A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

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Aestivate - To remain inactive during a prolonged period of high temperatures or drought, usually while hidden. (also Estivate)

Albinism - (Albino) - In reptiles and amphibians: a congenital reduction in the production of melanin in the skin, scales, and eyes. (Albinos typically have pink eyes and very pale skin. Compare with Leucism and Melanistic)

Allopatric - Describes two or more taxa which have geographic ranges that are completely separated.
                   (Compare with Sympatric and Parapatric.)

Amelanistic - (Hypomelanistic) - Lacking Melanin, or dark pigment, in the skin, but not lacking all pigment, as in
Albinism. Amelanistic animals still produce pigments other than melanin, such as Xanthin.

Amplexus - The sexual embrace of a male amphibian (when a male frog or salamander clasps the female from behind or above with his forelimbs either behind her forelimbs - Axillary Amplexus - or at her rear legs or waist - Inguinal Amplexus.)

Amplexus - A mating behavior exhibited by amphibians that fertilze eggs externally where the male comes into direct contact with the female until she is ready to lay her eggs, at which point he releases his sperm to fertilize them.

Most male frogs fertilize a female's eggs externally by depositing sperm onto the eggs as the female lays them. In order to be in position to do this when a female is ready to lay, many species of male frogs initiate direct contact with the femle. This contact is called Ampexus. (Some types of frogs can fertilize eggs externally without direct contact. One type, Ascaphus, fertilizes eggs internally.)

Six kinds of Amplexus were traditionaly recognized until a seventh kind (Dorsal Straddle) was observed in India in 2016.

- Inguinal - male grasps female around her waist

- Axillary - male grasps female around her shoulders or armpits

- Cephalic - male graps the female's head

- Head Straddle - male sits on the female's head

- Independent - male and female face in the opposite position touching their rears

- Glued - a male with short limbs that cannot reach around the female sits on her lower back

- Dorsal Straddle - male presses his abdomen onto the female's back and holds onto a twig or leaf or branch that she is sitting on or holding with his front toes. He releases sperm that trickles down her back and fertilizes her eggs.

Anal Spur - Vestigial hind limbs on each side of the vent of a boid snake appearing as a pointed spur.

Anerythristic - Lacking the red (or orange) coloration (erythrin) which normally occurs. (EG. a snake that is normally black, red, and white, that is black and white only.)

Anterior - Toward the front or head end.

Antibiosis - an antagonistic association between two organisms in which one is adversely affected.

Anuran - A frog or toad.

Aposematic (Aposematism) - Colorations or markings serving to warn or repel predators. Colored or constructed in a way that indicates special capabilities for defense. Advertising by an animal to potential predators that it is not good to eat. (Aposematic coloring.)

Aquatic - Frequenting, living, or growing in water.

Arboreal - Living in trees or shrubs.

Arenicolous - Inhabiting sand.

Attenuated - Thin or slender.

Autotomy - The spontaneous casting off of the tail when under attack. Lizards and Salamanders both have the ability to release the tail when it has been grasped, and sometimes when it hasn't. The tail continues wiggling which distracts the predator allowing the lizard or salamander to escape. The tail later regenerates or grows back, although not usually to the same length.

Axillary - Relating to the armpits.

Barbel - A nipple-like projection. A slender tactile fleshy growth.

Batrachology - the study of amphibians.

Batesian Mimicry - a form of mimicry typified by a situation where a harmless species has evolved to imitate the warning signals of a harmful species directed at a common predator. (Wickipedia)

Behaviourism - The scientific study of the trained behavioral responses of animals in a laboratory context. (See Ethology) (Wickipedia)

Biotic -  of, relating to, or resulting from living things, especially in their ecological relation.

Boss - A raised rounded area (often inbetween the eyes of a toad.)

CA - An abbreviation for "California"

Carapace - The upper part of the shell of a turtle.

Cathemeral - Active sporadically during the day and night - neither Diurnal, Nocturnal, nor Crepuscular.

Caudal - Pertaining to the tail.

Caudals - The scales beneath the tail (often in two rows on some snakes.) (Subcaudals)

Chemoreceptor (Chemosensor) - a sensory receptor that detects certain chemical stimuli in the environment.

Chytrid (Bd) - short for Chytridiomycosis - an infectious disease in amphibians that is capable of causing sporadic deaths in some amphibian populations and complete mortality in others. Caused by the chytrid fungi Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis
and Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans. (Wickipedia)

Clade - a group of organisms that consists of a common ancestor and all its lineal descendants. Also known as a monophyletic group.

Cladistics - An approach to biological classification in which organisms are categorized in groups ("clades") based on the most recent common ancestor. (Wickipedia)

Clinal Variation - A geographic character gradient - differences in color or pattern in one species at a southern point in range from a northern point.

Cline - A gradual change in a variable characteristic. (Wickipedia)

Cloaca - The posterior orifice that serves as the only opening for the digestive, reproductive, and urinary tract of many vertebrate animals. (See Vent.)
Often associated with the Cloacal Gland, which is implicated in scent-making behavior.

Cloacal Respiration - A process of breathing underwater used by some species of aquatic turtles in which the turtle contracts muscles in its inguinal pocket to pump water into the cloacal orifice. The water is pumped to the cloacal bursae, a pair of internal pouches, which exchange gasses - extracting oxygen from the water and venting carbon dioxide.

Clutch - A group of eggs fertilized at the same time, and typically laid in a single session and incubated together.

Cold-blooded - An outdated term for Ectothermic. (A Poikilotherm.)

Commensalism - An association between two organisms in which one benefits and the other derives neither benefit nor harm.

Costal Folds - The vertical folds of skin on the sides of the body of a salamander between the costal grooves.

Costal Grooves - The vertical grooves in the skin on the sides of the body of a salamander between the costal folds.

Cranial Crest - The raised ridges on the head of a toad, either between or behind the eyes.

Crepuscular - Active during twilight; active at dawn and dusk.

Cromatophore - A pigment-containing or light-reflecting cell or group of cells. Cromatophores are largely responsible for generating skin and eye color in ectothermic animals. They are generated in the neural crest during embryonic development.

The following are subclasses of cromatophores:

Cyanophore - A chromatophore containing a blue pigment.

Erythrophore - A chromatophore containing a red pigment.

Iridophore - A chromatophore that is reflective or iridescent.

Leucophore - A chromatophore containing a white pigment.

Melanophore - A chromatophore containing a black or brown pigment.

Xanthophore - A chromatophore containing a yellow pigment.

Crypsis -The ability to avoid observation or detection. Camouflaging behavior.

Cyanophore - A chromatophore containing a blue pigment.

Cycloid Scales - Smooth rounded scales.

Dimorphic - Different in color or structure. (Males and females of a species are Sexually Dimorphic when they differ in color or structure.)

Dimorphism - Difference in color or structure between members of the same species. (Sexual dimorphism is differences between males and females of the species.)

Diurnal - Active during daytime.

Dorsal - Relating to the upper side or back.

Dorsolateral - Involving the upper surfaces of the sides below the back.

Dorsolateral Fold - The glandular ridge running lengthwise on the sides or back of a frog.

Dorsum - The upper part of the body or back.

Ecology - The branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings. (Wickipedia)

Ecosystem - A biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment; the interaction among plants and animals in a given environment. (Wickipedia)

Ectotherm (cold-blooded) - An animal that is dependant on external souces of heat to regulate its body temperature; relying on the environment and behavior to moderate body temperature.
(See Endotherm. See Poikilotherm)
Reptiles and Amphibians are Ectotherms. They adjust their body temperature by exposing themselves to warmer or cooler situations, such as basking in the sun to warm up, or going underground to cool down.

Endotherm (warm-blooded) - An animal which maintains thermal homeostasis (a stable internal temperature that is regulated by their metabolism.)
(See Ectothermic)
Birds and Mammals are Endotherms.

Endemic - Native or confined to a certain region or country.

Eponym - (In the names of reptiles and amphibians) - A person after whom an animal is named. Sometimes an animal is named after the person who discovered the animal or a figure influential in its official description, but other times it is named after someone the person who originally described the animal wanted to honor.

Erythrophore - A chromatophore containing a red pigment.

Estivate (Aestivate) - To remain inactive during a prolonged period of hight temperatures or drought, usually while hidden.

Ethology - The scientific study of the behavior of animals under natural conditions. (See Behaviourism.) (Wickipedia)

Exotic - Not native to a region; originating elsewhere; Alien.

Femoral Pore - Small openings on the undersides of the thighs of some families of male (and sometimes female) lizards that are a part of glands that release pheromones to attract mates or mark territory.

Fieldherping - The activity of searching for wild herps. ("Wild" meaning living in a natural environment (the field); not captive or domesticated.)
Motives for fieldherping include, but are not limited to, observation, lifelisting, photography, and collecting herps. (Many herpers use the term "Herping" to mean "Fieldherping," but Herping has now become a catch-all term to incude any herp-related activity.)

Form - A species, subspecies, or distinct identifiable population.

Fossorial - Adapted for burrowing.

Genus - A group of closely related species having common characteristics distinct from those of other such groupings.

Gills - The paired respiratory organ of salamanders by which oxygen is extracted from water.

Granules - Very small, flat scales.

Gravid - Bearing eggs or young.

Gular - Pertaining to the throat.

Habitat - The natural home or environment of an organism.

Hatchling - A recently hatched animal; an animal that has recently emerged from an egg.

Hemipenis - Either of the paired copulatory organs of male snakes and lizards. (plural - Hemipenes)

Herp - A reptile, amphibian, or amphisbaenian (ie frogs, toads, salamanders, caecilians, turtles, lizards, snakes, crocodiles, alligators, and worm lizards.) (The term is short for herptile, which is a composite of herpetology and reptile.)

Herpetoculture - Keeping live herps in captivity.

Herpetofauna - The reptiles and amphibians of a particular region, habitat, or geological period.

Herpetology - The study of amphibians and/or reptiles.

Herper - A person who is involved with herps in some way. (Someone who hunts for herps; someone who keeps herps as pets; someone who photographs herps; someone who maintains a website about herps, etc.)

Herpes - A viral disease that has nothing to do with herps!  (A common misspelling of "herps.")

Herping - Any activity involving captive or wild herps, including, but not limited to, fieldherping, herp photography, going to reptile shows and pet stores, and   researching herps online or in a library. (The word once referred to fieldherping, but it has been appropriated by herpers who are not involved in fieldherping.)

Herptile - A reptile or amphibian.

Hibernaculum - A place where an animal seeks refuge from cold temperatures in order to hibernate, or overwinter.

Hydric  - Very wet.

Horizontal Pupil - An elliptical pupil with its long axis horizontal.

Hybrid - The offspring of the mating of two distinct species.

Hypomelanistic - Retaining some black pigmentation while lacking most of it.

In Situ - In its original place, as it was found

Indicator Species (Bioindicator) - a species that can show the overall health of the environment. (Wickipedia)

Indigenous - Originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native.

Inguinal - Of, relating to, or located in the Groin.

Insectivorous - Feeding on worms, insects, and other invertebrates.

Intergrade - An animal that shares the characteristics of two closely related subspecies of the same species (but is not a specific subspecies as it does not show the exact characteristics of any subspecies.) Animals within intergrade zones are usually highly variable in appearance. They can look like any one of the subspecies that share the zone or have characteristics of more than one subspecies.

Interspace - The patch of color between markings (bands or blotches) on lizards and snakes.

Iridophore - A chromatophore that is reflective or iridescent.

Juvenile - A young animal not yet sexually mature, often showing colors and proportions that differ from adults of the species.

Keel - A ridge that runs lengthwise along the center of a scale.

Labial - Relating to the lips.

Larva (plural: Larvae) - An immature form of a frog or salamander that must undergo metamorphosis to assume adult characteristics.

Lateral - Referring to the side.

Lateral Stripe - A stripe running lengthwise along the body.

Lentic - Inhabiting or situated in still fresh water.

Leucism (Leucistic) - A partial loss of pigmentation that causes pale or patchy coloration of the skin but not the eyes. The eyes retain their usual dark color. (Compare with Albinism.)

Leucophore - A chromatophore containing a white pigment.

Lotic - Inhabiting or situated in rapidly moving fresh water.

Melanin - Dark (black or brown) pigment.

Melanistic - The increased development of the dark-colored pigment melanin in the skin. (Unusually dark or black in color.) (Compare with Albinism)

Melanophore - A chromatophore containing a black or brown pigment.

Mental Gland - A gland on the chins of some male salamanders, the secretions from which are used to stimulate a sexual response in females of the species.

Mesic - Of, pertaining to, or adapted to a habitat or environment containing a moderate amount of moisture.

Metamorph - A recently metamorphosed frog, toad, or salamander.

Metamorphose - To undergo metamorphosis from a larval state to an adult state (frogs and toads and certain salamanders.) (Wickipedia)

Microhabitat - A small part of an animal's habitat. (For example: the area under a rock which the animal utilizes occasionally, as opposed to the surrounding habitat where the rock is found.)

Monophyletic - A group of organisms that consists of all the descendants of a common ancestor. The arrangement of the members of a monophyletic group is called a monophyly. (Wickipedia)

Monotypic - A genus with only one species; the only representative of a group.

Morphology - The study of the forms of living organisms, and with relationships between their structures. The branch of biology that deals with the form of living organisms, and with relationships between their structures. (Wickipedia)

Morphotype - A physically distinct population with a geographical range that does not conform to taxonomy based on molecular evidence (includes many accepted subspecies.)

Mottled - Irregularly marked with blotches and spots.

Mullerian Mimicry - When two harmful species that are not closely related and share common predators have evolved to mimic each others' warning signals. (Wickipedia)

Nares - Nostrils

Nasolabial Groove - In Plethodontid salamanders - a fine groove that extends from the nostril to the edge of the lip containing Chemoreceptors.

Native - Of indigenous origin or growth; a local inhabitant; associated with a country or region.

Neonate - A newborn.

Neotenic - Remaining in the aquatic larval condition beyond the usual time of metamorphosis.

Neoteny or Juvenilization - Retention of juvenile characteristics in the adults of a species; Retaining larval features throughout adult life. An alternative process to metamorphisis in which adults retain larval traits at the adult stage.

Neurotoxic - Components of snake venom that damage the nervous system and often causing paralysis.

Nocturnal - Active at night.

Non-Venomous - Not capable of producing a venom that is dangerous to humans. (Many snakes long considered nonvenomous have been found to produce a venom that is harmful to their prey, usually through small rear fangs that very rarey can inject this venom into humans.)

Nuchal - Referring to the back of the neck.

Nuptial Pad - A rough patch of dark skin on the fingers of some male amphibians during the breeding season to help the male hold on to a female during amplexus.

Ocelli - Round, eye-like spots.

Ocular Scale - The enlarged scale covering the vestigial eyes on a blind snake (threadsnake.)

Ophidian - Referring to snakes.

Ophiophagous - Feeding on snakes.

Oviparous - (Egg-laying) - Producing eggs that are laid then complete their development and hatch externally from the mother. (See Ovoviparous and Viviparous)

Ovoviviparous - (Live-bearing) - Producing eggs that develop and hatch inside the mother, with the young then born alive without a placenta. (See Oviparous and Viviparous)

Paedomorph - An adult organism that has retained the juvenile characteristics.

Paedomorphosis - Retaining a number of juvenile traits while developing into a reproductive adult.

Papillae - Small, nipple-like protuberances.

Parapatric - Describes two or more taxa which have geographic ranges that meet but do not overlap substantially.
                   (Compare with Allopatric and Sympatric.)

Paraphyletic - A taxonomic group consisting of the group's last common ancestor and all descendants of that ancestor excluding a few monophyletic subgroups. (Paraphyly) (Wickipedia)

Parasite - An organism that lives on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the expense of the host.

Parotoid Glands - (Parotid Glands) Wartlike poison glands that occur on the backs, the necks, the shoulders, and the tails of some toads and salamanders.

Parthenogenesis - Reproduction without fertilization by a male. (Parthenogenetic) (Wickipedia)

Pectoral - Relating to the chest.

Pedogenesis - Neoteny - Retention of juvenile characteristics in the adults of a species.

Philopatry - The tendancy to return to a particular site or area.
(Sea Turtles are Philopatric - they tend to return to the beach on which they were born to breed and lay their eggs.)

Phylogeography - The study of the historical processes that may be responsible for the contemporary geographic distributions of individuals. This is accomplished by considering the geographic distribution of individuals in light of the paatterns associated with a gene genealogy. (Wickipedia)

Piebaldism (Piebald) - A rare congenital genetic disorder of melanin-producing skin cells, that causes scattered normally-pigmented and abnormally-pigment areas of skin, or multi-colored skin. Piebald animals are sometimes called "partly albino" but that is not accurate. In piebaldism, affected skin cells can still produce pigment, but that function has been turned off, while in albinism, the skin cells lack the ability to produce pigment. Eye pigmentation is normal. (In Albinism, eye color is pink.)

Plastron - The underside of the shell of a turtle.

Plethodon - Lung-less salamanders of the genus Plethodon.

Poikilotherm - ("cold-blooded") - An animal whose internal temperature varies considerably.
(See Endothermic)
Fish, amphibians, reptiles, and many invertebrates are Poikilotherms.

Polymorphic - Occurring in several different forms. (A species is polymorphic when it contains a number of different color morphs with respect to ground color, blotching, stripes, flecking, within and between populations, including clutches.)

Polyphyletic - A set of organisms that have been grouped together but do not share an immediate common ancestor. The arrangement of the members of a polyphyletic group is called a polyphyly. (Wickipedia)

Posterior - Referring to the rear part of the body.

Polymorphism - Having more than one form or morph. (Wickipedia)

Postanal Scale - A scale in back of the vent.

Postocular - Behind the eye.

Postocular Stripe - A stripe behind the eye.

Preanal scale - A scale in front of the vent.

Prehensile - A tail that can grasp or wrap around something.

Preocular - In front of the eyes.

Race - Subspecies.

Reticulum - A netlike formation or structure; a fine network.

Riparian - Wetlands adjacent to rivers and streams.

Sacral Hump (Sacral Prominence) - The rounded raised part of the lower back in anurans.

Saxicolous - Living or growing among rocks (Saxatile).

Semiaquatic - Moving in and out of water, but not containing gills to extract oxygen from water.

Sexual Dimorphism - Differences between males and females of the species.

Scansorial - Adapted for climbing. Habitually climbing.

Scute - One of the horny plates covering the shell of a turtle. A large scale.

Subadult - An animal that is not fully adult.

Subcaudals - The scales beneath the tail (often in two rows on some snakes.) (Caudals)

Subocular - Beneath the eye

Subspecies - A subdivision of a species which ranks below species, usually a fairly permanent geographically isolated race.

SVL - (Snout-to-Vent Length) Length measured from the snout to the vent.

Symbiosis - A mutually beneficial interaction between two different organisms living in physical association.

Sympatric - Describes two or more taxa which have geographic ranges that overlap substantially.
                  (Compare with Allopatric and Parapatric.)

Synonym - In taxonomy, a synonym is a different name for the same species or type of organism.

Synonymize - To demonsrate that a taxonomic name is a synonym, which is one of two or more scientific names used to designate the same taxonomic group. (IE. to show that there is more than one scientific name for an animal, recommending that only one specific name be used in the future.)

Syntopic - Different species found sharing the same habitat within the same geographic range.

Talus - Rocks piled up at the base of a slope or cliff.

Taxon (plural: Taxa) - A specific taxonomic category - e.g., a specific species or genus.

Tibia - The leg of a frog or toad from the heel to the knee.

Total Length - Length measured from the snout to the end of the tail.

Troglodyte - A cave dweller.

Tubercle - A small bump or knob on the body, which is smaller than a wart.

Tympanum - The eardrum. (Enlarged on certain frogs.)

Type Specimen - The specific specimen on which the scientist who first names a new taxon bases the original description. One individual is designated as the holotype, the name bearer, in order to permanently attach the name to a single taxon in the event that later research reveals that the type series was composed of more than one species.

Unken reflex (unkenreflex) - An amphibian defense posture characterized by the subject remaining immobile while contorting or arching its body to reveal hidden bright colors on the ventral surface, the tail, or on an inner limb. These colors warn potential predators that the amphibian may be poisonous. The amphibian may also release toxins and swallow air to inflate its body. Some amphibians that use the posture do not possess aposematic coloring.

Venomous - (Reptiles and Amphibians) - Capable of injecting venom by means of their bite.

Vent - The cloacal opening. See Cloaca

Venter - The underside or abdomen of an animal.

Ventral - Relating to the underside or belly.

Vertical Pupil - An elliptical pupil with its long axis vertical.

Viviparous - (Live-bearing) - Producing embryos that are retained within the mother's body until they are ready to hatch. (See Oviparous and Ovoviviparous)

Vocal Sac - Loose skin on the throat of a frog or toad which acts as a resonating chamber when the animal produces a vocal sound. (Usually single, but paired in some species.)

Warm-Blooded - An outdated term for Endothermic.

Xanthic - Tending toward a yellow or yellowish color.

Xanthochromism - A genetic condition that results in an unusually yellow or reddish pigmentation in verbebrates.

Xanthophore - A chromatophore containing a yellow pigment.

Wart - A bump or growth on the skin.

Xeric - Of, pertaining to or adapted to a very dry habitat or environment (such as a desert.)

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