Essay, part 1 Introduction
 Essay, part 2 Who's a Herp?
 Essay, part 3 Our Views of Herps
 Essay, part 4 Herps Need Our Help

Red eye tree frog underbellyHerps Need Our Help

Sorting through the history of herps and humans can be confusing. On the one hand, we have feared them, been repulsed by them, and viewed them as the very incarnation of evil. At the same time, we've worshipped the ground they've crept, crawled, and slithered on. But no matter what our attitude toward them, one thing's certain: Herps are chronically misunderstood. And this lack of understanding – especially when it's combined with fear – is at least partly responsible for many of the problems herps face today.

Uses and Abuses

One of the problems facing herps is overexploitation. When it comes to figuring out ways to make use of herps, humans certainly haven't had any shortage of ideas. We serve them up in gourmet restaurants; trap them in the wild to sell as pets, attractions in roadside exhibits, and specimens for school science classes; and turn them into a vast array of products – from combs, jewelry, and other trinkets fashioned from sea turtle scutes (commonly known as turtle shells), to shoes, belts, and handbags made from lizard, snake, and alligator skins. In some cases, unregulated and illegal trade cause herp populations to shrink dramatically.

As the Environment Goes, So Go Herps

Add to overexploitation the problem of worldwide environmental degradation and you get a barrage of troubles that take a serious toll on reptiles and amphibians all around the world. Many scientists think environmental degradation is the likely culprit in the recent worldwide decline of frogs and other amphibians. Some point to acid rain as a possible cause, while others theorize that the depletion of the ozone layer may be letting in too much damaging ultraviolet light. Amphibians may well be like canaries in a mine – warning us, through their sensitivity, of a general deterioration in the condition of the planet.

Educate and Legislate Kids looking at iguana

Fortunately, there's some good news, too. The American alligator, for example, is a herp success story. Because of a high demand for their hides, alligator populations dropped to precariously low numbers in the 1960s. But thanks to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which prohibited harvesting of alligators, the reptile population recovered.

People help reptiles and amphibians in other ways, too – from building tunnels so frogs can travel under (rather than across) busy roadways, to setting up preserves where endangered herps live, to cracking down on wildlife smugglers. But one of the most important ways to help herps is through education. The more people understand these fascinating animals – and the less they fear them – the better chance herps have of surviving.


 Lesson 1 || Lesson 2 || Lesson 3 || Lesson 4
Lesson 5 || Resources || Herps Home

Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies