Reptiles and Amphibians in Our Ecosystem

Many of you may wonder why I would be writing about reptiles and amphibians, which include very diverse species such as snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs and salamanders. Firstly, they are not just a curiosity but are important beautiful creatures that share our world and changing ecosystem. The ecosystem is made up of plants, animals, microorganisms, soil, rocks, minerals, water sources and the local atmosphere that interacts with them.

Reptiles and amphibians (collectively termed herpetofauna) inhabit forests, grasslands, bogs, and waters of varying sizes from headwaters to big waters. You will no doubt be surprised to learn that more than 8% of the world’s salamanders and 11% of all turtle species live in the northeastern quadrant of the United States.

Few of these many species are likely to be familiar to the general public, and some may even be unknown, mysterious and misunderstood by experienced naturalists and herpetologists. These beings are not meant to be disturbed by being captured, identified and catalogued but should always be returned to the exact place where they were found. Allowing them to remain free and behave as they are, a wild animal species, is an essential part of maintaining and hopefully restoring our local, regional, and worldwide ecosystems.

Some Fascinating Facts About “Herps”

A new species of frog was recently identified in New York City from frog calls (soundings) and DNA analysis of the animals.

Evolutionary adaptation has resulted in the Eastern Ratsnake becoming a superb climber.

Spiny Softshell turtles sprint on land to escape from predators.

Two so-called “green species”, the Green Frog and Smooth Greensnake, do not actually have any green skin pigment.

The northeastern quadrant of North America was nearly all forested until the 19th century, and in fact there are more acres of forests than buildings even today. For example, Maine remains the most forested state with 90% covered by woodlands. However, by the end of that century, extensive logging and clearing of land for agricultural purposes has reduced the forest area to about 50%. Then by the 1920s, forest industry and abandonment of many farms allowed for a regeneration of these forests, giving the impression today that these are wild, untamed lands. Not so – the nature of the recovering forest and the wildlife living in these habitats today is different. Major declines have occurred in the bird, mammal, amphibian and reptile populations, and the character of the forests has changed with the introduction of many fungal and insect diseases. Gone and declining are the major canopy trees that provide essential shade to the amphibians and reptiles and other species; the surrounding headwater streams are changing too.

Seasonal shading of the forest floor moderates the temperature and moisture in the soil, which benefits the species sharing this habitat. Dying leaves from deciduous trees help the soil decompose, which adds soil nutrients to the ecosystem and the environmental energy flow needed to allow the herps to exist as both predator and prey. Harwood forests predominate in this region and they provide the sole or major habitat for virtually 70% of the 161 native amphibian and reptile species found in the Northeast. For these species, the microhabitat is critical to their survival, as fallen logs and rocks provide essential cover. Burrows and hollow tress form retreats for them, and decaying leaver create rich amounts of hummus that form layers to hold moisture.

Bottom line: We are the ones — working together with the forest industry, governments, conservationists and ecologists — to protect our shared habitats!


Breisch AR, Patterson M. (2017) The Snake and the Salamander, Reptiles and Amphibians from Maine to Virginia. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD. Hardback and e-book. ISBN 978-1-4214-2157-5 and – 2158-2,

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