Canadian Herpetological Society





Société d'herpétologie du Canada



Key to the Amphibians of Canada

How to use this key:

A key is a guide to identifying an organism based on the characteristics which distinguish it from related organisms. A key is most useful when you have the animal in hand, but it is sometimes possible to "key out" an animal based on a photograph or detailed description. As you become more familiar with the amphibians of Canada, you will get better at describing the animals you see and it will become easier to use the key.

This key will guide you in identifying a particular animal first as to whether it is an Anuran (frog or toad) or Caudate (salamander or newt) or some other type of animal. Once this is determined, you will be presented with a series of questions. Each question consists of two or more descriptions of particular features of an organism. By selecting the description which most closely matches the animal of interest you will be led either to its identification or further questions.

Be sure to carefully read each description in its entirety before making a selection. When you have identified the species, selecting that species name will lead you to more information about the natural history of the animal you have keyed out. Some pairs of species can not be distinguished on looks alone (such as Gray Treefrog and Cope's Gray Treefrog). In that case the key will lead you to the species group from which you can learn more about that pair of species.

Please note that this key is devised for fully developed animals. Tadpoles and larvae are much more difficult to identify and often require expert assistance.

What if none of the descriptions match the animal? Do not expect this key to work if you live outside Canada.While it may work in some states adjacent to Canada, the key is designed to distinguish among the species included in this website. If the species you are looking at is not included, the key cannot identify it. It also can not distinguish it from a similar species which is not included. Similarly it will not work in identifying animals purchased at a pet shop or released pets found in the wild.

If you are reasonably confident that your animal is a native Canadian and still none of the descriptions matches the animal, it is most likely that you have made an error at a previous step and will need to backtrack a bit. Alternatively, since some species are highly variable, you may have an unusual variety. Every attempt has been made to include variants, however, this key is still in an experimental stage and it is possible the we have made the error.

Step 1:

Is it an Anuran, Caudate or something else?

Anurans (Frogs and Toads)
Frogs and salamanders are very different looking from one another and easy to tell apart. Frogs and toads are short-bodied with long hind legs, short front legs and no tail as adults. Salamanders are long-bodied, their front and hind legs are about the same length and they have long tails.It should be easy for you to tell if the animal is an Anuran.

Caudata (Salamanders and Newts) While it is easy to tell salamanders from frogs and toads, some people confuse salamanders with lizards. Lizards are reptiles, not amphibians. Unlike amphibians, reptiles have dry scaly skin. Most also have external ear openings, which seen as small holes on either side of the head. Those reptiles that have toes (lizards and turtles) also have true claws on them. Amphibians have neither external ear openings nor true claws. In addition to soft moist skin, most Canadian salamanders (but not Canadian newts) have several costal grooves which correspond to the muscle segments on the side of the body. Most also have four toes on the front feet and five on the hind feet (Mudpuppies and Four-toed Salamanders have four toes on each foot). Most lizards have five toes on all feet.

If you suspect that your specimen is a lizard check the Key to the Reptiles.