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Mapping Where Animals Live

Lesson Plan

Students will study the New York State Amphibian and Reptile Atlas to learn how maps can display information on the distribution of animals.


Students will understand:

  • how maps serve as representations of a geographic region;
  • how maps can show where animals live in a certain region;
  • how the distribution of animals varies geographically based on habitat requirements.

Grade level:

Elementary (Grades 4-6)

Subject Area:

Science, Social Studies


Social Studies Standard 3
Mathematics, Science, & Technology Standard 4


  • Interpret data presented geographically on a map.
  • Observe, identify, and communicate patterns in data.
  • Analyze document-based information presented in scientific figures.


Preparation time: 10 minutes
Activity time: 40 minutes


Each student should have:


Maps usually show terrain, political regions, roads, towns, and similar features of the natural and built landscape, but can also show other information linked to geography. This lesson explores maps from the New York State Amphibian and Reptile Atlas, often called the Herp Atlas. Herp derives from herpetofauna, the scientific term for animals classified as reptiles (snakes, lizards, turtles, and crocodiles) and amphibians (salamanders, frogs, and toads). Data collected by over 1,500 volunteers indicate whether or not a species was found in each of 979 U.S. Geological Survey map quadrangles that together form a mosaic covering all of New York.

Students will view actual Atlas maps and answer document-based questions about information in these scientific figures. The maps are unaltered except for being reduced in size and-most likely-converted to black and white in photocopying.

Students will learn how amphibian and reptile distribution is linked to habitat. Given the variety of habitats in the Hudson Valley, there is a great diversity of these animals here. In fact, there are more turtle species here than in almost any river valley elsewhere on Earth.


  1. Review the distinguishing characteristics of reptiles and amphibians.
  2. Review vocabulary words and the content of the Amphibian and Reptile Atlas.
  3. Compare an Atlas map to the state relief map showing counties. Point out the location of major topographic features such as the Adirondacks, Catskills, Atlantic Ocean, Great Lakes, and Hudson River. On the Atlas map, find the county in which your school is located.
  4. Complete the "Mapping Where Animals Live" worksheet in class.
  5. Explore Resources for links to more information about species included in this lesson.


  • Have students share answers to worksheet questions, or collect and grade sheets.
  • Visit the Atlas website (see Resources below) to select other maps for students to analyze. Suggestions: bullfrog, five-lined skink, Fowler's toad, and bog turtle.

Answer Key:

Available in the pdf version of this teacher's section and in the package that bundles all of the readings.


  • amphibians: cold-blooded vertebrates that start life in water, breathing with gills, and later (usually) become air-breathing adults
  • atlas: a book of maps
  • habitat: the particular sort of place where a given plant or animal lives
  • relief map: a map that shows the topography of an area
  • reptile: cold-blooded, air-breathing vertebrates that usually lay eggs and have skin covered with scales or bony plates
  • scientist: a person skilled in science


Classrooms with internet access can view all the actual maps at Amphibian and Reptile Atlas. Click on the group of animals desired (salamanders, turtles, etc.) from the column on the left and then scroll down through the table of species to choose one that interests you. In the table are links to fact sheets about some of the species included this lesson.