Herpetologist Career Profile
Herpetologists are specialized biologists that provide care and conduct research on a wide variety of reptilian and amphibian species. Here's an overview of the job for anyone considering this career path.
Herpetologists conduct research on reptilian and amphibian species such as frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, snakes, turtles, terrapins, crocodiles, alligators, and lizards. Research on these animals may be conducted in the field or in controlled laboratory settings. Some herpetologists, especially those concerned with anatomy and physiology, also study preserved museum samples.
Areas of scientific research in the field of herpetology may include studies related to behavior, genetics, anatomy, physiology, ecology, health, and reproduction. Upon completing a research study and analyzing the data collected, herpetologists publish their findings in scientific journals where others can review them in the field.
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 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. Foreign language skills can be a big plus during these trips abroad. 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.
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.
Education and Training
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).
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.
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.
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.
According to the employment website simplyhired.com, the average salary for a herpetologist was listed as $45,000 in 2012. Indeed.com, another employment website, cited a similar salary average of $41,000 in 2012. College or university professors and top researchers may earn considerably higher salaries, often up to $80,000 or more in some cases.
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.
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.