Study reptile and amphibian biology, behaviour and classification. You will also gain a greater understanding of relevant conservation issues affecting these fascinating creatures.

Course CodeBEN209
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

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What will you learn?

In this course you will develop an ability to understand the biological and ecological characteristics of reptiles and amphibians as well as relevant conservation issues and how to keep them at home.

Herpetology is the study of reptiles and amphibians. The term is derived from Linneas’ classification in which he combined reptiles and amphibians into the one category. Herpetology examines the biology and ecology of these animals and their importance at a global scale. Herpetology as a scientific study and as a hobby can have positive impacts on the conservation of threatened reptile and amphibian species.

ACS Student comment: "This course has been one of the best learning experiences for me as I have found myself constantly wanting to study despite the fact that I don't enjoy reading. I have found the course is very well structured and that I am very thankful for my tutor who is always giving me encouragement and will show me where I have made any mistakes and how I can improve my work. I am also very impressed with the Student Room". Katie Tomlinson, Australia, Herpetology course.


Lesson Structure

There are 9 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction to Herpetology
    • Herpetology Defined
    • Introduction to Reptiles
    • Animal Taxonomy
    • Classification of Reptiles
    • Characteristics of Reptiles
    • Testudine Characteristics (Turtles)
    • Squamata Characteristics (Snakes and Lizards)
    • Rhynchocephalia Characteristics (Tuatara)
    • Classification of Amphibians
    • Amphibian Characteristics
    • Building Resources and Developing Networks
    • Terminology
  2. Class Reptilia (Reptiles)
    • Reptile Classification
    • Water Conservation
    • Reproduction
    • Order Chelonia (Testudines); Turtles
    • Order Crocodilia; Crocodilians
    • Order Squamata
    • Scaled Reptiles; Lizards (Suborder Sauria) and Snakes (Suborder Serpentes)
  3. Reptile Biology
    • Reptile Anatomy
    • Skeleton
    • Scales and Skutes
    • Ectothermal Regulation
    • Coloration
    • Respiration and Metabolism
    • Food and Digestion
    • Senses
    • Locomotion
  4. Class Amphibia (Amphibians)
    • Order Anura (Frogs and Toads)
    • Order Apoda (Caecilians)
    • Order Urodela (Salamanders and Newts)
  5. Amphibian Biology
    • Amphibian Skeleton
    • Skin
    • Ectothermal Regulation
    • Colouration
    • Respiration and Metabolism
    • Branchial
    • Buccopharyngeal
    • Cutaneous
    • Pulmonic
    • Food and Digestion
    • Senses
    • Locomotion
    • Reproduction
  6. Ecology of Reptiles
    • Species Richness
    • Constriction
    • Injected Venom
    • Inertia Feeding
    • Biting and Grasping
    • Suction Feeding
    • Reproductive Strategies
    • Viviparity
    • Oviparity
    • Nest Building
    • Habitat Use: Aquatic and Terrestrial
    • Basking
    • Hibernation
  7. Ecology of Amphibians
    • Use of Habitat
    • Temperature Relationships
    • Feeding
    • Vocal Communication: Advertisement calls, Territorial calls, Release calls, Distress calls
    • Social Behaviour
    • Dealing with Predators
    • Reproduction and Parental Care
  8. Conservation Issues
    • Habitat Change
    • Edge Effects
    • Pollution; especially Water Pollution
    • Environmental Acidification (Acid Rain)
    • Pesticides
    • Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
    • Spread of Disease
    • Invasive Species
    • Climate Change
    • Spread of Disease
    • Disease in Wild Populations
    • Trade in Reptiles and Amphibians
    • Conservation
    • Conservation Genetics
    • Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
  9. Keeping Reptiles and Amphibians
    • Introduction
    • Legal Issues
    • Special Conditions for Amphibians
    • Special Conditions for Reptiles
    • Preventing Spread of Disease from Reptiles to Humans
    • Housing
    • Reptile Captivity Problems
    • Reptile Feed and Feeding
    • Amphibians and Reptile Species that are in Captivity
    • Feeding Amphibians
    • General Care
    • Common Ailments in Reptiles and Amphibians
    • Parasitic Diseases
    • Fungal Diseases
    • Viral Diseases
    • Metabolic Bone Disease
    • Thiamine Deficiency

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Discuss the nature and scope of reptiles.
  • Identify credible resources, and begin to develop networking with organisations and individuals involved with the study of reptiles around the world.
  • Describe a range of different reptile species, including distinguishing characteristics, their needs (eg. environmental, food, etc) and behaviour.
  • Identify and explain the anatomy and physiology of reptiles.
  • Discuss the nature and scope of amphibians.
  • Identify credible resources, and begin to develop networking with organisations and individuals involved with the study of amphibians around the world.
  • Describe the ecological requirements, reproduction and lifecycles of amphibians.
  • Describe the behaviour of a range of different amphibian species.
  • Explain conservation issues that are impacting upon populations of reptiles and amphibians.
  • Explain the management of reptiles and amphibians in captivity

How are Captive Reptiles Fed?

Healthy reptiles can fast for long periods without effect. If they are in good condition, they can fast for several months. Snakes eat twice weekly, or less; lizards eat daily. Scent is particularly important in food selection for snakes.

Feeding activity is temperature dependent. Sub optimal conditions are often the reason for fasting. If you increase the temperature and give a reptile a warm bath, this can encourage it to feed (even increasing light can have an effect). Disturbances of any type can cause regurgitation. For carnivores, the best diet is a whole animal as this reproduces the diet conditions in nature.

Bearded Dragons

  • Omnivorous
  • Feed once a day (twice a day for young)
  • Feed late morning to help with digestion
  • 50/50 ratio of plant to meat for young
  • 65/35 ratio of plant to meat for older lizards
  • Plant materials – pumpkin, sweet potato, corn, celery leaves, tomato, spinach, zucchini and fruits.
  • Animal materials – crickets, meal worms, woodies, pinkie mice, earthworms, canned dog and cat food (no fish) and raw meat (organ meat especially)
  • Length of food should be no longer than the lizards head
  • Provide calcium supplement with each food for juveniles and every alternate feed for adults

Blue-tongued Lizards

  • Omnivorous
  • Feed every day (around late-morning to allow them to digest food)
  • Feed 1/3 protein (animal) and 2/3 plant material
  • Mix food thoroughly and provide in a large container
  • Plant materials – fruit (especially bananas), vegetables and grains
  • Animal materials – crickets, meal worms, woodies, pinkie mice (frozen then thawed), earthworms, canned dog and cat food (not fish), raw meat (without fat) and garden snails (ensure that no snail baits around).
  • Food pieces should be less than 1/3 the size of the head of the lizard
  • Supplements – calcium. With each feed in juveniles and with every second feed in adults

Herbivorous Lizards

  • Include Green Iguanas (which are folivores – feeding on leaves in the wild)
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Rice and grain can also be offered
  • Lay out grassy and leafy vegetables
  • Provide supplements throughout winter when fruit is not as plentiful or if lizard seems ill
  • Add supplements gradually as the scent may turn them off the food


  • All snakes are carnivores, and most eat small invertebrates.
  • Food size will depend on python size
  • Hatchlings – pinkie mice
  • Once python reaches 60 cm  long, should be able to eat adult mice
  • Do not feed live prey as this can be dangerous for the python
  • Only offer food three days after the snake has passed waste (do not feed more than once a week)


  • Lettuce, clover, grass, tomatoes, fruit, cucumber
  • They will sometimes eat raw fish or meat which should be supplemented with calcium carbonate at a rate of 0.5gm per 100 gms of meat fed.
  • Cereals, bread, tinned dog food can also be tried (but in small quantities ...too much can cause liver disease).


  • Chopped meat, heart, liver, fish (whole or pieces), snails, shrimps, worms, insects, frogs, meal worms, baby mice.
  • Vegetables such as lettuce can be given on alternate days
  • Meat must be supplemented with calcium (same ratio as with tortoises).

Reptiles in General
When force feeding is called for, use a small 2 mm diameter, oiled polythene tube, attached to a syringe. Gently introduce it into the mouth of the animal and pass it into the food pipe. This way you can feed pulverised whole animal or canned dog food, minced egg, or baby foods.


There are a wide range of amphibian species kept as pets across the world.  Below are just a few of the popular varieties. Of course, the popularity of certain species will vary greatly from country to country.

Salamanders and Newts
Axolotl Salamander or Mexican Walking Fish Ambystoma mexicanum
Tiger Salamander Ambystoma tigrinum
Marbled Salamander Ambystoma opacum
Mudpuppies Necturus and Proteus spp
California Newt Taricha torosa
European Newts Tylotriton sp.
Crested Newts Triturus sp.

Frogs and Toads
African Dwarf Frog Hymenochirus sp
American Green Tree Frog Hyla cinerea
African Clawed Frog Xenopus laevis
Australian Green Tree Frog or White’s Tree Frog Litoria caerulea
American Bull Frog Rana catesbeiana
Oriental Fire-bellied Toad Bombina orientalis
American toad Bufo americanus

Feeding Amphibians


  • Axolotls are carnivorous (meat-eaters)
  • Feed daily
  • Axolotls require additional feeding at lower temperatures as their metabolism speeds up 
  • Earthworms, insects, small fish, crustaceans and tadpoles
  • Pellet food
  • Prepared beef, heart and liver
  • Best fed in the evening when they are most active


  • Carnivorous
  • Eat worms, insects and crustaceans
  • Usually prefer live food, then frozen, then dry
  • Live earthworms are a good food (ensure pesticide-free), night crawlers, blood worms, live crickets, slugs, spiders and bugs

Frogs and Toads

  • They prefer live food. They love crickets and worms. 
  • Will also eat cockroaches, flies,  white worms, earthworms, fruit flies, fly larvae and meal worms
  • Feed 10-20% 
  • Require mineral and vitamin supplements as most captive insects lack the correct calcium to phosphorus ratio needed for healthy bones.
  • Provide calcium supplements to insects 48 hrs prior to feeding them to pet. Can also coat insect in powdered multivitamin preparations.

A good supply of insects can be caught by hanging a light bulb over a funnel that sits over a topless jar. The insects will fill the jar at night, and can then be given to the frogs or toads.




ROBERT K BROWNE completed his Honour’s degree in Aquaculture at the Key Center for Aquaculture, Australia, and then obtained a Ph.D. (1998) in Conservation Biology from the University of Newcastle, Australia.

Robert’s science employment has included consultancy with biotechnology corporations and in response to the global biodiversity conservation crisis, and has focused on amphibian conservation and sustainability. Working with zoos in Australia, the USA, Europe, and as Research Officer for the IUCN has led Robert to work with collaborative conservation programs in the USA, Peoples Republic of China, Australia, Russian Federation, Islamic Republic of Iran, and Cameroon. 

Robert has experience in a wide range of research fields supporting herpetological conservation and environmental sustainability. He has published in the scientific fields of nutrition, pathology, larval growth and development, husbandry, thermo-biology, reproduction technologies, and facility design. 

Robert’s Ph.D. in the late 1990s was seminal to the development of gene banking to the preserve genetic diversity of threatened species, where he developed the first reproduction providing fertile amphibian eggs from cryopreserved sperm. Since then his research with reproduction technologies has led to major advances in the use of hormones to promote amphibian reproduction led to the first use of artificial fertilization to produce tadpoles for release of a Critically Endangered amphibian, the Wyoming toad (Bufo baxteri). These techniques have since been adopted for a number of other Critically Endangered amphibian species. Robert’s recent collaborative work with Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, USA, and international organizations on the North American giant salamander (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis), commonly known as the Hellbender, has fostered the development of the first genetically representative gene bank for any amphibian.

Robert is co-editor of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation journal, and reviews for many major journals.

In addition to his work in research and other international projects for the conservation of amphibians, other vertebrates, and invertebrates, Robert is establishing a sustainability project with a research facility based in the region of a coastal village in Belize.


Kick start your interest in reptiles and amphibians

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Dr Robert Browne

Zoologist, Environmental Scientist and Sustainability, science based consultancy with biotechnology corporations. Work focused on conservation and sustainability. Robert has published work in the fields of nutrition, pathology, larval growth and develop
Dr. Gareth Pearce

Veterinary scientist and surgeon with expertise in agriculture and environmental science, with over 25 years of experience in teaching and research in agriculture, veterinary medicine, wildlife ecology and conservation in the UK, Australia and New Zealand
Alison Pearce

Alison brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to ACS students. She has worked as a University Lecturer, has also run a veterinary operating theatre; responsible for animal anaesthesia, instrument preparation, and assistance with surgical techniqu
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