University of Nebraska's School of Natural Resources.
Professor of Conservation Biology
Dennis Ferraro is the resident herpetologist and a professor of Conservation Biology at University of Nebraska’s School of Natural Resources. He has been a UNL faculty member since 1990.
Ferraro typically drives 5,000 miles each year, checking on the communities and populations of various species across the state. Specifically, he has collected data on more than 3,700 snakes, 3,400 amphibians and 410 turtles and lizards since 1990. He does radio tracking and telemetry in reptiles, and surgically implants transmitters in snakes. He shares the data he gathers with the Nebraska State Museum, the Game and Parks Commission, and other agencies that need it.
Besides health benefits, working with our native fauna can be an economic boost. Prairie dogs, humble though they may be, are a keystone species, creating ecosystems where other species thrive, including rattlesnakes, burrowing owls, salamanders and beetles. And, Ferraro adds there is no research to back the popular notion that cows and horses break legs in prairie dog holes.
He sees rattlesnake-oriented ecotourism possibilities for western Nebraska. After a presentation at a national conference, Ferraro received email requests for tours of prairie dog towns. Ferraro also used his knowledge of rattlesnakes' habits and defenses to help park officials at Scottsbluff National Monument in western Nebraska create boardwalks and tunnels that allowed park visitors and rattlesnakes to coexist safely.
As the head of the curriculum committee for Nebraska's Master Naturalist program, Ferraro is hoping to inspire outdoor outfitters and bed and breakfast owners to turn prairie dog villages into destinations of choice.
Ferraro's many projects in the works are his ongoing goals: to promote the conservation of Nebraska's amphibians and reptiles to the public and to instill appreciation of and stewardship for natural resources in students and youth.