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Glossary of Amphibian and Reptile Terms


The following Glossary of Amphibian and Reptile Terms is derived from

the Glossary of Useful Herpetological Terms, Southeast Ecological Science Center, United States Department of the Interior.



amplexus:  refers to the amphibian mating position; when the male climbs

on the back of the female and clasps her around the midsection during

attenuated: tapering to a fine point.
anus:  the external opening of the cloaca; the vent.
anterior:  toward the front; the front or head end.
arboreal:  dwelling in trees.
bilateral: occurring on both sides of an organism.
chevron: a shape resembling a "V" often nested within other "Vs", also

described as a "herringbone" pattern.
cirri: whisker-like appendages that project downward from the nostrils

of some male plethodontid salamanders.
cloaca:  common opening of the reproductive, digestive and urinary sys-

tems that terminates at the anal opening.
cloacal labia: "lips" around the cloaca, the opening in amphibians which

contains the reproductive and excretory organs; the labia are used to pick

up sperm packets and deliver them to the female's reproductive organs.
clutch:  refers to the entirety of a female's reproductive effort in a given

breeding season.
congener:  a member of the same genus, but a different species; Cope's

Gray Treefrog, Hyla chrysoscelis is a congener of the Green Treefrog,

Hyla cinerea (they are congeneric).
conspecific: a member of the same species. For example, two Squirrel

Treefrogs, Hyla squirella, are conspecifics.  Two subspecies of the same

species also considered to be conspecific.
costal:  of or relating to the ribs; costal grooves are folds in the skin of salamanders that correspond with the location of the ribs.
cranial crests:  raised edges on the top of the heads of toads.
crepuscular: active at dusk and/or dawn.
direct development:  development that occurs completely within the egg

capsule; no free-swimming larval stage; young emerge as miniature adults.
diurnal: active in the daytime.
dorsal:  of or relating to the back, or dorsum, of an organism.
dorsolateral:  refers to the upper side of the animal.
dorsolateral ridge:  a glandular longitudinal ridge on the upper side of

some frogs.
dorsum:  the upper surface.
ecotone: the edge area between two habitat types; ecotones are usually biologically diverse.
eft stage: a terrestrial larval stage, rather than the more typical aquatic

larval stage.
endemic: confined or restricted to a limited area.
ephemeral: changing, not constant; often used in reference to waterbodies

that hold water for part of the year and are dry at other times.
estivation:  a state of inactivity during long periods of drought or high temperatures.
excrescence: an outgrowth of the epidermis (outer layer of skin) that may

occur on the legs and/or digits of amphibians during their breeding season.
fossorial: of or relating to burrowing or living underground
friable: easily broken apart or burrowed through; dry, sandy soils are often

friable and are home to a number of burrowing organisms.
gills: apparatus that enables gas exchange in the water medium; may be

internal or external.
glandular: of or relating to glands, the main secretory organs of organisms; glandular skin has many glands, whereas aglandular skin has few or none.
genus: a taxonomic classification of a group of species having similar characteristics.
gular: refers to the throat region.
herpetology: the study of reptiles and amphibians.
hydric:  wet; a term often used to describe a typically wet habitat, one

which holds water for most or all of the year except during the driest times.
inguinal:  refers to the area between the hind legs of an organism; the groin.
invertebrate:  an organism not possessing a vertebral column, or backbone; insects and spiders are invertebrates.
interorbital:  the area behind and between the eyes; sometimes this area is colored or raised and can be referred to for identification purposes as an interorbital crest/triangle/blotch.
keratinized: referring to tissue that is hardened with a common animal pro-

tein, keratin; nails, claws, and scales are keratinized.
larvae/larval: refers to the immature stage of some amphibians.
lateral: refers to the side.
lateral line:  a line that extends down the side of amphibians and fishes;

provides orientation and equilibrium for swimming.
longitudinal lines:  lines which follow the long axis of an organism; a

line passing from the snout to the tail is a longitudinal line.
mesic: a typically dry habitat that holds standing water for some time dur-

ing wet weather.
metamorph: a young amphibian that is newly transformed to the adult

metamorphosis: the transformation from one stage of an amphibian's life

to another.
middorsal: refers to the middle/center of the back.
midventral:  refers to the middle/center of the belly.
migrate: the act of migration, or a seasonal movement from one area to

morph: a form; a species which exhibits variation in color can be said to

have different color morphs.
neoteny: some amphibians are able to become reproductively mature in

the larval state and never mature into the adult form; retain larval charac-

nocturnal: of or relating to activity at night; a nocturnal organism is active primarily at night, and rests during the day.
ocelli:  round, eye-like spots.
oviparous: reproducing by means of eggs that hatch.
oviposition: the act of laying ova, or eggs.
paratoid gland:  the toxin-producing shoulder glands of toads.
pheromones:  a class or hormone, or chemical messenger, produced by

an organism and detected by another member of the same species; phero-

mones are used for communication between conspecifics.
posterior: toward the rear; back end.
postfemoral: behind the femur, or thigh bone.
postocular:  of or relating to the area posterior to the eye.
refugia: refuges; places where organisms may find cover during unfavor-

able conditions or during periods of inactivity.
reticulations: markings that appear in a net-like pattern on an organism.
scapular:  of or relating to the scapula, or shoulder blade.
secrete: to form and give off, as in the formation and release of sweat in mammals; amphibians have many skin secretions.
species: a group of similar creatures that produce viable young when breed-

sperm packet:  a capsule of sperm produced by some amphibians, especial-

ly salamanders, during breeding season; this packet is deposited on the

ground and later picked up by a conspecific female.
sphagnum:  a water-loving moss common to bogs and swamps.
sphagnaceous:  of or relating to sphagnum moss or bogs and swamps in

which sphagnum moss grows.
subgular:  below the throat; often in reference to the vocal sac in male

subocular: below the eye.
subspecies:  the subdivision of a species.  A race that may differ slightly

in color, size, scalation, or other criteria.  "ssp".
supra-axillary:  above the legs, generally the forelegs.
suprascapular: refers to the area above or on the scapula, or shoulder

supraocular: above the eye.
svl: abbreviation for Snout-Vent-Length, a standard measurement of

length (from the tip of the snout to the rear of the vent, or anal slit) in am-

phibians and reptiles.
tadpole: a name for the aquatic larva of frogs.
terrestrial: living on land.
tibia: the part of the leg on frogs and toads from the knee to the heel.
toe pads:  adhesive discs at the tips of the digits of treefrogs that enable

them to stick to surfaces while climbing.
tubercles: knob-like projections.
tympanum:  the eardrum; can be used to distinguish sex in some species,

such as pig frogs, where the males have larger tympanums than the females.
undulate:  to move in a snake-like or worm-like manner.
vent:  another term for the anus.
venter:  the underside; the belly.
ventral: pertaining to the undersurface or the belly.
ventrolateral: refers to the sides of the belly.
vermiculate: of or relating to the shape of worms; an organism with ver-

miculate markings or a vermiculate pattern has worm-like markings or

squiggles of pigment.
vernal:  of or relating to the spring season.
vertebral: of or relating to the spine or the bones of the spine, the verte-

brae; a "vertebral" stripe is one which runs down the middle of the back,

along the spine.
vertebrate:  an organism possessing a vertebral column, or backbone;

fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals are vertebrates.
vitellae:  plural of vitellus, the living, viable portion of an amphibian egg.  Identified as the usually white or black sphere within the jelly coat of an

egg; the part of an egg which develops into an embryo.
vocal sac: the distendable, resonating pouch of skin on the throats of

some male anurans.
xeric: dry; an adjective often used to describe upland habitats with well-

drained soils.



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