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Glossary of Useful Herpetological Terms

Amplexus:  refers to the amphibian mating position; when the male climbs on the back of the female and clasps her around the midsection during breeding.

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 systems 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 protein, 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 during wet weather.

Metamorph: a young amphibian that is newly transformed to the adult stage.

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 another.

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 characteristics.

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; pheromones 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 unfavorable 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 breeding.

Sperm packet:  a capsule of sperm produced by some amphibians, especially 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 anurans.

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 blade.

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 amphibians 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 vermiculate 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 vertebrae; 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.

These definitions were compiled from the following references:

Ashton, R.E., Jr., and P.S. Ashton, 1988.  Handbook of Reptiles and Amphibians of Florida. Part III, the Amphibians.  Miami: Windward Publishing.

Bartlett, R.D., and P.P. Bartlett, 1999. A Field Guide to Florida Reptiles and Amphibians. Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing Company.

Conant, Roger and Joseph T. Collins, 1998. A Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, 3rd ed. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin.



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