Neotropical Herpetology

Instructor: Dr. Pete N. Lahanas
Institute for Tropical Ecology & Conservation

2911 NW 40th Place
Gainesville, FL 32605
Phone: (352) 367-9128


Agalychnis callidryas



The material is designed to give the student a basic grounding in herpetological principles in a Neotropical context.  The course will emphasize ecology, behavior, biogeography and systematics of the amazingly diverse Neotropical herpetofauna.  The material is equivalent to a university upper-level course in herpetology and is divided into three parts.  During the first few days students will become familiar with the many ecosystems found in our area and with the trail systems during “orientation ” walks.  The bulk of the first 10 days will be spent learning field techniques and carrying out various group projects, exercises and demonstrations (see details below).  On returning to the field station, students will work on their individual research projects and continue to receive lectures or be engaged in other activities in the evening.


During the four weeks we will have afternoon and evening classroom lectures (some will be field lectures, depending on topics). It is important to remember that this is a field station, and that sometimes we will adjust the lecture schedule to accommodate local biotic events.  Informal lectures will be provided periodically during the orientation walks, during group field projects or in discussion groups.  Lecture topics may include:

  • History of Neotropical Herpetology
  • Evolution of amphibians and reptiles
  • Overview and classification of amphibians
  • Overview and classification of amphibians
  • Historical biogeographic relationships
  • Reproductive strategies and mating systems
  • Reproduction and genetics in marine turtles
  • Island biogeography and color polymorphism in poison dart frogs
  • Life history strategies in amphibians and reptiles
  • Herp-human interactions
  • Conservation issues in herpetology

Readings and Handouts

Readings corresponding to lecture topics will be assigned as appropriate. We will also critique published articles brought by students and faculty.  Additional readings may also be assigned.

Required Text:

Savage Pough, F. H. et al. 2004.  Herpetology, 3rd edition.  Prentice-Hall, Inc., New Jersey
Köhler, Gunther. 2008.  Reptiles of Central America, 2nd edition. Herpeton, verlag Elke Köhler.
Köhler, Gunther. 2011.  Amphibians of Central America, 2nd edition.  Herpeton verlag Elke Köhler.

Group Field Projects

These projects are designed by the faculty adn worked on in groups of four to six students.  The purpose of these projets is to familiarize students with an array of field sampling techniques and equipment commonly used in herpetological field studies.  With help from faculty, students set up porjects, collect data and generrally (depneds on the project), analyze data, present the results in class and/or write a report. Topics will depend on student choice as well as on what is available and logistically feasible. Group Projects, Demonstrations, Exercises and Excursions may include:
  • Forest night hikes
  • Population ecology in poison dart frogs
  • Bastimentos Island, dart frog polymorphism
  • Tail flicking behavior in geckos
  • Comparative study of leaf litter herpetofauna
  • Nesting behavior in leatherback sea turtles
  • Canopy herpetofauna using canopy access techniques
  • Cave ecology; bats, frogs and snakes
  • Soropta Canal; iguanas, caiman & crocodiles
  • Herpetofaunal biodiversity analysis
  • Renacimiento Creek; aquatic anoles and glass frogs
  • Cloud forest herpetofauna

Individual Research Projects

Working closely with faculty, students will be responsible for designing and completing an original herpetological research project of their choosing.  These projects will be carried out during the second half of the course and students will have about 10 days for data collection.  A few days before the end of the course students will analyze their data, write a technical report, prepare a PowerPoint presentation of their work and orally present their findings during a station-wide symposium on the last day of the course.


Up to 6 units of credit will be given, 3 for the lecture portion and 3 for the field portion. A letter grade will be assigned based on exams, reports, proposals and attendance as well as by less tangibles such as personal attitude, motivation and contribution to the course.  Course credit must be arranged at the student’s institution.  See Obtaining Credit for details.

Click here for Neotropical Herpetology syllabus

For photos of the Amphibians and Reptiles you may encounter, visit ITEC’s “Herps of Panama Website“. Species marked with an ” * ” have been found at or near the Bocas del Toro Biological Station.  Some species have been encountered during various field trips to the mainland.