What Classes Should You Take to Become a Herpetologist?

When I was in college obtaining my Bachelor of Science degree in Fisheries and Wildlife, I took a lot of zoology courses that would help me progress as a herpetologist.

I started my journey in high school when I knew I wanted to be a zookeeper and work with reptiles and amphibians.

I wanted to work with herp species, but didn’t want to limit myself to just that branch of zoology. I wanted to specialize in it while understanding the other branches as well. 

There currently is no degree specific to herpetology. Students aspiring to perform herpetological work must complete a science degree in conservation, zookeeping, or research. Zoology is a specific science degree that can be considered for future herpetologists.

This article will talk about useful classes to take in varying degrees of education.

This is largely based on my own personal college experiences and will have a lot of examples of the courses I took and what I experienced in college.

I take a look at my transcripts and will name the specific classes and why they are useful at each level of education. 

Future Herpetologists Can Take Herpetology Classes

Herpetology is offered as electives, accreditations, or certifications by a handful of recognized entities, universities, and colleges. However, herpetology as a major is rare or non-existent.

Other than the Master Herpetologist Program offered by The Amphibian Foundation (which we highly recommend), rare are majors or recognized accreditations specifically in the field of herpetology.

But there are a few universities and colleges that provide herpetology as electives.

My first college degree, before I transferred, was in Zoology.

I ended up leaving my first college because my advisor refused to let me take herpetology instead of chemistry.

As a quick backstory to my experience, chemistry was a required course, herpetology was an elective.

But, herpetology was not offered each year while chemistry was offered every semester. 

I ended up taking herpetology at Oregon State University, where I graduated, and absolutely loved it.

I even joined the herpetology club and joined meetings through zoom calls to talk about presentations and research. 

You could also study biology if your goal is to eventually work in the field of herpetology.

Future Herpetologists Could Take Biology

Biology is the staple of all science and animal related programs, including herpetology. Biology covers numerous topics related to living organisms and how they function, and is taken in all education levels.

If you are interested in becoming a herpetologist, biology is a must. It can be taken in high school to introduce the topic to future college students.

If you know you would like to become a herpetologist, you could pursue a science degree you could take an advanced placement or honors biology course depending on what your individual school offers.

My high school offered advanced placement courses that would count as college credit if we attended a local community college. 

I started my college career at a four year institution to obtain my bachelor’s degree straight out of high school.

This is one route to take, however, students can also attend a community college to take many of the general education courses before transferring to a bachelor program upon completion.

Biology will be offered at either school. 

Introductory biology is a general education requirement when pursuing a science degree in order to practice herpetology.

This is typically two semesters, depending on the term length, or the first year in the program.

In college we took a concurrent laboratory class where we performed independent lab exercises following pre-set guidelines.

These labs mirrored what we were learning in class and expanded on the topic in a hands-on manner. 

Continuing past a bachelor’s degree will require independent research with a faculty member for the institution of choice.

Professors often conduct their own research on behalf of the university, and graduate students pursuing a Master’s degree or PhD can work with them on their own research. 

Future Herpetologists Could Take Zoology

Herpetology is the branch of zoology that studies reptiles and amphibians. Variations of Zoology degrees, such as zoo science and zookeeping, are recommended for those pursuing the animal care path of herpetology.

Zoology is extremely beneficial for understanding animal anatomy and behavior more in depth than general biology degrees. 

Zoology deals with the entire animal kingdom.

These types of degrees will focus on animal specific courses. Courses like animal science and development do not talk about humans in any way.

Coworkers I have from a different school took vertebrate courses to expand on animals with vertebrates. 

Animal conservation and management courses help students understand field work better.

This can be concurrent with population dynamics to understand how populations shift and why, and what we can do if a species is at risk.

These courses are extremely beneficial for wildlife biologists and managers. 

Systematics courses are specific to organisms similar in evolutionary history, such as reptiles and amphibians, and classifies them.

The systematics courses I took focused a lot on skeleton and skull structures and life histories. 

Other Science Classes Related to Herpetology

In addition to introductory biology, I completed environmental geology, forest ecology, environmental law, and population dynamics courses in order to gain indirect experience in the field of herpetology.

These courses were unique and interesting and had some sort of relation that could help me as a herpetologist.

I understand how the natural world has changed, how to track populations, and the types of environments these species can be found in. 

There are also specific courses offered in zoology programs that delve into animal branches.

Classes such as mammalogy, ornithology, and yes, herpetology.

Herpetology was my favorite class that I took as it talked about all species encompassed in the umbrella.

We defined amphibians and reptiles and classified them based on their taxonomy. 

We talked about what makes herp species different from mammals, birds, fishes, etc.

We looked at their range maps in the world and how they evolved to adapt to their environments.

We defined their niches in their individual ecosystems and so much more! 

In college you can pick your major and minor and design your coursework around what you want to do as a career using the college’s template.

Electives give you the creative freedom to really take what you enjoy the most!

Remember, the degree varies per institution and sometimes your first pick is not always the best fit. 

This article was written by Melissa M. who holds a Bachelors of Science in Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, and a Master Herpetologist certificate. The article was edited and published by Daniella, Master Herpetologist in the author profile below.


How to be a herpetologist. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles. (2014, October 21). Retrieved from https://ssarherps.org/all-about-herps/how-to-be-a-herpetologist/ 

So you want to become a herpetologist? Madison Area Herpetological Society. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.madisonherps.org/kickstart/en/wisconsin-reptile-resources/education-articles/99-so-you-want-to-become-a-herpetologist 

What is a herpetologist? EnvironmentalScience.org. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.environmentalscience.org/career/herpetologist

Daniella Master Herpetologist

Daniella is a Master Herpetologist and the founder of toadsnfrogs.com, a website dedicated to educating the general population on frogs by meeting them where they are in their online Google Search. Daniella is passionate about frogs and put her digital marketing skills