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How do I Become a Herpetologist?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Herpetology is the study of amphibians and reptiles, and it is a relatively limited field that is competitive to enter. It's not always clear-cut how people become a herpetologist since experts have approached this in a number of different ways. Some rely only on field training to learn and understand this area of zoology and others have extensive formal training in wildlife biology or specifically in herpetology. Deciding to specialize in this work takes planning, thinking, and a willingness to train in a variety of areas.

Perhaps the best-known herpetologist who was not university trained was Steve Irwin, also known as the Crocodile Hunter. Irwin's personality made him a popular television star until his untimely death in 2006. Irwin received his training by working for many years at the Australia Zoo initially founded by his father. He also had extensive fieldwork experience, particularly with Australian reptiles. Posthumously, he received at least one adjunct professorship, and he published extensively during his lifetime.

The usual path to become a herpetologist involves studying biology and possibly zoology with emphasis on studies in lizard and amphibian species. A few universities actually have programs, often at the master's level, that are specifically designed to specialize in herpetology. Since these are few in number, what many people do instead is find good wildlife biology or zoology programs where they can explore this interest scholastically. Getting a bachelor's degree in biology or zoology is a good place to start before searching out programs that will support extensive studies on reptiles and amphibians.

In addition to university study, many people participate in different types of fieldwork during or after formal education. Fieldwork to become a herpetologist can take many forms. Some people work in zoos or natural history museums, others volunteer for conservation agencies, and some might find internships studying specific reptile or amphibian species. Those who go on to get doctorates in zoology, or some type of biology could design their own studies, get grants, and undertake significant fieldwork. Others looking for work might participate in these studies, usually in summer months when school is not in session.

It's pretty clear that education to a certain level is a defining factor for most people in this field. Many people can't become a herpetologist without it, but type of education may vary. A TV host like Animal Planet's Jeff Corwin refers to himself as a herpetologist though his master's degree is in wildlife and fisheries conservation. Part of studies and claiming this title is specialization in studies and work, and another part may simply be determining that a person has sufficient education to claim the title without others in the field objecting.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon276770 — On Jun 26, 2012

Exactly the things we love the most require a high level of intelligence. I'm 16 and I'd say living in Oklahoma with people who see snakes as a threat are just simply mindless to the fact that they do not see their true beauty.

By christensen — On Apr 16, 2011

@Kerrigan: Work hard on your science and math classes in the next few years. These are really important to get into a good college. Focus on biology, especially.

Also, look around and see if you can get any volunteer jobs at wild animal rescues or zoos close by. As for the good money, it's hard to say. A lot of people in this field don't make a ton, but they can make a respectable living by teaching as a college professor, which means sticking at it in college until you earn a Ph.D. Good luck!

By kerrigan — On Apr 15, 2011

I am 12 and i want to become a herpetologist and i want to make good money. what would be the best for me.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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