frog drawing

Floridians are lucky to share their state with a wide variety of reptiles and amphibians. Thanks to its unique geological history, climate and diverse plant communities, Florida has 127 species of native herptiles or "herps" (from the Greek herpeton, meaning "creeping thing"). With so many "creeping" (and hopping, slithering and swimming) critters around, it's no wonder that some may choose to make their home near where you choose to make yours!

Below are representatives of the Florida salamanders, frogs, turtles, lizards and snakes you are most likely to run into in your backyard or side garden, plus some hints on how to make them happy. If you are lucky enough to live next to some woods, a stream or a pond, you may see some "herps" not listed here. For pictures and more information about all of these, we recommend the field guides listed in the "For further information"

Managing for Herps in Your Yard

Most of Florida's reptiles and amphibians are small and secretive and need a little bit of "wildness" in which to hide and find food. You can improve the herp habitat in your yard by doing the following:
Leave some leaf litter under your trees, shrubs and in the garden.

  • Encourage native ground cover, grasses and wildflowers; a finely mowed lawn is attractive to people but not to most herps.
  • Leave stumps, rotting logs and stones where possible. Brush piles and wood piles also provide valuable shelters and basking sites.
  • Wooden rail or slat fences not only brighten the yard but provide lizards with perches on which to bask, catch insects and set up territories.
  • Try to discourage cats from using your yard; they are efficient hunters and frequently destroy herps and other wildlife.

The slimy salamander, in its black cloak studded with flecks of white or gold, is a handsome mini-predator of small insects and spiders in leaf litter and beneath rotting logs. Most often seen at night when the ground is wet, its name derives from the viscous slime it produces to thwart its enemies.

The little squirrel treefrog is one of the "chameleons" of the frog world, and can change its color from dark brown to lime green. Often ranging far from water, it is a frequent stalker of the insects attracted to your lighted window pane at night. By day, it retreats into a nearby tree or shrub where it may give its nasal, duck-like "waaak" reminiscent of a scolding squirrel.

You should feel honored if the familiar high-domed box turtle chooses your yard or garden for its home, because these reptiles may live to be 100 years old! The box turtle is so named because the special hinge on its bottom shell lets it close up into an armored box when faced with danger. This familiar land turtle eats a variety of low-growing plants, fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, insects and worms. It avoids the summer sun and winter cold by digging a small shelter in the leaf litter or underbrush.

The green anole, sometimes called "the American chameleon" due to its ability to change from bright green to dark brown, is one of several lizard species at home around people. Its insect-catching skills provide great free entertainment, as do its social interactions. Males pump out their startling pink throat fan or "dewlap" to advertise their virility and personal territory.

The southern ringneck snake, which seldom exceeds 14 inches in length, occasionally turns up in the garden, where it eats slugs, earthworms and other small animals. Brown to slate black with a bright yellow necklace, the ringneck may escape notice until you see its bright yellow belly beset with bold black spots. This and other small snake species may be important predators of destructive insects, and can be encouraged by providing areas of leaf litter and logs or stones for cover.

The common "black snake" of Florida is the southern black racer, a slender, shiny black, and very fast serpent that grows to over five feet. The racer eats an astonishing variety of other animals, from insects and frogs to mice, lizards and other snakes. While cruising for its prey, each racer covers a lot of territory; very likely the one you see will be "just passing through."

Rat snakes are tremendously variable in color, pattern, and local name (corn or "red rat" snake; gray rat or "white oak" snake; yellow rat or "chicken" snake), but all are superb climbers that prey on destructive rodents. Their presence in your shed or near your house may indicate a plethora of mice.

NOTE: There are only six species of venomous snakes in Florida (two of which are very rare and found only in extreme north Florida). Learn to recognize these, and any others you see will be safe, valuable additions to your backyard fauna.

FWC Facts:
One of Florida's smallest owls, the burrowing owl lives in open, treeless areas.

Learn More at AskFWC