Reptiles and Amphibians

 

Reptiles

Reptiles are easiest to find when the weather gets warm and sunny. Many reptiles love to sun themselves on rocks or roads, which allows them to warm their bodies and digest their food. UCSC is home to approximately four species of lizards and ten species of snakes. While found in adjacent areas, rattlesnakes have not been found on campus, and no other species of snake on campus is harmful to humans. Reptiles have some amazing adaptations – gopher snakes can capture and hold multiple baby rodents at a time, common garter snakes are perhaps the only species that can eat the highly toxic newt, and the colorful California mountain kingsnakes mimic venomous snakes found elsewhere.

Norris Center Resources

The Norris Center houses a collection of approximately 400 reptile specimens, with an emphasis on those found in the Central Coast region of California.  The collection includes specimens from other regions with sufficient taxonomic diversity to support classes in vertebrate evolution and herpetology.

Amphibians and Reptiles of Fort Ord Natural Reserve

herps of fort ord book coverMax Taus, a Norris Center undergraduate, recently created a field guide to the herps of Fort Ord Natural Reserve. Check it out on Amazon here, or come to the Norris Center for a discounted price. 

 

Amphibians

If you want to have a close personal encounter with wildlife, your best bet is to go looking for newts and salamanders in the rainy season. Peak under boards, logs, or other objects and look hard – the common slender salamander is often smaller than an earthworm. Newts can be found walking through grass during and after rainstorms. Newts and salamanders can be distinguished from lizards because they move slower, have four toes on their front feet, and have damp skin with no scales. Pick them up gently to examine and enjoy, but do not eat any of them, especially the highly toxic newts! UCSC is also home to several species of frogs.

 

Norris Center Resources

The Norris Center houses a collection of approximately 300 species, with an emphasis on those found in the Central Coast region of California.  The collection includes specimens from other regions with sufficient taxonomic diversity to support classes in vertebrate evolution and herpetology. The following summaries describe the amphibian specimens present in the Norris Center Collection.

 

Other Resources

SSAR: All About Herps!

The Society For the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles is an organization dedicated to herpetology. Learn about herpetology careers, find local herp societies,  or get your herp question answered at the Herpetology Hotline.

Santa Cruz Long-Toed Salamander: Ambystoma macrodactylum croceum

The history of the Santa Cruz subspecies of long-toed salamander; first discovered in 1954 and nearly lost in the late 60s. They precariously exist in two small habitat patches between Aptos and Watsonville.

AmphibiaWeb

A database of amphibian species profiles, photographs, and conservation information.

 

 

Amphibian Taxonomy

Class: Amphibia- Amphibians:

Amphibians are an evolutionary important group of organisms because they represent the transition from aquatic life to terrestrial life. As juveniles, many amphibians have gills and are restricted to a water source but after metamorphosis, they develop lungs and limbs that are better adapted to life on land. Within this class of organisms, there are three orders; Caudata, commonly known as salamanders, Anura, also known as frogs and toads, and Gymnophiona, a small group of lesser known caecilians. Species described by these orders share somewhat similar features, most notably they have a small body plan and smooth, permeable skin. The skin of amphibians functions as a respiratory organ, and must remain moist to allow for diffusion of water and respiratory gases. This feature restricts amphibians to cool and moist environments such as streams, ponds, underground habitats or regions with ample rainfall or fog. Unfortunately, this also means that amphibians are extremely sensitive to the ways that climate change and humans are altering the landscape. Amphibian populations will continue to decrease unless more of the public is educated and efforts are made to support conservation measures in order to protect these ecologically and evolutionary important creatures.  

 

Order: Caudata- Salamanders

Salamanders can be recognized by their long tail, four approximately equally sized limbs, smooth skin and vertical folds along the torso, known as costal grooves. Their skin functions as a respiratory organ, so it must remain moist. Although many salamanders have large protruding eyes, they mainly rely on their sense of smell, because they live in dark habitats and are active at night. Certain species of salamanders spend their whole lives in water, while others are completely terrestrial. A few species utilize both habitat types. There are 42 salamander species that can be found in California.





Families:

Plethodontidae- Lungless Salamanders

Lungless salamanders are the most commonly found salamanders in California and they are a terrestrial family. Their slender bodies are small to promote greater skin surface area for respiration, and to allow them to live in narrow, moist crevasses. This family describes Woodland Salamanders, Ensatina, Slender Salamanders, Climbing Salamanders, and Web-Toed Salamanders.

 

Amphiumidae- Amphiumas

Amphiumans are aquatic salamanders that have reduced appendages. Their bodies are eel-like with short limbs, which are not used for walking but instead better adapted for swimming. This small family of salamanders are found in the southeastern United States.

 

Rhyacotritontidae- Torrent Salamanders

The torrent salamanders are small salamanders that are highly aquatic, with greatly reduced lungs. They are found in old growth coniferous forests and depend on fast moving oxygenated water for respiration.

 

Ambystomatidae- Mole Salamanders

The mole salamanders are large salamanders with bulging eyes, prominent costal grooves and a flattened tail. After transforming from an aquatic larval stage, they spend the majority of their lives underground, and are typically seen only during their breeding season. Most notably, this family contains Tiger Salamanders.

 

Dicamptodontidae- Pacific Giant Salamanders

This family contains only 4 species, found in coniferous forests along the Pacific coast of Northern California. These salamanders have large, thick bodies. The adults are terrestrial while the juvenile larvae are aquatic.

 

Salamandridae- Newts

Newts can be distinguished by their rough and occasionally dry skin. Their bodies do not have costal grooves. When provoked, they are capable of secreting a powerful toxin from their skin, a form of tetrodotoxin, as a defense mechanism. They are primarily terrestrial but rely on water for breeding. They have large eyes and are active foragers.

 

Proteidae- Proteids

This family of salamanders, occasionally referred to as Mudpuppies, are entirely aquatic, and have bushy external gills and slender elongated bodies. They are nocturnal and are found in eastern North America and Europe.

 

Sirenidae- Sirens

These salamanders have slender elongated eel-like bodies, one pair of forelimbs and no hindlimbs. They are aquatic and their range extends from the southeastern United States to Mexico.

 

Cryptobranchidae- Giant Salamanders

In this family of aquatic salamanders, the defining features are gill slits and very large bodies. They are found in the Eastern United States as well as China and Japan, and are mainly active at night.

 

Order: Anura- Frogs and Toads

The bodies of frogs and toads are more compact, they lack a tail and have webbed toes. Frogs have a more slender body and longer hind limbs compared to toads, whose bodies are more compact with short hind limbs. Members of Anura also respire through their skin, which is smooth and must remain moist. They have protruding eyes and an extendable tongue, which are both used to capture prey. Anurans begin their lives in water as tadpoles, and undergo metamorphosis in order to become full grown semi-aquatic adults. The males of these species are highly vocal during mating season.

 

Families:

Ascaphidae- Tailed Frogs

This family of frogs is distinguished by a tail like appendage, which is used as a copulatory organ. Tailed-frogs live in cold streams with quickly moving water, and the tail appendage is used during reproduction to ensure that the spermatozoa are not swept away by the current. Larval development is slow in this family, occasionally taking up to 4 years.

 

Pipidae- Clawed Frogs

The family of clawed frogs have flattened bodies with smooth skin and no tongue. Their hind toes are fully webbed while the front toes are clawed. They are aquatic, and the species that can be found in California have been introduced from South America and Africa.

 

Pelobatidae- Spadefoot Toads

Spadefoot toads are distinguished by their dark sharp edged “spade” appendage present on hindlimbs, which is used for digging. These toads are found throughout a wide range and can tolerate dry environments because they are capable of using their foot spades to burrow and find water. Tadpole development takes only two weeks, and is the fastest among all anurans.

 

Ranidae- True Frogs

This family of frogs is identified by extensive webbing on the hind feet. They have slender, smooth bodies, long legs and teeth in the upper jaw. Adult true frogs can be terrestrial or aquatic, while the tadpoles are strictly aquatic.

 

Hylidae- Tree Frogs

The tree frogs are slender frogs, with long legs. Their toes have minimal webbing and adhesive toe pads, used for climbing. Tree frogs are very vocal, and 600 species can be found world-wide, while only 2 species occur in California.  

 

Bufonidae- True Toads

When most people think of a toad, they typically imagine a member of the Bufonidae family. True toads have stocky bodies, warty skin, short legs and distinct parotid glands, which are external glands found on the back of the head behind the eyes that, when provoked, can secrete a poisonous mucus substance.

 

Dendrobatidae- Poison Dart Frogs

Poison Dart Frogs are commonly recognized by their small but strong bodies and bright coloration. Their toes have thick pads on the tips that allow the frogs to be agile climbers. Their distribution ranges from the rainforests of Central to South America.

 

Microhylidae- Narrow Mouthed Frogs

These frogs have a stocky body with a small head, typically pointy head. There are more than 300 species in the Microhylidae family, and they have a world wide distribution.  

 

Leptodactylidae- Southern Frogs

The Leptodactylidae family consists of terrestrial medium sized frogs, with reduced toe webbing. There are approximately 214 species in this family, and they are territorial. The Southern Frog range extends from the southeast United States to South America.  

Order: Gymnophiona- Caecilians

This order describes tailless, limbless, worm-like amphibians that live underground. Due to their elusive nature, little is known about this group of organisms. There are roughly 6 different families identified at this time, and it is likely that there are more that have yet to be discovered. The juveniles and adults are terrestrial and their range is limited to tropical regions throughout the world.

 

All text by Elaina Noble, Winter 2019

 

Caudata References-

AmphibiaWeb: Information on amphibian biology and conservation. [web application]. 2019. Berkeley, California: AmphibiaWeb. Available: https://amphibiaweb.org/. (Accessed: 2019).

Heying, H. 2003. "Amphiumidae" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed February 25, 2019 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Amphiumidae/

Heying, H. 2003. "Cryptobranchidae" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed February 25, 2019 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Cryptobranchidae/

Larson, Allan, David Wake, and Tom Devitt. 2006. Caudata. Salamanders. Version 05 September 2006.  http://tolweb.org/Caudata/14939/2006.09.05 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/

Larson, Allan. 1996. Rhyacotritonidae. Torrent Salamanders. Version 01 January 1996 (under construction).  http://tolweb.org/Rhyacotritonidae/15450/1996.01.01 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/

Larson, Allan. 1996. Dicamptodontidae. Pacific Giant Salamanders. Version 01 January 1996 (under construction).  http://tolweb.org/Dicamptodontidae/15447/1996.01.01 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/

Stebbins RC, McGinnis SM. 2012. Field guide to amphibians and reptiles of california. Revised edition. Berkeley and Los Angeles (CA). University of California Press.

Stebbins RC. 2003. Western reptiles and amphibians. Third edition. New York (NY). Houghton Mifflin.

Powell R, Collins JT, Hooper ED. 1998. A key to amphibians and reptiles of the continental united states and canada. Lawrence (KS). University Press of Kansas.

Taus M. 2018. Field guide to the reptiles and amphibians of fort ord natural reserve. Santa Cruz (CA). UCSC Natural Reserve Publication.

Anura References-

AmphibiaWeb: Information on amphibian biology and conservation. [web application]. 2019. Berkeley, California: AmphibiaWeb. Available: https://amphibiaweb.org/. (Accessed: 2019).

https://amphibiaweb.org/lists/Dendrobatidae.shtml

Cannatella, David. 2008. Anura. Version 11 January 2008 (under construction).  http://tolweb.org/Anura/16963/2008.01.11 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/

Heying, H. 2003. "Microhylidae" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed February 25, 2019 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Microhylidae/

Powell R, Collins JT, Hooper ED. 1998. A key to amphibians and reptiles of the continental united states and canada. Lawrence (KS). University Press of Kansas.

Stebbins RC, McGinnis SM. 2012. Field guide to amphibians and reptiles of california. Revised edition. Berkeley and Los Angeles (CA). University of California Press.

Stebbins RC. 2003. Western reptiles and amphibians. Third edition. New York (NY). Houghton Mifflin.

Taus M. 2018. Field guide to the reptiles and amphibians of fort ord natural reserve. Santa Cruz (CA). UCSC Natural Reserve Publication.



Gymnophiona References-

Duellman WE. 2015. Gymnophiona. Encyclopædia Britannica.  https://www.britannica.com/animal/caecilian-amphibian Accessed 2019

New World Encyclopedia contributors. 2008. Caecilian. New World Encyclopedia. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Caecilian&oldid=794370

Accessed 2019.