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Amphibian and Reptile Checklists of the United States

Upper Mississippi River
National Wildlife and Fish Refuge

Winona, Minnesota
Savanna, Illinois
McGregor, Iowa
La Crosse, Wisconsin

Reptiles and Amphibians

"Along mid-America's great waterway, the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife and Fish Refuge extends 284 miles from the mouth of the Chippewa River nearly to Rock Island, Illinois."

The 195,000-acre refuge with its long north-south span, intermingled life zones, and mid-continental location offers diversified habitats for reptiles and amphibians. The bottomlands are a maze of timbered islands, extensive marsh land, sloughs, ponds, wet meadows and winding channels with large open pools above the dams. For most of the refuge length, precipitous wooded bluffs line the river valley. Remnant prairie may still be found on occasional tracts and on southwestern exposures of many hills and bluffs.

Refuge lowlands harbor myriads of frogs, turtles, water snakes and other species that require aquatic or moist environments. The drier, elevated slopes and sand prairies support forms like the box turtle, blue racer, hog-nosed snake and bull snake. Timber rattlesnakes frequent the upper wooded slopes and bluff crevices, while the northernmost bottomlands offer a retreat for the massasauga or swamp rattler.

The list of 35 species represents observations and specimen records by refuge personnel and local institutions of learning over a 45-year period. A hypothetical list of 10 additional species recorded from adjacent counties is appended. Species order and common names follow Conant's "A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern North America".


Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina). This large turtle with a surly disposition frequents sluggish, mud-bottomed channels and pools. Occurs throughout refuge.

Wood Turtle (Clemmys insculpta). Rare. The medium-sized wood turtle with the "sculptured" upper shell has been recorded near the mouth of the Trempealeau River.

Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata). Found on the arid sand prairie sector of the refuge near Thomson, Illinois. Yellow striping and hinged shell are distinctive.

Common Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica). Well distributed along the river. Maplike lines on upper shell. Likes main channels and larger sloughs.

False Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica). Common. Resembles preceding form, but smaller. Climbs and rests on snags above water, often at a considerable height.

Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta). Very common. Small turtle with red and yellow markings beneath. Likes shallower sloughs.

Blanding's Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii). Locally common in northern half of refuge. Likes small quiet ponds and sloughs. Yellow throat distinctive.

Smooth Softshell (Apalone mutica) Common. Fond of sandbars along main river channel. Scuttles rapidly into the water when approached.

Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera). Common. This leatherback has sandpaper-like shell with spines or tubercles near front edge. Prefers wide channels or open water areas.


Six-lined Racerunner (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus sexlineatus).Common. This swift-moving lizard likes dry bluff slopes or the downstream side of dikes.


Northern Water Snake (Nerodia sipedon sipedon). The common water snake of the refuge bottomlands. Blotched, or sometimes dark colored. Often erroneously called "moccasin."

Brown (DeKay's) Snake (Storeria dekayi). Uncommon. Recorded along refuge's borders in southeast Minnesota.

Redbelly Snake (Storeria occipitomaculata). Uncommon. Occurs in bordering woodlands.

Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis). Abundant. The western form T. radix has been found in tributary areas immediately westward.

Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos). Occasionally noted on the dry sand prairies.

Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus). Occasional in bordering upland woods, under bark of logs, beneath stones. Yellow collar is distinctive.

Blue Racer (Coluber constrictor foxii). Common throughout most of refuge area. Found in open woodlands and prairies.

Fox Snake (Elaphe vulpina) This yellowish, brown-blotched snake is noted occasionally in upland wooded areas or in willow thickets between marshes.

Black Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta). This shiny black serpent occurs from the southeastern borders of Minnesota south through the refuge, becoming more numerous southward.

Bullsnake (Pituophis melanoleucus sayi). Common on dry elevated sand prairie or open meadows and bluff slopes.

Eastern Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum). This slim snake with reddish brown blotches is noted occasionally in various habitats, from woodlands to river bottoms.

Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) Once ranging in suitable habitat throughout the river valley the little "swamp rattler" is now confined largely to two localities, the Black River Bottoms and the Nelson-Trevino area.

Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus horridus). A remnant population persists in rocky outcroppings and upper bluff slopes. Most numerous in southeastern Minnesota, western Wisconsin, and northeastern lowa borders of refuge.


Mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus). This large gray or rusty brown salamander with dark spotting is common along the river, occasionally appearing in traps of fishermen.

Eastern Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum tigrinum). Common. Noted occasionally along river roadways. Yellow blotching is distinctive.


American Toad (Bufo americanus). Common. The long, loud trill of the "hoptoad'' of lawns or gardens resounds from nearly every roadside pool each spring and summer.


Blanchard's Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans blanchardi). Common, increasing in number southward from Minnesota-Iowa line. Likes small channels, pools. Has clicking call.

Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer). Abundant in woodland or brush bordered pools. The high-pitched peeping note is distinctive.

Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor). Common. Look in small trees or shrubs near water. Listen to its loud, short trill in any refuge locality.

Western Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata triseriata). This small, variably colored frog is common. Likes shallow marshes and ditches. Call is a loud trilling, usually as a chorus.

Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana). Common locally from La Crosse, Wisconsin, and Lansing, Iowa southward. Likes marshland pools, sluggish channels. Deep bass grunt is distinctive.

Green Frog (Rana clamitans melanota). Common in northern refuge reaches, mostly above Minnesota-Iowa line, less numerous southward. Call is a banjo-like "chug".

Northern Leopard Frog (Rana pipiens). Common in damp meadows, marshes and shallow pools. Brown or greenish with elongated spots. Call is a loud, rattling snore.

Pickerel Frog (Rana palustris) Rare from southeastern Minnesota borders of refuge southward. Square spots on back distinctive from leopard frog which it resembles.

Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica). Duck-like quacking call and dark face mask are distinctive. Has been collected at north end of refuge. Likes moist woodland habitat.


The following 10 species have been recorded in adjacent counties bordering the Upper Mississippi River Refuge.


Common Musk Turtle (Sternothaerus odoratus). Recorded from Grant and Trempealeau counties in Wisconsin, and from Rock Island and Whiteside counties in Illinois.

Yellow Mud Turtle (Kinosternon flavescens). Whiteside County, Illinois.


Broadhead Skink (Eumeces laticeps). Rock Island County, Illinois.

Prairie Skink (Eumeces septentrionalis). Houston County, Minnesota.


Graham's Crayfish Snake (Regina grahamii). Rock Island County, Illinois.

Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus) Grant County, Wisconsin; and Carroll and Rock Island counties, Illinois.

Smooth Green Snake (Opheodrys vernalis). Winona County, Minnesota.


Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum). Carroll County, Illinois.

Central Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens louisianensis). Vernon County, Wisconsin.

Four-toed Salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum). Vernon County, Wisconsin.

Additional information may be obtained by contacting:
                 Refuge Manager
                 Upper Mississippi River NWFR
                 51 East Fourth Street
                 Winona, Minnesota 55987
                 Telephone: 507/452-4232
or by contacting Refuge District Managers located in Winona, MN; LaCrosse, WI; McGregor, IA; and Savanna, IL.

This resource is based on the following source:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  1980.  Reptiles & Amphibians of the Upper 
     Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.  U.S. Fish and 
     Wildlife Service.  Unpaginated.
This resource should be cited as:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  1980.  Reptiles & Amphibians of the Upper 
     Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.  U.S. Fish and 
     Wildlife Service.  Unpaginated.  Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie 
     Wildlife Research Center Online.
     (Version 22MAY98).

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