Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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Contact: Madeline McCurry-Schmidt
American Society of Animal Science

Say hello to a snake specialist!

Scientist works with zoo to protect animals

Jeff Ettling is a scientist who works hard to preserve amphibians and reptiles.

Ettling works at the Saint Louis Zoo, where he is the curator of Herpetology and Aquatics. Herpetology (pronounced her-pe-tall-o-gee) is the study of amphibians (frogs, toads and salamanders) and reptiles (snakes, lizards and turtles).

Ettling's favorite animals are snakes. He currently studies Armenian vipers and their habitat. Armenian vipers are venomous snakes that grow around three feet long. They live near mountains in Turkey, Iran and Armenia.

The viper has been threatened recently due to land development and over-collection of the viper for the pet trade. Ettling works with farmers, landowners and conservationists to develop ways to protect the viper.

He also studies the Ozark hellbender. The Ozark hellbender is an endangered salamander that lives in streams in Missouri and Arkansas. The Saint Louis Zoo and Missouri Department of Conservation recently developed a recovery program for the Ozark hellbender. This year was especially exciting for the program. The zoo became the first to hatch baby Ozark hellbenders in captivity!

"It has taken a lot of brainstorming to develop a habitat that the salamander would use to reproduce. It was great to see what science can do," said Ettling.

Ettling's favorite classes in school were biology and life sciences. Ettling majored in biology during college. He also earned a masters degree in biology. Ettling then began working at the Saint Louis Zoo with reptiles and amphibians.

"I have a lifelong love of reptiles and amphibians. From the time I was in junior high, I knew that I wanted to be a herpetologist," said Ettling.

Growing up, Ettling had pet snakes, lizards and turtles. Ettling said having pets helped him develop responsibility and learn more about animals.

Ettling offered advice for anyone interested in animal science or working in a zoo:

"It is important to get practical experience. This could be at a zoo, vet clinic or wildlife conservancy. If you have the opportunity to volunteer, do an internship, or externship. It will help give you the edge over others. Make sure you love what you do," said Ettling.