Not so slimy snakes

Help youth learn about reptiles and amphibians.

Snakes get a bad rap as these not so slimy reptiles are often given characteristics common to amphibians. Many youth are confused about the difference between reptiles and amphibians. You can help youth understand the difference with some simple thought provoking questions. Provide a reptile and amphibian for comparison or ask youth to think about a common amphibian, like a frog, and a common reptile, like a snake or turtle. Ask youth to consider skin characteristics of each animal and describe it. If the animal’s skin is moist and smooth, then it is an amphibian. If it is dry and scaly, then it is a reptile.

Amphibians, such as frogs, spend part of their life in the water and part of their life on land. In fact, the name amphibian means “both life.” This close connection to the water is required for survival. The egg, tadpole and adult frog or toad all require moisture. All stages of an amphibian’s life need a moist outer layer to help with gas exchange or breathing. Amphibians “breath” through their skin because their lungs are not developed enough to provide all the oxygen they need. When you think of a frog, you should also think of its life cycle that changes from an egg to a tadpole to an adult frog. This change is called metamorphosis.

Reptiles, such as snake, have scales which are not slimy. Snakes do not spend part of their life cycle in water like frogs. They have more fully developed lungs. Reptiles lay soft, leathery eggs from which emerge a tiny snake, turtle, lizard or skink. They do not undergo metamorphosis. Although some reptiles may spend much of their life in water, others rarely live around water.

Reptiles and amphibians are definitely different. However, they share many of the same characteristics. They are both “ectothermic” or cold-blooded, which means their body temperature adjusts to the outside air temperature. That is why you will notice both amphibians, like frogs, and reptiles, like turtles, enjoying time soaking up the sun’s rays on a sunny day. They are both vertebrates, meaning they have backbones, and most reptiles and amphibians have a three chambered heart.

You can help youth learn more about frogs and wetland ecosystems through participating in the citizen science FrogWatch program or at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Amphibians and Reptiles website. For more ways to share science with youth in your life, please explore the Michigan State University Extension Science and Technology website.

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