About Amphibians & Reptiles

Frog © Michael Onyon
© Michael Onyon

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.

Amphibians

  • 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. 

Reptiles

  • 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.

A number of our wildlife sanctuaries use citizen scientists for carrying out surveys of terrestrial salamanders. Our reptile conservation programs include rehabilitating stranded sea turtles on Cape Cod, monitoring and creating nesting habitat for the state-listed diamondback terrapin, and tracking box turtles, another state-listed reptile. Learn more about these projects.

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