Saturday, February 19, 2011

Herpetology Defined real interests involve getting out into the great out-of-doors and getting my hands dirty.  Usually, this is associated with a research project, monitoring initiative or teaching opportunity.  So, many of the posts I will make are likely to be associated with these initiatives.

I'm a big fan of amphibians and reptiles.  Some of my favorite critters.  The study of amphibians and reptiles is a division of Zoology called "herpetology", derived from the greek word "herpeton".  Herpeton translates into "something that crawls", or "creeping animal".  The ending, "-ology", basically translates into "the study of".  So, herpetology is literally the study of things that crawl.  Strange, seeing the frogs jump and toads sort of hop...but whatever!  Those old-timey taxonomists/naturalists with their powdered wigs and exciting hosiery must have had a plan (I'm going WAY out on a limb with my historical commentary here).

These animals are often generically referred to as "herptiles" or, even shorter, "herps"....a term you will likely see me using often.

These are ectothermic animals.  Ecothermic in that they can only maintain a constant body temperature by absorbing heat from some external source, like basking in the warm sun or resting on a warm rock.  This is sometimes referred to as being "cold-blooded".  This is a misleading term becuase when they are active, their blood may be no colder than a mammal's...but that's a different matter.  The bottom line is that herps are generally not able to maintain that constant high body temperature without alittle outside help.

We mammals, on the other hand, can acheive constant and high body temperatures easily through metabolic processes.  We don't need to lay on a warm rock in the morning before sitting down to breakfast.  However, these metabolic processes require fuel (food) and therein lies a big difference in what drives the ecological decisions of ecothermic and endothermic (i.e., warm-blooded) animals.  A given warm-blooded critter must often be on the look out for food to fuel their metabolism.  This opens them up to a host of potential problems, such as being eaten by something else.  Such constant foraging behavior is not neccessary for a cold-blooded animal of similar size.

So...there you go.


I'm not just a herp guy.  I like all vertebrates, in general.  Fish, mammals and those flying ones.  In the winter, when the herps are down awaiting spring, I'm able to focus on other critters.  Winter is a great time for mammal work.

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