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A herpetologist is a zoologist who specializes in reptiles and amphibians, including crocodilians, amphisbaenians, lizards, snakes, and turtles and tortoises. The word "herpetology" comes from the Greek herpeton that means "to creep." People who work in this field are also known as "herps," and "field herping" is the study and collection of these animals and their identification through guidebooks and other materials.
To qualify for entry-level jobs at zoos, government agencies, and field biology institutions, a person typically needs a bachelor's degree in biology or herpetology. Herpetologists who want to teach at the university level, or advance their careers in the field, usually need a master's or doctoral degree, though requirements vary depending on the type of career and the region. This field can be a difficult to work in, as entry-level jobs can be low-paying or unpaid entirely. Many people find work on the animal side of the profession while earning their advanced degree. Once a person earns an advanced degree, he or she can teach, work for government or non-profit agencies, assume more responsibilities at a zoo or animal habitat, or even consult on environmental issues.
Those considering a career studying reptiles should check out their educational options in advance. Speaking with people already in the field; visiting museums, zoos, and aquariums; joining a regional or international herpetological society; and reading articles in scientific journals are all ways to find out more about herpetology as a career. Field observation is also important, and finding volunteer work or internships is a great way to see if it's a good career fit.
The working environment for a herpetologist can vary widely, and most end up combining their expertise with another field like education, consulting, or animal breeding. Some choose to be mainly involved in research and writing their findings in scientific journals, or work for wildlife agencies, zoos, or museums. Others may work more on the animal side of the profession, and may be animal breeders or photographers.
Herpetologists help in the conservation of reptiles and amphibians. They also help the medical profession with their knowledge of toxins and venoms or work in poison control centers. Many are involved in ecological studies, and work for colleges, governments, or non-profit agencies that are trying to understand why amphibian species are declining. Some people with an interest in this field also choose not to become professionals, but rather practice herpetology as a hobby in their spare time.