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From the Winter 2010 Conservationist for Kids

garter snake

Reptiles and Amphibians

By Gina Jack

When the air temperature falls, so does the body temperature, heart rate, and digestion of these animals. They need to get underground below the frost line, or into a sheltered area where temperatures will not dip below freezing. Eating plenty of food through summer and fall will make certain they have stored body fat for winter. This body fat will provide all the food they need until spring when food is plentiful once again.


Turtles are usually snuggled into the mud at the bottom of the pond for the winter. Instead of breathing with their lungs, as they do during summer, turtles get the oxygen they need by absorbing it through their skin. Sometimes turtles may be seen swimming under the ice. Their bodies will be the temperature of the surrounding water: about 40 degrees F.


Snakes, like this garter snake, gather in crevices in rocky places and underground holes. Bundled together like a big knot, the snakes share body heat-just enough to keep them from freezing. When spring comes, the ground warms. They leave the confined space and begin sunning themselves to warm up. It's not unusual to see large numbers of snakes in one area in the spring as they "wake up" and emerge over a few days.

Frogs and Toads

Most frogs hibernate buried in the mud at the bottom of the pond. Instead of breathing with their lungs, as they would in the summer, they get the oxygen they need by absorbing it through their skin from the surrounding mud. Toads and some frogs hibernate under logs and leaf litter on the forest floor. A blanket of snow will help to keep them warm enough to survive the winter.

Frogsicle! Wood frogs live as far north as the Arctic Circle. Antifreeze forms inside the wood frog's cells in preparation for hibernation, creating a thick liquid. Ice forms between the cells without harming the frog. While frozen, the wood frog's heart is completely stopped. Visit the Carleton University webpage for more information and photos, too!


While aquatic salamanders may be active under the ice through the winter, their land-based cousins are not. Like toads, these salamanders will find shelter and hibernate in underground burrows, under logs and leaf litter on the forest floor, and in rocky crevices.

Red-backed salamanders are the most common salamander in New York State. Look for them in wooded areas during warmer months. They go underground for winter.