Frequently Asked Questions About Amphibians and Reptiles

What are amphibians and reptiles?

Amphibians are frogs, toads, newts and salamanders. Most amphibians have complex life cycles with time on land and in the water. Their skin must stay moist to absorb oxygen and therefore lacks scales. Reptiles are turtles, snakes, lizards, alligators and crocodiles. Unlike amphibians, reptiles breathe only through their lungs and have dry, scaly skin that prevents them from drying out.

Amphibians and reptiles are together called herpetofauna, or “herps” for short. All herps are “cold-blooded,” which means they lack an internal thermostat. Instead they must regulate body heat through their interactions with the environment. For example, a turtle warms itself by basking in the sun and a lizard can regulate its body temp with “shuttling” behaviors, moving in and out of cover. 

Why care about amphibians and reptiles?

Amphibians and reptiles play important roles in the ecosystems where they live. Some serve as predators that keep their prey's numbers in check, like snakes that eat mice and other rodents. Other herps are the prey, like frogs who serve as a food source for many species of birds, fish, mammals and reptiles.

In addition, herps are valuable indicators of environmental health. Amphibians, in particular, are sensitive to pollution because their permeable skins easily absorb toxins. And because many reptile species are long-lived and relatively slow-moving, they suffer from disturbances like habitat loss or pollution for extended periods. A diverse community of amphibians and reptiles indicates that the area is healthy and can support the plant and animal life that herps need for food and cover.

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we also believe that amphibians and reptiles — and all species, great and small — deserve protection for their own sakes and because these amazing creatures help make the world a wonderful place for all of us to live.

Are amphibians and reptiles in trouble?

Yes, the world's amphibians and reptiles are facing an unprecedented assault and are experiencing tens of thousands of years' worth of extinctions in just a century. Scientists have observed these disturbing trends in the United States too, where approximately 20 percent of amphibian species and 10 percent of reptile species are at risk of dying out. While habitat loss is the most obvious cause of endangerment, declines are even even occurring in pristine areas from threats such as disease, UV radiation and climate change. Amphibians and reptiles are also suffering from overcollection and unregulated hunting.

What can I do to help amphibians and reptiles?

We need your help to protect these valuable species from further devastation. Here's how you can help herps:

  • Support the work of the Center for Biological Diversity by making a donation today.
  • Sign up on our website for future alerts about how you can help save species.
  • Increase public awareness of the amphibian and reptile extinction crisis by downloading free amphibian and reptile ringtones.
  • Create your own backyard sanctuary for amphibians and reptiles.
  • Prevent raccoons, crows and other predators from feeding on your garbage. These animals are a big problem for herps, such as freshwater turtles, whose nests they raid.
  • Drive carefully! Road mortality is major threat for frogs, toads, snakes, turtles and other wildlife, especially spring migrations. Here are some tips on helping turtles cross the road.
  • Get involved with local conservation projects and tell your neighbors to get involved too.



Photo © Julie K. Miller