Herper of the week

Herper of the Week: Caroline Dong


The goal of Herper of the Week is to highlight people from all walks of life who work with reptiles and amphibians and show their work to others. This week’s Herper of the Week is Caroline Dong, Ph.D candidate at  Stuart-Fox lab at The University of Melbourne. She completed her Master of Science in Zoology at The University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2015 and her Bachelor of Science in Biology at Saint Louis University in 2012.

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Painted Turtle

Her interest in reptiles began because she had a pet Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) as a child. This lead to a fascination with fresh water turtles, where she undertook a senior research project on Painted Turtles physiology and then went on to do her Master’s project on Asian Softshell turtle population genetics.

When it came time to start her Ph.D, she thought about what really interested her about in Painted Turtles in the first place and she realized it was the function and evolution of coloration in animals. She came across a posting for a Ph.D student to study the coloration of the Tawny Dragon and boom, she applied and moved off to Australia. Her research examines patterns of speciation and secondary contact, particularly the contribution of animal coloration to reproductive isolation and divergence in a contact zone between two distinct lineages of tawny dragon.

Tawny Dragon

Her advice to future herpers is to get outdoors and observe the natural world. Simple observations in the field can lead to great research discoveries. It’s essential to understand the context in which the animal exists in the wild in order to formulate hypotheses and draw conclusions in any area of biology (e.g. ecology, genetics, behavior, etc).

You can visit her website at https://www.carolinedong.com/

You can follow her on twitter @colorfulagamids 




The Hate on Keeping Reptiles and Amphibians as Pets


Pet owners of reptiles and amphibians are often criticized for their love of their animals. TV and movies often show people who own herps (reptiles and amphibians) as weird and strange. Articles are often posted about how reptiles and amphibians shouldn’t be kept as pets.  There’s so much hate and dislike for these wonderful creatures. I’m going to go over some of the benefits of owning herps.

Herps, especially snakes, are often feared and hated by the general public. This hate and fear can have serious consequences for the animals. There are festivals where they round up snakes and kill them. People try to kill all the snakes that they encounter which is the #1 cause of being bitten in the United States. Herp owners often try to change this attitude. Many owners are part of groups that do public events to try to show the positive signs of herps and to change people’s mind.


Having a pet herp can also inspire people to help animals. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life until I received some fire bellied toads. After feeding them and watching them, I learned what I wanted to do: save frogs. Many other scientists and conservationists have similar stories.

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Skylar, one of the original Fire Bellied Toads

Reptiles can be therapy animals and better than cats or dogs for some people. Reptiles don’t show emotions, like cats or dogs, which is better for some people. Some people are also allergic to cats and dogs but not reptiles. Reptiles are also less active than a dog so you don’t have to take it on a walk.

Bearded Dragons are great therapy animals

One common arguments that people make against having a herp as a pet is that they are a common invasive species. Common herp pets such as Burmese Pythons, Cane Toads, and tegus are all invasive species in Florida (and elsewhere). These species are to blame for problems but are they worse than more common pets? It is estimated that cats kill over a million birds per day in Australia. That is an insane number for one country. Cats are maybe one of the worst mammal invasive species on the planet. Dogs are also considered an invasive species. Fish are huge problems. People release their fish from their aquariums all the time. Goldfish are found in many water bodies around the world now and these fish can grow BIG. There are more examples but I think I made my point. I don’t think we should blame herps when it’s all pets that are invasive.


I will admit, there are problems with the herp pet trade. Some breeders keep their animals in terrible conditions. Some stores sell malnourished or sick animals. Animals are removed from the wild, even ones that are low in numbers. These imported animals could be spreading diseases such as Chytrid Fungus. We need to fix these problems. Better regulations need to be put in place.


Herper of the week

Herper of the Week: David Steen Ph.D


The goal of Herper of the Week is to highlight people from all walks of life who work with reptiles and amphibians and show their work to others. This week’s Herper of the Week is David Steen Ph.D. Steen is an assistant research professor at Auburn University. He obtained his Ph.D from Auburn too.

David Steen’s research focuses on restoring habitat for reptiles and trying to have reptiles and people can coexist. One project he is currently working on is the re-introduction of the Indigo Snake (Drymarchon couperi) in the Conecuh National Forest in Alabama.

David Steen has been named the best biologist on twitter by Slate.com. His science communication work is amazing. He helps identify snakes especially helping people tell the difference between Copperheads (venomous snake) and non-venomous snakes (#notacopperhead).

You can follow him on various social media accounts.


You can help him out by becoming a patron of him