Improving herpetology skills including finding new spots and refining identification

I’ve been Into herpetology for a couple years now, and I have a couple go to spots for herps, but they’re a little far from me. so how do I find new spots? Also, while my identification skill have gotten better, i’m realizing that distinguishing between snakes that look very similar and are in the same genus is challenging for me, besides general location and “color” are there better more definite ways, I’ve also struggled like this with frogs and salamanders. I feel like a better knowledge of anatomy might help but i’m not entirely sure…

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Scales are important to pay attention to for snakes and sometimes lizards. Keeled vs. unkeeled (e.g., Opheodrys) , number or width of certain scales (e.g., Plestiodon). A good field guide will help you figure out what characteristics are important, and most have chapters with diagrams at the front that give you a crash course in anatomy.

A good field guide should also have a description of the types of habitat, season, etc. each species can be found in. But getting outdoors and exploring is going to be invaluable for finding new spots.


Where are you? Hard to advise otherwise.

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Welcome to the forum! Adding to what swampster said, scalation can be an important for certain genera, such as Thamnophis, Salvadora, and Leptophis. Try to learn some terms such as scale row, keels, ventral scale, and head scales (helpful diagram shown below).


Again, knowing where you are helps greatly with identification. Some species may have lookalikes in certain areas.

One last tip I can give to you is to use The Reptile Database. The diagnosis section can help immensely.

Part of learning how to identify is to practice, and iNaturalist is a valuable resource. Of course, I’m not encouraging you to make random IDs. Start with species you’re comfortable with and make your way to tough species. Do NOT be afraid to ask others for tips or advice on identifying. If you’re in North America, feel free to @ me on an observation you’re hesitant on and I can offer my assistance. I wish you well in your identification journey!



incredibly helpful thank you

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Long Island unfortunately

Get a copy of the Peterson series field guide for eastern and central North America. I ravenously studied an earlier edition of that book when I was a kid in New York. There’s also a herp field guide just for New York State. Can’t recall the authors, got a copy somewhere.


I’m not too well acquainted with herping in America, but for most places I’d advise learning habitat types and studying local species in detail. Often books are the key.

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This. Different species prefer different environments. Some are specific to particular environments.

Funny the question is asked, because that’s what I primarily use iNat for! If I know where plant X is, I know where my target species may be. In the case of Herps, some are swamp denizens, some bog, some stone piles, etc. Look on iNat to find observations which are usually indicative of the proper environment. Then go there. Then look at places that are the same ecosystem.


This is the New York State herp guide I was thinking of:

I bought my copy in 2007 for $34 and it’s now being sold for $64 (!), probably because it’s not being printed anymore.

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Here’s amphibs of New York State:

Here’s amphibs of Nassau County:

Here’s reptiles of Nassau County:

You can use filters with iNat to see what’s just about anywhere, and when.

Now, iNat is new and only recently “exploded” so numerous historical records are not in iNat, so it’s incomplete. But so are books and online resources; case in point, the Mud Turtle there is but one record from NY state in iNat; one online resource on NYS turtles says “Eastern Mud turtles are small aquatic turtles found in a few isolated populations on Long Island and the areas surrounding New York City” which is not correct, as they occur also in the bays along the Lake Ontario shoreline.

In cases of rare herps, particularly those with very distinct, restricted ecosystems, iNat doesn’t show the exact locations, because the researchers don’t want people tromping around looking for them. Case in point the Bog Turtle, for which only the rough range is shown. I know where to find them, but I too keep it quiet.

But between iNat and online resources one should be able to pin down what herps occur where in your area, and an astute viewer can figure out what type of environment in which they live.

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I forgot you also wanted help with lizards and amphibians, sorry about that! New York isn’t very lizard-diverse, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble.

With salamanders, I’d recommend learning how to recognize by genera. Many genera look distinct from one another (for example, Desmognathus are distinct in the way their face is shaped). It’s tough to explain, but you’ll definitely begin to see it once you gain some experience.

They’re definitely tougher to identify in the southeast, in which I’d also try to identify by species groups/complexes. If you can identify a Plethodon glutinosus complex individual, for example, you already know how to identify the 13 species in the complex solely on range.

For frogs, try to pay attention to features such as dorsolateral ridges and body shape. For Anaxyrus, look at the ventrum, tibial warts, and cranial crest.