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Amphibians and Reptiles of Montgomery County

Amphibians and reptiles are cold-blooded vertebrates(having a backbone) and are collectively called herpetofauna or "herps" for short. Although they are often discussed together and some may even look similar, there are several differences between the two groups.

 

Amphibians

 

Includes Frogs, Salamanders and Toads

  • Have four limbs

  • Have moist glandular skin

  • Have no scales, feathers, hair, or claws

  • Spend all or part of their lives in water

 

Image of Wood Frog

Wood Frog

 

Reptiles

 

Includes Snakes, Lizards and Turtles

  • Have scales, shields, scutes, or plates

  • Have claws on their toes

  • Have lungs

 

Image of Garter Snake

Eastern Gartersnake

 

View a list of the amphibian and reptile species of Montgomery County (PDF, 52KB)

 

Where Can I find Amphibians and Reptiles?

Montgomery County is home to almost 60 species of amphibians and reptiles. The best way to find them is to get outside and look! Here is a guide on how to find these animals in the wild:

 

Herpetofauna Active Period Habitat How to Find Them
Salamanders Early Spring & Fall Spring seeps, stream banks and riffles, and wooded ravines.

Look under rocks, logs, and leaves. Look in streams and seasonal pools

Frogs and Toads Early Spring & Summer Generally near water

Look under rocks, logs and tall grasses. Listen carefully for calls.

Lizards Late April through September Near streams with sunny areas

Look under rocks and logs. Check around stone walls and debris piles.

Turtles March through October Large streams, rivers, lakes, and flood plains.

Look for them basking on logs or sunny spots.

Snakes Mid-April through September Streams, lakes, and wetlands. Also under human debris and in bushy areas.

Look under logs, rocks, and metal scraps.

 

 

Amphibians

Amphibians spend at least part of their lives in water habitats such as flowing streams, seasonal pools, or other wetland types. The eggs of amphibians lack a hard outer covering and must be laid in water or in damp places. Most amphibians hatch as aquatic larvae with gills. As these animals grow into adults, most amphibians develop lungs which they use to breathe, and are capable of living both on land and in water (some salamanders never develop lungs and breathe entirely through their skin).

 

Image of Spring Peeper

 

 

Frogs and Toads can often be heard when the weather first starts to warm up. Their mating calls are a sure sign of spring! Frogs are particularly active during rainy periods and at night.

Image of Longtail Salamander

 

 

Salamanders and Newts are specialized amphibians that spend much of their time as adults underground, or hiding beneath rocks, logs, and leaves. Their moist, porous skin is very sensitive to environmental changes and serve as good indicators of stream health.

 

To find out more check out: Towson University Amphibians of Maryland

 

Reptiles

Reptiles found in Montgomery County include four species of lizard, 17 species of snake, and nine species of turtle. These animals are an important part of the County's ecosystem. Reptiles help maintain a healthy food web, and benefit residents by controlling pests like mice, rats, and insects. Reptiles use lungs to breathe, and generally lay eggs in terrestrial habitats (on land). The eggs of reptiles have a thick, hard shell that protects the developing embryo from moisture loss, even on dry land.

Image of Northern Watersnake

Snakes are found throughout much of Montgomery County. In suburban areas, species like Common Brown Snakes, Eastern Rat Snakes, and Eastern Garter Snakes can be abundant. These like most species of snakes are not only harmless, but important to the environment by controlling the number of mice and rats present. Montgomery County's only venomous snake is the Northern Copperhead. Copperheads are generally secretive and avoid people.

Image of Painted Turtle

 

 

Turtles are specialized reptiles that use specially modified skeletal systems to create their shell. In the county, there are nine species of turtle. They can be found in many of the stream valleys, ponds, reservoirs, and wetlands.

Image of Common Five-lined Skink

 

 

Four species of Lizard can be found in Montgomery County, the Eastern Fence Lizard and three species of Skink. The most common lizard is the five-lined skink.

 

To find out more check out: Towson University Reptiles of Maryland

 

What Can I Do to Help?

Montgomery County's reptiles and amphibians are at risk! Development, habitat destruction, water quality decline, and loss of wetlands all impact reptile and amphibian population.

 

Image of Queen Snake

How to Help:

  • Do not mow lawns near the stream banks (also known as the riparian zone)

  • Limit the use of pesticides around streams

  • Do not take reptiles or amphibians out of the wild

  • Watch your pets and keep cats and dogs indoors

  • Create a compost pile.  Reptiles and amphibians will come to forage for food, hide, and nest.

  • Do not kill a snake or any other unwanted reptile or amphibian

  • If you have wetlands in your yard, no matter how small or mucky, leave them be and don't worry about mosquitoes—frogs, toads, and other wildlife like birds and bats attracted to the wetlands will take care of the mosquitoes for you!

  • Do not use amphibians as fishing bait.

Most of all show respect for our County's Reptiles and Amphibians! They are extremely important to our environment and will be sorely missed, if they were to ever disappear. 

 

Image of spring peeper

 

FrogWatch

In 2014, Montgomery County launched the FrogWatch USA program to train County residents on how to identify frogs and toads. Volunteers are trained to identify frog and toad calls at a wetland site and to report their data online.  Data is compiled and analyzed to develop conservation strategies for frog and toad species, and their habitat.

Want to join our next season of FrogWatch?  Visit the County's FrogWatch website

 

Resources

If you want to learn more about Maryland's Reptiles and Amphibians, check out these links:

 

 

 

Monitoring and Data

DEP recognizes the importance of amphibians and reptiles as indicators of water quality and includes them in the County's biological monitoring program.  DEP is using its amphibian and reptile monitoring program to:

 

Image of several DEP scientists holding an American Toad and a Spring Peeper.Assess stream conditions

  • Stream salamanders are good candidates as a second indicator of water quality (where benthic macroinvertebrates are the first) in small headwater streams where fish are not reliable indicators.

  • Trend analysis can be used to help assess effectiveness of land use practices and policies directed at water quality protection.

 

Evaluate watershed health

  • Amphibians and reptiles are important contributors to aquatic biodiversity and vital components of aquatic and terrestrial food webs. They are included in the evaluation of stream and riparian habitat quality and overall watershed health.

  • Distribution data is needed to best understand how to protect amphibians and reptiles and their key habitats. Amphibian and reptile habitat is directly linked to streams, wetlands, and overall water quality. By comparing present distributions to historic records we can infer what changes have occurred that caused a loss of individuals in an area, what conditions are needed to keep the individuals we have, and possibly restore species that were displaced.

 

Provide a service to County Residents

  • Amphibians and reptiles are easily recognized by the public, which associates them with the natural ecology of this region. They can be used as symbols of public support for their conservation and protection.

 

Image of two an American Bullfrog tadpole and a Green Frog tadpole

Monitoring Design

Montgomery County began a pilot program in 2001 to gather distributional data. The methods and data were evaluated in 2007, after which a full amphibian and reptile monitoring program was established in 2008.

 

Pilot Program

The goal of the pilot program was to get a general idea of presence or absence of herpetofauna species in the County and to investigate a future index of biological integrity (IBI). From 2001-2007, DEP collected herpetofauna data as part of a pilot program. The pilot program consisted of spring and summer ten-minute visual encounter survey searches on both sides of the stream and in the stream channel. Findings of herpetofauna habitat were also recorded. Amphibians and reptiles were anecdotally noted in electrofishing or benthic collections.

In addition to general herpetofauna searches, targeted searches for vernal pools were done with the intent of better understanding their distribution throughout the County. Vernal pools, also known as seasonal pools, are small temporary wetlands that are isolated from other permanent surface water connections, have fluctuating water levels and dry periodically. Vernal pools have a distinctive biological community of animals that are specially adapted to these conditions (Brown and Jung 2005).

Two methods were utilized for surveying vernal pools:

  • Search of the riparian area during spring monitoring at the biological monitoring sites and recording only location and size of pools.

  • Watershed walks to locate pools with a GPS, searching specifically for pools, and recording attributes and amphibian community information for each pool.

 

Monitoring Goals

In the summer of 2007, Montgomery County conducted stream salamander sampling using Maryland Biological Stream Survey methods (MD DNR, CBWP/MANTA 2007) at twelve stations. Stations were selected based on an inferred likelihood of encountering stream salamanders, crayfish, and freshwater mussels.

 

Three-part Sampling Techniques

Following evaluation of the pilot program, DEP determined that herpetofauna data is important to collect, and moved to monitoring via:

  • Time-constrained searches

  • Incidental encounters

  • Stream salamander targeted sampling

Image of two two-lined salamanders.Time-constrained searches are conducted during spring and summer in conjunction with other biological monitoring (benthic macroinvertebrates and fish). The stream channel and left and right riparian areas (vegetated areas paralleling the stream) associated with the 75 meter stream sampling segment are searched for 10 minutes each. Searches are based on visual encounter surveys of best available habitat. Preferred herpetofauna habitat consists primarily of cover objects (logs, rocks, vegetation, and even trash) and wetlands (such as seeps, springs, and seasonal pools). Species, life stage (adult, larva, egg), number of individuals, and type of habitat searched are recorded. Amphibians and reptiles found in vernal/seasonal pools are recorded, but no special search effort or data collection is applied to seasonal pools.

Incidental encounters of herpetofauna consist of any amphibian or reptile observed outside of a search effort. This could occur while collecting organisms for benthic macroinvertebrate or fish sampling, evaluating habitat, collecting water quality, accessing a site, setting up a block net, or just walking around. The species, life stage, and number of individuals found are recorded along with the method of observation (incidental stream channel, riparian, D-net/electrofishing).

Stream salamander targeted sampling is being incorporated as a focus of the amphibian and reptile monitoring. In 2008, stream salamander data was collected at sites too small to fish (where only benthic macroinvertebrates had been collected) and in areas selected for long term monitoring (Special Protection Areas and Clarksburg Integrated Ecological Study Areas).

 

Stream Salamander Index of Biotic Integrity

Data from the first year (2008) of stream salamander sampling will be evaluated using the Stream Salamander Index of Biotic Integrity (SS-IBI) (Southerland et al. 2004; Southerland and Franks 2008). The current metrics for the SS-IBI in the Piedmont Region are:

  • Species richness and composition (Number of species)

  • Abundance (Number of salamanders)

  • Species tolerance (Number of intolerant salamanders)

  • Reproductive function (Number of adult salamanders)

This evaluation will determine if a modification to the IBI scoring methodology is needed. The IBI is being evaluated by the Maryland Biological Stream Survey.

 

Data and Species List

View a list of species found in Montgomery County  (PDF, 52KB)

Available Data: Montgomery County has amphibian and reptile data from its pilot program (2001-2007). Data from 2008 is expected to be available in the future.

 

Herpetofauna Pilot Program (2001-2007) Data Table
 
Field Description

Station

The station field is a nine character code that identifies the monitoring station name. The stations are a combination of the two letter code for the watershed + the two letter code for the subwatershed + the single digit stream order code (1-4) + the sequential reach number (01-99).

SampleDate

The date that the station was sampled.

Cname

The common name of the species found followed by the life stage found (A=adult, L=larval, E=Egg). Example: American Bullfrog_A.

Scientific_Name

The scientific name of the species found.

RBCount

The number of individuals found during the right bank effort search.

LBCount

The number of individuals found during the left bank effort search.

StrChCount

The number of individuals found during the stream channel effort search.

A_StrCh

The number of individuals found in the stream channel anecdotally from collection in the D-net in the spring, or during summer electrofishing.

A_InStr

The number of individuals found in the stream anecdotally.

A_RipZone

The number of individuals found in the riparian zone anecdotally.

 

Interested in other DEP monitoring data?  Visit our Monitoring webpage for a list of the different monitoring data sets the County collects.