Herpetology concerns the study of amphibians, which include frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and gymnophiona (which resemble earthworms and some snakes). Herpetology also concerns the study of reptiles, including snakes, lizards, turtles, terrapins, tortoises, crocodilians and tuataras. Batrachology, a subdiscipline of herpetology, deals with the study of amphibians alone.
Herpetology comes from the Greek words herpeton (meaning “creeping animal”) and logia (meaning “sayings”). People who study herpetology are known as herpetologists. Sometimes, herpetologists are called “herpers,” especially those who collect different reptiles and amphibians.
Herpetology is concerned with the study of poikilothermic (of varying internal temperatures), ectothermic tetrapods. While herpetology under this sense excludes fish, it is not uncommon for herpetologists to join up with fish scientists, collectively known as ichthyologists, publishing joint journals and holding conferences in order to foster the exchange of ideas between both fields. One notable example of this is the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists.
Herpetology is very beneficial to humanity. It concerns the study of the role of amphibians and reptiles in global ecology, especially because amphibians are often very sensitive to environmental changes, offering a visible warning to humans that significant changes are occurring. Toxins and venoms produced by a number of amphibians (such as poison dart frogs) and reptiles (vipers and rattlers, et. al.) are useful in human medicine. Some snake venoms have been implemented to create anti-coagulants to treat stroke victims and heart attack patients.
A term that is often associated with herpetology is “herp,” which is a vernacular term for reptiles and amphibians. Herp derives from the old term “herpetile,” which can be traced back to Linnaeus’ classification of animals, in which he grouped reptiles and amphibians together in the same class.
Today, there are more than 6700 known amphibian species and over 9000 known reptilian species.
Herpetology includes a broad range of career fields, including field research, public and private breeding, zoological curating, teaching, etc. For those who wish to pursue a career in herpetology, they must have strong science and math background. Very few universities and colleges offer herpetology programs, and thus it has become a competitive field.
In modern science, it is rare for individuals to consider themselves herpetologists first and foremost. Often times, these researchers focus on a particular field such as ecology, evolution, taxonomy, physiology, or molecular biology; It is usually within these fields that herpetologists are born.
Many herpetologists are also notable writers. Notable herpetological writers include Mark O’Shea and Philip Purser. Notable herpetological showmen include the late Steve Irwin, known as the “Crocodile Hunter,” and Austin Stevens, popularly known as “AustinSnakeman,” famous for his TV show Austin Stevens: Snakemaster.
Image Caption: Golden Toad (Bufo periglenes). Credit: Bufo_periglenes from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikipedia