Field Course in Neotropical Herpetology



COURSE LOCATION: Bocas del Toro Biological Station, Boca del Drago, Isla

Colon, Republic of Panama.  The biological station is located on a hill

facing the Caribbean Sea.  Coral reef and seagrass ecosystems lie in front

of the station and lowland tropical rain forests surround us. This

juxtaposition of the two most biologically diverse ecosystems provides

tremendous opportunities for education and research. See: for details.

INSTRUCTOR: Dr. Adam Clause, UCLA,  tel: 805-807-8792, email:  , web:,  Specialty: Biodiversity

scientist, conservation biologist and herpetologist.

COURSE DESCRIPTION: This course is designed for undergraduate and graduate

students, and is equivalent to an upper-level university course in

herpetology. Instructional material focuses on the ecology, behavior,

biogeography, systematics, and conservation of the amazingly diverse

Neotropical herpetofauna. Students will develop hands-on familiarity with

most of the major reptile and amphibian clades (groups) of Panama and

adjacent Costa Rica; we routinely encounter over 50 species during the

course. Students will also practice the scientific method and hypothesis

testing using these organisms. Whenever possible, we emphasize the

development of practitioner-oriented skills relevant to a broad spectrum of

postgraduate biology careers.  The course is roughly divided into four

modules, each lasting roughly one week. During the first week, orientation

walks will familiarize students with the trail network and numerous

ecosystems surrounding the ITEC field station on Isla Colón. Next, we will

spend time practicing standard field techniques, completing various group

exercises, and identifying an individual research project for each student.

Much of the third week will be spent touring mainland Panama, with visits to

Pacific cloud forest at Boquete, Pacific dry forest, and lowland Caribbean

forest at Finca Silvestre. On returning to Isla Colón, students will collect

and analyze data for their individual research projects, and present their

results both in written form and orally.

Lectures:  Throughout the four weeks, but particularly in the first half of

the course, we schedule classroom lectures (usually in the afternoon and

evening) to introduce topics that will be reinforced in the field.

Additional, informal lectures will also be delivered periodically during

orientation walks, group field projects, and in discussion groups. Lecture

topics may include:

* Evolution of amphibians and reptiles

* Classification and identification of amphibians and reptiles

* 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

* Standard herpetological sampling techniques

* Herp-human mythology and interactions

* Conservation issues in herpetology

Reference Texts:

Vitt, Laurie J., and Janalee P. Caldwell. 2014. Herpetology: An Introductory

Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles, 4th edition. Elsevier Inc.

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.

Savage, Jay M. 2002. The Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica: A

Herpetofauna Between Two Continents, Between Two Seas, 2nd

edition. University of Chicago Press.

GROUP FIELD PROJECTS:  These projects are designed by the faculty and

carried out by groups of two to six students. Their purpose is to

familiarize students with the wide array of techniques and equipment

commonly used in herpetological field studies. The exercises also

necessitate working collaboratively and communicating results, which are key

abilities in any biological profession. With help from faculty, students

will set up projects, collect and analyze data, and briefly present the

results in class and/or write a short report. Topics will depend on what is

available and logistically feasible, and may be changed based on student

interest/preference. Short half-day excursions to nearby destinations are

also scheduled. These trips will expose students to habitats and species

absent from the immediate surroundings of the field station, offering

further opportunities for experiential study. Group field projects and

excursions may include:

* Forest night hikes

* Tail flicking behavior in geckos

* Comparative study of leaf litter herpetofauna

* Nesting behavior in leatherback sea turtles

* Canopy herpetofauna using canopy access techniques

* Herpetofaunal biodiversity analysis

* Population ecology in poison dart frogs

* Isla Bastimentos and/or Isla Solarte: dart frog polymorphism

* Soropta Canal: iguanas, caiman, crocodiles

* Renacimiento Creek: aquatic anoles and glass frogs

* Mimbitimbi: cave and riverine herps

* Isla Pajaros (Bird Island)

Individual Research Projects:  With close faculty guidance, students will be

responsible for designing and completing an original herpetological research

project of their choosing. These projects will be selected and carried out

mostly during the second half of the course. Students will have about 7­10

days for data collection, depending on the project. A few days before the

course ends, students will analyze their data and write a 5­10 page

technical report. All students are also expected to orally deliver a

PowerPoint presentation of their work during a station-wide symposium on the



BOQUETE CLOUD FOREST FIELD TRIP:  This three-day field trip takes place

midway through the course and will allow students the opportunity to

experience assemblages of amphibians and reptiles found in tropical cloud

and seasonally dry forests.  We travel in ITEC boats to the mainland and

then by private bus to the town of Boquete which lies at the base of 11,000

ft Volcan Baru.  The bus trip will take us up and over the central mountain

range and through remote Palo Seco National Park.  Several stops will be

made in route.

COURSE LENGTH: ITEC Summer field courses are about four weeks in length. The

NEH B-19 will run from June 15 through July 10, 2019.

TUITION: $2250 USD.  Tuition fee includes all lodging, meals and airport

transfers in Bocas del Toro.  The tuition also covers transportation and

lodging during the 3-day cloud forest field trip to Boquete.

REGISTRATION DEADLINE: May 15, 2019.  The course is limited to 10 students

and applications will be evaluated as they arrive.  If you believe that your

application may arrive late, notify ITEC.

GRADING and COURSE CREDIT:  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, attendance at lectures, as well

as by less tangibles such as personal attitude, motivation, and contribution

to the course.  Course credit must be arranged in advance through the

student’s institution.  Contact ITEC for details.

APPLICATIONS can be found at:


A list of amphibians and reptiles found at the field station and adjacent

mainland areas can be found at


CONTACT:  Institute for Tropical Ecology and Conservation, 2911 NW 40th PL,

Gainesville, FL 32605, tel: 352-367-9128, email:, web:  .  ITEC is a 501(c)(3)

non-profit organization founded in 1996.

Peter N. Lahanas, Ph.D.

Executive Director

Institute for Tropical Ecology

and Conservation

2911 NW 40th Place

Gainesville, FL 32605

(352) 367-9128

Phone in Panama: (507) 6853-2134