Herpetologist Highlight

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Toads are nice people

Name: Martha L. (Marty) Crump

Age: 72

Website / Twitter Handle / Instagram: None

Where do you work? Northern Arizona University and Utah State University

Position: Adjunct Professor at both NAU and USU

How did you get there?  As a kid, I was fascinated by amphibian metamorphosis.  I collected frogs, tadpoles, and efts and kept them as pets.  In eighth grade I decided to become a biologist and never looked back.  When I started as an undergraduate at the University of Kansas in 1964, I intended to become a wildlife biologist.  I was quickly told that women didn’t go into that field.  The first day of my sophomore year I wandered into the KU Museum of Natural History hoping to get a part-time job.  The curators of mammalogy, ornithology, and ichthyology all needed student typists.  That was not the reason I wanted to work in the museum!  Bill Duellman, curator of the herpetology division, wanted a student to catalogue and tie tags onto specimens.  I got the job and the rest is history.  I earned my MA at KU, in 1971; Bill Duellman was my advisor.  I carried out my thesis research in Belém, Brazil (Thesis title: “Quantitative Analysis of the Ecological Distribution of a Tropical Herpetofauna”).  I stayed on at KU and earned my PhD in 1974, again working with Bill.  I carried out my fieldwork for my dissertation in Santa Cecilia, in the upper Amazon Basin of Ecuador (Dissertation title: “Reproductive Strategies in a Tropical Anuran Community”).  I was a postdoc in the lab of Stanley Salthe at Brooklyn College, from 1974-1976.  From there I went to the University of Florida, Gainesville, where I served as Assistant through Full Professor, from 1976-1992.

After retiring from UF, I moved to Flagstaff, AZ, where I (1) gave training courses in Ecuador, Argentina, and Bolivia on amphibian biology and field survey methods for studying amphibians, (2) participated in surveys of amphibians and reptiles in Ecuador, (3) carried out fieldwork on the ecology and behavior of Darwin’s frogs in southern Chile, and (4) wrote about biology and nature for children (Ranger Rick, Highlights Magazine for Children, Boyds Mills Press, etc.) and for a general audience (various books published by the University of Chicago Press).  I moved to Logan, Utah, in 2011, where I continue to write for children and a general audience, and when I can secure funding, continue to do fieldwork on Darwin’s frogs in Chile

Was there any particular hardship that you had to overcome to work in your position? I was fortunate in having a mentor, Bill Duellman, who believed in me.  During the 1960s and 1970s some women found it hard to be taken seriously in herpetology, as the field was heavily skewed toward men.  Never during my graduate career did I feel discriminated against or that I received special preference because I was a woman.  I’m sure it helped that Bill’s wife, Linda Trueb, was an accomplished herpetologist.  Through Linda, Bill knew firsthand that women can hold their own intellectually, and that women are physically capable of excelling under rough field conditions.  I carried this attitude with me into my faculty position.  I was taken seriously, because I saw myself as a serious scientist.  So, surprising as it may seem to some, being a woman herpetologist 40-50 years ago was not a hardship for me.  Hardest for me was combining my career and motherhood (I have two children).  On weekends when I was having fun with the kids, I felt guilty I was not revising my Monday lecture or working on that grant proposal.  If I was doing professional work, I felt guilty I was not spending time with the kids.  Fieldwork was a plus, an opportunity to involve the kids in my research.  By the time my kids were 4 and 7 years, they had “helped” me in the field in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Colombia, and Argentina.  As professional women with children, we make compromises, and hopefully we and our children are the better for it.


What advice do you give to someone interested in your profession? What advice might you have for someone from an underrepresented group who is interested in entering your field? Go with your passion.  If your passion is herpetology, follow your dream.  There is still so much to learn about the biology of amphibians and reptiles.  Populations are declining, and we need to understand and mitigate the causes.  We need to educate the public about these animals to ensure effective conservation.  We all have doubts and insecurities along the way in our chosen professions, and so it is critical to be surrounded by supportive mentors, friends, and colleagues.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  The bottom line, for anyone, is that you’ve got to believe in yourself.

 What’s your favorite herp? How can a herpetologist have one favorite herp?  I have five favorites, all of which are fascinating animals in their own right, but also because I have warm and vivid memories of studying them in the field.  (1) Egg-brooding horned treefrog (Hemiphractus proboscideus); females carry their direct-developing eggs on their backs; the first frog that bit me, 1968.  (2) Harlequin frog (Atelopus varius); aggressive behavior, conflict between the sexes, and more.  (3) Golden toads (Incilius periglenes); amazing explosive mating behavior; my first experience with disappearing amphibian populations.  (4) Budgett’s frog (Lepidobatrachus laevis); bizarre appearance and cannibalistic tadpoles; the last frog that bit me, 1990.  (5) Darwin’s frog (Rhinoderma darwinii); males brood tadpoles in their vocal sacs through to metamorphosis.

 Why are you an HL member? I joined HL as an early graduate student nearly 50 years ago and have been a member ever since.  I joined because my advisor, Bill Duellman, emphasized the value of being part of a scientific society—to establish contacts and develop friendships, share ideas and experiences.  I joined SSAR and ASIH for the same reasons.  Duellman was right, and I am still a member of all three societies.  They are my professional “families.”

Is there anything else you would like to add? I would like to encourage young herpetologists, graduate students and early career professionals, to become involved in The Herpetologists’ League.  The more involved you are, the more you will reap the benefits from being part of the society.  We need your ideas, insight, and expertise—you are the future of herpetology and of the society.

Is there a good caption for your attached photograph?  As expressed by my friend and colleague Ronn Altig in his popular book title, “Toads are nice people.”


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