BIOL 331/332 – Herpetology Lecture and Lab Course Syllabus – Spring 2015

Professor – Jennifer Dever, Ph.D.,

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

Twitter: @jadever

Office Hours: Thursday, 2:30-4:00 or by appointment

Course Time: (Lecture) Tues./Thurs. 12:45-2:00 in LS 101; (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 nomenclature and other notable natural history information about the major amphibian and reptile orders, local families and local species

(5) understand the ecological role amphibians and reptiles play in ecosystems

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

(7) properly write a scientific species account

Required Text -  The Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians by Stebbins. ISBN: 9780123869197

Recommended Text –

Herpetology: An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles, 4th 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 the AmphibiaWeb Species Account.  To determine your grade, just divide the number of points you have earned by the total. 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: 80 pts 

B- 80-83%,   B 84-86%,   B+ 87-89%

Amphibia Web Species Account: 120 pts

C- 70-73%,  C 74-76%, C+ 77-79%


D- 60-63%,  D 64-66%, D+ 67-69%


F   <60%


 Herpetology Lab Info:

Lab/Field trip time:  Tuesdays, 2:10-5:30                            

In Lab: (HR 349) – 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 taxonomies

(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 preserved specimens. Dissecting kits and gloves will be provided in lab.All specimens used in this class have been ethically and sustainably harvested. At least one member in the group must conduct the dissection. Using actual animals is the best way to understand the anatomy and physiology of these complex organisms. 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. The mid-semester practical will cover amphibians observed on field trips and preserved specimens examined in the lab. 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 specimens at the end of the test period for 30 seconds each. Lab practicals are extremely difficult to set up -therefore if you miss the practical you will receive a zero. Rare exceptions can be made with proper official documentation. See the attendance policy.


Field Trips – We will be going on a several field trips during the laboratory session.  We will also have a Saturday field trip (Date to be determined).  For all Field Trips we meet in the upper level Koret Parking Lot five minutes prior to departure.. Attendance on these trips is required and each student should fill out a USF waiver form at the beginning of the semester before participating 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. 


AmphibiaWeb Species Account –

You will be responsible for submitting a species account for AmphibiaWeb (an online database that allows the public to search information about amphibian species and their conservation status around the world). Each student must choose a species from the list provided and write up the following information (using primary references): Diagnosis & Description; Distribution & Habitat; Life History, Abundance, Activity & Special Behaviors; Relation to Humans. If approved, this write up will be submitted to AmphibiaWeb for official online publication. Guidelines and a grading rubric for 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 will result in a final grade reduction. Absence due to illness can be excused if a physician's note is provided.
  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:  From the USF catalog: “The University expects students to be honest in their academic work. Academic dishonesty is viewed as an ethical issue and a violation of the principles of justice and personal responsibility inherent in the University's ideals as expressed in its Statement of Mission and Goals. In particular, students must refrain from plagiarism, cheating and collusion in connection with examinations and must acknowledge fully all sources and all assistance received in work submitted to the faculty for evaluation.” Plagiarism = “the uncredited use (both intentional and unintentional) of somebody else's words or ideas” from
    Plagiarism of papers or cheating on exams, quizzes, or homework will not be tolerated. You may not copy any part of anyone else’s work and pass it in as your own. Any plagiarism or cheating will result in a grade of F for the course, and a report will be submitted to the Dean resulting in a permanent record of the incident in your academic file. Improper citation of material will result in a minimum of a full grade deduction. If you observe someone else cheating, you also have the responsibility to bring this situation to the instructor’s attention. Please see the Honor Code section of the 2011-2012 USF 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, it must be SILENCED during lecture and lab; 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.  


Class Schedule