How to find Reptiles and Amphibians

There isn’t much complexity to finding reptiles and amphibians in Columbia County. Three rules will tell you most of what you need to know.

#1. Search habitat edges
#2. Look under stuff
#3. Go out at the right time

Searching habitat edges

Reptiles and amphibians are often found at the edges between two habitats. For example:

  • You’ll see snakes and lizards in open areas between the road and denser vegetation. Here are some examples of edge habitats where we found Red-spotted Garter Snakes.
  • Near water bodies, you can often find frogs, turtles, and snakes just barely on land or just barely in the water. Here are some examples of edge habitats where we spotted Northern Red-legged Frogs:

So the first lesson is easy. If you check the edges of fields, roads, forest openings, and water bodies, you’ll see a lot of reptiles and amphibians.

Looking under stuff

The next essential place to look is “under things”. Reptiles and amphibians like to hang out under cover objects because that cover holds in moisture, keeps them warm, and gives them a place to hide. All of our reptiles and amphibians other than turtles are sometimes found under objects.

  • Salamanders and some frogs are found under objects that trap moisture. For example, here is some cover I’ve found Long-toed salamanders underneath:
  • Some amphibians are also found under objects in or on the edge of water. For example, I’ve found Dunn’s Salamanders in these places:
  • Snakes and lizards tend to be found under objects that get some warmth from the sun. Here’s some spots we’ve found rubber boas:
  • Even stuff lying around your yard can produce reptiles and amphibians. These three objects were sitting outside our homes – a decorative log, some black plastic in the garden, and sagging fencing material. Can you match each object to the reptile/amphibian that was found under it?

The ensatina was found under the log, the alligator lizard was found under the black plastic, and the garter snakes were found under the vencing material. By looking under objects with the right moisture or access to warmth, you can find a lot of “herps”.

If you use this method to search for reptiles and amphibians, it’s important to remember not to damage their habitat. When you pick up an object, do it carefully so you don’t harm anything underneath. Living animals should be removed before you set it back, so you don’t crush them. Place the rock or log back exactly how you found it, so that the habitat remains undisturbed and stays moist. Then ,if you removed an animal from under it, you can take a picture to document your find, and afterwards release it right on the edge of the log or rock so it can find its way back underneath.

The ideal time to find herps

In my experience, the #1 reason people fail to see reptiles and amphibians is because they’re not looking at the right time. Every species has its individual preferences, but some rules will increase your chance of success.

  • Reptiles need some warmth, but not too much. When temperatures get into the 50s, that’s a good time to find them under cover. If temperatures are in the 60s and low 70s, they might be out and about. But once it gets into the 80s or 90s most will go deep where they can’t be seen.
  • Reptiles like a little humidity. The best days to find them are when it’s a bit overcast or the day after a good rain. However, if it’s been cold or wet recently, a bright sunny day will work well too.
  • Salamanders are most active during wet periods in the spring and fall. It’s easiest to find them under objects when it’s been raining recently and temperatures are in the 40s or 50s.
  • Many herps love to be active at night! Warm rainy nights in the 40s and 50s can be great for frogs and salamanders, while warm spring and summer nights in the 60s and 70s can bring snake activity.

So those are our tips – search habitat edges, look under stuff, and make sure you look during the right weather conditions. Follow those rules and you’ll find a lot more reptiles and amphibians!

Feel free to ask any follow-up questions in the comments, we’d love to help.

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