“Learning is experience.  Everything else is just information.” – Albert Einstein


Herpetology (WILD 4040/6040)


Course Goals: This is a professional level course primarily designed to serve two core constituencies: (1) wildlife and ecological sciences majors interested in professional careers that may include research or management of amphibians and reptiles, and (2) graduate students focused on wildlife or amphibian and reptile ecology and management.  As such, students who take this course will develop a detailed understanding of amphibian and reptile biology, and will develop a greater understanding of science and the scientific process through the use of herpetology as a model field.  A detailed understanding of herpetology includes knowledge of the ecological and evolutionary processes that regulate global and regional amphibian and reptile diversity, knowledge of the relationships between habitat and morphology, physiology, life history and natural history needed to study and manage amphibian and reptile populations, and an understanding of the cultural and environmental value of reptiles and amphibians. Developing an understanding of science includes a broader awareness of the use of amphibians and reptiles to address a diversity of theoretical and applied research questions, and understanding the process of scientific research as an incremental, interactive, and interactive process.


 To accomplish these goals each student will …

  • learn the biological features that characterize the classes Amphibia and Reptilia and that make them distinctive from other vertebrates and from each other.

  • learn the phylogenetic origins and relationships of major groups of herpetofauna.

  • use a variety of approaches including lectures, student-centered instructional labs, field trips, and autonomous field activities to learn the taxonomy, systematic relationships, ecology, and geographic distributions of herpetofauna globally and in Georgia.

  • use a variety of approaches including lectures, student-centered instructional labs, and field trips to evaluate patterns of convergent evolution among amphibians and reptiles, and learn morphological, physiological, life history, and behavioral traits associated with particular environments.

  • use labs, field trips, and autonomous field activities to practice standard field and laboratory techniques used in herpetology, including field collecting and monitoring techniques, classic and contemporary voucher techniques, and the regulations and guidelines associated with capturing, handling, and conducting research on reptiles and amphibians.

  • use lectures, case studies, and field trips to examine conservation issues related to herpetofauna on a regional, national, and global scale.

  • use stories to explore lines of herpetological research, the people engaged in that research, and the process of conducting scientific research.

  • engage the general public about the biology and importance of herpetofauna.


Based on student evaluations and comments from the previous three years, students would characterize this course as demanding yet highly stimulating.  Students describe the course as having a high and constant workload, and their greatest challenge the autonomous nature of many assignments.  Students report that their grade in the course was most affected by their personal investment and management in the course assignments.  However, students also reported that it was the autonomous, student-centered activities including instructional labs, stories, and pond inventories that increased their learning and course value.  Students commented that instructional labs were rewarding as an opportunity to learn by teaching, and that writing stories aided in personal engagement with the course and gave them experience relating wildlife biology and science to the general public.  Students say the field trips and highly interactive nature of the course including the camaraderie with other students are course strengths.  Despite the intense demands of the course, ~50% of students received an A/A-.  ~10% of students have failed the course.



As you will come to learn, the treatment of amphibians and reptiles as a single taxonomic group is more an artifact of history than biology, and the diversity of both groups makes teaching them together in a single course a challenge.  To address the breadth of diversity and issues related to herpetofauna and to provide detailed knowledge of regional fauna, the lecture and laboratory portions of this course are structured to address different objectives and demands.  The lecture components focus on the ecological and evolutionary processes that regulate global and regional amphibian and reptile diversity, knowledge of the relationships between habitat and morphology, physiology, and life history and the use of amphibians and reptiles in research questions to illustrate broader scientific theories and approaches.  Time is also dedicated in lecture periods to apply ecological knowledge to conservation and management case studies.  The laboratory portion of the course focuses on practicing techniques to inventory, monitor, measure, and voucher herpetofauna, and knowledge about the natural history and key characteristics for the identification of species in Georgia.

© 2019 by John Maerz.

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