What Does a Herpetologist Do?
Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More
Herpetologists are specialized biologists or zoologists that provide care and conduct research on a wide variety of reptilian and amphibian species. Herpetologists conduct research on reptilian and amphibian species such as frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, snakes, turtles, terrapins, crocodiles, alligators, and lizards.
Herpetologist Duties & Responsibilities
A herpetologist spends their time doing research in one of a number of different areas. This could include studies related to behavior, genetics, anatomy, physiology, ecology, health, and reproduction.
- Upon completing a research study and analyzing the data collected, herpetologists may publish their findings in scientific journals where others can review them in the field.
- Research may be conducted in the field or in controlled laboratory settings.
- Some herpetologists, especially those concerned with anatomy and physiology, study preserved museum samples.
- Herpetologists may be involved with the direct care of the animals that they use for research purposes if they do not have a laboratory assistant to handle such duties. Many aspiring herpetologists first hold lab assistant positions while they pursue their graduate level studies.
- Many researchers are also college professors, and they have teaching duties to attend to when they are not traveling to conduct research in the field.
- Herpetologists involved in education at the college level are responsible for preparing lectures, writing and grading exams, designing laboratory exercises, and supervising student workers as they assist with research studies.
- It may be necessary for herpetologists to travel to various countries so that they can pursue research opportunities with other specialists in their area of study.
The salary for herpetologists can vary based on factors such as the level of education attained, years of experience in the field, and the particular type of work the scientist is required to perform. Herpetologists holding doctorate degrees, those with significant experience in the field, and those with specialized knowledge of a particular species will be able to command the highest levels of compensation.
Wage statistics for the larger group of wildlife biologists are as follows:
- Median Annual Salary: More than $102,830 ($49.44/hour)
- Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $63,420 ($30.49/hour)
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: More than $40,290 ($19.37/hour)
College or university professors and top researchers may earn considerably higher salaries, often up to $80,000 or more in some cases.
Education, Training & Certification
The field of herpetology requires at least a bachelor's degree, and many go on to get graduate degrees as well.
- Education: Entry into the field of herpetology requires at least a four-year degree in biology or a related field (herpetology is not offered as an undergraduate major in and of itself). Coursework may include a wide array of topics such as anatomy, physiology, biology, ecology, animal science, genetics, statistics, computer-based technology, laboratory science, and foreign language (as research may involve travel abroad).
- Advanced degrees: Graduate degrees, such as a Masters or Ph.D., are required for those seeking research positions. While many graduate programs do not offer graduate herpetology degrees per se, it is possible to pursue related studies in zoology or biology while participating in herpetology research with a faculty advisor. Many professors allow students to gain valuable experience in the field of herpetology by assisting with their current research studies.
Herpetologist Skills & Competencies
A herpetologist may have a lot of formal education or degrees, but that's not the only requirement needed to perform well in their job. Soft skills such as the following are also important:
- Communication skills: Herpetologists must write scientific papers and give talks to the public, policymakers, and academics.
- Critical-thinking skills: Herpetologists, a subset of zoologists and wildlife biologists, need skilled reasoning and judgment to draw logical conclusions and make scientific observations from the results of experiments.
- Emotional stability: Herpetologists may have to go long periods with minimal human contact while working. Like other occupations that deal with animals, a herpetologist must have the emotional stability to handle working with injured or sick animals.
- Interpersonal skills: Zoologists and wildlife biologists typically work on teams. They must be able to work effectively with others to achieve their goals or to negotiate conflicting goals.
- Observation skills: Zoologists and wildlife biologists must be able to notice slight changes in an animal’s behavior or appearance.
- Outdoor skills. Zoologists and wildlife biologists may need to chop firewood, swim in cold water, navigate rough terrain in poor weather, carry heavy packs or equipment long distances, or perform other activities associated with life in remote areas.
- Problem-solving skills: Zoologists and wildlife biologists try to find the best possible solutions to threats that affect wildlife, such as disease and habitat loss.
- Foreign language skills: This can be a big plus during trips abroad.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for zoologists and wildlife biologists (this includes herpetologists) over the next decade relative to other occupations and industries is good, driven by a need for more zoologists and wildlife biologists to study human and wildlife interactions as development and a growing human population threatens wildlife and their natural habitats.
Since most funding comes from governmental agencies however, the demand for zoologists and wildlife biologists will likely be limited by budgetary constraints.
Employment is expected to grow by about 8% over the next ten years, which is slightly faster growth than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026. This growth rate compares to the projected 7% growth for all occupations.
Competition is extremely keen for positions in the field of herpetology, and opportunities for entering this field will continue to be limited. Job seekers with advanced degrees and significant relevant experience have the greatest number of prospects.
Positions for herpetologists may be found in zoological parks, aquariums, museums, wildlife agencies, colleges and universities, and government or medical research laboratories. The two primary areas most herpetologists work in are education and research, and many herpetologists work in a combination of both areas.
Some herpetologists choose to specialize in working with just one particular species of interest. Others may not work directly with animals but instead provide writing, photography, or consulting services.
Herpetologists working in the field setting may be exposed to varying conditions such as extreme heat, humidity, rain, wind, and parasites, especially when conducting research on reptiles or amphibians in tropical settings.
The majority of herpetologists work full time. They may need to work long or irregular hours, especially if they are out doing fieldwork. If they work with nocturnal animals, they may work at night at least part of the time.
How to Get the Job
Look at job-search resources like Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions. You can also speak with your graduate advisor or visit your school's career center to inquire about job opportunities or internships.
Securing a position as a herpetologist requires a significant commitment of time and funds. Those who complete advanced levels of education and gain solid research experience during their undergraduate and graduate studies will have the best chance of success in this field.
Herpetologists may choose to become members of professional herpetological associations such as the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR), the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH), the British Herpetological Society (BHS), and a large number of state and local herpetology groups. These groups promote education, conservation, and research in the field of herpetology.
Comparing Similar Jobs
People interested in becoming a herpetologist also consider the following career paths, listed with their median annual salaries:
- Agricultural and Food Scientists: $ 64,020
- Conservation Scientists and Foresters: $61,340
- Environmental Scientists and Specialists: $71,130