BIOL 331/332 – Herpetology Course Syllabus – Spring 2013

Professor – Jennifer Dever, Ph.D.,

Office – HR 352, Phone – 422-5481, Email –

Office Hours: Wednesday, 2:00-4:00 or by appointment

Course Time: (Lecture) Tues./Thurs. 12:15-2:00 in Masonic 226; (Lab) Tues. 2:10-5:30 in HR 340.


  Course Description – Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians.  This course will be a complete survey of these animals.  Specifically we will examine their evolutionary relationships, species diversity, morphology and physiology, ecological relationships, and conservation aspects.  The laboratory portion will focus on their taxonomy and anatomical features - with an emphasis on local herps.  We will also occasionally go in the field to ATTEMPT TO observe reptiles and amphibians in their natural habitat, as well as visit museums with preserved collections.


Learning Outcomes –

(1)     investigate and describe the anatomy, physiology, ecology and evolutionary biology of reptiles and amphibians and accentuate the multidisciplinary approach currently utilized in the field of herpetology

(2)   analyze and discuss the adaptive morphological and physiological features unique to the various reptiles and amphibians of North America

(3)   recognize the similarities and differences among reptiles and amphibians and demonstrate an understanding of their evolutionary history

(4) recall notable information about the major amphibian and reptile orders

(5) characterize the severe conservation threat amphibians and reptiles are under and identify the specific problems impacting this group

(6) write a scientific research proposal that includes constructing an original hypothesis and experimental design for research involving reptiles/amphibians

Required Text -  The Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians by Stebbins. ISBN: 0395982723

Recommended Text –

Herpetology: An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles, Third Edition, by Vitt & Caldwell, ISBN: 9780123743466

(although this is not Required, it is strongly recommended if you can afford it; however if you take very good notes you should be able to do ok without it).


Grading – Your grade will be comprised of how well you do on the exams and in the laboratory (which includes 2 practicals and a proposal).  You will receive the same grade for both the lecture and the lab portions of the course.


Grading Scale:  

4 exams: 400 pts   

A- 90-93%, A 94-97%, A+ 98-100%

2 lab practicals: 90 pts 

B- 80-83%,   B 84-86%,   B+ 87-89%

Team proposal: 100 pts

C- 70-73%,  C 74-76%, C+ 77-79%

Field/lab participation: 10 pts 

D- 60-63%,  D 64-66%, D+ 67-69%


F   <60%



Herpetology Lab Info:

Lab time:  Tuesdays, 2:10-5:30, room HR340                             

Laboratory Description – In lab you will be (a) learning important characters of external morphology of amphibians and reptiles and (b) becoming familiar with the families of North America (i.e., the continental U.S. and Canada) and the species of California. 

Laboratory Learning Outcomes-

(1)    learn and apply identification techniques for herpetological taxonomys

(2) perform the dissection of lab specimen and identify and describe the external and internal structures, memorizing the function of each

(3)   be able to describe the unique characteristics of each local herpetological taxa and successfully identify preserved specimen

(4) memorize the scientific names of local amphibians and reptiles (including Family, Genus and Species level identification)

(5)   be able to recognize local reptile and amphibian species in the field, and recognize the potential habitat where species may be found

Preserved Specimens – You will be using your field guide to key out preserved specimens. Specimens used for identification are not to be "dissected" or "stressed" in an attempt to examine details of internal anatomy.  These are very fragile and many are severl decades old - so they must be treated with extreme care.  The specimens are preserved in EtOH and should not be exposed for extended periods to the dry air in the laboratory.   You should use latex gloves to handle specimens.  BRING YOUR FIELD GUIDE TO EVERY LAB SESSION. You will be responsible for learning the correct taxonomic names for each specimen for the lab practical. You may take photos of lab specimen.

No Food or Drink permitted in the Lab.

Dissecting SpecimensIn pairs you will be dissecting a few specimens. Dissecting kits and gloves will be provided in lab. You will be responsible for learning the external and internal structures and their functions for the lab practical.

Lab Practicals– There will be a mid-semester, and end of the semester lab practical. This will require the proper identification of museum specimens and external and internal organs/functions from dissected specimens. You will be timed, and will only be able to re-visit two specimen at the end of the test period for 30 seconds each.


Field Trips – We will be going on a several field trips during the laboratory session.  We will also have a Saturday field trip.  We meet in the Koret Parking Lot for our field trips. Attendance on these trips is required and each student must fill out a USF waiver form at the beginning of the semester before they can participate on any field trips.  You should dress appropriately (boots, pants, jacket) and remember to bring your FIELD GUIDE.  Please be on time to leave for these trips - being even a minute late may result in you missing the trip (we don't have time to wait).


It is always important to leave all aspects of the natural habitat as you found it. You will learn the proper techniques for herp hunting - but keep in mind that animals should always be handled with the utmost care. You should never handle any type of venomous snakes.  If you have any doubt, do not pick up a venomous snake. If you are allergic to bees you must let me know and you are responsible for carrying your own EpiPin. 


Proposal –

You and a partner will be responsible for submitting a grant proposal to fund a proposed herpetological research project.  This is an exercise to introduce you to the all important activity of securing $$$ for research purposes.  Your research proposal should included an overview statement, introduction of the research hypothesis and plan including background information that supports your hypothesis and plan; proposed methods, expected results and significance of the research, and a projected budget.  Guidelines for this assignment will be provided.


Course Policies-

  1. Attendance: Attendance is mandatory.  Throughout the course, you are expected to attend all class meetings (field trips included), be prepared, and be on time.  If you must miss a lab due some other pressing obligation (e.g. job interviews, professional meetings, or family emergencies), we may be able to work this out if you discuss it with me early enough.  If not we will have a problem, so just be sure to give me a “heads up”!  Missing more than 2 classes may result in a final grade reduction. Absence due to illness can be excused if a physician's note is provided. Field trip waiver must be signed by all students in order to participate in field trips.
  2. Exams & Practicals: Exams & Practicals must be taken when scheduled.  Excused absences for exams will be granted only for medical reasons, which are documented by a physician.  You must arrange to make up exams within 24 hours of your return to campus.  Make-up tests must be taken within two days of the scheduled exam date or an automatic zero will be recorded for that exam.  You must take every exam.  Lab practical exams cannot be made up, as they take vast amounts of time to set up and take down.
  3. Academic Honesty:  Plagiarism on assignments or cheating on exams, or the proposal will not be tolerated.  You may not copy any part of another person's work and call it your own.  Plagiarism or cheating will result in an F on that assignment or exam, a report to the Dean and a record of the incident in your academic file.  See the U.S.F. Catalog:See the Honor Code section in the 2011-2012 U.S.F. Catalog.
  4. Drop policy: After the University deadline, the course may be dropped only for serious and compelling reasons.  I interpret “serious and compelling” to mean “unforeseeable.”  Serious illness, sudden impoverishment, and similar catastrophes qualify; poor academic performance does not.  If you choose to stop attending class, and do not withdraw prior to the deadline – you will receive an F.  An Incomplete (I) is given only when extenuating circumstances prevent you from completing work in the course; earlier exam scores stand unchanged.  Per University policy, an “I” grade remaining incomplete after the completion of the following semester will automatically be changed to “F”.
  5. Students with disabilities:  Please discuss your needs with me during the first week of classes.  Any student who, because of a disabling condition may require special arrangements in order to meet course requirements should contact the Disability Related Services Dept. at 2613.

*If you carry a cell phone or any type of electronic device that is distracting, it must be turned off during lecture; it may be used to take photos during the lab but turn the ringer OFF. All devices must be completely stored away during exams and practicals.