Reptiles & Amphibians


The ponds, creeks, and river banks along the Appalachian Trail are home to a variety of species of frogs which feed on insects. Bullfrogs, like the one pictured here, can grow up to eight inches in length and are carnivorous, eating a number of small animals. Bullfrogs can be confused with their smaller look-a-like the green frog. The two can easily be distinguished by their calls: bullfrog (.wav file), green frog call (.au file).

Most frogs complete their whole life cycle in a single season, though some may live for two seasons. Frog eggs do not have shells and must be layed in the water, where the tadpoles that hatch out will live the early part of their lives.


Nearly 40 species of salamanders are found along the Appalachian Trail. All look like lizards, but, unlike reptiles, they have moist, scaleless skin and lack ear openings and clawed feet. The red eft (pictured here) is an immature red-spotted newt. It is the only salamander you are likely to see while hiking, unless you stop to turn over rocks and logs. It is often seen crossing the Trail during or just after rainfall. The eft is born on land, but, once it reaches maturity, it spends the remainder of its life in the water. For some, this transformation takes up to three years.


The main turtles found along the Appalachian Trail are the wood turtle (pictured here) and the box turtle. Because box turtles have no natural predators and can eat almost anything, they live to be very old. Distinguished by their high-dome shells and yellow-to-orange markings, they are most often spotted during and after a rainfall. The wood turtle is found from Pennsylvania northward on the Trail. Its shell is textured with deep concentric ridges and grooves. Its throat, legs, and tail have bright orange markings.


Rattlesnakes can be found on the Appalachian Trail from New Hampshire southward, but they are most commonly seen in Pennsylvania and Virginia. As humans are something to fear rather than eat, rattlesnakes sightings are relatively rare. They prefer dry rocky areas where they sun themselves. Adult rattlers can grow up to five feet long, but are more commonly three to four feet. Some rattlers along the Trail are almost completely black.

Copperhead SnakeCOPPERHEADS

Along with the rattlesnake, the copperhead is the other venomous snake found on the Appalachian Trail. Like the rattlesnake, the copperhead has a triangular-shaped head, a quick visual indicator of a snake to be avoided. The copperhead grows between two and three feet long and its tan body is marked with darker hour-glass-shaped bands. Copperheads like rocky areas. It is mostly active at night. Almost no deaths have ever been attributed to the copperhead’s bite.


Nonvenomous snakes, such as the garter snake (pictured here) and the black rat snake are much more commonly seen than either the rattlesnake or the copperhead, though they too shy away from hikers. Remember that any snake will bite, so watch, but don't approach or try to touch, the snakes you find along the Appalachian Trail.