WI Field Herping Beginner’s Guide


Field herping is when you strap on your boots and go out hiking in an attempt to find native species of reptiles and amphibians.  These animals are photographed and each individual has a long list of animals they want to find and take pictures of and record. Many field herpers maintain life lists and journals of all of the species and expeditions they have found and gone on. Everyone can field herp, from kids and families, to the more serious field herpers and biologists. Regardless of of your interest or experience level, the excitement comes when you roll over a log and there is that animal, the one you’ve been looking for all year!


Reptiles and amphibians are found throughout Wisconsin. Many can even be found within walking distance of your where you live!  They are all around us, and often go unseen.  They inhabit Wisconsin’s forests, prairies, wetlands, and even suburban/agricultural areas.  It all depends on what species of animal you are looking to find.  Amphibians prefer cool wet areas such as ponds and wetlands, where they need bodies of water to reproduce and  lay their eggs.  Snakes and lizards can be found in a variety of habitats, but most often enjoy warm, sunny places to bask during the day, and can be found under logs, rocks, and other debris. Some species that are rare, threatened, or endangered are only found in certain areas of the state. Many snakes and lizards also prefer sandy or loamy soiled habitats as well, especially in western, southwestern, and central Wisconsin. 


First we’ll talk about snakes.  Most snakes will try to avoid being captured or seen, so you need to be very careful and slow when approaching them.  If you decide to attempt to catch it to handle one, be aware that many snakes release a strong odorous musk and may bite you in defense.  We advise not attempting to catch them, and moving slowly to get a good picture of your find.  Do not attempt to approach, capture, or handle any venomous or unknown reptiles unless trained or experienced in doing so! Many turtles can be seen basking on rocks, logs, or shorelines from a distance, but will dive into the water if approached too closely. Larger turtles such as snapping and softshell turtles can deliver a painful bite and should be handled carefully. Most turtles will also try to kick and scratch when handled or picked up, and should be handled carefully as well.  All of Wisconsin’s lizards are quick, delicate, and fragile, which means they should be approached slowly  and only captured or handled when it can be done so without injuring the animal. Many lizards will shed their tails if grabbed or handled improperly.

If you find any amphibian, such as a salamander or frog, make sure your hands are wet and clean of any chemicals before touching them.  Their skin can absorb anything you have on your hands, and if your hands are dry, they will actually dry out the amphibian.  Once you’ve gotten some good pictures, make sure to put it back where you found it.  If it was found under something, pour a little water there for it and lay it back down gently, or put the object back down and set him next to it so it can make his way back in again.  Not doing so can accidently injure or kill any animal you may find.

On the Wisconsin DNR website, a list of all of the species in Wisconsin can be found.  That list can also be found at our website www.madisonherps.org.  Use it as a checklist as you make your way around the area and explore our beautiful state and the amazing animals that are in it.

*Lastly, we don’t advise keeping any animals that they may find.  First of all, it is difficult to keep many of these animals and they don’t always transfer into captivity well and often die.  Many of these animals have specific dietary and environmental requirements that are difficult to meet, which is often why they may not be widely available in the pet trade. Secondly, there are regulations in place that prohibit the capture of many animals even if just for a pet.  So please, take pictures, enjoy them, but leave them in the wild. If one is seeking a pet, there are many captive bred reptiles & amphibians to choose from that make better pets. Thanks!