Shaver's Creek Reptile and Amphibian Biographies

The Discovery Room at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center is home to many species of reptiles and amphibians (known collectively as “herps”), including snakes, turtles, frogs, and toads. Thousands of students and families each year meet these Discovery Room denizens as Shaver’s Creek educators teach about our native herp species and their unique adaptations for survival. Read more about their natural history below, and then come visit the center to see them in person!

American Toad (Bufo americanus)

(Three at Shaver’s Creek)

Size: Average length, 2–3 1/2 inches

Record length: 4 3/8 inches

Habitat: Anywhere from suburban backyards to mountain wilderness

Diet: Small invertebrates, but will consume anything that will fit in its mouth

Animal Facts: Produces a toxin in the large glands behind the eyes (parotid glands) that is harmful if ingested. Toads, like most other frogs, will suck in air to puff their bodies up in an attempt to look bigger.


Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens)

(Two at Shaver’s Creek)

Size: Average length, 2–3 1/2 inches

Record length: 4 3/8 inches

Habitat: Ranges from freshwater sites with heavy vegetation to mountain meadows

Diet: Small invertebrates picked up in travels across land. Leopard frogs will eat spiders, worms, grasshoppers, and occasionally snails.

Animal Facts: Northern leopard frogs take the title of longest jumpers, attaining distances up to three feet in a single jump. This beats the bullfrog (Pennsylvania’s largest frog) by nearly 10 inches.


Black Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta)

(Three at Shaver’s Creek)

Size: Average length, 42–72 inches

Record length: 101 inches

Lifespan: Up to 30 years

Habitat: Hardwood forests, wooded valleys and hillsides, barnyards, and active farmland may all serve as a suitable home for the black rat snake

Diet: Black rat snakes will eat many species of small mammals (including rats), birds, and bird eggs.

Animal Facts: All members of the rat snake family are amazing climbers. Specialized scales on the belly allow them to climb up and down the steepest trees without using any branches.


Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)

(Two at Shaver’s Creek)

Size: Average length, 30–60 inches

Record length: 74 1/2 inches

Habitat: Timber-covered woodlands with rocky outcrops that provide basking sites; slopes with southern exposure are preferred

Diet: Timber rattlesnakes prey on many small mammal species, particularly rodents. They will occasionally take birds, and rarely eat frogs or lizards.

Animal Facts: There are two color variations, or “phases,” commonly present in timber rattlesnakes — ranging from bright yellow to almost completely black. A single clutch of timber rattlesnake eggs can include both light-and dark-phase offspring. 


Common Map Turtle (Graptemys geopgraphica)

(One at Shaver’s Creek)

Size: Average length, 7–10 3/4 inches (females); 3 1/2–6 1/4 inches (males)

Habitat: Map turtles prefer large bodies of water (i.e., lakes over ponds and rivers over creeks).

Diet: Mollusks and crayfish make up the majority of the diet, with some vegetation. The females have powerful jaws that allow them to feed on freshwater clams and snails.

Animal Facts: The map turtle gets its name from the complex pattern of lines on its shell, head, and legs that resemble the topographic lines on a map. These turtles enjoy basking and will pile on top of each other for a good spot in the sun.


Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata)

(Two at Shaver’s Creek)

Size: Average length, 4 1/2–5 1/2 inches

Record length: 7 5/8 inches

Habitat: Slow-moving streams or rivers with soft bottoms, large amounts of vegetation, and submerged logs are a favorite habitat of this turtle. Shallow areas of lakes and ponds are also well liked by the painted turtle.

Diet: Mainly carnivorous when young, feeding on insects, crayfish, and mollusks. With age they become more herbivorous, taking a variety of aquatic vegetation.

Animal Facts: Painted turtles are the most widely spread of North American turtles.


Common Musk “Stinkpot” Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus)

(One at Shaver’s Creek)

Size: Average length, 2–4 1/2 inches

Record length: 5 3/8 inches

Habitat: Freshwater streams, marshes, swamps, abandoned canals, small ponds, and large lakes

Lifespan: 30–55 years

Diet: Worms, snails, small clams, aquatic insects, small crustaceans, tadpoles, fish, and carrion

Animal Facts: These turtles walk on the bottom of the stream or pond instead of swimming like other turtles. The nickname “Stinkpot” comes from this turtle’s unique defensive tactic; they can release a foul smelling liquid from musk glands in their tail.


Red-Eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elagans)

(One at Shaver’s Creek)

Size: Average length, 5–8 inches

Record length: 11 3/8 inches

Habitat: Sliders prefer slow-moving water with soft, muddy bottoms and abundant aquatic vegetation.

Diet: Primarily feeds on aquatic vegetation, but will take aquatic invertebrates, fish, and tadpoles.

Animal Facts: Red-eared sliders are not native to Pennsylvania. They have gained a strong foothold in the state with assistance from careless pet owners. Sliders have been sold in pet stores for decades and, while cute and easy to manage when small, they become large turtles that require a lot of effort to care for. This leads many individuals to illegally release sliders into nearby water bodies.


Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)

(Three at Shaver’s Creek)

Scientific Name: Terrapene carolina carolina

Size: Average length, 4 1/2–6 inches

Record length: 7 13/16 inches

Habitat: Moist, forested areas; but may also be found living in wet meadows or flood plains.

Diet: Box turtles feed on variety of vertebrates, invertebrates, carrion, and an assortment of wild fruits and berries.

Animal Facts: Box turtles have the ability to pull their entire body into their shell and close it tight. They achieve this with the aid of a hinged plastron (bottom shell) that closes the turtle inside for protection. Male turtles can be identified by their bright red eyes, while female eyes are brown or maroon.


Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta)

(One at Shaver’s Creek)

Scientific Name: Clemmys insculpta

Size: Average length, 5 1/2–8 inches

Record length: 9 3/16 inches

Habitat: Though considered a terrestrial (land-based) turtle, wood turtles are also at home in water. Cool streams running through hardwood forests, marshy meadows, farmlands, and swampland having stands of red maple are all suitable wood turtle habitats.

Diet: Though omnivorous, the wood turtle favors vegetation, taking a variety of wild fruits and plants. They will also eat worms, slugs, insects, and tadpoles.

Animal Facts: Wood turtles have a very intricate looking carapace (upper shell). They have been called “sculpture turtles” because the shell looks as though an artist carved it from a piece of dark wood. These turtles have bright orange skin on the insides of the legs, tail, and neck, which may help in identifying them from other turtle species.

TwitterFacebookMailing List