John Reiss Ph.D.

Professor (FERP) - Zoology

Photo of John Reiss
(707) 826-4156
SciA 454A

Born and raised in Southern California, John completed his BA in Biology and Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz, then moved east to do his MA and PhD at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. After postdoctoral studies at the University of Arizona, Tucson, he came to Humboldt in Fall 1997.

Specialty Area

Evolutionary and developmental vertebrate morphology, herpetology, evolutionary theory, history of biology


PhD, 1993, Harvard University
MA, 1986, Harvard University
BA, 1984, University of California, Santa Cruz

Courses Taught

Comparative Anatomy of the Vertebrates
Introductory Zoology
History of Biology
California Natural History
Electron Microscopy


My research focuses on the evolution, ecology and developmental morphology of amphibians, especially the origins and diversification of the metamorphic patterns seen in living amphibians. My graduate students have worked on a wide variety of topics relating to amphibians, including olfactory morphology, gill structure, population studies, environmental control of neoteny, and chytrid fungal disease. I am also interested in the history, philosophy, and theory of biology, especially evolutionary biology.


  •  Macedo, A. D., Demianew, J. A., Garwood, J. M., & Reiss, J. O. (2023) Larval life history of Coastal Tailed Frogs (Ascaphus truei) across an elevational gradient in Northern California: Implications for a changing climate. Journal of Herpetology, 57: 52–59.
  • Brown, C.E., Cambell-Spickler, J., Marks, S.B., Reiss, J.O., and Whiteman, H.H. (2022) Efficacy and uses of PIT tag telemetry in three species of salamander from the western U.S.: Aneides vagrans, Ensatina eschscholtzii, and Ambystoma mavortium. Herpetological Conservation and Biology, 17 (1): 1-13.
  • Reiss, J.O. (in press) Hume, Darwin, and the ‘Epicurean Hypothesis.’ In Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion: A Philosophical Appraisal, edited by Kenneth W. Williford. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Jungblut, L. D., Reiss, J. O., & Pozzi, A. G. (2021) Olfactory subsystems in the peripheral olfactory organ of anuran amphibians. Cell and Tissue Research 383: 289–299.
  • Brown, C. E.**, Campbell-Spickler, J., Marks, S. B., and Reiss, J. O. (2018) Aneides vagrans is absent from angiosperm crowns in an old-growth redwood forest. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 13: 533–538.
  • Quinzio, S.I., and J.O. Reiss. (2018) The ontogeny of the olfactory system in ceratophryid frogs (Anura, Ceratophryidae). Journal of Morphology 279: 37–49.
  • Reiss, J. O. (2013) Does selection intensity increase when populations decrease? Absolute fitness, relative fitness, and the opportunity for selection. Evolutionary Ecology 27: 477-488.
  • Benzekri, N.A.** and J.O. Reiss. (2012) Olfactory Metamorphosis in the Coastal Tailed Frog Ascaphus truei (Amphibia, Anura, Leiopelmatidae). Journal of Morphology 273: 68-87.
  • Reiss, J. O. (2009) Not by Design: Retiring Darwin's Watchmaker. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Graduate Students

Current: Emily Gremling, Giuseppina Lanzilli


  • 2023, Jaclyn Patmore: "Olfactory organ morphology and ultrastructure of the larval Koh Tao Island caecilian (Ichthyophis kohtaoensis)"
  • 2021, Kyle Orr: “The homology of sarcopterygian gills.”
  • 2020, Ethan Snee: “An ecomorphological analysis of locomotion in larvae and neotenes of two salamander species: Dicamptodon tenebrosus (stream-type) and Ambystoma gracile (pond-type).”
  • 2019, Adrian Macedo: "Life history of the coastal tailed frog (Ascaphus truei) across an elevational gradient."
  • 2017, Christian Brown - Habitat use and movement patterns of two redwood forest salamanders, Aneides vagrans and Ensatina eschscholtzii, with an examination of the efficacy of PIT tags for marking small plethodontids
  • 2016, Jennifer Tucker - Effectiveness of cutaneous antifungal microbe bioaugmentation for disease prevention in the Cascades Frog, Rana cascadae, of northern California
  • 2015, Adam Cummings - Evolution of an aquatic courtship pheromone in the genus Taricha
  • 2013, Timothy Girod - Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbeianus) diet composition, life history, and time period for larval development in California's north coast
  • 2012, Michael Sun - Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis prevalence in Northern Red-legged Frogs (Rana aurora) - 10 years later
  • 2011, Shannon Morago - A mechanism to increase chemosensory perception in humans?
  • 2009, Larkin Chases - Olfactory response to food in larval Coastal Giant Salamanders, Dicamptodon tenebrosus
  • 2008, Carrie Sendak - Movement patterns and habitat use of the Northern Red-legged Frog, Rana aurora
  • 2006, Noelle Benzekri - Olfactory structure and metamorphosis in the Coastal Tailed Frog, Ascaphus truei
  • 2004, Nathan Nieto - Chytridiomycosis in larval Red-legged Frogs in and near Redwood National Park
  • 2004, Jeremy Stuelpnagel - Olfactory metamorphosis in the Coastal Giant Salamander, Dicamptodon tenebrosus
  • 2003, Stein Coriell - Environmental factors affecting paedomorphosis in the Coastal Giant Salamander
  • 2001, Jason Lowe - Population structure of two sympatric salamanders, Plethodon elongatus and Ensatina eschscholtzii