Morgan Arboretum - Arboretum Morgan

Reptiles & Amphibians Print Email


A total of 15 species of amphibians and reptiles have been recorded over the years on the premises of the Morgan Arboretum of McGill University. Taken altogether, these species represent 70% of the total number of species found on the Island of Montreal, indicating how important and varied are the habitats found within the Arboretum.


Please note, all of the following species are extrememly sensitive to disturbance and should under no circumstances be held or collected. Amphibians have permeable skin which can be seriously damaged if they encounter bug spray, sunscreen, or other hand care or skin care products. If an amphibian HAS to be moved (i.e. on a dangerous roadway) please make sure of your own safety first, and then assure the safety of the animal by wetting your hands with water before making physical contact. 

As we say in the outdoors: Leave only footprints, and take only photos!



The species found in the Arboretum are:


  • Blue-spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale)
  • Red-spotted Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens)
  • Red-backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereus)

 Salamanders and newts are tailed amphibians and belong to the Order Caudata

Blue-Spotted Salamander (photo: Chris Cloutier)


  • American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus americanus) formerly (Bufo americanus)
  • Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor)
  • Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)
  • Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans)*
  • Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens)*
  • Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvatica)*

*All frogs in the genus Lithobates were, until recently, within the genus Rana (older references may still be using the name Rana)

 Frogs and toads are tailless amphibians and belong to the Order Salientia (formerly Anura)


  • Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta
  • Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) NEW!

Turtles occur very rarely in the Morgan Arboretum due to a lack of suitable aquatic habitats. Although, due to surrounding wetlands not far away, some turtles do make their way to the Arboretum on occasion, either simply passing through on their way to a better pond elsewhere, or to use our gravely roads as nest sites. The first report of a Snapping turtle was made on May 19, 2011.



  • Eastern Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum)
  • Northern Brown Snake (Storeria dekayi)
  • Northern Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata)
  • Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)

Turtles and snakes are reptiles and have a scaly skin and, except for snakes, true claws.

Of course, all of these species have something special about one part or another of their life cycle, morphology, anti-predator mechanisms, hibernation methods, or one of many other incredible adaptations that could be stated about these fascinating creatures!


Reptiles and amphibians of all sorts call the Arboretum their home. They can be found in a wide array of habitats from the old growth deciduous forests to the wide open fields and ponds scattered around the property. Spring represents the best time for the casual observer to view these cold blooded critters, as most of them migrate to breeding ponds or into their summer habitats on the warmer days of April, May and June.

Snakes can sometimes be observed along the forest edges on sunny mornings where they can be seen sunning themselves in order to get their muscles in motion for the day ahead. The Arboretum does not have a large diversity of species, but the ones we do have are quite beautiful. Look for them in open sunny spots along the trails, and don't worry, there are no venomous varieties here!

Turtles are rarely seen in the Arboretum, but there have been sightings in the past. Turtles are built for the aquatic life, so the best places to maybe get a glance of one would be the standing water areas within the forest. With luck you might be able to stumble upon one of these elusive reptiles.

Common (or Eastern) Garter Snake (photo: Chris Cloutier)


Amphibians are much more common on the grounds of the Arboretum. These wet-skinned relatives of the reptiles include the frogs, toads, salamanders and newts. Most amphibians begin their lives in the water as tadpoles, and only come onto land once they have completed their metamorphosis. Because amphibians lack scales, they face the potential for drying out and must remain moist, thus are tied to water their entire lives. So a good place to start looking is always by the water's edge. You can often see several species of frogs hanging out by the ponds, especially on sunny days. If you are around in the spring and summer, keep an ear open for their wonderful songs, and remember, as is the case with spring peepers, the loudest songs don't always come from the biggest frogs, so take a good look in the surrounding vegetation for these tiny vocalists.

Toads are also quite common and are seen regularly in many different habitats. They too will breed in standing water, but once they emerge, tend to live the high life...well, on high ground anyways. Toads are not as tied to water as are frogs, their skin is more water tight and are thus more resistant to drying out. Toads are mostly nocturnal, but can be seen clumsily hopping around in any given corner of the Arboretum in their endless search for insects to munch.

Salamanders and newts are also amphibians, and don't let their appearance fool you; they are not lizards. Salamanders are much more secretive creatures than other amphibians, and spend most of their time concealed under moist leaves and debris in the forests. They can sometimes be seen walking about after a warm spring shower, but don't get your hopes up too high of seeing many. Newts are similar looking to salamanders but have a slightly different life history. Whereas adult salamanders live on land, adult newts are aquatic... the newts that we sometimes see walking around are juveniles, often referred to as "red efts". These curious creatures are an intermediate stage between larval and adult stages. Their bright colours are a warning system for predators not to eat them, and just like toads, these tiny creatures pack a powerful poison in their skin which will certainly leave any predator with an awful taste in its mouth. 

Green Frog (photo: Chris Cloutier)

... and then we have earthworms:

Neither reptiles nor amphibian, but worthy of placing on this page if only because they are eaten by the species that the page was intended for.

Earthworms have earned their reputation as beneficial animals through their tireless efforts at breaking down organic materials. Earthworms are extremely abundant in the soils of hardwood forests and other locations where the soil hovers around a neutral pH. Worms play a key role in aerating the soil, mixing nutrients, improving drainage and recycling organic materials. Because they are so plentiful, many animals rely on earthworms as a staple food source, for instance many birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals feed on worms. Worms, just like amphibians must remain moist in order to breathe and drink through their skin. However, they can easily drown if their burrows are flooded, thus the worms you see crawling along the paths in the spring, have probably been evicted by water.

Last Updated: Monday, 19 September 2011 14:26