SCIE 618
Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles

Geoffrey Hammerson


• Klemens, M. W. 2000. Amphibians and reptiles in Connecticut: a checklist with notes on status, identification, and distribution. Connecticut DEP Bulletin 32. 

• Gibbs, J. P., et al. 2007. The amphibians and reptiles of New York state: identification, natural history, and conservation. Oxford University Press. 


Please read chapters 12 and 13 in Gibbs et al. before the first class. Following each field trip, please read in the texts the sections that cover the amphibian and reptile groups and species we observed in the field. All classroom presentation materials will be posted as pdf files that you can view and download from Blackboard (available through your student portfolio).

Important Information for the First Class Meeting

Important information for the first class meeting: Please wear/bring clothes and footwear suitable for a field trip that could be wet and muddy; bring notebook, pen/pencil; hat; sunscreen; field guides; camera (optional); polarizing sunglasses (optional) are useful for looking into water. Beginning on Tuesday: morning field trips will be followed by an afternoon classroom session for lecture and discussions. Field trip destinations are in part weather dependent and will be provided on the day prior to each trip.

Course Schedule
August 4

Meet in the classroom at 8:00 am. Lecture/discussion topics: course overview; amphibian and reptile diversity; evolution. Afternoon field trip.

August 5

Morning field trip. Lecture/discussion topics: basic anatomy and physiological ecology. 

August 6

Morning field trip. Lecture/discussion topics: sensory systems and communication; spatial biology.

August 7

Morning field trip. Lecture/discussion topics: life history patterns and breeding biology.

August 8

Morning field trip. Lecture/discussion topics: foraging behavior and ecological relationships; conservation biology. Identification exam. Readings: Klemens pp. 12-16; Gibbs et al. pp. 267-329.


• Class field trip reports (5). See guidelines at the end of this syllabus. Reports are due one week after the field trip. Each report = 5% of course grade (total = 25%).  

• Take-home short-answer exam. Will be available in the Course Documents section of Blackboard. Due August 20. 50% of grade.  

• Amphibian and reptile identification exam. Using your field guides if desired, be able to identify any amphibian or reptile species native to Connecticut. Exam may involve live specimens or diagnostic photographs. 10% of grade.  

• Independent observation report. Before the first class meeting, go out on your own field trip and find an amphibian or reptile, or take advantage of an unplanned encounter with a salamander, frog, turtle, or snake. Record the following information:
1. Date, time, and place of observation. 2. General habitat (e.g., in a hilly forest dominated by mature oak, maple, and birch trees). 3. Microhabitat (i.e., the precise location of the individual, such as "on damp soil under a rotting log"). 4. The animal's behavior (i.e., what it was doing, and what it did after you found it). Spend some time, look closely, and strive to record precise, accurate, and plentiful observations. Be brave and attempt to sketch some details about the animal's appearance or location. This assignment has no set format. The write-up is due on August 4.  5% of final grade.  

• Commentary on primary research paper. Make sure you have your Wesleyan user name and password; do this well before the first class. Connect to the Wesleyan University website, then click on Library. Under Find, Articles, click on "Indexes & Databases." Scroll down and click on Connect for "BioOne." On the top line click on "Search." Scroll down and in the empty box to the right of "Title" enter the name of an amphibian or reptile species that interest you. Scroll down a little and click on "Submit Search." Look through the results and click on Full Text or PDF for any paper that looks interesting. If you don't like the first one, choose another. If you don't find much, choose a different species and try again. Read through the entire text of the paper you finally select. Provide the full citation for the article and write out brief answers to the following questions: What was the purpose of the study? Where was the study conducted and what methods were used? What was the primary result? What was your personal reaction/response to the study? Your write-up should be about 2-3 pages double-spaced at font size 12. The write-up is due on August 4.  10% of final grade.

Field Trip Report Guidelines

The best way to increase both your understanding of the natural world and your powers of observation is to carefully record your field observations in written and graphic form. Your notes will be of value to you in overcoming an imperfect memory and in providing a record of biological information that often is not available in reference books. Your field notes, if carefully prepared, may be of scientific or conservation value.

Ideally all notes should be written directly into your permanent field notebook while you are in the field.  However this often is not practical.  I suggest that you record in a small notebook as many observations as possible while you are in the field; strive to be neat, complete (biologically relevant details are important), and organized.  At the conclusion of the field trip use these notes (and other mental impressions gained during the trip) to write a final permanent record of your field observations. Do not delay in writing your field notes. Quantify whenever possible. 

Please structure your notes according to the following sequence.  Do not use a simple chronological format ("first we saw this, then we walked around the bend and saw that"). Prepare a separate account for each site visited.

1.  Your name
2.  Site name, underlined, bold face, or italics (e.g., Higganum Creek, Town of Haddam, Connecticut) 
3.  Date and hours at the site (e.g., 11 August 2007, 0730-1230 EDT) 
4.  Precise locality description; description of how to get there. 
5.  Recent weather conditions (sun, clouds, precipitation, temperature, wind).  Record tide conditions, if appropriate. 
6.  Methods: describe the kind of search you made and/or the sampling techniques used. Describe the route taken through the area and indicate significant study sites.   
7. Brief description of habitat (topography, elevation, vegetation, soil conditions, water, etc., as appropriate). 
8. List of all amphibian and reptile species detected and approximate numbers of each species. Notes on behavior, microhabitat, ecology, etc., should be entered after the name of the species; this is the critical part of the field write-up.   

Your notes should be primarily or exclusively an account of your own field observations.  However, you may include information obtained from the instructor or from other sources as long as you state the source of that information. Be sure to describe clearly what you actually observed rather than make generalized statements. For example, record that eight painted turtle basked on a single small log at the edge of a pond rather than simply generalizing that painted turtles bask on logs. Be sure to describe any particular behaviors you observed rather than simply your interpretation of them. For example, record that a painted turtle plunged into the water when you approached on foot to within 50 feet rather than that painted turtles seem to be wary.