Amphibians & Reptiles of Midewin

A frog hiding in the grass

Amphibians and Reptiles of Midewin

Amphibians and reptiles have traditionally been feared, loathed, or misunderstood by the public.  However, in recent years they are finding new popularity.  In addition to television programs that highlight the lifestyles of exotic or common species, these animals are also gaining greater attention because many are declining, which is concerning for conservationists.


Why are Amphibians and Reptiles Important? 

Their many roles make amphibians and reptiles important components of most natural communities. 

Amphibians, including frogs, toads, and salamanders, are important consumers of insects, especially mosquitoes and mosquito larvae. They are also a vital food source for many larger predators such as birds, mammals and reptiles. 

Reptiles occupy several roles in natural communities; for example, most turtles are scavengers, while snakes actively prey upon a variety of other animals.  


Watchable Wildlife

Midewin is one of the best places in northeastern Illinois to see amphibians and reptiles.  There are 26 species found in the diverse grassland, woodland, and wetland habitats here, and 6 other species found nearby.  

Most species of amphibians and reptiles are small or secretive. This makes them difficult to observe in the wild. 

Because they are “cold-blooded,” most of our local amphibians and reptiles are dormant for long stretches of the winter.  During the warm season in northern Illinois, usually March through October, birdwatchers, hikers, hunters, and other outdoor enthusiasts occasionally encounter amphibians and reptiles as they hike Midewin.

As a wildlife viewer, you can help amphibians and reptiles a number of ways:

  • Watch from a distance.
  • Use binoculars to look for aquatic species basking on logs, rocks, or partly exposed in shallow water. 
  • Stay back so you don't scare them. 
  • Don’t create a path to the water's edge.
  • Raccoons, skunks, cats and other predators will use your trail to hunt for nest sites.
  • The best time to observe (hear) frogs and toads is after a rain near dusk.  Because they are much easier to hear than see, most frogs are identified by their calls.
  • If you find a snake at Midewin, please don’t kill or catch it.  Just watch and enjoy as you would any other wild animal. 


Amphibians at Midewin

Amphibian species found at Midewin include:

  • American toad, Bufo americanus
  • Northern cricket frog, Acris crepitans
  • Gray treefrog, Hyla versicolor
  • Western chorus frog, Pseudacris triseriata
  • American bullfrog, Rana catesbeiana
  • Green frog, Rana claimitans
  • Plains leopard frog, Rana blairi
  • Northern leopard frog, Rana pipiens
  • Eastern tiger salamander, Ambystoma tigrinum
  • Small-mouthed salamander, Ambystoma texanum
  • Mudpuppy, Necturus maculosus

Amphibians have soft and highly porous skin that doesn’t hold water efficiently.  This requires them to stay in moist or wet habitats. 

Frogs and toads are unique among our local amphibians and reptiles because the males vocalize, or “call,” to attract mates.  Groups of calling male frogs assemble to form “choruses.”

Salamanders have smooth skin and live in cool, moist, or wet places.  They may be found under logs, burrows under ground, or even under water.  They are secretive and are rarely observed in the wild.  


Reptiles at Midewin

Reptile species found at Midewin include:

  • Snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentine
  • Stinkpot, Sternotherus odoratus
  • Spiny Softshell Turtle, Apalone spinifera 
  • Blanding’s Turtle, Emydoidea blandingii 
  • Painted Turtle, Chrysemys picta 
  • Red-eared Slider, Trachemys scripta
  • Northern Map Turtle, Graptemys geographica 
  • Ornate Box Turtle, Terrapene ornate
  • Six-lined Racerunner, Cnemidophorus sexlineatus
  • Western Slender Glass Lizard, Ophisaurus attenuates
  • Eastern Racer, Coluber constrictor
  • Western Fox Snake, Elaphe vulpina 
  • Eastern Hog-nosed Snake, Heterodon platirhinos 
  • Eastern Milk Snake, Lampropeltis triangulum
  • Northern Water Snake, Nerodia sipedon
  • Smooth Green Snake, Opheodrys vernalis
  • Queen Snake, Regina septemvittata 
  • Bullsnake, Pituophis catenifer
  • DeKay’s Brown Snake, Storeria dekayi
  • Plains Garter Snake, Thamnophis radix
  • Eastern Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis

Reptiles generally have hardened and more water-resistant skin that is covered by scales, shields, scutes, or even shells (as in turtles).  This allows reptiles to live in drier conditions than amphibians.  Their behavior relates more to maintaining a preferred body temperature. 


Most local species are primarily aquatic, though any species may be found walking on land, especially during the nesting season.  Map, painted, softshell turtles, and the red-eared slider are all fond of basking on sunny days, though to some degree, all of our local turtles require sunlight and will bask.  Use binoculars to look for aquatic species basking on logs, rocks, or partly exposed in shallow water.     


Two species occur at or in the immediate vicinity of Midewin.  One of our local species lacks legs and may be confused with a snake.  Both of our local lizards have eyelids and external ear openings, which snakes lack.  They both lay eggs on land, occur in or near areas of relatively sandy or dry soils, and feed primarily on insects and spiders.


While most species of snakes can bite to defend themselves, only one species of venomous snake, the Eastern Massasauga, is native to northeast Illinois.  This skittish species has never been documented at Midewin, and the nearest known population is nearly 30 miles away.  It is well known in areas it does reside for hiding from humans. 

Snakes are an important part of the Midewin ecosystem and nearby areas.  If you find a snake at Midewin, please don’t kill or catch it.  Just watch and enjoy as you would any other wild animal.