Key to the Reptiles 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 reptiles 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 a turtle, snake, lizard or some other type of animal. Once this is determined,
you will be presented with a series of descriptions guiding you to one particular
species. 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 to 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
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 cannot 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.
Is it a turtle, lizard, snake or something else?
With their characteristic shell, turtles are not easily confused with any other
group of organisms found in Canada. The head, four legs and tail of a turtle are
covered in scales. The shell may be smooth, or serrated. It is generally hard, but
not always. Juveniles of some species are only a few centimeters long, while adult
sea turtles can be over a meter long.
There are only 7 species of lizards found in Canada as most species are more tropical
in nature. Lizards superficially resemble salamanders (which are amphibians), but
there are a number of clear differences. Lizards have scales, whereas salamanders
have moist, soft skin. In addition, lizards have claws and external ear openings,
while salamanders do not.
Snakes are the only group of vertebrates in Canada that have no legs. They range
in size from only 5-10 cm, for some juveniles, to almost 2 m in length. Many species
are highly variable in colour, hence careful examination is required to ensure an
Key to the Amphibians of Canada