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Gordon Burghardt

Gordon BurghardtGordon Burghardt
Ph.D., University of Chicago (1966)

Phone: (865) 974-3300
Web site:

Key words: Behavioral development and plasticity, behavioral evolution, chemoreception, play, ritual, comparative psychology, ethology, lizards, snakes, turtles

Research Interests

Play behavior, reptile behavior, chemoreception, social and predatory behavior, behavioral development, origins of ritual and religion

Research statement

My research focuses on the relationship between genetics and early environments in the development of behavior patterns and sensory processes with a concentration on natricine snakes and monitor lizards with feeding, defensive, and social behavior as the target systems. Comparing molecular genetics, behavior, and morphology across populations, especially island systems, is frequently employed. Vomeronasal chemoreception, highly elaborated in snakes, is the sensory system typically studied. The role of environmental enrichment or controlled deprivation on captive reptiles is being studied. Finally, play is a key characteristic of endothermic vertebrates that may underlie the success of our species. We have developed and are testing a theoretical and comparative approach to play behavior throughout the vertebrates. Play and snakes are aspects of ritual in religious and other cultural practices and thus snake handling religious practices and responses of animals to snakes are currently being studied.

  • Fellow, American Psychological Association
  • Fellow, Association for Psychological Science
  • Fellow, Animal Behavior Society
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Immediate Past-Editor and on editorial board of the Journal of Comparative Psychology
  • Editorial Board, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science
  • Editorial Board, Ethology
  • Editorial Board, Society and Animals
  • Editorial Board, Evolutionary Psychology
  • Editorial Board of Herpeologica and Herpetological Monographs
  • Editorial Board, American Journal of Play
  • Editorial Board, International Journal of Play
  • Scientific Advisory Board, IUCN working groups on iguanas and boas and pythons
  • UTK Macebearer (past)
  • UTK James R. Cox Professor (past)
  • UTK Science Alliance Faculty
  • UTK Alumni Distinguished Service Professor
  • None Listed


  • Bekoff, M., Allen, C., & Burghardt, G. M. (eds.).  The Cognitive Animal: Empirical and Theoretical Perspectives on Animal Cognition. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2002.
  • Burghardt, G. M.  The Genesis of Animal Play: Testing the Limits, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2005. Paperback (corrected) edition (2006).

Selected Recent Journal Articles and Chapters

  • Graham, K.L., & Burghardt, G.M. Current perspectives on the biological study of play: signs of progress. Quarterly Review of Biology, 2010, 85. 393-418.
  • Kuba, M., Bryne, R., & Burghardt, G. M. Introducing a new method to study problem solving and tool use in fresh water stingrays, Potamotrygon castexi. Animal Cognition, 2010, 13, 507-513.
  • Hansknecht, K. A. & Burghardt, G. M. Stimulus control of lingual predatory luring and related foraging tactics of Mangrove Saltmarsh Snakes (Nerodia clarkii compressicauda). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 2010, 124, 159-165.
  • Burghardt, G. M. The comparative reach of play and brain: Perspective, evidence, and implications. American Journal of Play, 2010, 2, 338-356.
  • Burghardt, G. M. Defining and recognizing play. In The Oxford Handbook of the Development of Play (A. D. Pellegrini, ed.), Oxford University Press, New York, 2011, 9-18.
  • Placyk, J. S. & Burghardt, G. M. Evolutionary persistence of chemically elicited ophiophagous antipredator responses in gartersnakes, Thamnophis sirtalis. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 2011, 125, 134-142.
  • Davis, K. M. & Burghardt, G. M. Turtles (Psuedemys nelsoni) learn about visual cues indicating food from experienced turtles.  Journal of Comparative Psychology, 2011, 125, 404-410.
  • Booth, W., Million, L., Reynolds, R. G., Burghardt, G. M., Vargo, E. L., Schal, C., Tzika, T., & Schuett, G. W. Consecutive virgin births in the New World boid snake, the Columbian rainbow boa, Epicrates maurus. Journal of Heredity, 2011, 102, 759-763.
  • Pruitt, J. N., Burghardt, G. M., & Riechert, S. E. Nonconceptive sexual behavior in spiders: a form of play associated with body condition, personality type, and male intrasexual selection. Ethology, 2012, 118, 33-40.
  • Burghardt, G. M. Ethical considerations in working with reptiles. In Reptile Biodiversity: Standard Methods for Inventory and Monitoring (R. W. McDiarmid, M. S. Foster, C. Guyer,, J. W. Gibbons, & N. Chernoff, eds.). University of California Press Institution Press, Washington, DC, 2012, 127-130.
  • Burghardt, G. M. Play, exploration, and learning. In Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning (N. Seel, ed.). Springer Science, New York, 2012, 2650-2653.
  • Burghardt, G. M. A behavioral biology for the future. Ethology, 2012, 118, 222-225.
  • Burghardt, G. M., Bartmess-LeVasseur, J. N., Browning, S. A., Morrison, K. E., Stec, C. L., Zachau, C. E., & Freeberg, T. M. Minimizing observer bias in behavioral studies: a review and recommendations. Ethology, 2012, 118, 511-517.
  • Placyk, Jr. J. S., Fitzpatrick, B. M., Casper, G. S., Small, R. L., Reynolds, R. G., Noble, D. W. A., Brooks, R. J., & Burghardt, G. M. Hybridization between two gartersnake species (Thamnophis) of conservation concern: A threat or an important natural interaction? Conservation Genetics, 2012, 13, 649-663.
  • Burghardt, G. M. & Cooper, M. A. Seven missteps of desire. Neuropsychoanalysis, 2012, 14, 40-43.
  • Hutchinson, D. A., Savitzky, A. H., Mori, A. Burghardt, G. M., Meinwald, J., & Schroeder, F. C. Chemical investigations of defensive steroid sequestration by the Asian snake Rhabdophis tigrinus. Chemoecology, 2012, 22, 199-206.
  • Mori, A., Burghardt, G. M., Savitzky, A. H., Roberts, K. A., Hutchinson, D. A.,  & Goris, R. C.  Nuchal glands: a novel defensive system in snakes. Chemoecology, 2012, 22, 187-198.
  • Davis, K. M. & Burghardt, G. M. Long-term retention of visual tasks by two species of emydid turtles, Pseudemys nelsoni and Trachemys scripta. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 2012, 126, 213-223.
  • Savitzky, A. H., Mori, A., Hutchinson, D. A., Saporito, R. A., Burghardt, G. M., Lillywhite, H. B. & Meinwald, J. Sequestered defensive toxins in tetrapod vertebrates: principles, patterns, and prospects for future studies. Chemoecology, 2012, 22, 141-158.
  • Reynolds, R., Booth, W., Schuett, G., Fitzpatrick, B., & Burghardt, G. Successive virgin births of viable male progeny in the Checkered Garter Snake, Thamnophis marcianus. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, 107, 566–572.
  • Doody, J. S., Burghardt, G. M., & Dinets, V. Breaking the social-nonsocial dichotomy: A role for reptiles in vertebrate social behaviour research? Ethology, 2013, 119, 95-103.
  • Waters, R. M. & Burghardt, G. M. Prey availability influences the ontogeny and timing of chemoreception-based prey shifting in the striped crayfish snake, Regina alleni. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 2013, 247, 49-55.
  • Hutchinson, D. A., Savitzky, A. H., Burghardt, G. M., Nguyen, C., Meinwald, J., Schroeder, F. C., & Mori, A. Chemical defense of an Asian snake reflects local availability of toxic prey and hatchling diet. Journal of Zoology, 2013, 289, 270-279.


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