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What Skills Are Required to be a Herpetologist?

I consider myself an amateur herpetologist.

I own reptiles, have worked with them for many years, and have tailored my education and current job positions around reptiles and amphibians.

I’ve taken additional courses in herpetology after completing my bachelor’s degree and strive to educate people about the often misunderstood animals in this branch of zoology.

Hopefully, I can help people understand why this is such a cool field and what it takes to enter it. 

Skills required to thrive in the field of herpetology include organization, time management, observational skills, creativity, and problem solving. Having both the skills to work as a member of a team and individually is also critical when working as a herpetologist. 

In this article we will talk about what skills are best suited for a career in herpetology.

Of course, there are many different career paths one could take in this particular field.

We will expand on why certain skills are required and recommended and discuss higher education in terms of college degrees. 

A lot of the skills that will be talked about in this article come from my personal experience. I currently work as an exotic animal veterinary nurse and a zookeeper, working in my facility’s nature center with the reptile species.

I’ve centered my career around reptiles and have learned first-hand what it takes to make it in this field.

It is not always an easy field, and becoming known as an actual herpetologist can have different definitions by different people. 

Herpetologists Need to Have Observational Skills

Observational skills are critical when it comes to animal studies. You must be able to observe the behaviors of the animals, notice the changing evolutionary traits, or find a snake hiding under a log in a forest.

Observing the world around you translates to understanding that world better. 

There is the question of what you want to do as a herpetologist. Do you want to be a scientist who studies life histories and genetics? Become a zookeeper providing care to live animals? Maybe you just want to be a hobbyist and own several species of your own. 

Scientists must be able to identify changes in life history patterns from fossil records or from preserved specimens.

Wildlife managers need to identify shifting population patterns, whether in geographical range or population number.

Hobbyists should understand how to properly house and feed their collection and take them to a veterinarian as needed. 

Zookeepers must not only have the skills to know how to provide care for the living species, but have the physical stamina to work long hours on their feet.

Same goes for field workers and those who go on herping trips outdoors.

Being able to stand and walk for long periods at a time, sometimes in adviser weather, will be beneficial in future careers or hobby passions. 

An example of how my observation skills helped me as a zookeeper is from when one of our pine snakes had an upper respiratory infection.

I observed him holding his mouth open to breath and notified a supervisor straight away. They brought him to the vet and started him on medication before the infection progressed. 

Herpetologists Need to be Patient

Herpetology is a difficult field, I will not sugar coat it. It takes a lot of hard work and heartache and after education, volunteering, and networking, you may still not be able to find a career. You need to possess the patience to keep searching and refining your goals. 

Patience comes from searching an area for seven days and not finding the species you have been looking for.

Patience comes from trying to clean a rattlesnake’s enclosure and waiting for it to shift into a secure location.

Patience comes from volunteering at a facility until a paid position becomes available. 

I have been interested in reptiles and amphibians for almost seven years now, and I cannot find a full-time career working exclusively with those species.

I have had to shape my career based on the challenges I have faced. But through it all I have remained patient and loyal to the field. 

New herpetologists need to know the salary to start may not be what you are expecting.

Comparably suggests a salary ranges from $13,000 to over $300,000. This, of course, depends on length in the field and position.

Zookeepers make very little, hobbyists may rely on breeding to fund their collection, and conservation biologists working for the state will have compensatory benefits. 

If you are truly interested in becoming a herpetologist, you must have the patience to start at the bottom and climb the career ladder until you get there.

Herpetologists Must Manage Time Properly

Time management is a necessary skill for any herpetologist. This is the time it takes to complete each project. One must be able to dedicate the appropriate time to complete a project and start another, or multitask if necessary. 

A field worker needs to work within the time of day that their species is most active.

Get to the field on time, search an area thoroughly but without spending too much time there, leave before the hour window is up. 

Animal caretakers must fit room in their schedule for every animal in the collection.

This includes the basic spot cleaning, full cleans, and feedings for the day. Writing up charts, doing dishes, and cleaning should also be a factor in the time management for the day. 

Herpetologists Need to Enjoy Ongoing Education

Higher or continued education is always a question when looking into careers and specialized job positions.

Different jobs require different degrees and experience, and since herpetology is a specialized branch of zoology, some form of higher education is almost always required.

Every article I looked into while researching for this post mentioned higher education. 

Some sort of degree in biology, zoology, ecology, or other science is usually the first step in continuing education.

Specific herpetology degrees are pretty rare to come by, so the specialization of the degree can be tailored to what you want to do with the degree.

There are some certificate programs that take a few months to complete that can get pretty specific. 

It can be a difficult field since it is so specialized, but worth it once you realize all the good it does for some amazing species. 

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.


Careers in herpetology. CNAH. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.cnah.org/createdContent.aspx?cnahId=1769%7C0 

Gibbons, J. W., & Dorcas, M. E. (n.d.). What is a Herpetologist and How Can I Become One? . CNAH. Retrieved, from http://www.cnah.org/ 

Herpetologist salary | comparably. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.comparably.com/salaries/salaries-for-herpetologist Resilience Alliance Inc. (2016). What happens at the gap between knowledge and practice? Spaces of encounter and misencounter between environmental scientists and local people. JSTOR. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/

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 and teaching experience to good use by creating these helpful resources to encourage better education, understanding, and care for frogs.