World Wildlife Day Round 3: Vote for your favourite reptile or amphibian species

World Wildlife Day: vote for Blanding's turtle (photo by Ryan M. Bolton), gray treefrog (photo by Ryan M. Bolton) or four-toed salamander (photo by Brian Gratwicke)

World Wildlife Day: vote for Blanding's turtle (photo by Ryan M. Bolton), gray treefrog (photo by Ryan M. Bolton) or four-toed salamander (photo by Brian Gratwicke)

February 27, 2015 | by Wendy Ho | 0 Comments

These may not be your typical fuzzy and cuddly wildlife creatures, but they are no less important in their contribution to nature’s biodiversity.

But just how do we differentiate reptiles from amphibians? Here are a few quick facts for the next time you’re asked the question:

  • Amphibians' skin is typically smooth and moist, whereas reptiles have scales.
  • Most amphibians have lungs but the majority can also breathe through their skin and the lining of their mouth.
  • Both reptiles and amphibians are ectothermic (cold-blooded). This means their internal temperatures is dependent on their surroundings.

Fun fact: The word "amphibian" means "two lives" — one in water and the other one on land, as amphibians typically change from an aquatic juvenile (e.g. a tadpole) to adult form (although not always).

Blanding’s turtle

Blanding's turtle (Photo by Ryan M. Bolton)

Blanding's turtle (Photo by Ryan M. Bolton)

Turtles are reptiles, as are other snakes and lizards in Canada. Blanding’s turtle is a medium-sized, freshwater species with a dark, domed shell that is usually lightly spotted, giving it a mottled look. Its neck is relatively long compared to other turtles with a yellow chin. Its characteristic notched upper jaw gives it the impression of a permanent smile!

Like many other freshwater species, Blanding's turtles are omnivorous and forage underwater.

Twenty per cent of the Blanding’s turtle’s global range is in Canada, mostly in southern Ontario and western Quebec with a disjunct population occurring in Nova Scotia. They are currently designated as endangered in the Nova Scotia population and threatened in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence population.

Human activity such as road construction (which can cause car strikes when turtles cross roads in a fragmented habitat, especially coming out of winter hibernation) has put pressures on the turtle’s survival .

Fast fact: Blanding’s turtles are long-lived; they can live up to 70 years! However, it could take an adult eight to 25 years to reach sexual maturity. This is why road mortality is such a big threat to the Blanding’s turtle — they are so slow to reproduce that any killed individuals are not easily replaced.

Learn more about Blanding’s turtle and what we are doing to help conserve their habitat >

Four-toed salamander

Four-toed salamander (Photo by Brian Gratwicke)

Four-toed salamander (Photo by Brian Gratwicke)

If it has never occurred to you that slimy and slithery are attractive traits, well they are for salamanders around the world. Salamanders are important contributors to nutrient cycling, as they feed on calcium-rich insects and invertebrates. This makes them a nutritious prey for small carnivores. 

Since salamanders are aquatic as juveniles and terrestrial as adults (except for a few species), they serve as food web links between the two systems.

The four-toed salamander is a small, lungless salamander native to eastern North America. The number of digits on this species' hind feet distinguisnes it from other terrestrial salamanders — four instead of five in the case of most other salamanders.

Salamanders require wetland habitats for breeding and early stages of life, while adults dwell in hardwood forests. In particular, bogs with sphagnum moss make ideal nesting sites for female salamanders.

In the wintertime, they live in underground burrows and can congregate in groups with other amphibians! Although four-toed salamanders are not considered at risk in Canada, threats to their viability include habitat fragmentation, habitat loss, predation and road mortality.

Fast fact: Faced with a potential predator, four-toed salamanders can shed their tail to distract the predator and flee. Over time the tail is regenerated. This takes a lot of energy, but its a good strategy to avoid being eaten!

Learn more about four-toed salamander >

Gray treefrog

Gray treefrog (Photo by Ryan M. Bolton)

Gray treefrog (Photo by Ryan M. Bolton)

There is a small, charming critter hopping about in our woodlands and marshes — and it’s not Kermit or Iron Henry.

Measuring just three to five centimetres in length, the gray treefrog is dressed in light green to grey colours with a signature white spot under the eye and brilliant yellow or orange inner thighs. Gray treefrogs, like other treefrogs, are identifiable by suction cup-like toe pads that help them grip onto different surfaces.

In Canada, the gray treefrog can be found in parts of Manitoba, southern Ontario and Quebec in a variety of habitats including woodlands, orchards and bodies of temporary or permanent water. True to their name, it is not surprising to find tree frogs resting atop even the tallest of trees.

Gray treefrogs prefer to overwinter under the insulation of leaf litter and snow cover, where they hibernate through freezing temperatures. These meager little frogs, like many other frogs, are big consumers of insects. They therefore play an important role in controlling insect populations.

In turn, gray treefrogs areprey for larger animals, although their greenish-grey, mottled colouring helps them blend in with their surroundings very well.

Currently, populations of gray treefrogs are not of special concern but environmental issues like pollution and habitat loss can negatively impact their numbers.

Fast fact: The Latin name of this species, Hyla versicolor, alludes to its chameleon-like colour-changing abilities!

Learn more about the frogs and toads of Ontario >


Vote for your favourite reptile or amphibian

About the Author

Wendy Ho is Nature Conservancy of Canada's editorial coordinator.

Read more about Wendy Ho.

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