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Amphibians vs Reptiles: What are the Differences? (with Pictures)

Nicole Cosgrove

What are the differences between amphibians and reptiles? And which species is right for you? Well, if these are the answers you seek, you are on the right page.

Amphibians are animals who lack scales but have mucus glands on their skin. They lay eggs which are then fertilized externally and covered in gel-like substances.

Amphibians can live on land and in water since they respire through lungs and gills. Examples of amphibians are frogs, salamanders, and toads.

On the other hand, reptiles have scales on their dry, hard skin. They can only live on land because they breathe through the lungs.

Like amphibians, they lay eggs, but theirs undergo internal fertilization and have a tough outer covering. Examples of reptiles are lizards, turtles, snakes, and crocodiles.

But which is the right pet for you between amphibians and reptiles? Read on.

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Visual Differences

Image Credit: Amphibian (Melinda-Fawver, Shutterstock), Reptile (Reinhold-Leitner, Shutterstock)

At a Glance

Amphibian
  • Average height (adult): 0.30 to 60 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 0.0003 ounces to 110 pounds
  • Lifespan: 3 to 20 years
  • Exercise: Minimal
  • Grooming needs: No
  • Family-friendly: No
  • Other pet friendly: No
  • Trainability: No
Reptile
  • Average height (adult): 0.7 to 235 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 0.0042 ounces to 2,200 lbs.
  • Lifespan: 50 to 200 years
  • Exercise: Minimal
  • Grooming needs: Minimal
  • Family-friendly: Some
  • Other pet friendly: No
  • Trainability: Yes

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Amphibians Overview

closeup of a Chinese fire belly newt in an aquarium
Image Credit: Wirestock Creators, Shutterstock

Temperament

Even though most amphibians make great pets, their skin is not meant for handling. Take the African Clawed Frog and the Fire Belly Newt, for example.

The African Clawed frog’s skin dries out fast if they are out of the water, which can damage their skin and become harmful to their health. On the other hand, the Fire belly newt excretes poisonous toxins that irritate unbroken skin.

These toxins have been known to cause numbness, shortness of breath, and dizziness when they get into a cut. However, some amphibians can be handled. For example, the tiger salamander loves interacting with its owner.

The animal can get over its fear of humans with time. Besides, tiger salamanders can recognize their owners and even follow their movement while inside the enclosure. However, due to their delicate skin, it would be best to handle them with care.

The White Tree Frog is another amphibian that tolerates being handled.

Exercise

Amphibians are not high-energy pets. Due to their cold-blooded nature, their exercise needs mainly depend on their body temperature. Frogs are active when the air in the tank is humid, but they can also remain still with these humid conditions.

eastern gray treefrog
Image Credit: Darren Brode, Shutterstock

Training

It is possible to train amphibians. But you have to be truly patient as this may take a long time. Amphibians are not as intelligent as dogs, cats, or birds. Nevertheless, if their habitat has the ideal humidity, temperature, substrate, and hiding spots, as well as the species’ favorite food for condition, training is possible.

Health & Care

Amphibians are pretty hardy creatures. Sadly, most of them are susceptible to these health problems in captivity.

Heat Stress

Signs include lethargy, pacing, heavy panting, breathing through the mouth, loss of coordination, unconsciousness.

Egg Retention

This condition is often a result of poor husbandry in terms of lack of UV lighting, improper humidity levels and temperature, malnutrition, dehydration, and an inadequate nest site.

Septicemia

It is also known as blood poisoning. Amphibians suffer this health problem when infective organisms enter the bloodstream causing localized infections.

Prolapse

When body tissue is displaced from its usual location then protrudes at a different site, this condition is known as prolapse. Amphibians suffer from cloacal and gastric prolapse. Cloacal prolapse is when the intestines, uterus, or bladder protrude from the cloaca, while gastric prolapse occurs when tissues protrude from the mouth.

salamander on the dirt
Image Credit: lppicture, Pixabay

Suitable for:

Amphibians are easy to care for, which makes them ideal for beginners. Once their enclosure is set up, these animals spend most of their day either in the water, basking, staying still, or hiding.

Amphibians are also suitable for families with kids since they are low maintenance. However, it would be best if the children do not touch the frogs as they carry salmonella and other harmful bacteria that make humans extremely sick.

For pet owners looking for a fur-free pet, amphibians are a great option.

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Reptiles Overview

Paradox bearded dragon
Image Credit: Audrey Snider-Bell, Shutterstock

Temperament

Reptiles are more primitive than cats and dogs and are driven by survival instincts, including eating, hiding, and defending themselves. Nevertheless, all reptile species have their unique temperament. Therefore, snakes do not behave as lizards do, and neither do turtles nor tortoises.

Snakes that make great pets include reticulated pythons, boas, ball pythons, corn snakes, hognose snakes, and king snakes. Reticulated pythons, for example, are very intelligent. They can recognize their owners and keep track of when they were treated well. They even maintain good behavior as a reward for their owners when well taken care of.

Lizards, too, have great personalities and make good pets. Crested geckos, bearded dragons, and iguanas have become popular pets in the USA. Crested geckos have a gentle disposition and adapt well to handling. Bearded dragons exhibit comical and curious behaviors, including arm waving, head bobbing, and push-ups.

Tortoises and turtles are not outgoing, but they have been known to develop a close bond with their owners. The Leopard tortoise, the Sulcata, and Red-Eared Slider are perhaps the most popular. The leopard tortoise and the Sulcata are peaceful reptiles who can either be shy or outgoing and friendly. And since they have a long lifespan, they bond well with their owners.

Exercise

Reptiles do not need intense exercise. Nevertheless, you can engage them in mild exercise. Swimming is an ideal exercise for snakes.

Large boas and pythons need at least 15 to 20 minutes, three times a week, to stay in shape. The water temperature should be warm and changed as soon as the snake is done swimming.

Iguanas can benefit from swimming or going for walks on a leash.  Since iguanas are good swimmers, you can allow them to play in water several times a week.

When you go out for walks, ensure the harness sits snugly and securely. This will prevent your pet from running away in case it is alarmed or startled.

When it comes to a tortoise’s exercise needs, provide a secure, outdoor pen where it can roam freely. Also, the enclosure should be escape-proof since tortoises can dig their way out. On the other hand, provide water turtles with large tanks to allow adequate exercise.

Python in the water
Image Credit: Heiko Kiera, Shutterstock

Training

It is possible to train a pet reptile. However, not all reptiles are willing to learn. Therefore, when buying one, look for one with a calm and friendly temperament.

Doing so increases the odds of owning a tame and trainable pet. Training a reptile involves a lot of effort, patience, perseverance, and rewards.

Health & Care

Reptiles are generally hardy and rarely fall ill when they are placed in a healthy environment. Their tank or cage should be cleaned regularly and have the right temperature and humidity levels. Reptiles should also be fed a nutritious and balanced diet for their overall health.

Sadly, a pet reptile may be prone to:

Mouth Rot

This is usually a result of a bad diet, poor temperature, and humidity levels.

Metabolic Bone Disease

Reptiles whose diet is plants and insects are susceptible to metabolic bone disease because they consume insufficient calcium. Signs of the condition include bowed legs or deformities like soft shells in turtles.

Herpes Virus

Common in turtles and tortoises, this viral infection results in mouth sores and excessive itching. It is treatable with oral medication and ointments to prevent severe liver and digestive tract damage.

Cloacitis

This is a condition when a reptile’s cloaca (where urine and feces are expelled) is infected and inflamed. It may be a result of infections, stones, or clogs.

Indian Star Tortoise
Image Credit: eiammily, Shutterstock

Suitable for:

Reptiles do not need much space, are easy to care for, and are fun to watch, which is why they are suitable for beginners. They are also perfect for families with kids. Keeping a reptile teaches kids to be responsible and cultivate qualities like empathy and confidence.

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Which Breed is Right for You?

Both amphibians and reptiles make great pets. However, if you are looking for a low-maintenance pet that does not need handling, an amphibian is the perfect fit. Most amphibians have sensitive skin, while others are sedentary and prefer being unbothered.

However, if you are looking for a fairly active and outgoing pet, consider getting a reptile. Regardless of whether you choose a tiny lizard or large boas, these animals have unique personalities to offer.


Featured Image Credit: Amphibian, Geza-Farkas, Shutterstock; Reptile, Kapa65, Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.