BIO 322:  Vertebrate Field Zoology




Instructor:  Dr. Mark Stanback

Office:  Watson 282

Phone: 894-2325



office hours:

Wed 10:00-12:20, 1:30-2:30

or by appointment


Lecture:                        Tues, Thurs  10:00 – 11:15 in Dana 146

Lab A (20716):            Tues  1:00 - 4:00 in Watson 247

Lab B (20983):            Thr  1:00 - 4:00 in Watson 247



            Biology 322 focuses on the natural history of the vertebrates: their evolution, classification, anatomy, physiology, ecology, and behavior.  We will be covering ichthyology (fish), herpetology (amphibians and reptiles), ornithology (birds), and mammalogy (mammals).  Throughout the semester, our focus will be on extant, rather than extinct organisms.  The laboratory portion of the course will consist primarily of field trips and field exercises.  You are required to attend one of two weekend field trips (a day zoo trip and an overnight trip to the Charleston area).


            Vertebrate Field Zoology works equally well as a springboard or a capstone:  it will prepare you for courses not yet taken and put completed ones into perspective.  It would not be inappropriate to think of VFZ as "Animal Appreciation".  Just as a trip to the Louvre is enhanced by having taken an Art History course, a trip around campus (or around the world) is enhanced by prior knowledge of the vertebrate life you encounter.  Believe it or not, natural history is the wellspring of much progress in biology.  The development of hypotheses in biology is absolutely dependent on knowledge of natural history.  A favorite quote (which I’ve posted outside my office): "Knowledge of organisms reduces our arrogance in modeling the world.  Natural history information is my most important reality check, foundation, and source of intellectual renewal and personal growth."



Pough FH, Janis CM, Heiser JB, 2005. Vertebrate life.  Seventh edition. Pearson Prentice Hall, New Jersey.


Peterson RT, 2002. A field guide to the birds of eastern and central North America. Fifth edition. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.



            Lecture topics will be covered in the order shown below.  The correspondence to phylogeny isn’t perfect (e.g. the lineage leading to mammals is actually quite ancient), but this order is handy for pedagogical purposes.



Topic                                                               Pough Reading

Introduction                                                      Ch 1, 2.1, 2.2

Extant Jawless Fish                                           3.2

Gnathostoma, jaws, fins                                    3.4

Elasmobranchs                                                 5.1, 5.2, 5.5, 5.6

Life in Water                                                    4.1, 4.2, 4.5

The Fish Radiations                                          Ch 6

Transition to Land                                             8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4, 9.1

Extant Amphibians                                            10

Amniota                                                           9.3, 11

Chelonia (turtles)                                              12

Lepidosauria (tuatara, lizards, snakes)   13

Archosauria                                                      16.2

            Crocodylia (crocodilians)                      16.3

            Dinosauria (birds)                                 16.8, 17

Synapsids                                                         Ch 18

Mammals                                             Ch 20, 21


Assignment                                                     Point Value                 Dates


            Reviews (2 @ 100 pts each)                             200 points                    14-16 Feb, 4-6 Apr

            Final Exam                                                       200 points                    self-scheduled

            Bird Identification Quizzes

                        Winter birds (slides, calls)                     50 points                      24 Jan

                        Spring birds (slides, calls)                      50 points                      11 Apr

            Avian Structure/Function                                   40 points                      21 Mar (pm)

            Herp/Mammal/Specimen Quiz              50 points                      2 May

            Cumulative Vertebrate List                                10 points                      3 May

TOTAL                                                            600 points


Reviews will consist of short discussion, short answer, matching, and multiple choice questions.  Reviews are take home, closed book.  Reviews will be distributed at the end of class on the test date and will be due at the beginning of the next class meeting.  Each student should a choose a single two-hour chunk of time during which to take the review (alone and in a quiet place).  Two hours should be plenty of time for you to complete the test and write legibly (I encourage you to type your answers).  Students will take the cumulative final exam during the self-scheduled final exam period.  All of your work in this course is covered under the college honor code and must be pledged.  I will post reviews from 1996 - 2005 on Blackboard.


Bird ID Practicals will test you on your ability to identify local species.  The winter practical will cover species we will be seeing during the early part of the semester.  The later practical will cover summer residents (some of which are also winter residents).  For the second practical, you will also need to know the Order of each species and be able to tell male from female (for sexually dichromatic species).  Practicals will take place during lecture.  You will also be required to learn a much smaller subset of bird calls/songs for each practical.  Photos and calls/songs are available at both of the following web sites

Avian Structure/Fucntion:  One lab period will be dedicated to avian structure and function (lecture and dissection).  You will work in pairs on your dissection.  I will have some dissection tools, but you may also want to borrow a kit from someone (there’s no need to purchase a kit).  The dissection will be followed up with a practical/test on avian structure/function on the evening of 21 March. 


Herp/Mammal/Specimen Quiz (50 pts):  Birds are the most conspicuous vertebrates around Davidson, especially in the winter, but anyone taking a Vertebrate Field Zoology course should have a working knowledge of the common mammals and herps of the area (for the latter see  Consequently, we will have an ID quiz (photos) on 2 May.  At this time you will also be quizzed on some of the major lecture specimens from the semester.


Vertebrate List:  Every student will turn in a cumulative list of vertebrate species observed (in the wild) over the course of the semester.  Your list should be organized by Order and Family.


Avian Neophobia Experiment:  During January and February we will conduct an experiment to examine the reticence of different bird species to forage near novel items.  We will produce a poster of our results.


Nest Predation Experiment:  During April each lab section will design and carry out an experiment examining factors influencing rates of bird nest predation by mammals and birds (e.g., field vs. edge vs. forest, ground vs. shrub).   Each group will produce a poster showing results.


Frogs vs. Fish Experiment:  During the semester we will conduct an experiment to determine the effect of mosquitofish on chorus frog reproduction (using cattle tanks located at the greenhouse).  We will monitor male calling, egg production, and tadpole survival and produce a poster of our results.  Tanks will be checked once per evening for adults and once per day for eggs and tadpoles.  Students will sign up for adult and egg checking duty.


Great Backyard Bird Count (17-20 Feb):  As a class we will participate in the GBBC.  Each student will perform a single one-hour watch sometime during the 4-day event.  This annual count will allow us to compare our avifauna with that of other sites within the state and around the country (via the web).


Bird Trapping:  To give you experience handling birds and observing them up close, we will be trapping and netting birds behind Preyer during the early part of the semester.  In April we will have two early morning bird netting sessions on the DCEP.  You will be required to attend one. 


Videos:  Despite their ubiquity, free-living vertebrates are difficult organisms with which to work.  Fish live under water, many reptiles and amphibians do not emerge until the latter part of the semester and are difficult to find even then, birds fly away when approached, and local mammals are primarily nocturnal.  Even in a pristine tropical rainforest, vertebrates are surprisingly difficult to find and study.  Although you will be seeing plenty of animal images in lecture, I believe there is great value in seeing animals in action in natural habitats.  Over the course of the semester, we will watch videos on sharks, cichlids, frogs, snakes, and several on mammals (David Attenborough’s Life of Mammals).


Lab Schedule:  We will meet EVERY week for lab (even if we end up shifting some of the activities below).  If it’s raining, we’ll catch up/get ahead with our videos.





Week of

Lab Activity


9 Jan

Intro to local birds, campus bird walk, intro to fish vs. frog experiment


16 Jan

Shark video, Design neophobia experiment, bird trapping


23 Jan

Cichlid video, Raptor video (bird trapping, neophobia)


30 Jan

Frog video (bird trapping, neophobia)


6 Feb

Carolina Raptor Center


13 Feb

Snake video, Neophobia poster


20 Feb

Marsupial video, Enter GBBC data, (bird trapping)


27 Feb

No lab (Spring Break)


6 Mar

Arboreal mammal video, Aquatic Mammal video, GBBC data analysis


13 Mar

Pigeon dissection and avian structure/function lecture, snake dissection


20 Mar

Herbivory/Insectivory Mammal video, Avian structure/function quiz


27 Mar

No Tuesday lab; Thursday lab = DCEP drift fence


3 Apr

Turtle trapping


10 Apr

Nest pred exp I


17 Apr

Nest pred exp II (early morning bird netting on DCEP)


24 Apr

Nest predation posters, fish/frog poster (early morning bird netting on DCEP)


2 May

Herp/mammal/specimen practical


Weekend Field Trips

            The purpose of field trips is to expose you to a maximal variety of vertebrates.  This is not always possible to do in three hours.  Hence our weekend trips.  As I mentioned above, there will be a Saturday trip to the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia SC and an overnight trip to the Charleston area.  You must attend one of these.


Riverbanks Zoo, Columbia, SC  (18 March?) Unlike its NC rival, this zoo features animals from all over the world (including Australia, South America, and Asia).  It also boasts an excellent aquarium /herp house.  I’m also trying to arrange a behind-the-scenes tour with a friend who works there.  Bring money for lunch.  We will depart at 7:00 am and return by 6:00 pm.


Charleston, SC (22-23 April) We’ll be taking a ferry out to Bull Island (part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge) for all of Saturday afternoon, then visiting a local plantation for birding/herping in both marsh and swamp habitats on Sunday morning.  We’ve logged over 70 bird species in the past (along with lots of herps!).  Depart 7:00 am Saturday, return by 5:00 pm Sunday.  Motel accommodation.  Bring money for all meals.



            You will be issued a pair of binoculars to use for the entire semester.  You are responsible for bringing it on ALL field activities.  You are also responsible for taking good care of your binoculars--each pair costs $130 dollars and even minor damage will necessitate purchase of a new pair (compliments of you!).  Although we will never purposefully go on a field trip in the pouring rain, this does not mean that we might not get rained on once we are out.  Everyone needs to have a weatherproof coat and boots or shoes that can get wet and muddy (but keep your feet dry).  They call it spring term, but the fact is it's winter--be prepared! 


Release Forms:

            All students must sign and return a departmental release form during the first week.


Letter grades will be assigned using the following guidelines:

A         =  93.3 - 100% of total possible points

A-        =  89.9 -  93.29                                               C         =  73.3 - 76.59

B+       =  86.6 - 89.89                                                            C-        =  69.9 - 73.29

B          =  83.3 - 86.59                                                            D+       =  66.6 - 69.89

B-        =  79.9 - 83.29                                                            D         =  59.9 - 66.59

C+       =  76.6 - 79.89                                                            F          =  <59.9


Attendance will be taken in lecture and lab.  Absences from lab will not be tolerated and will lower your final grade.  Any student missing more than 1/4 of classes will receive a grade of F.


If you are a student with a learning disability documented by Davidson College who might need accommodations, please identify yourself to me within the first week or two of class, so that I can learn from you as early as possible how to best work with your learning style.  Students with other disabilities are also encouraged to self-identify if there is any way in which I can make accommodations that will enhance your learning experience.  All such discussions will be fully confidential unless you otherwise stipulate.


Extra Credit:  As an incentive to reduce paper wastage and printer/copier usage, I will give 5 points of extra credit to students who do NOT print out (or Xerox) the lectures.  I will also give 5 points to students who do NOT print out/copy the spots and lab handouts.


Web Sites of Interest:

There are literally hundreds of web sites that are pertinent to VFZ, but here are two that really provide the big picture   the tree of life:  enough said   good intro to cladistics, another tree



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