On winter walks, you don’t expect to hear from frog choruses, or see snakes and turtles. Where have these animals gone?
Warm-blooded animals have internal controls that maintain constant body temperatures despite outside conditions. Amphibians and reptiles lack such controls. To avoid extreme temperatures–summers that would bake them and winters that would freeze them–they must find sufficient shelter. Tolerable temperatures and adequate moisture are available underground, in springs and caves, and in the mud in ponds and stream bottoms. Toads, frogs, salamanders, turtles, snakes and lizards migrate to these spots at the onset of cold weather. As the weather grows colder and drier, they move deeper into their shelters.
Species vary in their preferred shelter and their periods of winter dormancy. Generally, amphibians tolerate lower temperatures better than reptiles, and so remain underground for shorter periods. Within a species, adults take shelter sooner than juveniles, and stay there longer.
Because amphibians and reptiles are inactive in winter, they need little food, water and oxygen. Frogs and turtles buried in pond mud can breathe through their skin. Occasionally, turtles or frogs can be seen under the ice.
The tiger salamander is an amphibian found throughout Missouri but is more common in the northern half of the state.
Find out more about these two species with the MDC’s Field Guide.