Berra earned a BS in Biology (St. Louis University) and an M.S. and Ph.D in Biology (Tulane University). This was followed in 1969 by a Fulbright Post-Doctoral Fellowship (Australian National University) where the taxonomy of Murray cod and Trout cod was clarified. From there Berra accepted a position at the newly opened University of Papua New Guinea where he studied the fishes of a jungle river system and taught genetics and evolution. These experiences resulted in a life-long career studying weird Australian fishes. He joined OSU in 1972.
In 1979 Berra was a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar at Monash University (Melbourne) where he elaborated the life cycle of the Australian Grayling. This was followed by studies of the natural history of the Salamanderfish and Megamouth Shark in Western Australia in 1986 and 1988-9 as a Research Associate of the Western Australian Museum.
Berra was visiting professor at the University of Concepcion (Chile 1992) and the University of Otago (Dunedin, New Zealand 1996) where he studied the ecology and taxonomy of southern hemisphere galaxiid fishes.
He was editor-in-chief of the Ohio Journal of Science, served on the Board of Trustees of the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, and the Board of Governors of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. He took early retirement from teaching in 1995 in order to have more time to devote to Australian field research and writing.
In 2001 he began a long term field project on the life history of Nurseryfish in Australia's Northern Territory. The males of this bizarre species carry the egg mass on a hook on their head like a bunch of grapes. This study is ongoing.
In 2009 Berra was a Fulbright Senior Specialist and keynoted the Charles Darwin Bicentennial celebrations at Charles Darwin University where he is University Professorial Fellow.
He is the author of over 80 scientific publications and 8 books including Evolution and the Myth of Creationism (1990), A Natural History of Australia (1998), Freshwater Fish Distribution (2007), Charles Darwin: The Concise Story of an Extraordinary Man (2009), and Darwin & His Children: His Other Legacy (2013).