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About Amphibians and Reptiles


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Amphibians and Reptiles Front Page

Scientific Names of Amphibians and Reptiles

Scientific names of animals can sound funny and sometimes are hard to say, but they are important. They are made up by scientists that figure out how animals are related. They use the old languages of Latin and Greek. Most times the names make sense if you understand Latin or Greek, though sometimes animals are named for the people that discovered them. On this page the scientific name of each of our amphibians and reptiles is explained.

(*** These explanations are sometimes the best guesses NatureNorth could find! If you know of a better explanation, please let us know! ***)

Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans):

From Greek: "Litho" means "stone", "bates" means "wanderer". So Lithobates means "one that wanders on stones"? Perhaps that comes from the habit of frogs to sit on rocks near the water's edge? Or maybe someone thought that sitting frogs that moved around looked like "wandering rocks"?

"clamitans" in Latin means "loud calling", so the Green Frog is the "stone-wanderer with the loud call".

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Northern Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens)

(see Lithobates above)

"pipiens" means "piping" or "chirping" in Latin. This species name is actually a mistake! The people that first found Leopard Frogs heard what they thought was their loud piping call. Actually they heard Spring Peepers calling, but couldn't see them! And the name stuck!

So the Leopard Frog is the "stone-wanderer with the piping call". Maybe they should have been called Lithobates pardus! "Pardus" is the species name of the big cat, Leopard.

Go back to the: Northern Leopard Frog

Mink Frog (Lithobates septentrionalis)

(see Lithobates above)

"septentrionalis" means "of the north". "Septem" is Latin for seven. The seven stars of the Big Dipper, called the Septentrion, are seen in the northern night sky.

So the Mink Frog is the "stone-wanderer of the north".

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Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvaticus)

(see Lithobates above)

"sylvaticus" means "of the forest or woods". Silva is Latin for forest.

So the Wood Frog is the "stone-wanderer of the forest".

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American Toad (Anaxyrus americana)

"Anaxyrus" is Greek meaning "a king or chief".

"americanus" is Latin for “of America.”

So this is the "king or chief toad of America."

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Canadian Toad (Anaxyrus hemiophrys)

(see Anaxyrus above)

"hemi" is Greek for half. "ophrys" is Greek for brow or eybrow. So hemiophrys means half-browed. Maybe this refers to the eye shape or brow between the eyes?

So this is the "half-browed king toad".

Go back to the: Canadian Toad

Great Plains Toad (Anaxyrus cognatus)

(see Anaxyrus above)

"cognatus" is Latin for "kinsman or close relative".

So this is the "related king toad".

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Plains Spadefoot (Spea bombifrons)

"Spea" comes for the Greek "speos" meaning "cave or cavern". "bombifrons" comes for the Greek "bombos" meaning "buzzing" and the Latin "frons" meaning "leaf or frond".

So this is the "cave-dwelling buzzing leaf". Maybe this refers to the Plains Spadefoot habit of living underground, looking like a leaf above ground and making a buzzing sound as their mating call? (That's as good a guess as any!?)

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Cope's Gray Treefrog (Hyla chrysoscelis)

"Hyla", the genus name of treefrogs is thought to be Latin and comes from the name of a companion of Hercules (in Greek Mythology) named Hylas. Hylas died in a fountain while the cries of those seeking him sounded like the chorus of calling treefrogs.

"chrysoscelis" comes from the Greek "chrysos" meaning "gold" and "kelis" meaning a spot or stain. Gray Treefrogs have a yellow patch on the inside of their legs.

So, "yellow-legged companion of Hercules".

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Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor)

(see Hyla above)

"versicolor" comes from the Latin "versi" meaning "changing or variable" and "color" meaning "colour". This refers to the treefrogs ability to change colours.

So this Gray Treefrog is the "colour changing companion of Hercules".

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Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)

"Pseudacris" comes from the Greek "pseudes" meaning "false or deceptive" and "akris" meaning "locust or cricket". So these are "false-crickets" referring to the mating calls that sound like a cricket?

"crucifer" comes from the Latin "crucis" meaning "cross" and "ifer" meaning "bearer" which refers to the cross (X) marking on the back of all Spring Peepers.

So this is the "cross-bearing false-cricket".

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Boreal Chorus Frog (Pseudacris maculata)

(see Pseudacris above)

"maculata" is Latin for "stained or spotted".

So this is the "spotted false-cricket".

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Blue-spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale)

"Ambystoma" comes from the Greek "amblys" meaning blunt (it's thought a spelling error, leaving out the "l" in "amblys" resulted in the first part being "amby" and the name stuck!) and "stoma", also Greek meaning mouth. So these are the "blunt-mouthed" salamanders.

"laterale" is from the Latin "lateralis" meaning "of the side or lateral part". It refers to the spots on the side of this salamander.

So: "blunt-mouthed salamander with spotted sides".

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Gray Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma mavortium)

(See Ambystoma above)

"mavortium" is Latin for war-like and is thought to be a reference to large cannibalistic forms of this salamander with an extra row of teeth!

So, "war-like blunt-mouthed salamander".

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Eastern Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum)

(See Ambystoma above)

"tigrinum" is Latin for "tiger". The tiger-like stripes of this species give it it's name.

So this is the "tiger-striped blunt-mouthed salamander".

Go back to the: Eastern Tiger Salamander

Common Mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus)

"Necturus" From the Greek "nektos" meaning "swimming" and "oura" meaning "tail". "maculosus" is Latin meaning "full of spots".

So, "spotted, tail-swimming salamander".

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Western Hognose Snake (Heterodon nasicus)

"Heterodon" from " heteros", Greek for "different or other" and "odotos", also Greek, meaning "tooth". A reference to some big teeth in this kind of snake.

"nasicus", from "nasus", Latin for "nose". Referrring to the upturned nose of this snake.

So, "different-toothed, upturned nose snake".

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Smooth Green Snake (Opheodrys vernalis)

"Opheodrys", from Greek "opheos" meaning "snake" and "drymos" referring to "oak forest".

"vernalis" is Latin for "of the spring". Maybe a reference to the bright green (spring-like) colour?

So, "oak forest snake of the spring".

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Northern Red-bellied Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata occipitomaculata)

"Storeria" is a genus named for David Humphreys Storer, an 18th-century, zoologist from New England.

"occiput" is Latin for "back of head" and "maculata" is Latin for "spotted". Some of this species have spots on the back of the head.

So, "Storer's snake with spots on the back of its head".

Go back to the: Northern Red-bellied Snake

Plains Garter Snake (Thamnophis radix)

"Thamnophis" comes from the Greek "thamnos" a "shrub or bush" and "ophio" a "snake or serpent".

"radix" is Latin for "root". This species uses animal burrows to overwinter so is often seen coming out of the ground in spring.

So, "bush snake that is root-like".

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Red-sided/Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis)

(see Thamnophis above)

"sirtalis" is Latin, meaning "like a garter". The Eastern Garter Snake is T. sirtalis sirtalis while the Red-sided Garter Snake is T sirtalis parietalis. "parietalis" is Latin for "of a wall". It refers to some aspect of the parietal scales on the snakes' head.

So, "bush snake like a garter with something about its parietal scales". (Hey I'm just guessing at times!)

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Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina)

"Chelydra" From the Greek "chelys" a "turtle" and "hydros" meaning "water".

"serpentina" is Latin for "snake-like" referring to its long neck.

So, "water-turtle with a long neck".

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Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta belli)

"Chrysemys" from the Greek "khrysos" meaning "golden, yellow or light green" and "emys" meaning "freshwater turtle". A reference to the bright yellow strips on the head and neck of these turtles.

"picta" is Latin for "painted". "belli" was the name given to this western subspecies to honour Thomas Bell.

So, "Bell's golden-painted turtle".

Go back to the: Western Painted Turtle

Northern Prairie Skink (Plestiodon septentrionalis septentrionalis)

"Plestiodon" From the Greek words "pleistos" meaning "most" and "odontos" meaning "teeth". Plestiodon are Toothy Skinks!

(see septentrionalis above).

So, "northern, northern toothy skink".

Go back to the: Northern Prairie Skink

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