Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

12 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
217 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best reptile and amphibian field guides

Last Updated December 2019

For children, identifying animals is easy because they only care about what the animal is: "That's a frog." However, as an adult with a deeper interest in amphibians and the world around you, the task becomes a bit more difficult. In the United States alone, there are roughly 90 different species of frogs. You need better ways to classify animals than the words "green” and “ribbit"! A good reptile and amphibian field guide helps you do exactly that.

A reptile and amphibian field guide is a fun book that can be used to learn about the world around you. For general use, you can thumb through the pages and read about the different species. And if you see a snake slither beneath your front porch, you can grab your handy field guide and look it up. These field guides are full of illustrations, descriptions, and lots of fun facts about the animals you might come across.

If you'd like to learn more about reptile and amphibian field guides so you know what to look for as you shop, keep reading. If you’d enjoy some recommendations, consider the field guides that we've spotlighted in this article.

The first field guide, Birds Through an Opera-Glass, was by Florence Merriam and published in 1890.

Key considerations

Focus area

The first aspects you need to consider when purchasing a reptile and amphibian field guide are the location and size of the area you’d like to cover.

  • Regional: The best reptile and amphibian field guides are smaller in scope. They can be thorough because they target a specific region. There may be over 10,000 species of reptiles in the world, but there are fewer than 600 species in the United States. However, in New Jersey, there are only about 70 species of both reptiles and amphibians, so a field guide that focuses on New Jersey is able to list every single animal. A field guide of the United States would only have room for a sampling or else the guide would be too large to carry with you into the field.

  • North America: As noted above, due to space restrictions, a field guide for a large region, such as North America, will not be comprehensive. It’s highly possible you could see a salamander in the field that is different from every salamander in your field guide. In and of itself, this isn’t a bad thing. A field guide to North American reptiles and amphibians can give you a much broader education about the animal kingdom, making it a better reference guide than a more localized field guide.

  • Other locales: If you’re interested in learning about animals that you might not ever see in the wild, it’s possible to get field guides that feature reptiles and amphibians from other countries or exotic locales.

Comprehensive North American field guide

This compact field guide can be used to identify over 160 species of North American reptiles and amphibians. It contains 744 pages with over 600 full-color identification photographs, it has a durable vinyl binding, and it’s sized to be easily carried with you no matter where you go. The guide also presents plenty of background information such as life cycles, habitats, and anatomy.

Features of reptile and amphibian field guides

After deciding if you'd like a regional field guide or something larger in scope, there are a few other elements to consider.

Age range and purpose

Almost as important as knowing if you'd like a regional field guide is knowing who the field guide is for and why. A reptile and amphibian field guide for a young child who is just learning about animals is much different than one for an adult who wants to identify specific reptiles and amphibians in the region.

Size

The size of your reptile and amphibian field guide may not seem like a big deal, but if you want to stick it in your back pocket while hiking, you'll quickly discover that there are very real limitations. Be sure to check the dimensions of your field guide to be certain it will fit in your pocket (if that’s what you desire) and be light enough to carry.

Illustrations

Since you will be using your reptile and amphibian field guide to identify animals that you see in the wild, you want plenty of photos and artwork detailing different views or characteristics of each reptile or amphibian, and the more the better. If you have trouble determining colors and markings in the illustrations, you may find it impossible to accurately identify the species that you see.

Maps

Maps can help you quickly narrow down the species because they reveal where an animal can be found. You might think you've discovered an alligator snapping turtle in your backyard, but when you check the map, you'll see you're too far north of that animal’s range. With a bit of quick research, you can discover it's a common snapping turtle (which you’ll also learn is actually more aggressive and more likely to snap at you).

Seasons

Just like the maps, a list of seasonal occurrences lets you quickly know which reptiles and amphibians you’re most likely to see in each season.

Other information

Some reptile and amphibian field guides are encyclopedic in their information while others provide only cursory background details. Choose the type of field guide you prefer so that you aren’t disappointed.

DID YOU KNOW?

Taxonomy is the branch of biology that is concerned with classifying organisms based on characteristics. Most field guides are arranged taxonomically.

DID YOU KNOW?

Field marks are specific characteristics denoted in a field guide that are particularly useful when trying to identify a species in the wild.

DID YOU KNOW?

The more local or regional your field guide is, the better it will be at helping you identify the specific species in your area.

Accessories

If you're interested in a reptile and amphibian field guide, there are a few other items you may want to consider purchasing in order to have the best experience.

Good binoculars can help you scope out some of the reptiles you might not want to get too close to. The Nikon MONARCH 5 binoculars offer sharp views and a range of user-friendly features.

If you're watching your budget, a monocular is a more affordable option than binoculars. This dustproof, waterproof model has one-handed focus and gives you 12x magnification.

You'll want to document the reptiles and amphibians you see, so you'll need a high-quality camera that can take those award-winning photos.

Depending on how wet or swampy the area is that you want to explore, waders can help keep you dry and warm. These chest waders have sturdy buckles and attached boots.

Beginner's field guide

National Geographic's pocket guidebook is a beginner's field guide that features 176 pages and covers 148 species of amphibians and reptiles that reside in North America.  The colorful, at-a-glance design makes the field guide fun and easy to read. It’s as appropriate for use at home or in school as it is in the wild.

Tips

  • Familiarize yourself with the guide. The first step to successfully using a reptile and amphibian field guide is to learn what it contains and understand how it works.

  • Observe. When you spot an animal in the field, don’t immediately grab your field guide. Instead, gather as much information as you can and commit it to memory before the animal leaves.

  • Research. Don’t stop at the first picture that resembles what you see. Go deeper into the guide and consider all the possibilities. Remember that identifying a species is a narrowing down process: start broad and eliminate possibilities until you hone in on exactly what it is you’re seeing. Be careful that you don't adjust your observations to fit within the parameters of what is already in the field guide just so you can give what you see a name.

  • Check the maps. Always check the maps listed in your field guide to make certain the reptile or amphibian you’re trying to identify is actually in your region.

  • Check the time of year. Don’t forget to check the seasonal occurrence section to see what time of year certain species are in your region.

Other products we considered

Depending on where you live or how many species you want to be able to identify, there are a few more reptile and amphibian field guides we want to bring to your attention. Zoologist James Kavanagh's Reptiles & Amphibians: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar North American Species is an extremely concise pamphlet of just 12 pages that fits easily in your pocket yet manages to cover just over 130 species. For individuals living in the Upper Midwest, Stan Tekiela's Reptiles & Amphibians of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan Field Guide is what you need. This pocket-size 216-page guide includes all the turtles, snakes, lizards, salamanders, frogs, and toads known to inhabit Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. For individuals living along the Atlantic seaboard, you may be most interested in Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia by Jeffery C. Beane et al. This edition features photographs, descriptions, and distribution maps for 189 species of reptiles and amphibians in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

In order to properly identify the amphibians and reptiles that you encounter, you first must learn how to use your field guide so that your results are accurate.

FAQ

Q. Who uses a reptile and amphibian field guide?

A. Anyone with a general curiosity about nature would be interested in a reptile and amphibian field guide. Whether it's a unusual-looking salamander or a snake you haven't seen before, these handy guides can help you identify the reptiles and amphibians you encounter in your region. Besides being an engaging hobby, a reptile and amphibian field guide can be used to identify potentially dangerous species, too.

Q. With the prevalence of digital photography, why do so many field guides still use drawings?

A. A drawing is far more capable of emphasizing specific details than a photograph. Information that isn’t needed can be deemphasized or simply not included so the animal's field marks can be highlighted. In a drawing, an animal can be depicted in an ideal pose or from an angle that is unlikely to be photographed in the wild. In short, a drawing simply has a greater educational value than a photograph.

Q. Why do I need a field guide if I have an app that identifies animals when I take a picture?

A. While apps can be very useful, they aren’t the best solution for identifying a particular creature you may encounter in nature. Apps use the animal's general appearance and take a guess. It’s up to the user to decide if the app is correct. A field guide is designed so you can hone in with great precision and be absolutely certain you know what you’re seeing.

The team that worked on this review
  • Allen
    Allen
    Writer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Kristin
    Kristin
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

BestReviews wants to be better. Please take our 3-minute survey,
and give us feedback about your visit today.

Take Survey