The Reptiles and Amphibians

Bull Snakes make their home in the western, southern, and southeastern United States. They grow up to five feet in length and are beige to light brown with black or brown markings. Bull Snakes are carnivores and kill their prey by squeezing it until it can no longer breath. Although they make a hissing sound like a rattlesnake, they are not venomous.

The Prairie Rattlesnake was first noted by Lewis and Clark in June 1805, near Great Falls, Montana. They are usually greenish to brownish in color with well-defined blotches down the back. They have white to yellowish lines on their heads that slant backward. The Prairie rattler can be found in the central part of North America in grasslands, rocky outcrops, talus slopes, and prairie dog towns.

The most noticeable part of the Western Hognose Snake is its upturned, pointed (hognose) snout. It uses this snout to burrow through the earth in search of toads, its favorite food. This heavy-bodied snake ranges from 15 to 39 inches in length and is non-venomous. It prefers to live in scrubby, flat prairie areas with loose, sandy soil for burrowing. The hognose snake takes the prize among snakes in the bluffing category. When threatened, it flattens the skin on its neck, which gives it a hooded look, and then takes a huge breath and releases the air with a loud hissing nose. Although the snake may strike, it leaves its mouth closed! If you continue to bother this snake, it will even fake its own death by thrashing from side to side, turning on its back, hanging its tongue out of an open mouth, and finally going limp.

The Plains Garter Snake is found in prairie marshes, along pond edges, and in river valleys throughout the Great Plains states. It is a non-venomous snake, 20 to 40 inches long. They eat almost anything they can catch and swallow, including earthworms, fish, frogs, toads, salamanders, mice, and bird’s eggs.

Lewis and Clark found the Northwestern Garter Snake slithering along near present-day Townsend, Montana, on July 24, 1805. This brown, bluish, or black colored snake has a distinct red, orange, or yellow stripe down the middle of it’s back; a stripe down the second and third scale rows may be faint or absent. It is found in moist meadows, grassy patches, and along the edges of thickets.

Commonly called “Blue-bellies” or “Swifts,” the Western Fence Lizard is about 6 inches long, and ranges in color from gray to black, with dark blotches on the back and tail. Male lizards have bright blue bellies (hence their nickname) and yellow on the undersides of their legs. This lizard enjoys sitting on high points, like fence posts, where it can sun itself and watch for food and predators. It can change its color to match its background.

The Water Terrapin was first noted by Lewis and Clark on June 25, 1805, in Cascade County, Montana.

The Soft-shelled Turtle is found in nearly every type of waterway in America, Asia, and in parts of Africa. Unlike other turtles, their “shell” is a leather skin that covers their almost circular backs instead of horned, hard plates. Soft-shelled turtles aren’t the prettiest turtles. They have a snout similar to a pig’s snout, and their jaws are covered by soft, fleshy lips. These turtles aren’t very active and spend a lot of time underwater, sticking their snouts just above the waterline.

The California Newt is a relatively large salamander ranging from 5 to 8 inches long. Their skin contains poisonous glands that secrete toxins. Ingestion can cause paralysis or even death to its predators. The California Newt is found in the coastal mountain ranges from San Diego to Mendocino County. They can also be found along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. They eat various types of insects, earthworms, snails, slugs, and sowbugs.

The Pigmy Horned Toad has a flattened, squat body with many spikes and horns on its head. They are found in open pine forests, pinion-juniper forests, shortgrass prairies, and sagebrush desert. Wherever they may be, there is always some loose soil that allows them to shuffle under the surface. Pigmy Horned Toads like to eat ants and other insects, spiders, snails, and sowbugs.

The Western Toad (Columbian Toad) was first noted by Lewis and Clark in May 1806, at Camp Chopunnish, Idaho County, Idaho. It can be found living near springs, streams, meadows, and woodlands, in burrows that it has made or those of small rodents. The Western Toad ranges from southeastern Alaska south through the Rocky Mountains to central Colorado, and south into northern California in the West.

The Pacific Treefrog is only about 1.25 to 1.5 inches long, and varies in color from pale gray to bronze to bright emerald green. They can change in color quickly from light to dark. They can also “throw” their voices making it difficult to close in on a frog by following its call. Pacific Treefrogs are found along the west coast of the United States south as far as Mexico, but are not found east of the Rocky Mountains.