhD. Herp faculty includes: John Iverson

Eastern Kentucky University
Dr. Paul Cupp, Jr., Dept of Biology, EKU, Richmond KY 40475-3124
1 grad, 1 undergrad, alternate springs
MS in Biology; no concentration in herpetology as committee determines coursework
Undergrads can pursue herp research as a special problems course. Herp Faculty: Paul Cupp Jr.

Emporia State University
R. Brent Thomas, Interim Chair, Dept. of Biol. Sci, ESU, Emporia, KS
MS in Biology with a herp concentration.

Georgia State University
Atlanta, GA
Master's degree and PhD available.
Undergrads can pursue herp research with special arrangements with individual professors. Although the Univ offers no specific herp courses, herps are covered in the Animal Biology (BIOL3840), Animal Biology Lab (BIOL3850), and Zoo Biology (BIOL4104) courses offered through the Department of Biology. Herps may also be part of zoo internships (BIOL4911/4912) by special arrangement.
Herp Faculty include: Walt Wilczynski (Psychology)

Harvard University
Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Dept of Biol, Cambridge MA 02138
1 undergrad; 1 grad (annually)
PhD with concentration in herps
Undergrads can pursue herp research with permission of faculty. Herp faculty: John E. Cadle.

Indiana State University
Dept of Ecology & Organismal Biology
Terre Haute, IN 47809
1 undergrad/grad course in herpetology; Masters and PhD programs available. Undergrads and grads can pursue research in herps with a faculty mentor. Herp Faculty: Drs. MJ Angilletta, GS Bakken, and DK Hews

John Carroll University
Dept of Biology, University Heights OH 44118
M.S. Biology, no concentration in Herpetology but undergraduates and graduates students often pursue research in herpetology. Herpetology (BL421/521) offered at the senior undergrad and graduate level. Herpetology faculty: Carl Anthony, behavioral ecology of herps; Chris Sheil, Developmental biology, ecology and systematics of turtles and frogs.

Loma Linda University
Loma Linda CA
MS and PhD. Herp faculty includes: William Hayes

Louisiana State University
Museum of Natural Science, Baton Rouge, LA 70803
1 undergrad (every other year), 1 grad (every year).
Undergrads can pursue herp research with permission of faculty; no specific area of concentration.

Middle Tennessee State University
Department of Biology, Murfreesboro, TN 37132. 615-898-2847
M.S. in Biology. Both undergraduate and graduate research. Herp Faculty: Vince Cobb (snake ecology, natural history of herps, thermoregulation); Brian Miller; Matt Klukowski.

Michigan State University
Zoology Dept, 203 Natural Sciences Bldg MSU, East Lansing MI 48824
1 grad offered odd-numbered years. Masters & PhD available.
Undergrads can pursue herp research via independent study with faculty. Herp Faculty: J. Alan Holman

Missouri State University (formerly Southwestern Missouri State)
Department of Biology, 901 South National, Springfield, MO 65897
MS program. This is perfect for someone that wishes to pursue a masters because there is no competition with PhD students. Everything is geared toward masters-level research, from courses and field training to final testing and manuscript preparation.
Faculty include: Don Moll (soon Emeriti)- a well known turlte ecologist; Alicia Mathis- a well known behavioral and amphibian biologist; Brian Greene- teaches herpetology course to grads and undergrads and an expert on snakes ecology and biology; Day Ligon- physiologist studies reptiles, specializing in turtles; - Robert Wilkinson (Emeritus but still around)- an amphibian expert and one of the founders of hellbender conservation; Lynn Robbins- wildlife studies.

Ohio University/Athens
Graduate Committee Secretary, Dept. of Biol. Sci., Ohio University, Athens OH 45701-2939, 614-593-2334 (FAX 0300)
M.S. and Ph.D - functional morphology, vertebrate paleontology, molecular systematics, population and community ecology, conservation biology, taxonomy and biogeography, etc. Herp Faculty: Scott Moody, classical systematics and comparative morphology of all herps, as well as lizard paleontology and biogeography; Steve Reilly, functional morphology and systematics of salamanders, lizards, etc.; Don Miles, ecology, statistics, behavioral ecology, conservation biology, comparative evolutionary studies, primarily of lizards; Willem Roosenburg, population biology, ecology, evolution, conservation biology, primarily of turtles; Matt White, molecular systematics (electrophoresis) of all herps, conservation biol.; Brent Palmer, reproductive endocrinology, physiology and anatomy of all reptiles and amphibians, studies of pesticide disruption of reproduction; Larry Witmer, paleontology and functional morphology of archosaurs; Jim Barron, population biology and ecology of reptiles.

Pennsylvania State University
William Dunson, S. Blair Hedges, Dept of Biol, 201 Shields Bldg, Box 3000, University Park PA 16802
1 undergrad, 0 grad, offered irregularly
Undergrads can pursue herp research; there is no herp concentration. Herp Faculty: William Dunson, S. Blair Hedges

Shippensburg University
Dr. David R. Long, Dept of Biol, Shippensburg PA 17257
1 dual level grad/undergrad offered alternate summers; Master's available
Undergrads can pursue herp research if they are junior level and at least 2.5 GPA. Herp Faculty: David long, Ruthann Pitkin, Fred Howard

Southern Illinois University
Dr. Ronald A. Brandon, Dept of Zoology, Carbondale IL 62901-6501
1 dual level undergrad/grad, 1 grad seminar, offered fall alternate years
Undergrads with GPA 2.5+ can pursue research in herps. MS an PhD in Zoology with research emphasis in herpetology. Herp Faculty: Ronald Brandon

University of California, Davis
Janet Fawl
Section of Evolution & Ecology, UCD, Davis CA 95161-8755
Courses: 1 undergrad, 0 grad, offered alternate years
Undergrads can pursue research in herpetology, but the Univ of Calif does not offer any graduate degrees with a concentration in herpetology. Herp Faculty: H. Bradley Shaffer

University of California/Los Angeles
Los Angeles CA
MS and PhD. Herp faculty includes: Kenneth Nagy

James Hanken, Dept of Biology, Campus Box 30, UCB, Boulder CO 80309-0030
Courses: 2 undergrad, 1 grad, offered annually
Master's and PhD available.
Undergrads interested in herp research have a variety of options: I.R. Honors project or undergrad opportunities program. Herp faculty: James Hanken, David Chiszar, David Norris, Cynthia Carey, Hobart Smith, Richard Jones, Gregory Snyder, Jeffry Mitton

University of Florida
Gainesville FL Herpetology Program

University of Georgia
Joshua Laerm, Museum of Natural History, Athens GA 30602
1 undergrad/grad (ECL 404/604)
Ph.D available in Ecology.
At this time, only grads can pursue research in herps. Associated with Savannah River Ecology Lab near Aiken, South Carolina. All herp courses through the Dept of Ecology. Herp Faculty: John Avise, Brian Chapman, Justin Congdon, Nat Frazer, J. Whitfield Gibbons, Chester Karwoski, Joshua Laerm, Jim Richardson, Robert J. Warren.

University of Kansas
Dr. William Duellman, Museum of Natural History, Lawrence KS 66045-2454
2 undergrad, 3 grad MS and PhD in Systematics and Ecology; PhD in Natural History Collection Mangement/Museum Studies.
Undergrad can pursue herp research with permission of faculty. Qualified upper level undergrads may take two grad level courses (Amphib Biol, Reptile Biol) with permission from instructor; third course is grad seminar. Occasional special topics offered relating to herps. Herp Faculty: William Duellman, Linda Trueb, Sally Frost-Mason, Henry Fitch (emeritus but still active in special projects), Joseph Collins (staff member at museum).

University of Massachusetts
Penny Jaques, Manager, Oranismic & Evolutionary Biol, Morrill Science Center, Amherst MA 01003-0027
3 undergrad, 3 grad; herpetology offered alternate years
Masters & PhD in O & E Biology.
Undergrads can pursue herp research with permission of faculty. Herp Faculty: William Bemis, Elizabeth Brainerd, Douglas Smith

University of Miami
Profs. Lee & Savage, Dept of Biology, POB 248025, Coral Gables FL 33124
1 undergrad, 2 grad, alternate years
Master's and Ph.D available.
Undergrads can pursue research in herpetology with the permission of a professor. Herp Faculty:Julian Lee, Jay Savage, Marueen Donnelly

University of Michigan
Drs. Kluge, Nussbaum & Gans ,1220 Student Activities Bldg, Ann Arbor MI 48109
1 grad, 1 undergrad, offered annually
Masters & PhD available.
Undergrads can pursue herp research if supervised by fac advisor. Herp faculty: Arnold Kluge, Ronald Nussbaum, Carl Gans

University of Missouri/Columbia
Graduate Coordinator, 218 Tucker Hall, Div of Biology Sciences, Columbia MO 65211
1 undergrad, 0 grad, offered annually.
Does not provide a herp degree per se, but provides research opportunities in behavior, ecology, genetics and evolution using amphibs as model systems. Herp Faculty: Carl Gerhardt, Richard Sage, Raymond Semlitsch

Univeristy of Nebraska
James D. Fawcett, Dept of Biology, Omaha NE 68182
1 undergrad, 1 grad, alternate years; Masters available.
Undergrads can pursue herp research under Supervised Research and Directed Readings. Herp Faculty: James Fawcett

University of Tennessee
Dr. A.C. Echternacht, Dept of Zool, Knoxville TN 37996-0810
1 dual level grad/undergrad offered alternate fall semesters; Master's & PhD available
Undergrads can pursue herp research if they are junior level and have had basic core biol courses. Herp Faculty: AC Echternach, GM Burghardt, N Greeberg

University of Texas/Arlington
Dr. J.A. Campbell, Dept of Biol, POB 19088, Arlington TX 76019-0088
0 undergrad, 2 grad, annually; Masters & PhD available.
Undergrads can pursue herp research if supervised by faculty advisor and also graduate thesis for MS degree. Herp Faculty: Jonathan A. Campbell, Eric N. Smith. More info: UTA Herpetology.

University of Washington
R.B. Huey, Dept of Zool, Seattle WA 98185
0 undergrad, 0 grad; PhD available
Although the Univ offers no specific herp courses, herps are covered in two vertebrate biol courses. Undergrads can pursue independent research in herps. PhD possible if student does research in herps.

University of Wisconsin/Madison
Pam Henderson, Grad Sec'y, 145 Noland Hall, 250 N. Mills St, Madison WI 53706
0 grad/under grad; Masters & PhD available
Although the Univ offers no specific herp courses, students can pursue reseach in herps as part of the Masters and Ph.D program. Herp Faculty: Warren Porter

Utah State University
Logan UT 84322, 435-797-1000
Joe Mendelson; Dan Mulcahy.

Washington State University
Drs. Kenneth Kardong & Paul Verrell, Dept of Zool, Pullman WA 99164-4236
1 undergrad, 1 grad, alternate years; Masters & PhD available
Undergrads can pursue herp research under a Special Programs course. Herp Faculty: Kenneth Kardon, Paul Verrell.

Author Comment 11/5/2012 4:05:07 PM


I guess I fail at google :P Thanks George.

Are there any particular colleges that stand out from the rest, that are the MOST recommended in herpetology? I dont want to go too far away if I can help it. Example: WSU has a special programs course, but if its not as good as say, Bowling Green or Indiana state, I will have to choose one of those over staying in WA.

Member Comment 11/5/2012 4:06:21 PM


Alyy, if you want to know who's "known" for herpetology - I'd go to pubmed. spend some time there and see who's publishing. it always helps to know if the faculty can actually get grants and keep publications going; this is the hallmark of a healthy program. it will also give you an idea of current areas of research.

it's such a broad topic, I'd look for review articles summarizing current knowlege first. I have access to most articles through work (and have a friend at wazzu's vet school for the stuff I can't get myself) if you need help getting into some of the journals.

Member Comment 11/5/2012 4:09:51 PM


My Goolge awesomness + what Aimee said.

Member Comment 11/5/2012 4:11:04 PM


whatever you do, DON'T waste your time on anything published by Raymond Hoser ;)

Member Comment 11/5/2012 4:14:01 PM


Yeah what a douche. Here I'll save you the trouble since you suck at Google Wink http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Hoser

Member Comment 11/5/2012 4:15:46 PM


Have another http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/handler-raymond-hoser-let-snakes-bite-his-daughter/story-fn7x8me2-1226111929548

Member Comment 11/5/2012 4:24:01 PM


Alyy, I've done the same type of searching and come up with the same list (cuz I am Google master.. lol).. since I am also changing my degree after nearly completing my Psych degree.  However, leaving NV is not an option with my kiddos... yet, I am not really in a hurry.  (We have LOTS in common.. PM me (; )

Also, Aimee.. I've been meaning to ask... What kinda science to you practice? :)

Member Comment 11/5/2012 4:34:17 PM


hey Shannin, hi.

I currently do leukemia research. I have a BS in Microbiology and a BS in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. so I didn't go all the way, lol, but I spent some time in school. 

I've also done research on MRSA, been a public health microbiologist, and studied gene regulation in bacteria during my undergrad.

I advised Alyy to come here, as there some actual herpetology-types that hang around this site. I'm NO herpetologist, just know enough to use the tools.

Author Comment 11/5/2012 4:51:01 PM


URK, i heard about that guy...

Will do Shannon :D

*goes off to read links*

Member Comment 11/5/2012 4:59:45 PM

Two Corny People

I currently do herp research at Troy University in AL.  I have a BS and an MS in general biology with emphasis in zoology.  I will give you the same advice I give my students, internships and/or volunteer work with herpetologists is the best way to get into the field and to find what niche fits you best.  You do not have to have a "herp degree" in order to work in the field.  The only reason you might obtain a "herp degree" is to pursue research in a certain specific area or be able to teach specific herp courses.  Many of my colleagues in the field have biology, zoology, botany, etc. degrees instead of herp degrees specifically (for example Auburn has a herp class but does not offer a specific herp degree).  The best way to know what you enjoy most is to get out there and meet people in the field through local herp clubs, meetings, etc.  There is a wonderful organization known as PARC (partners for amphibian and reptile conservation) - I am sure that they probably have a local chapter that has yearly meetings that you could attend and get to know some people who are currently doing research in the field.  http://www.parcplace.org/locate.html

Member Comment 11/5/2012 9:38:31 PM


I wouldn't recommend Colorado State University because their herp department isn't very big or well known-- it'd be more of the independent study/research type thing. I went to CSU and while a great school; if I were aiming for a masters in Herpetology I wouldn't do it there. Undergrad maybe.

Member Comment 11/7/2012 10:34:19 AM


I'll add some to the experienced Google search:

American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH): Careers in Herpetology

Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR): Herpetology Education

The Herpetologists' League

The Center for North American Herpetology (CNAH)

Herpetological Conservation & Biology


Of note, I am not promoting any one of these organizations above another; they are in no particular order.  This is also the internet, and these are academic associations I have linked; they may have internal politics that make one or another organization either a dream or a nightmare to work with.  I am linking them here as a resource (for my own use later as much as yours), and there is definitely information worth gleaning from any of these.  :) 

Many of these organizations have articles posted about seeking an education and career path in herpetology.  Make sure you read up on their knowledge & experience!

Member Comment 11/8/2012 10:14:56 AM


A lot of comments with valuiable information regarding the original poster's questions have already been made, so I will just add what I feel are some important tidbits.

There are quite a few herp keepers, field herpers, and herp enthusiasts in general, who are convinced that they want nothing more than to become a herpetologist. Unfortunately, many times that desire is largely the result of some very common misconceptions of what it means to be a herpetologist, which are produced and fueled in part by the television media. The idea that as a scientist you can be paid for going out herping all the time, or for your expertise in managing captive collections, etc. is largely wrong and outdated. Instead, being a herpetologist (in the aacademic sense) means that you are a trained scientist with an expertise in a particular field of study (i.e., ecology, systematics, genomics, microbiology, etc.), in which you are using herps as a model to address a set of research questions.

The vast majority of your academic training is going to focus on your scientific skill set, rather than your organismal knowledge. This means that if you are studying to become an ecologist working on snake behavior, you will spend the majority of your training learning about statistics and experimental design, which along with the usual somewhat bureaucratic aspects of academic (grant writing, committees, teaching, etc.) are going to occupy almost all of your time. In the end, the amount of time that you spend in the field observing/studying live herps is almost always significantly lower than most would expect.

I don't mean to sound discouraging, but I think that you need to be completely aware of what this profession entails, and I feel that very few people who are not already working within academia have a good understanding of what the job is really about. If you have a passion for science and have competitive scores to back it up, then becoming a scientist (be that a herpetologist or otherwise) may be a viable option. If you're primarily passionate about herps and think that working with them professionally would be fun, then you should carefully evaluate the next step. As others have mentioned, volunteering in a lab setting is one of the easiest ways to get involved and to get some insight into what it means to work in an academic setting. Be honest to yourself about your passions and expectations, and the next few decisions and steps will become a lot easier to enjoy and/or endure.

Member Comment 11/8/2012 10:29:30 AM

Two Corny People

As mentioned above, it is not all about being out in the field everyday "playing with herps" - I spend alot of my time writing grants for external funding for my research and teaching classes (some of my classes are field based courses).  Most of my students are all about money these days so to be honest with you if that is what you are looking for, this is not the field for you.  A "herpetologist" for the most part is looking at a salary $25,000-40,000 depending on experience and where you are located.  I would recommend some good ecology based courses first (which includes the statistical data anaylsis and report writing) and then move onto more specific courses such as herpetology, ichthyology, etc.  Again, we are not trying to discourage you in any way but as a fellow academian I just want you to have the truth and not base it on television depictions as mentioned above - I wish it were that easy :)

Author Comment 11/8/2012 10:35:08 AM


Dont worry, I'm fully aware I wont be spending my time field herping or playing with snakes. I know it will be 99% course work. I LOVE science, which is why I want to get into biology. I wouldnt mind doing something with herp genetics...Which will probably be just blood samples and lots of lab/computer time. I'm not fooling myself, but I still think I would LOVE a degree in any kind of biology. If it can somehow be herp related, I'd be thrilled!

Member Comment 11/8/2012 3:15:28 PM

Two Corny People

With herp genetics make sure to choose a school that has a great biotechnology/cell biology/molecular program.  At my school we do not have all of the lab equipment to run the necessary DNA & RNA tests that some herps I would like to study require.  However, I am fortunate to have colleagues at Auburn if I want to dabble in it a little every now and then.  Since we do not have the technology at our campus I have chosen to study the microbiota (flora) that are found in captive versus wild corn snakes (can do the microbial analysis fairly easy).  We are also working on several herpetological surveys in the surrounding counties.  In whatever you decide, I wish you much luck and it is a great field to get into.

Author Comment 11/8/2012 3:17:42 PM


Do you have any particular schools you'd recommend with those programs?

Member Comment 11/8/2012 6:21:48 PM

Two Corny People

Unfortunatley, I am only familiar with schools here in the Southeast.  We have some faculty from Washington State and Rutgers University and both of those have some biotechnology/cell biology classes and/or programs.  One of my colleagues did work with fish genetics in the Great Lakes region and the other one works with microbiology and bacterial genetics in regards to soil.  Both of the schools I attended for my degrees had classes such as biotechnology (where you learn techniques like gel electrophoresis and how to analyze DNA), cell biology, molecular biology, etc.  Sorry that I am not a lot of help for you in your region but I can do some research for you if you like - just send Buzz and I a PM and let me know what you are looking for and I will do my best.

Member Comment 11/21/2012 12:13:35 AM


You dont need a degree to be a Herpetologist . I have a degree in Vertebrate Zoology With an emphasis in Herpetology . Usually you will major in some type of Biology and take the Herpetology Coarse . This coarse is not long , Mine was a semester long and i knew everything they were trying to teach me already . To my knowledge you cant hold a Herpetology degree .

Member Comment 2/20/2013 2:43:11 AM


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