Amphibians, Snakes & Other Reptiles
The Difference Between Reptiles & Amphibians
Amphibians are cold-blooded vertebrates that start life in the water with gills and then develop lungs as they age. They can also breathe through their skin. Their skin is smoother than reptiles and they usually have to stay near water or in warm, damp climates to keep from drying out. Neither are aggressive and they rely on camouflage, playing dead or mimicry to respond to threats. Amphibians lay their eggs in water and reptiles lay theirs on land in a warm, dark and damp place.
Amphibians include toads, frogs, and salamanders.
Toads & Frogs
Toads and frogs are carnivores and will eat insects. Great for pest control! They are opportunists and will wait and eat most of whatever meals pass their way. They may even eat larger prey such as mice, other frogs and toads, and even a snake if available and they can swallow it.
Fiction: If you touch a frog or toad, you can get warts.
Fact: Not true. Although some amphibian skin secretions can irritate skin and cause a rash, warts are caused by viruses.
Fiction: If a pet eats a frog or toad, it will kill them.
Fact: With our native species, the toxin on the skin makes them taste bad and may cause pets to vomit a little or foam around the mouth, but is not normally fatal. Symptoms usually go away after the frog or toad is dropped and left alone. If symptoms continue, seek medical assistance for your pet.
- A frog completely sheds its skin about once a week and usually eats it afterward.
- A group of frogs is called an army.
- Some frogs have teeth, usually on the upper jaw, and uses them to hold prey until it can be swallowed.
Salamanders are good for the environment and act in an essential role in keeping insect and arthropod populations in balance, including mosquitoes and ticks!
Fiction: If a salamander loses a tail, it is permanently disfigured and may die.
Fact: Salamanders are capable of regenerating lost limbs, tails and toes within a few weeks allowing them to survive attacks from predators.
- Salamanders are nocturnal; they sleep during the day and are active at night.
- Some can be poisonous, but not deadly, and some even have teeth. They should be left alone and not handled.
- The Americas are home to more species of salamander than the entire rest of the world combined!
Other than alligators and crocodiles, snakes are probably the most feared and misunderstood reptile. Snakes are a natural form of pest control and maintain balance in the ecosystem by helping to control rodent populations (which can be hosts to ticks carrying Lyme disease) and eating insects. They can also become prey for birds, mammals and other snakes. While some humans may not love them, or even hate them, they have the right to exist without harm and be respected for their vital role in maintaining biodiversity on our planet.
Virginia has 30 native snakes and just three are venomous - Canebrake/Timber rattlesnakes, Cottonmouths and Northern Copperheads. Yes, they can be dangerous if you get too close, but snakes are not usually aggressive towards humans and are not looking to attack or chase anyone. Pay attention to your surroundings, especially while walking on trails, keep children close and pets leashed. Stay on the trail and out of underbrush. Never put your hands or feet into spaces you can't see into such as between rocks, in bushes or under fallen trees or branches. Keep your distance and don't threaten the snake or try to scare it away, just calmly leave the area. The most common snakes you might see in a park or even your yard are water snakes, garter snakes and black snakes.
Snakes are reptiles and are less active in cold weather but become active in warmer spring weather when looking for food and mates. They are cold-blooded and temperature affects their movements and activities. They love to bask in the sunlight to warm up and you might see them lazily curled up on a rock or at a woodland edge.
Fiction: A Copperhead, Cottonmouth or Canebrake rattlesnake bite is fatal.
Fact: It can be serious, but is rarely fatal to humans. Prompt medical attention should be sought.
Fiction: Snakes are vicious.
Fact: Snakes are generally quiet, non-destructive and want to be left alone.
Fiction: Snakes will chase you and attack.
Fact: They will leave if they can, but can be aggressive if cornered or attacked.
Other common reptiles you might see in Southeastern Virginia are turtles, lizards and skinks. Although rare due to the colder climate, the American Alligator has been occasionally spotted in the Dismal Swamp Canal and the Northwest River.