Visit our new website

Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network - Réseau Canadien de 
Conservation des Amphibiens et des Reptiles


Aestivate / Estivate
Become dormant because of heat or dryness. Some turtles will avoid high temperatures by submerging in the bottom of water, remaining there for days.

Alligator Lizard - Family Anguidae
One of the three Families of lizards that occur in Canada. This is a small group, consisting of less than 100 species, but they occur in the Americas, Europe and Asia. There is only one species found in Canada, the Northwestern Alligator Lizard.

Anuran - Order Anura
Anurans (frogs and toads) are one of the three Orders of amphibians. The other two Orders are Salamanders and Caecilians -- limbless amphibians found only in the tropics. Anurans are the most diverse Order of amphibians with some 4000 species worldwide, accounting for approximately 90% of all species of amphibians. Frogs and toads generally lack tails, with long hind legs modified for hopping. They range in body length from approximately 1-30 cm. In Canada, the largest species is the Bullfrog, which can grow to over 15 cm in length.

Boa - Family Boidae
One of the six Families of snakes found in Canada. The Boa Family (Pythonidae)includes some of the largest snakes in the world, including the Anaconda (Eunectes murinus) and the Reticulate Python (Python reticulatus), both of which can reach 10 m in length. Boas are generally constrictors that swallow their prey whole. There is only one species found in Canada, the Rubber Boa, which is less than 1m long.

Turtles have both a top and bottom shell. The top shell is the carapace while the bottom is called the plastron.

COSEWIC stands for the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. It is the national body which designates species at risk in Canada. Species that are at risk are given one of three designations:

Endangered -- threatened with imminent extinction or extirpation throughout all or a significant portion of its Canadian range

Extirpated -- a wildlife species no longer existing in the wild in Canada, but occurring elsewhere.

Threatened -- likely to become endangered if the factors affecting its vulnerability do not become reversed

Special Concern -- a wildlife species that may become a threatened or an endangered species because of a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats.

Vulnerable -- at risk because of low or declining numbers, occurrence at the fringe of its range or in restricted areas, or for some other reason, but is not Threatened

The Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario designates the conservation risk faced by species within the province of Ontario.

Costal Groove
Deep vertical grooves on the sides of salamanders. They indicate the position of the ribs.

Cranial Crest
Many species of toads have cranial crests -- raised ridges between their eyes. These crests can be used to differentiate some species.

Dorsolateral Ridges
Many species of true frogs have two ridges than run down the back. These ridges begin at the eye and go all or partially down the back. In some species these ridges are a contrasting colour to the back.

Some turtles have a transverse hinge across the middle of the plastron allowing them to bend the plastron. This allows the turtles to partially or completely enclose the head and limbs.

A raised ridge along a scale or scute. Some snakes and lizards have keels along their scales, while others have smooth scales. Some turtles have a keel down the centre of their carapace.

Leatherback Sea Turtle Family Dermochelyidae
One of the six Families of turtles that occurs in Canada. This Family contains only a single species, the Leatherback. As its name suggests it does not possess a hard shell, instead the carapace is covered with a leathery skin.

Lizards - Order Squamata
Lizards and snakes are included in the Order Squamata, which is one of the four Orders of reptiles. Although lizards are the least diverse group of reptiles in Canada, worldwide they are the most diverse group with approximately 4 000 species. They range in size from less than 50 mm long to the mighty Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis), which can reach roughly 3 m in total length. The largest species in Canada is the Northwestern Alligator Lizard which can reach 25 cm in length.

Lungless Salamander - Family Plethodontidae
One of eight Families of salamanders, only four of which are found in Canada. The largest family of salamanders, as their name implies they have no lungs, breathing entirely through their skin. Most species are terrestrial but some are highly aquatic. Lungless salamanders are found across Canada except the three prairie provinces and the two territories.

Marine Turtle - Family Cheloniidae
One of the six Families of turtles found in Canada. This group includes all the hard-shelled sea turtles. In general they range widely in the warmer marine waters. There are three pecies which wander into Canadian waters.

Mole Salamander - Family Ambystomatidae
One of the four Families of salamanders found in Canada. World-wide there are eight Families. These salamanders have stout bodies and limbs compared with other families. Adults spend most of the year underground, leaving their burrows only during the breeding season. Mole salamanders are found in every province.

Mudpuppies - Family Proteidae
The mudpuppies are a small Family of totally aquatic salamanders. There are a total of eight Families of salamanders, only four of which are found in Canada. Adult mudpuppies never transform but retain the form of the larvae. In Canada there is only one species, the Common Mudpuppy, which is found in eastern Canada.

Musk and Mud Turtles - Family Kinosternidae
This group is one of the six Families of turtles found in Canada. These turtles tend to be fairly small and have a hinged plastron. The only species found as far north as Canada is the Eastern Musk Turtle.

Newt - Family Salamandridae
One of eight Families of salamanders, only four of which are found in Canada. Unlike most salamanders the skin of newts is not smooth but rough. Most newts go through three life stages rather than just two like most amphibians. The larval newt transforms into a terrestrial stage called an eft. This stage can last 1-3 years before the eft transforms into a largely aquatic adult. Only two species of newts are found in Canada, the Rough-skinned Newt in British Columbia and the Red-spotted Newt in eastern Canada.

Parotoid Gland
Parotoid glands are large swollen areas behind the eye and in some species extending down along the neck of some amphibians. These glands (and the warts) can secrete a sticky white poison that can paralyze or even kill a predator. If you handle a toad roughly it might secrete this poision which can then be transmitted to your eyes. Always make sure to wash your hands after handling a toad.

Turtles have both a top and bottom shell. The bottom shell is the plastron, while the top shell is the carapace.

Pond and Marsh Turtles - Family Emydidae
One of the six Families of turtles found in Canada. This is the largest group of turtles in the world, with approximately 100 species. The group is quite diverse but typically has a low arch to the carapace and a large plastron. Five of Canada's 12 species of turtles belong to this Family.

Salamander - Order Caudata
One of the three Orders of amphibians. The other two Orders are Anurans (frogs and toads) and Gymnophionans (Caecilians) -- limbless amphibians found only in the tropics. Salamanders are characterized by their elongated body and tail. Most salamanders have only four front toes but five rear toes. There are approximately 400 species of salamanders worldwide, ranging in size from 4 cm total length to 1.5m! In Canada the largest species is the Common Mudpuppy which can grow to over 40 cm in total length. Most salamanders are much smaller than this.

The skin covering the bones of a turtle's shell form hard scale-like scutes. The scutes add new material as the turtle grows,hence growth lines can be seen in many scutes. Unfortunately such growth lines only provide a crude estimate of the turtle's age because turtles (especially adults) do not grow every year and old growth lines may become faint or completely worn away.

Spadefoot - Family Scaphiopodidae (formerly Pelobatidae)
Although commonly called Spadefoot Toads, they are not actually toads. They are easily distinguished from true toads by having vertical pupils to their eyes, relatively smooth skin and no parotoid (poison) glands. Spadefoots get their name from the "spade", a sharp- edged protrusion on the inside of their hind feet used for burrowing. With it, spadefoots can burrow down into the ground almost a full metre. Canada has only two species of spadefoots: the Great Basin Spadefoot of British Columbia and the Plains Spadefoot of the prairies.

Short-horned Lizard - Family Phrynosomatidae
One of the three Families of lizards that occur in Canada. This group of lizards contains over 100 species. Some authorities consider this Family to be part of the Iguana Family. There are two species found in Canada, both in the west.

Skink - Family Scinicidae
One of the three Families of lizards found in Canada. Skinks are a large, diverse group consisting of over 1000 species. In Canada, all three species look similar: they have a series of longitudinal stripes, have sleek, smooth bodies and the juveniles have bright blue tails.

Snakes - Order Squamata
The snakes are included, with lizards, in the Order Squamata, which is one of the four Orders of reptiles. While all snakes are superficially similar in body shape, they differ markedly in anatomy. In total there are roughly 2,500 species of snakes around the world. Snakes as a group are unusual in that every single species is carnivorous. Snakes range in size from only 10 cm in length to over 10 m! The largest species in Canada is the Gray Ratsnake, which can reach 2.5 m in total length.

Snapping Turtle - Family Chelydridae
One of the six Families of turtles found in Canada. There are only two species in this small group. Snapping turtles have a hooked upper jaw, well-developed claws and a long saw-toothed tail. The only species in Canada is the Eastern Snapping Turtle.

Softshell Turtle - Family Trionychidae
One of the six Families of turtles found in Canada. As the name suggests, these turtles do not have a hard shell, rather the carapace is covered with a leathery skin. Softshell turtles commonly have a long neck and a long, tubular snout. There is only one species found in Canada, the Eastern Spiny Softshell.

One of the four Orders of reptiles. The only other Order found in Canada is Testudines (the turtles). The other two Orders are Crocodylia (the crocodiles and alligators) and Sphenodontida (represented by the Tuataras, two lizard-like species from New Zealand, ). Squamata includes both the lizards and the snakes, because the two groups are closely related. One can think of snakes as a highly specialized group of lizards with no legs. There are also some reptiles with no legs that are consider lizards rather than snakes because of the greater similarity to most lizards. In total there are over 6 000 species of snakes and lizards around the world.

Tailed Frog - Family Leiopelmatidae (formerly Ascaphidae)
A small Family of frogs with only two species in North America, the tailed frogs. In Canada, they are found only in British Columbia. Only males have the "tail" which is actually an organ used for reproduction.

This group includes all turtles, from small pond turtles barely 10 cm long to mammoth sea turtles almost 2 m in length. Testudines is a comparatively small group of organisms with just over 250 species worldwide. Despite this they occur in most ecosystems, from deserts to oceans.

Treefrog - Family Hylidae
Small frogs with big voices, best describes this Family of frogs. Most species have large sticky toe-pads to aid them in climbing. Many treefrogs live in shrubs and trees all summer, after breeding in temporary ponds in the spring. They are often tiny and well camouflaged, making them very difficult to find. Treefrogs are found in every province, although they are not native to Newfoundland. They are also found in the southern part of the Northwest Territories.

True Frog - Family Ranidae
The mental image most people have of a frog is of the true frog Family. True frogs are relatively large with long legs and webbed hind feet. They are good jumpers and generally the adults are truly amphibious. In Canada, True frogs vary in size from the Wood Frog which is less than 6 cm in body length to the massive Bullfrog which can grow to over 15 cm long. True frogs are found in every province and territory in Canada.

True Toad - Family Bufonidae
Plump, with rough warty skin, members of the toad Family are found all across Canada. Toads defend themselves with enlarged parotoid (poison) glands behind the eye. When attacked, the toad secretes a white substance from these glands which gets into the mouth of any would-be predator. If you handle a toad roughly it might secrete this poision which can then be transmitted to your eyes. Always make sure to wash your hands after handling a toad.

Tubercles are small, knoblike projections or bumps.

The tympanum, a round area just behind the eye, is the eardrum. Among amphibians, only frogs and toads have eardrums and they are prominent in many species. In some true frogs like the Bullfrog, males have larger eardrums than females. Among reptiles, most turtles and lizards have tympani, but they are absent from highly aquatic turtles, some lizards and all snakes.

"Typical" Snake - Family Colubridae
The "typical snakes" or "colubrids" include the majority of snake species in the world, approximately 1500 species. This very large family has been split into several different families, based on genetic, behavioural and biological evidence. All of the snakes in Canada, except for the Rubber Boa and the rattlesnakes, belong to one or another of the Families Colubridae (harmless egg-laying snakes), Natricidae (harmless live-bearing snakes), Dipsadidae (slender rear-fanged snakes), or Xenodontidae (robust rear-fanged snakes).

Viper - Family Viperidae
One of the six Families of snakes found in Canada. All Vipers are poisonous. They include the rattlesnakes (the only poisonous snakes that occur in Canada), as well as the copperheads and cottonmouths, which do not occur in Canada. Not all poisonous snakes belong to this Family. Cobras, for example, belong to the Elapid Family. There are three species of Viper known from Canada.

Wall lizards - Family Lacertidae
Wall lizards belong to a European and Asian family of lizards. They were introduced to Canada near Victoria, BC in the early 1970's when a small private zoo closed and several individuals were released.