Amphibians & Reptiles
At least 85 species of amphibians and reptiles occur in West Vir
ginia. Unlike mammals and birds, these animals are ectothermic,
which means they use the environment and
regulate their internal temperature. They use
“shuttling” behaviors, moving in and out of cover, to
keep their internal temperature at the perfect level.
Therefore, providing the right kinds of cover, open space, and
moisture can be particularly important for attracting reptiles and am-
Remember that small terrestrial animals like these do not move
about on the larger landscape as readily as birds, butterflies, bats and larger mammals. So
providing habitat will not guarantee their presence. There MUST be populations of reptiles
and amphibians in the vicinity, e.g. in nearby woodlands, streams, or pools prior to provid-
ing habitat for them. It is best to find out what is already in your area, and target those
species. Also keep in mind that a neat and tidy yard, devoid of plant litter and other debris,
is not the best environment for ground dwelling animals like reptiles and amphibians.
Short, cropped lawns and other organized landscaping with no hiding places will not attract
these types of animals in abundance. Hiding places are key for reptiles, and hiding places
with moisture or standing water are key for amphibians. Imagine that you are small and
are looking for places to hide!
Frogs, toads, and salamanders, the amphibians in our midst, have very specific mois-
ture requirements in addition to their thermoregulatory needs. All frogs and toads in West
Virginia lay their eggs in water and have an aquatic larval (“tadpole”) stage during which
they spend several months to several years in the water. Adults are “amphibious,” spend-
ing much of their time on land and returning to the water for a variety of reasons, including
breeding, egg-laying, hibernation, and as a refuge from predators. Larvae are mostly
herbivorous and require pools or ponds with lots of organic material for foraging, e.g. leaf
litter and aquatic vegetation.
These pools should be free of predatory fish. Adult frogs and toads are carnivores and
will eat almost any insect, worm, or even small mam-
mal, reptile, or amphibian that they perceive to be
the appropriate size. Provide lots of spaces with
soft soil substrate and leaves where toads and frogs
can hide. Old boards, logs, bricks, and debris piles can
all be ideal hiding places for frogs and toads, and also for
the insects they will eat. Holes in trees, snags (dead
standing trees), or downed logs are used by some of the
smaller species such as tree frogs and chorus frogs.
Salamanders will use many of the same pools and hiding
places as frogs and toads. Some species will lay eggs in pools
or streams and have a larval stage, though these are carnivo-
WV DNR Wildlife Diversity Program-
rous larvae unlike the larvae of frogs and toads. The woodland salamanders have no aquatic
stage outside the egg and lay their eggs in moist places under rotting logs or rocks and crev-
ices. Many species of salamanders in West Virginia (not all) are lungless and conduct most
of their respiration through their skin, increasing the need for moisture. Placing logs, rocks,
boards, or other objects under which salamanders can hide and find a moist microclimate is
important for attracting these diminutive animals. Adults eat a wide variety of insects, worms,
and other small invertebrate prey.
Reptiles are less restricted by moisture than amphibians because they have skin
covered by tough, dry scales to prevent dessication (drying out), and they either give birth
to live young or lay eggs with shells which also prevent dessication. As with the amphib-
ians, a complicated landscape is
best. Providing many logs, rocks,
debris piles, old boards, etc. will
attract these animals.
There are five species of lizards in
West Virginia, and only two of these are
likely to be seen with regularity near your
home. Eastern fence lizards are attracted to
dry places with plenty of objects to climb, e.g. rocks, trees, fenceposts, or even the side
of your house or old barn. The Five-lined skink is a common woodland species which is
attracted to abandoned barns and houses, as well as stumps, sawdust piles and rock piles.
They are not climbers like fence lizards and will look for places to hide on the ground.
The most misunderstood reptiles you might attract to your yard are snakes. Our state
has many species, most of which are nonvenomous and make fascinating and useful
additions to your landscape. Debris piles, firewood stacks, crawl spaces under houses, old
barns, and even ponds and streams can all attract snakes. Most importantly, there must be
a good source of food such as insects, mice, rats, fish, crayfish, and even other amphib-
ians and reptiles.
The most common snakes attracted to household landscapes with the right habitats
are Black Ratsnakes, Gartersnakes, Ring-neck snakes, Brownsnakes, and if you are lucky,
the small Smooth Greensnake. Ratsnakes (“black snakes’) are well-known for eating your
mice and rats and will climb almost any-
thing to get them. Garter snakes will be
attracted to any source of worms,
tadpoles or fish. Other snakes eat a
variety of small insect prey.
Attracting turtles to your yard
requires a rather large permanent
pond or stream. Snapping turtles,
stinkpots and painted turtles are all
common in ponds, but the pond must
be large enough to support the fish, aquatic
insects and worms on which the turtles may
forage. The surrounding landscape must also provide
WV DNR Wildlife Diversity Program-
soft, sandy soils and places to hide for egg laying.
Our only fully terrestrial turtle, the eastern box turtle, needs woodlands and grassy
edges in which to bask; this is not a likely turtle for your yard unless it is adjacent to a
woodland where box turtles are present. Do not pick up a box turtle and bring it to your
yard, as it is not likely to survive even if its habitat area may seem perfect.
Long-term human utilization of natural resources has resulted in nu-
merous vertebrates requiring legal protection from further population de-
cline. The primary cause of these declines is loss of natural habitat associ-
ated with the draining of wetlands, the creation of urban and suburban
areas and the conversion of hardwood forests to pine plantations. There
are several ways you can participate in the process to minimize the loss of
our native amphibian and reptile fauna:
Become educated about conservation issues, such as habitat loss,
and become more aware of how your actions impact the
Improve the wildlife habitats on your
Help with efforts to protect en-
dangered and threatened species;
Support inventory and re-
search programs that survey pri-
vate and public lands for amphib-
ians and reptiles;
Report illegal trapping or
killing of reptiles and amphibians
to your local Conservation Officer
or WV DNR office.
WV DNR Wildlife Diversity Program-