Madison Area Herpetological Society

Wisconsin Native Herptile Regulations

Wisconsin’s Native Herptile (Amphibian and Reptile) Regulations


169.12. Sale and purchase of native wild reptiles and wild amphibians

(1) Possession; general. No person may take from the wild or possess live native wild reptiles or live native wild amphibians unless the person is authorized to do so under rules promulgated by the department or unless sub. ( 3) applies.

(3) Possession of native frogs. A person using native frogs for bait while fishing may take from the wild, possess, and kill more than 5 native frogs, but may not possess more than 5 of any subspecies of native frog for more than 24 hours.

(4) Restrictions on sales and purchases. Unless authorized to do so under rules promulgated by the department, no person may sell or purchase live native wild reptiles or live native wild amphibians except for the following:

(a) Color variants of these wild reptiles and wild amphibians that have been bred in captivity and have coloration that is clearly distinct from the normal morphological color patterns.

(b) Leopard frogs, mud puppies, and tiger salamanders that are sold or purchased under the authorization of a Class A captive wild animal farm license.

(c) Native reptiles or amphibians that are legally taken or reared outside this state and that are sold to educational institutions under the authorization of a Class A captive wild animal farm license.

(6) Exemption for veterinarians.

(a) Veterinarians are exempt from the requirement under sub. (1) for the purpose of providing medical treatment to native wild reptiles and native wild amphibians.

(b) For purposes of par. (a), “medical treatment” does not include rehabilitation.


2001 Act 56, § 224, eff. Jan. 1, 2003.

Rules Promulgated by the Department:

All native herptiles are considered protected and have some level of protection. An overview of state regulations related to amphibians and reptiles can be found in Wisconsin’s Amphibian and Reptile Regulations (see the PDF verson available here):

Sale Provisions– prohibited except as follows:
A. Class A Captive Wild Animal Farm License
(CWAFL) may authorize the sale of native amphibians or reptiles. The original license fee is $200; annual renewals are $100. This license allows for the sale of ONLY 3 species of native amphibians collected legally in Wisconsin: eastern tiger salamanders, mudpuppies, and northern leopard frogs. It also allows for the sale of these three species and other native amphibians and reptiles legally collected or purchased from out-of-state and sold to out-of-state sources, or sold to education or research institutions in Wisconsin. Only a Class A CWAFL holder may sell eastern tiger salamanders, mudpuppies, and northern leopard frogs as pets, bait or for other purposes, except that a licensed Bait Dealer may sell live frogs for the purpose of fishing bait. A Class B CWAFL allows for exhibiting but not sale of native herptiles.

These licenses may be obtained by contacting:
Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Customer Service & Licensing
P. O. Box 7924
Madison, WI 53707-7924
Or Phone: (608) 266-0862

Exception: Native herptiles not listed as endangered or threatened may be sold without a license if it has an atypical color or an atypical pattern (e.g .snakes that exhibit aberrant colors and/or patterns).

Legally collected native dead turtles and their parts (not eggs) may be sold ONLY during the open turtle season. The sale of live native turtles collected in Wisconsin is not allowed. A Fishing, Small Game, Sports, Conservation Patron, Setline*, or Set or Bank Pole* or Commercial Fishing License is required to collect, possess or sell native dead turtles of their parts.

* These licenses are available only to residents.

Importing Wild Animals & Wild Animal Markets:
The Wis. Dept. of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection (DATCP) regulates these activities. Contact them for more information about these permits, licenses and requirements at (608) 224-4872.

Herptile Exhibits

♦ Residents and nonresidents may possess and exhibit non-native herptiles for educational or commercial purposes without any Department of Natural Resources license.

♦ Native to Wisconsin herptiles may be exhibited without a license, but ONLY for non-commercial educational purposes. These exhibits may not be associated with the sale, bartering or trading of any type of animal, native or non-native.
♦ Residents and nonresidents may exhibit but not sell native herptiles, at commercial exhibits, such as swap meets, but ONLY under the authority of a Class A or Class B Captive Wild Animal Farm or Nonresident Temporary Exhibitor’s License. Each exhibitor (each person displaying native herptiles) is required to possess an appropriate license (must be 14 or older, or if less than 14 years of age, must be a member of a 4-H club or a sporting club.)
♦ Nonresident Temporary Exhibitor’s License fee is $50 and is valid for up to 30 days, but does not allow for the sale, bartering or trading of native herptiles.

Additional restrictions on possession of native herptiles by nonresidents apply as follows:

♦ A nonresident may ONLY bring into Wisconsin and possess native herptiles for up to 60 days if they comply with all the following conditions:
1. The person holds every license or other approval that is required by the state, province or country from which they reside.
2. A veterinarian has filed a copy of a valid Certificate of Veterinary Inspection for the herptiles with the DATCP.

Applications for a Nonresident Temporary Exhibitors License may be obtained from:
Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Law Enforcement
P. O. Box 7921,
Madison, WI 53707-7921
Or Phone: (608) 267-2774

“Aquatic turtle” means any turtle that naturally overwinters under water.
“Amphibian” means cold-blooded, smooth-skinned vertebrates of the class Amphibia and includes all life stages.
“Herptile” means amphibians and reptiles collectively.
“Native” means species that are indigenous and occur, or have occurred, naturally within the boundaries of this state, regardless of whether a particular specimen originates outside of this state.
“Nonresident” means a person who is not a resident of this state.
“Reptile” means cold-blooded, scaled vertebrates of the class Reptilia and includes all life stages.
“Resident” means a person who maintains his or her place of permanent abode in this state. Domiciliary intent is required to establish that a person is maintaining his or her place of permanent abode in this state. Mere ownership of property is not sufficient to establish domiciliary intent. Evidence of domiciliary intent includes, without limitation, the location where the person votes, pays personal income taxes or obtains a driver’s license.
“Wild Animal” means any animal of a wild nature that is normally found in the wild and that is not a domestic animal.

For additional information on Wisconsin’s amphibians and Reptiles, check out our website at:

These regulations apply to native Wisconsin amphibian and reptile species, regardless of their origin (in-state or out-of-state).

Protected Species
All native herptiles are considered protected, but have different levels of protection. The protected species listed below have NO OPEN SEASON.

Endangered and Threatened species (including all parts and all life stages) may NOT be collected from the wild, dead or alive, or possessed without first having a valid Endangered and Threatened Species Permit. Permits are issued only for selected education, research, and conservation activities.

Endangered Herptiles:
Blanchard’s cricket frog, Acris crepitans blanchardi
Western slender glass lizard, Ophisaurus a. attenuatus
Eastern massasauga rattlesnake, Sistrurus c. catenatus
Northern ribbon snake, Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis
Queen snake, Regina septemvittata
Western ribbon snake, Thamnophis p. proximus
Ornate box turtle, Terrapene o. ornata

Threatened Herptiles:
Butler’s garter snake, Thamnophis butleri
Blanding’s turtle, Emydoidea blandingii
Wood turtle, Clemmys insculpta

Other Herptiles- that may not be collected from the wild in Wisconsin.
Black rat snake, Elaphe o. obsoleta
Bullsnake, Pituophis catenifer sayi
Timber rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus
Yellow-bellied (blue) racer, Coluber constrictor

Licenses for Collection and Possession:
Any person who collects, attempt to collect, or possesses native Wisconsin aquatic turtles, or frogs used for bait, must possess one of the following licenses: Fishing, Small Game, Sports, Conservation Patron, Setline*, or Set or Bank Pole*. Existing Senior Citizen Recreational Cards also qualify. In addition to the licenses listed above, residents holding a Commercial Fishing License may harvest turtles on Wisconsin/Mississippi Boundary Waters.

* These licenses are available only to residents.

Herptiles with open seasons: No native herptile with open season may be collected or possessed dead or live in Wisconsin above the legal possession limits (see Section on Possession Limits) without a Scientific Research License or a Class A Captive Wild Animal Farm License (CWAFL).

See Section on Sales Provision for license requirements for selling native herptiles.

Harvest of native herptiles by a nonresident is not allowed except as follows:

♦ Frogs may be collected and used as fish bait during the open season, but only for up to 24 hours.
♦ Turtles may be collected and possessed within established season, size and possession limits.
♦ Other native herptiles can be possessed by nonreseidents, if legally possessed in another state, province, or country, for up to 60 days.(See Section on Nonresident Possession).

Frogs: The open season for frogs runs from the Saturday nearest May 1 through December 31. There is no open season for bullfrogs, Rana catesbeiana, in Jefferson County. Frogs may not be taken or collected from the wild during the closed season.

Turtles: The open season for aquatic turtles runs from July 15 through November 30. Turtles or turtle eggs may not be taken or collected during the closed season, unless authorized by the department.

Other Herptiles: There are no closed seasons for amphibians and reptiles not listed above under the Protected Species or Seasons sections.

Size Limits
Snapping turtle have a minimum carapace (top shell) size limit of 12-inches and a maximum of 16-inches in length.

There are no size limits for other herptiles.

Possession Limits – applies to native herptiles whether collected, harvested or purchased.

A person may collect or possess up to 5 individuals of each native herptile species that are not protected (see Sections on Protected Species or Season) with the following exceptions or restrictions:

♦ The possession limit for snapping turtles, Chelydra s. serpentina, and softshell turtles, Apalone sp., is 3 statewide. The one exception is on the Mississippi River, where the possession limit is 10 for snapping turtles and 5 for softshell turtles.
♦ There are no possession limits or restrictions for residents or nonresidents for nonnative herptiles.
♦ Up to 2 eastern milk snakes, Lampropeltis t. triangulum, and 2 western fox snakes, Elaphe vulpina, may be collected or possessed.
♦ Up to 2 black rat snakes, 2 bullsnakes, and 2 yellow-bellied (blue) racers may be possessed, but ONLY IF legally obtained and originating from out of state.
♦ There are no possession limits for herptiles not listed as Endangered and Threatened that are atypically colored or atypically patterned (e.g. albinos, striped snakes that are typically blotched).
♦ Eastern tiger salamanders, Ambystoma t. tigrinum, mudpuppies, Necturus maculosus, and northern leopard frogs, Rana pipiens, may be collected and possessed in unlimited numbers if the collector or possessor is a resident and has a valid Class A Captive Wild Animal Farm License.
♦ Licensed bait dealers and registered fish farmers may possess more than 5 specimens of any amphibian not Endangered or Threatened which are collected or possessed as part of a bait shipment.
♦ There is a 3-month grace period on the possession limit for native lizards and snakes, that are not Endangered or Threatened, that are born in captivity and that bring the possession limit above the legal limit for a species. The offspring must be given away within 3 months of their birth, but they may not be sold, bartered, or traded. These offspring may not be released to the wild without a Stocking License from the Department of Natural Resources.
♦ A person may collect and possess up to 1 full clutch of amphibian eggs and their hatched larvae up until metamorphosis (transformation to the adult form). Only 5 adult-form individuals may be retained in possession and the rest must be either given away or released in the wetland where the eggs were originally collected.
♦ Publicly owned museums and American Zoo and Aquarium Association accredited institutions are exempt from possession limits.
♦ Accredited colleges, universities, and other educational institutions are exempt from possession limits for education and research. However, individual researchers of these institutions must obtain a Scientific Collectors Permit (for the collection and possession of carcasses) or a Scientific Research License (for the collection of live herptiles whether possessed live or dead) from the Department of Natural Resources prior to any in-state collecting if such collecting will exceed the legal possession limits.

Harvesting Methods

FROGS: may not be taken with firearms or airguns.

TURTLES: may be taken by hand, dip net, hook and line, set line, set or bank poles, hooking, or hoop net trap. No other trap types are allowed. Turtles may not be taken by hook and line from trout streams during the closed trout season. The numbers of hoop traps that can be operated are 10 in Iowa-Wisconsin or Minnesota-Wisconsin boundary waters and 3 in all other waters of the state.

Hoop Net Trap Specifications

Traps must be made of stretchable fabric (e.g., nylon) and must have a minimum mesh stretch of 6 inches. No wire mesh is allowed.
Each trap must have a metal tag stamped or engraved with the name and address of the operator attached, and must be visible above the water’s surface. The operator identified on the trap tag is the only person authorized to tend these traps.
Traps must be set and maintained with the hoops exposed a minimum of 2 inches above the water’s surface.
Turtle traps must be checked and the entrapped contents removed at least once each day after the day they are set in all waters.