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Amphibians & Reptiles

Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find information on several amphibian and reptile species, including descriptions, life history, distribution and habitat, status, management, and research needs.

Turtles and Snakes

Give Turtles "a Brake"

A midland painted turtle walking on the sand
Painted turtles can live up to 40 years or longer!
Midland painted turtle pictured above.

Each May and June, motorists should be on the alert for turtles crossing the road. Turtles are long-lived and well adapted to their natural environment, as they can retreat to the safety of their shell when threatened by predators. But the turtle's shell provides no protection against a major cause of mortality, being struck by vehicles while crossing roadways.

Did you know?
  • Our native turtles are on the move in May and June seeking sandy areas or loose soil to lay their eggs.
  • In New York, thousands of turtles are killed each year when they are struck by vehicles as they migrate to their nesting areas.
  • All eleven species of land turtles that are native to New York are declining.
  • It may take more than 10 years for a turtle to reach breeding age, and since they lay just one small clutch of eggs each year, the loss of a breeding female can have a significant effect on the local population.
What can I do to help?
  • If you see a turtle on the road, please try to avoid hitting it with your car. Do not swerve suddenly or leave your lane of travel, but take care to avoid hitting turtles while driving to "give turtles a brake".
  • Be on the lookout for turtles and slow down, especially on roads near rivers and marshy areas.
  • If you see a turtle in the road or shoulder and you can safely stop your vehicle and approach the turtle, please consider moving it to the shoulder on the side of the road in the direction it is facing.
  • Picking the turtle up by its tail may frighten or injure it. Most turtles, other than snapping turtles, can be picked up by the sides of its shell.
  • Use extreme caution when approaching snapping turtles. You could:
  • Do not take the turtle home. All turtles native to New York are protected by law and cannot be collected without a permit.
What is the DEC doing?
  • DEC Wildlife staff are working at Upper and Lower Lakes Wildlife Management Area in St. Lawrence County to create the sandy nesting habitats that turtles prefer and are easy to reach when migrating from their wintering areas
  • These types of habitat improvement projects will help reduce turtle road kill as it may keep them from crossing a highway to find another nesting area

Snake Facts

The earliest fossils of snakes are 120 million years old. There are 2600 species worldwide and 17 species in NYS, but only 3 of these are venomous (with limited distribution).

Did you know?
  • Most snakes will 'rattle' their tail as a defense mechanism or as a warning. Any audible sound heard is actually not the rattle. The sound is created by the vibrations of the tail on the surrounding vegetation, rocks, or woody debris.
  • Snakes are missing more than just legs! They also lack hips, shoulders, a lung (they have one), eyelids, and ears.
  • Snakes are "cold blooded" or ectothermic - they require the heat from the sun for digestion, growth, and shedding.
Food and feeding
  • Some species like black rat snakes and timber rattlesnakes catch and consume small mammals such as chipmunks, songbirds, and squirrels.
  • Red-bellied, ring-necked, and smooth green snakes prefer soft-bodied invertebrates such as spiders and caterpillars.

Still some are even more specialized in diet and foraging ability:

  • Dekay's brown snake can extract snails from their shells
  • the queen snake relies on freshly molted crayfish
  • hognose snakes specifically rely on toads
Snake Movements

Roads play a major role in snake mortality each year, especially during the hotter months. They are on the move, seeking areas for basking and shedding, foraging and digestion, mate searching, suitable nesting or birthing habitat, and overwintering. During these travels, snakes of many species will find roads that they will need to cross to reach necessary habitats. Many will move out of the road when you approach, but some species will hold their ground. It is important to remember never to handle a venomous species; simply waiting for them to cross is an option. If in doubt, contact your county Environmental Conservation Officer for assistance.

Frogs and Salamanders

New York state is home to 18 species of salamanders (plus one "complex" or group of closely related species), 11 species of frogs, and 3 species of toads. Some of these species are widespread throughout the entire state and others are restricted to much smaller regions.

Characteristics

  • All amphibians need moist environments, otherwise their skin and eggs could dry out.
  • Reptiles have scales that keeps moisture in, but amphibian skin is porous and used for both water and oxygen intake.
  • They do not drink water like other animals, but instead soak up all the water they need through their skin.
  • Amphibians lay eggs that are soft, porous, and jelly-like, while reptiles produce eggs that have a hard calcium barrier to protect the developing reptile inside.

Threats

Amphibians can be exposed to harmful pollutants and contaminants in the environment through their porous skin.

Globally amphibians are facing catastrophic declines due to a fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, also known as chytrid fungus or Bd. Like amphibians, chytrid thrives in moist environments. Chytrid effects the inside of cells containing keratin (a protein in hair, feathers, and claws) on the outside of the amphibian's skin. The fungus creates thick, unnatural keratin cells that make it impossible for amphibians to breath and take up water through their skin. Chytrid fungus can infect and kill native amphibians.

Amphibian Migrations

Volunteers can help amphibians like wood frogs, spotted salamanders, American toads, or spring peepers safely cross the road.

Herp Atlas Project

The Herp Atlas Project was a ten year survey designed to document the geographic distribution of New York State's amphibians and reptiles. The survey information is used to monitor changes in reptile and amphibian populations, which guide habitat and wildlife management decisions.

Herps of New York Poster

Drawing of Amphibians and Reptiles


More about Amphibians & Reptiles:

  • Herp Atlas Project - The Amphibian & Reptile Atlas Project (Herp Atlas) was a ten year survey that was designed to document the geographic distribution of New York State's herpetofauna.
  • Blanding's Turtle Fact Sheet - Blanding's Turtle: species description, life history, distribution and habitat, status, management and research needs.
  • Bog Turtle Fact Sheet - Bog Turtle: species description, life history, distribution and habitat, status, management and research needs.
  • Bullfrog - Watchable Wildlife - Where to see the bullfrog. Includes information on preferred habitat, appearance and how to identify.
  • Diamondback Terrapin - Watchable Wildlife - Information on the appearance and ecology of the diamondback terrapin and the best places to view them in the wild.
  • Eastern Massasauga Fact Sheet - Eastern Massasauga: species description, life history, distribution and habitat, status, management and research needs.
  • Eastern Mud Turtle Fact Sheet - Eastern Mud Turtle: species description, life history, distribution and habitat, status, management and research needs.
  • Eastern (Red-Spotted) Newt - Watchable Wildlife - Interesting facts, identification information and habitat preferences of the Eastern newt; and where to go to view them in the wild.
  • Eastern Hellbender Fact Sheet - Eastern Hellbender: species description, life history, distribution and habitat, status, management and research needs.
  • Eastern Tiger Salamander Fact Sheet - Eastern Tiger Salamander: species description, life history, distribution and habitat, status, management and research needs.
  • Northern Cricket Frog Fact Sheet - Northern Cricket Frog: species description, life history, distribution and habitat, status, management and research needs.
  • Queen Snake Fact Sheet - Queen snake species description, life history, distribution and habitat, status, management and research needs.
  • Snapping Turtle - Watchable Wildlife - Information on the appearance, habits and habitat preferences of the snapping turtle. Where to go to view snapping turtles in the wild.
  • Spotted Turtle Fact Sheet - Spotted Turtle: species description, life history, distribution and habitat, status, management and research needs.
  • Timber Rattlesnake Fact Sheet - Timber Rattlesnake: species description, life history, distribution and habitat, status, management and research needs.
  • Sea Turtles of New York - Learn more about the sea turtles that visit New York waters and what the NYSDEC is doing to protect them.
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    Albany, NY 12233-4754
    518-402-8883
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