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 lead 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 a 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.
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
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. They also
have external ear openings, which are 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.
In the future we hope to include reptile identification in this
website. There are only five species of lizards in Canada and none of
them is widespread but you should be certain that your animal is a
salamander before progressing in this key.