All About Reptiles & Amphibians

All reptiles:

  • Are vertebrates. This means they have a backbone or spine.
  • Are “ectothermic” or cold-blooded. Ectothermic animals can NOT regulate their body temperature, which means they have to seek warmer or cooler habitats depending on what their body needs.
  • Are covered with dry scales.
  • Typically lay soft-shelled eggs. However, a few reptiles give birth to live young (Garter Snake being 1 example).
  • The presence of at least 1 permanent lung unlike their amphibian relatives.

All amphibians:

  • Are vertebrates. This means they have a backbone or spine.
  • Are “ectothermic” or cold-blooded. Ectothermic animals can NOT regulate their body temperature, which means they have to seek warmer or cooler habitats depending on what their body needs.
  • Are covered with moist, permeable skin (molecules and gases can pass through).
  • Spend at least part of their lives in water AND on land. The amphibian name has latin roots  meaning amphi = both, bios = life referring to their metamorphic or dual life.
  • Typically lay gelatinous eggs in a moist environment.
  • Have gills for at least part of their lives. Some species have gills only as larvae, while others can have gills throughout their lives.

There are over 8,240 species of reptiles and 6,500 amphibians in the world! There are 10 species of turtles, 18 species of snakes and only 2 species of lizards, for a total of 30 reptile species in Michigan. There are 12 species of frogs, 12 species of salamanders and only 2 species of toads, for a total of 26 amphibian species in Michigan.

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Baby Reptiles & Amphibians

Caring for baby reptiles and amphibians

Turtles, the size of quarters, hatch in late August and early September. Like all reptiles and amphibians found in Michigan, they receive no parental care. So finding a baby reptile or baby amphibian without its parent is okay and normal. Please leave them alone. However, if they are in a spot that is dangerous, such as a highway, you can take them to the edge of a pond or lake. Do NOT take them home. It is illegal to try to care for baby reptiles and amphibians without the proper permits from the federal government. 

If you find a baby reptile or amphibian that is definitely injured, call a wildlife rehabber and ask to see if you can bring it in. Michigan reptiles and amphibians require no parental care. Put the baby reptile in a box with a warm rag, in a dark, quiet spot in your house, away from kids and pets, until you can bring it in. If it is a baby amphibian you can put it in a damp paper towel to survive the trip to the wildlife rehabber. Make sure there is a lid on top, and ventilation for the reptile or amphibian can breathe. Do not try to feed or give water to the baby reptile or amphibian unless instructed to do so by a rehabber, as you can cause more damage by accidentally choking it.

If you found a baby amphibian...

Amphibians, like frogs, toads and salamanders, lay eggs in the water. The eggs will hatch into tadpoles for frogs and toads, salamander larva if salamanders. Amphibians don’t need parental help, the parents lay the eggs and leave.

Tadpoles and larva should only be moved if they are in a spot where they are in danger, like on a pool cover that needs to be removed. Then, you can use a waterproof container to collect them all and move them to a nearby pond or other place with water, near the edge of the bank.

If you found a baby reptile...

Turtle and snake babies don’t need parental care, their parents lay the eggs and leave, and when the babies hatch, they are on their own.

Turtle eggs are usually laid in June, and if they survive, they’ll hatch in August or early September. If you find a turtle nest, a shallow area with white eggs loosely covered in sand or dirt, don’t go near and don’t touch! If you go up to the nest and touch the eggs, you will do two bad things: attract egg-eating raccoons to the nest with your scent, and cause the eggs to not hatch if they are moved in the wrong way and will never develop into babies.

If the nest is in an area where it may be disturbed accidentally, like near a road or path, or if you’re worried about raccoons getting to the eggs, you can put fencing around and over the nest with holes that are big enough for the babies to get out, but predators can’t come in, or watch to see when the babies hatch, and move the fence.

If you see a turtle crossing the road, you can pull off to the side of the road and carefully move the turtle away from the road. Be careful, some turtles, like Snapping turtles, can and will try to bite, and they have long necks that can reach around their sides.

Baby turtles you find out in the wild should never become pets. Not only is it illegal to possess wildlife without the proper permits, but when you take turtles from the wild, you hurt their already fragile population. Only Snapping turtles and Painted turtles are doing ok in Michigan right now, with the other species not doing as well, and we may lose some of our turtle species in as soon as 50 years. Turtles can also carry Salmonella, bacteria that can make people very sick, and can even be fatal for small children.

Young snakes should not be taken from the wild either. Some snakes can be tamed down very easily, which makes them easy prey for dogs and cats as well as natural predators. Some snakes are very aggressive, especially at a young age, and can be vicious biters. There are snakes in Michigan that are facing hard times like our turtles.

If you want a reptile or amphibian as a pet, please research the housing and feeding requirements for that species before purchasing one at a pet store. Many need special lighting and heating, and can live for many years.