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.