Amphibians and Reptiles

Amphibian-Long-toed Salamander

 "Amphibians seem to be disappearing from the landscape for many known, unknown reasons. So, if you encounter an amphibian or reptile while wildlife watching on the Refuge, please email Refuge staff describing what, where, and when."

Amphibian-Columbian Spotted FrogAt least eight species of reptiles and amphibians commonly use the refuge including three snakes, one turtle, two frogs, one toad, and one salamander (species list here).     


Q: Where is the best place to find turtles, snakes and frogs?

A: We have a reptile and amphibian brochure illustrating the species found on the Refuge. A general rule of thumb, cold areas (worldwide) usually have a low diversity of reptile species. And that is the case for the Refuge; about eight species of reptile and amphibian have been documented on the Refuge. Only one reptile, the Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta), can be commonly seen in numbers; look for them June through September on Pond 5 sunning themselves on the former tree limbs sticking out of the water. Some staff report seeing a snake only five times over a ten year period, one Bullsnake (Pituophis melanoleucus) and the rest Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sp.).     

As for amphibians, only the Bullfrog (Rana catesbiana) is commonly encountered in public use areas. A good place again is between Ponds 5 & 6 parked on Wildfowl Lane; look at the water surface June-September and you usually see the frogs’ eyes poking out of the water.   


One valuable habitat for these animals is riparian habitat. The Bitterroot River is characterized by constantly shifting stream channels through the riparian habitat. This habitat provides some of the most productive wildlife habitat in the State and is a home to a wide variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians (Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Plan-MFWP 2005). Throughout the riparian woodlands are various wetland types including ephemeral pools, sloughs, and remnants of former gravel pits which provide breeding grounds for amphibians such as the long-toed salamander and the boreal toad, a State species of concern. In response to this Boreal Toad listing, the Refuge plans on enacting the following: 

Gravel Pits Objective

Amphibian-Boreal Toad TadpoleUse the gravel pits—created when gravel is harvested east of the Bitterroot River—to provide nursery habitat for amphibians such as the boreal toad, a State species of concern, and the Columbia spotted frog.


  • Remove vegetation and soil from the artificial gravel pits to restore the desired habitat conditions for native amphibians, as appropriate. If necessary, harvest gravel October through March, avoiding disturbance and displacement of any amphibians during breeding season. 
  • Manage these old gravel pits as ephemeral pools to discourage the American bullfrog, an invasive predator of amphibians and other desirable native species. 
  • Survey amphibian populations and monitor the response of amphibians to determine the success of management techniques. Adapt management techniques to ensure the refuge is using the most effective methods, research, and proven technologies. 

National Overview-Amphibian Deformity and Abnormality

Reptile-Painted Turtle 256 x 192The USFWS recently published a 10 year study of amphibian abnormality on Refuges. "Less than 2 percent of frogs and toads sampled on 152 refuges had physical abnormalities involving the skeleton and eyes - a lower rate than many experts feared based on earlier reports. This indicates that the severe malformations such as missing or extra limbs reported in the media during the mid-1990s were actually very rare on national wildlife refuges."