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Cape Breton Highlands National Park of Canada

Amphibians and Reptiles: They Don't Give You Warts

In fact, these much-maligned creatures are very beneficial to the ecosystem. Cape Breton Highlands National Park is home to a relatively small number of amphibians and reptiles, mainly because of cold temperatures, limited habitat available for these types of animal, and natural barriers preventing them from moving in to Cape Breton.

Frogs, Toads, Newts and Salamanders

Amphibians are extremely important components of many ecosystems, fulfilling the roles both of predator and prey. In some ecosystems, if you were to take out all the birds, mammals, reptiles, fish and amphibians and weigh them by group, the amphibians would weigh more than any other group of vertebrate animals. That's a lot of amphibians!

A wood frog sits amidst some grass.
The wood frog is often found in the forest at some distance away from water. It is recognizable by the "robber mask" over its eyes. The male's call, heard in the spring, sounds much like a rapidly quacking duck.
© Cape Breton Highlands National Park / G. B. Croft

The most common woodland amphibians in Cape Breton Highlands National Park include the red-backed salamander, yellow-spotted salamander, wood frog, spring peeper and American toad. The red-spotted newt, northern leopard frog, green frog, mink frog and pickerel frog live in small ponds and lakes within the park.

Worldwide, scientists have found that the numbers of amphibians are steadily decreasing. These animals may be especially vulnerable to pollution since they have very thin skins which absorb toxins readily.

Other reasons for the decline may include habitat destruction, disease, increased UV radiation due to the hole in the ozone layer, and the capture of wild animals for the exotic pet trade.

Check out the Checklist of Amphibians!

A green frog sits in a shallow pond.
The green frog is perhaps the most commonly seen amphibian in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The male's call, in late spring and early summer, sounds like a banjo string being plucked.
© Cape Breton Highlands National Park / D. Lawley
An adult red-spotted newt on the shore of a lake.
The adult red-spotted newt is an unusual amphibian in that it is entirely aquatic, while its bright red young, called red efts, are entirely terrestrial. It lives in lakes where fish are mostly absent.
© Cape Breton Highlands National Park / E. Wallace

Snakes and Turtles
A maritime garter snake slithers along the forest floor.
The maritime garter snake is the biggest and most common snake in the park, usually found near water. Garter snakes bear live young.
© Cape Breton Highlands National Park / Parks Canada An eastern smooth green snake looks out from a tree branch.
The eastern smooth green snake is the smallest and prettiest snake in the park. The females lay 3-11 small eggs in late July or August.
© Cape Breton Highlands National Park / B. Fisher

All four species of snake found within the park are small and not venomous. The Maritime garter snake is by far the most common snake seen within the park but the northern redbelly snake, northern ringneck snake and eastern smooth green snake can also be found here.

Many people do not like snakes very much, but far from being harmful, many of the snakes of Nova Scotia are quite helpful in keeping down the populations of insects and rodents. Garter snakes eat amphibians, small fish, worms and mice. Green snakes generally snack on moth larvae like the tent caterpillar, and spiders. The northern ringneck snake loves a good red-backed salamander, while the redbelly snake is a gardener's best friend - their favourite food is slugs

The wood turtle has been spotted in the Aspy Valley close to, but not inside, the park. The endangered leatherback turtle, a sea turtle, sometimes swims off the coast of the park in search of jellyfish, which it eats.

Check out the Checklist of Reptiles!

Checklist of Amphibians in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Family - (Common Name)


Scientific Name

Status in waters outside Park

Ambystomatidae - (Mole Salamanders)

Blue-spotted salamander Ambystoma laterale

Yellow-spotted salamander

Ambystoma maculatum Common

Salamandridae - (Newts)

Red-spotted newt Notopthalmus viridescens viridescens Common

Plethodontidae - (Lungless Salamanders)

Eastern redback salamander Plethodon cinereus
Four-toed salamander Hemidactylium scutatum Rare
Bufonidae - (Toads)
Eastern American toad Bufo americanus americanus Abundant
Hylidae - (Treefrogs)
Northern spring peeper Hyla crucifer crucifer Common
Ranidae - (True Frogs)
Green frog Rana clamitans clamitans
Mink frog Rana septentrionalis Rare
Wood frog Rana sylvatica Common
Northern leopard frog Rana pipiens Common
Pickerel frog Rana palustris Uncommon
Checklist of Reptiles in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Family - (Common Name)


Scientific Name

Status in waters outside Park

Chelydridae - (Snapping Turtles)

Snapping turtle Chelydra serpentina serpentina Hypothetical - probably released captives

Emydidae - (Box and Water Turtles)

Wood turtle Clemmys insculpta Rare

Colubridae - (Colubrid Snakes)

Northern redbelly snake Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata Probably common in certain areas
Maritime garter snake Thamnophis sirtalis pallidula Abundant
Northern ringneck snake Diadophis punctatus edwardsi Probably common in certain areas
Eastern smooth green snake Opheodrys vernalis vernalis Probably common in certain areas