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Herpetology is the branch of zoology concerned with the study of amphibians (including frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, and gymnophiona) and reptiles (including snakes, lizards, amphisbaenids, turtles, terrapins, tortoises, crocodilians, and the tuataras). Batrachology is a further subdiscipline of herpetology concerned with the study of amphibians alone.
Herpetology is concerned with poikilothermic, ectothermic tetrapods. Under this definition "herps" (or sometimes "herptiles" or "herpetofauna") exclude fish, but it is not uncommon for herpetological and ichthyological scientific societies to "team up", publishing joint journals and holding conferences in order to foster the exchange of ideas between the fields. One of the most prestigious organizations, the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, is an example of this. Many herpetological societies exist today, having been formed to promote interest in reptiles and amphibians both captive and wild.
Herpetology offers benefits to humanity in the study of the role of amphibians and reptiles in global ecology, especially because amphibians are often very sensitive to environmental changes, offering a visible warning to humans that significant changes are taking place. Some toxins and venoms produced by reptiles and amphibians are useful in human medicine. Currently, some snake venom has been used to create anti-coagulants that work to treat stroke victims and heart attack cases.
The word "herpetology" is from Greek: ἑρπετόν, herpeton, "creeping animal" and -λογία, -logia, "knowledge". People with an avid interest in herpetology and who keep different reptiles or amphibians often refer to themselves as "herpers".
"Herp" is a vernacular term for reptiles and amphibians. It is derived from the old term "herpetile", with roots back to Linnaeus' classification of animals, in which he grouped reptiles and amphibians together in the same class. There are over 6700 species of amphibians and over 9000 species of reptiles. In spite of its modern taxonomic irrelevance, the term has persisted, particularly in the names of herpetology, the scientific study of reptiles and amphibians, and herpetoculture, the captive care and breeding of reptiles and amphibians.
There are many different career options in the field of herpetology. These include, but are not limited to, field research, public and private breeding, zoological staff or curating, museum staff or curating and college teaching.
Those wishing to pursue a career in herpetology must have a strong science and math background. Few universities offer this program, and thus it is a highly competitive field.
In modern academic science, it is rare for individuals to consider themselves a herpetologist first and foremost. Most individuals focus on a particular field such as ecology, evolution, taxonomy, physiology, or molecular biology, and within that field ask questions pertaining to or best answered by examining reptiles and amphibians. For example, an evolutionary biologist who is also a herpetologist may choose to work on how warning coloration evolved in coral snakes.
Many herpetologists write both scientifically and popularly. Modern herpetological writers of note include Mark O'Shea and Philip Purser. Modern herpetological showmen of note include Steve Irwin, popularly known as the "Crocodile Hunter", and the star Austin Stevens, popularly known as 'AustinSnakeman', famous for TV series Austin Stevens: Snakemaster.
Most colleges or universities do not offer a major in herpetology at the undergraduate or even the graduate level. Instead, persons interested in herpetology select a major in the biological sciences. The knowledge learned about all aspects of the biology of animals is then applied to an individual study of herpetology.