Reptile Migration

크레스티드게코 The directional movement of reptiles to and from specialized oviposition and breeding sites is a common feature in their behavior. The scale of these movements varies from a few metres to thousands of kilometers.


Garter snakes in northern temperate zones move to winter dens known as hibernacula, often deep crevices in rocky areas or abandoned burrows (Klauber 1982; Lawson 1989). Marine turtles migrate long distances between nesting beaches and foraging grounds.


In the winter, cold-blooded reptiles often migrate to shelter from harsh environmental conditions. For example, Garter Snakes (Thamnophis lateralis) will move from their restricted pond habitat to the floodplain at the onset of wet season. This is likely due to the need to feed, as their primary prey is fish that inhabit the ponds, and it may also be an adaptive response to changing environmental conditions.

During the winter, reptiles will seek sites where oxygen levels are high to maintain a healthy metabolic rate and prevent hypothermia. Some terrestrial reptiles, like frogs and salamanders, will bury themselves under leaf litter or soil to conserve energy and stay warm. Others will rely on “butt breathing,” a process by which they can extract oxygen from the air through their skin around their mouths and cloacas.

Some lizards, such as the Ctenophorus lizard in Western Australia, will take advantage of crevices in rock outcrops that are facing south and east to maximize heat retention. Other lizards, such as the Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis), may share their brumation den with other individuals to increase warmth and provide mutual protection.

Some sea turtles also exhibit migratory behavior by traveling between feeding and nesting areas크레스티드게코 . For instance, Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas) tagged off the coast of Brazil have been recorded in locations as far as 2700 km away; Olive Ridleys tagged on the coast of Surinam have been resighted near Zanzibar over 3000 km away; and Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta) tagged in Florida have been recovered in Mauritius over 4500 km away (Luschi et al. 1998).


In the spring, animals that have been hibernating become active again. Amphibians like toads and frogs begin their annual journeys to ponds where they will breed. They follow instincts and pathways that are often thousands of years old. These ponds are a crucial link in the forest ecosystem, bringing nutrient-rich leaves to young frogs and salamanders that will feed millions of other birds, mammals and reptiles.

Other reptiles also begin their migrations in the spring, such as water pythons (Liasis fuscus) in Australia, which travel long distances to track down their primary prey, the dusky rat. Such migratory behavior is unusual among terrestrial ectotherms, which tend to form strong territorial attachments and are limited by thermal constraints on activity.

The sandhill cranes in North America, for example, migrate up to 1,000km each year to reach new breeding territories. This is a massive feat, but the cranes are able to do it because of their unique habitat. The sandhill cranes have adapted to eat the same plants that are located in different areas, and their annual migration allows them to spread those plants across their range.

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A variety of animals migrate, changing their living areas as seasons change. This is most often seen in birds, fish and mammals but it can also be seen in some reptiles, amphibians and insects. Animals can move thousands of miles across continents or much shorter distances, such as up or down a mountain or between two different ponds.

For many reptiles, summer migration involves relocating to a better habitat in response to environmental conditions. This can be to find a safer place to hibernate, avoid predators or to compete with other animals for resources. Many species of snakes, for example, migrate from high elevation grasslands to low lying swamps.

Some reptiles, particularly lizards and amphibians, do not migrate. They may have a homing ability that helps them return to certain locations, such as a particular rock outcrop, to lay their eggs. Large iguanids, such as Green Iguanas on Barro Colorado Island, swim to offshore islands to nest. This “island hopping” behavior is considered migrating by some (Pough et al. 1998).

Hoofed mammals, such as Reindeer and Caribou, can travel long distances as they search for grazing grounds. This is similar to the herds of African Elephants that cross the Serengeti in search for food.


The fall equinox marks the transition from summer to winter, and is a time of change for many animals. Temperatures begin to drop, and those with fur or feathers often grow thicker coats to withstand the chill. The ripening of fruit, harvests of wild food, and the beginning of hunting seasons are some common occurrences of this season.

Reptile migration is less common than amphibian migrations, because terrestrial ectotherms typically show strong territorial attachment to their sites and are limited in the capacity for sustained activity by their small size and ectothermic nature (Madsen and Shine 1996). However, large reptiles can often migrate considerable distances to track their prey. For example, pythons (Liasis fuscus) in Australia migrate great distances each year to follow dusky rat prey.

Amphibians also exhibit a variety of migration strategies, although they are more commonly observed crossing roads than snakes. Amphibian species such as mole salamanders, Jefferson-blue spotted salamanders, and wood frogs often move from woodland pools to well-drained upland forests for overwintering. They must often cross roads to make this journey, which can be deadly for slow-moving wildlife if vehicles are approaching.

The DEC Amphibian Migrations and Road Crossings project relies on volunteers to help frogs, salamanders, and other cold-blooded reptiles avoid being hit by cars. To participate in this project, volunteers must park their vehicles at a DEC parking lot and walk the gravel road that runs through Shawnee Forest on migration nights. To learn more about how you can volunteer for this project, check out the Amphibian Migrations and Road Crossings Volunteer Handbook (PDF).