Reptiles & Amphibians

Although amphibians and reptiles, two ancient groups of vertebrates (animals with backbones), may seem to resemble each other, they differ in a number of important features of physiology, development, and life cycle.


  • Includes frogs, toads, and salamanders
  • Almost all are very much tied to the water for at least part of their lives.
  • Almost all lay their eggs in water and pass through tadpole or larval stages with gills to an air-breathing adult stage, a process called metamorphosis.
  • Most have delicate, thin skin and cannot survive far from water or moist woodlands. 


  • Include snakes, turtles, and lizards.   
  • First vertebrates to become truly independent of water.
  • Eggs have a hard shell to prevent water loss, enabling reptiles to lay their eggs on land (including turtles and alligators).
  • Scaly skin enables them to thrive even in the hot, dry climate of deserts.

Both reptiles and amphibians are poikilothermic, which means that they cannot regulate their own body temperatures internally as birds and mammals do. They do have behavior mechanisms, to warm up, such as basking on sunny days, and they survive our cold New England winters by hibernating in the relative warmth below ground or buried in the mud at the bottom of ponds. 

In Massachusetts

There are 21 species of amphibians in Massachusetts roughly divided between frogs and salamanders. A number of these are associated with vernal pools. Twenty-four reptiles live and breed in Massachusetts (10 turtles, 14 snakes), and an additional five species of sea turtles annually visit our coast.     

Our Conservation Work

Mass Audubon has a longstanding interest in the protection of amphibian and reptile populations in Massachusetts. Our Herp Atlas used volunteers to record the distribution of reptile and amphibian species across the Commonwealth. We monitor vernal pools that are obligate habitat for a number of salamanders and frogs and have a program to restore and create vernal pools on our sanctuaries.

Learn More About Reptiles & Amphibians in Massachusetts

American bullfrog © Joy Marzolf
American bullfrog © Joy Marzolf

Frogs are a familiar part of the wildlife of Massachusetts, and they’re found all across the state. Because of their diverse habitat needs and sensitive skin, these amphibians are good indicators of the health of our environment. Learn more >

Rat snake © Joy Marzolf, Mass Audubon
Rat snake © Joy Marzolf, Mass Audubon

Snakes are reptiles, like turtles and lizards. Early snakes first appeared during the time of the dinosaurs, and they now live on every continent except Antarctica.Though snakes often get a bad rap, the vast majority of species aren’t venomous. They also provide a valuable service by eating potential pests, like mice and slugs. Learn more > 

bog turtle © USFWS
bog turtle © USFWS

Turtles are reptiles, like snakes and lizards, but they’re more ancient than either of those groups. The first turtles appeared over 200 million years ago. Although many turtle species live in the water, all must breathe air and lay eggs on land. Learn more >

Pickerel frog, Lithobates palustris
Pickerel frog (Lithobates palustris)

The Herpetological Atlas Project was a seven-year effort, running from 1992 through 1998, to document the distribution of amphibians and reptiles in Massachusetts. Learn more >

Eastern newt at Graves Farm © A.C. Brown
Eastern newt at Graves Farm © A.C. Brown

Salamanders are amphibians and there are four different families of species in Massachusetts including: newts, mudpuppies, and lungless salamanders. One of our most common species, the Spotted Salamander, belongs to the fourth family—the mole salamanders. Learn more >

Vernal pool at Lincoln Woods Wildlife Sanctuary

Vernal pools provide seasonal habitat for amphibian and invertebrate species with life cycles that have adapted to these rich temporary habitats. Learn more >