Woman holding binoculars Join today and get outside at one of our 60+ wildlife sanctuaries.
Woman holding binoculars Join today and get outside at one of our 60+ wildlife sanctuaries.
red eft on the ground
Red Eft

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.

About Amphibians & Reptiles

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. 

  • 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.

Reptiles & Amphibians 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.     

How Mass Audubon is Helping Reptiles & Amphibians

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.

An Eastern Red-Backed Salamander curves across brown oak leaves and long evergreen needles on the ground.


There are four different families of salamanders in Massachusetts, including newts, mudpuppies, and lungless salamanders.

A baby milk snake curls around a bare branch.

© Ashley Gibbs


Though snakes get a bad rap, the vast majority of species aren’t venomous and they also provide a valuable service.

small turtle on the ground next to a twig
© Patrick Randall


Although many turtle species live in the water, all must breathe air and lay eggs on land.

A Wood Frog rests a forearm on a sunken branch in the water.

Frogs in Massachusetts

Because of their diverse habitat needs and sensitive skin, frogs are good indicators of the health of our environment.

vernal pool at Broadmoor in spring
Vernal Pool at Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, Natick

Vernal Pools

Vernal pools provide seasonal habitat for amphibian and invertebrate species.