In most cases, if you click on a book cover image it will take you to a link where you can find out more about the book or purchase it.
Below are some books with information about amphibians and reptiles that are found in California. Most of them cover herps found outside California as well. Some are outdated, but still contain interesting and useful information. You can find more books listed on the Resources and References page.
There are some current field guides that include all of the herps of California, including A Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California, the 2012 guide by Robert Stebbins and Samuel M. McGinnis, the 2018 Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians Fourth Edition by Samuel M. McGinnis and Robert Stebbins (which also covers all of the herps west of the Rocky Mountains), and R. D. Bartlett's 2009 three volume Guide and Reference to the Snakes, Turtles and Lizards, and Amphibians of Western North America, but none of them is the one great guide you should take into the field. I still prefer the 2003 Western Reptiles and Amphibians field guide by Robert Stebbins, but there have been lots of new species and name changes since 2003.
There are also many excellent guides that don't cover only California which, when put together, will cover all or most of the species in California, including Lang Elliott's The Frogs and Toads of North America, Petranka's Salamanders of the United States and Canada, and Jones, Lawrence, and Lovich's Lizards of the American Southwest, which covers almost all of the lizard species found in California, and Ernst et al's Turtles of the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, none of these is meant to put in your pack and take out into the field.
|Books About Native Amphibians and Reptiles in California|
|Stebbins, Robert C., McGinnis, Samuel M.
Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.
|Robert C. Thomson, Amber N. Wright, and H. Bradley Shaffer. California Amphibian and Reptile Species of Special Concern. University of California Press, 2016.
||Stebbins, Robert C.
California Amphibians and Reptiles.
The University of California Press, 1972.
|Written with Samuel McGinnis, this is an extensive update of Stebbins' 1972 California field guide with his drawings and photographs for most species. The range maps and pictures are now on the same pages as the species description instead of in separate sections as they were in the past.
The authors have chosen not to illustrate the range of the individual subspecies on the range maps (except for the Ensatina) but they do describe the ranges in the text. In several examples, they show more than one species together in one range map without illustrating the individual ranges, which could be confusing. This book has some flaws, but for now, it's the only complete book about California's herps that has been published in 40 years.
|This book covers only the threatened herps species of California. It's worth looking at for the very detailed range maps alone, but the excellent comments on identification, life history, habitat, distribution, status, and threat management make it superior to other field guides.||This original version of the Stebbins/McGinnis field guide is out of date and out of print, but there is still some interesting historical information in it.|
Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of the San Diego Region (California Natural History Guides).
University of California Press, 2006.
|Macey, J. Robert and Theodore Papenfuss."Herpetology." The Natural History of the White-Inyo Range Eastern California. Ed. Clarence Hall. University of California Press, 1991.||Brown, Philip R.
A Field Guide to Snakes of California.
Gulf Publishing Co., 1997.
|An excellent, well-illustrated guide to one of the most interesting regions of California. Many of the species covered in this book are found throughout southern California, making it a great resource for learning about southern California's herps.
||I used the herpetology chapter of this book extensively when I first started exploring the region. There is excellent information about the herps of the region, with nice locality information and range maps.||This is a concise description of all of California's Snake species and subspecies. It was written in 1997 so there have been a lot of taxonomical changes. Including photos, range maps and very good drawings which aid in identification.|
|Sanborn, Sherburn R.
The Lizard-Watching Guide - The Common Lizards of Southern California's Mojave and Colorado Deserts.
Lorraine Press, 1994.
|Thelander, Carl G., editor in chief.
Life on the Edge - A Guide to California's Endangered Natural Resources - Wildlife.
Berkeley: Bio Systems Books, 1994.
|Basey, Harold E.
Discovering Sierra Reptiles and Amphibians.
Yosemite Association and Sequoia Natural History Association, 1976, 1991.
|This neat little booklet has excellent photos and information about California desert lizards including some locations where you can find them to photograph. The book might not be easy to find, but they might still have copies of it at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center where I got mine in 1994.
||This large-format book has a nice reptile and amphibian section with some excellent accounts of the threatened reptiles and amphibians in the state.
||A nice little illustrated pamphlet covering the herps of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and foothills, including elevational range diagrams.|
A. Natural History of the Islands of California.
The University of California Press. 2003.
A Natural History of California.
The University of California Press. 1992.
|Shedd, Jackson D.
Amphibians and Reptiles of Bidwell Park.
Quadco Printing, Chico. 2005
|Contains lots of information about the herps found on California's Islands.
||Good coverage of the herpetofauna of California and their place in the various ecosystems found in the state. I recommend it highly as a great introduction to California's natural history.||I wish there was a herp guide like this to every park in California. This guide includes excellent drawings and accounts of all of the species of this Northern Sierra Foothills park, which are basically the same species that are found throughout the Sierra Nevada Foothills.
|William C. Flaxington.
Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Field Observations, Distribution, and Natural History.
Fieldnotes Press, Anaheim, California, 2021.
|This is an unusual hybrid of a field guide and a list of the author's personal field observations. It contains descriptions, photos, and distribution maps for all of the native species of amphibians and reptiles found in California, (and some of the non-native species) including some newly-described species that I have not yet seen discussed in other books. There's also an illustrated section describing 19 geographic regions in the state, followed by a description of the different environments within those regions.
The bulk of the book contains descriptions, range maps, and photographs of each species, but at the end there is a list of thousands of the author's field observations listing the locations where each species was observed over more than 30 years of fieldherping. The range maps provide a good representation of the distribution of a species (but not subspecies) and they also include markings that show locations where the author has found a species and its subspecies when there are any.
|Books Containing Information About Amphibians and Reptiles Native to California|
|Stebbins, Robert C.
A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition.
Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.
|Samuel M. McGinnis and Robert C. Stebbins.
Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians. 4th Edition.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2018.
|Robert Powell, Roger Conant, and Joseph T. Collins. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.|
|The third edition of the classic guide to western herps from the great California Herpetologist, with drawings and range maps, covering all of the reptiles and amphibians found in California as well as western North America. It is small enough to take into the field, too. I used it so much, I made my own quick-index to paste on the inside cover, which you can download here.
It's also fun to look through the older editions of Stebbins' Peterson field guides, going back to the first edition in 1966 and the second in 1985. He also published a non-Peterson field guide in 1954.
|The fourth edition of the classic guide to western herps from Samuel McGinnis and the great but now deceased California Herpetologist Robert Stebbins, with drawings and range maps, covering all of the reptiles and amphibians found in California as well as western North America. It is small enough to take into the field, too. The taxonomy has mostly been updated, and the format has changed to match the recent Eastern Peterson field guide, with the range maps now found along with the species descriptions. There are a lot more pictures of the animals, but the plates with Stebbins' drawings are still here. Neveretheless, there are some omissions and some glaring mistakes, including some mis-labled pictures and the range map for slender salamanders in the southern Sierra Nevada, that make it hard to recommend this book.
||This is a very welcome update to the previous guide published in 1998 covering herps east of the Rocky Mountains. The pictures and information and taxonomy have all been updated, of course, but the basic layout of the book has also been greatly improved making it easiier to use. The illustrations are all now separated so that you see the drawings of frogs, for example, then the individual accounts for each species of frog, including range maps and photos of some individual species. Then there will be illustrations of salamanders and their accounts, etc.|
|Jones, Lawrence, Rob Lovich, editors.
Lizards of the American Southwest: A Photographic Field Guide.
Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2009.
|Lang Elliott, Carl Gerhardt, and Carlos Davidson.
Frogs and Toads of North America, a Comprehensive Guide to their Identification, Behavior, and Calls.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.
|St. John, Alan D.
Reptiles of the Northwest: Alaska to California; Rockies to the Coast.
Lone Pine Publishing, 2002.
|The best guide to our lizards I've seen. It covers every species of lizard found in California, as well as the rest of the west, including some coverage of Baja California. (The title could be "Lizards of the American West.") It includes a chapter with information about where to go to find lizards and the book puts a strong emphasis on conservation and environmental ethics when herping.
Here's the official blurb:
"Lizards of the American Southwest covers all 96 species found in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, and Texas west of the Pecos River. Learn where to find lizards and how to identify them. Includes detailed information on habitat, natural history, taxonomy, viewing tips, plus hundreds of photos, illustrations, and maps."
Full disclosure: this book uses a few of my pictures, but I don't make any money if you buy it.
|This book is stunning in the quality of its design, printing, photography, and recordings, and in its scope. It covers all of the frogs and toads of North America, north of Mexico with sound recordings and color pictures of them all, including many full-page glossy pictures, all for a cover price of only $19.95. The CD is probably worth that much, alone. It only has recordings of advertisement calls, which are all you need to know really, but you may still want to have other regional cds which illustrate more types of calls.
Full disclosure: this book uses a few of my pictures and the cd that comes with it also uses several of my sound recordings of frogs and toads, but I don't make any money if you buy it.
|Great photos, excellent accounts, and lots of interesting stories from the field. One of the best field guides out there. Includes good identification tips. The "Northwest" here has been unusually defined, and extends south into California to the Central Valley just below lake Shasta, so it covers many California species.
The author has told me that a new edition of the book should be available some time in 2020 or maybe early the next year, and that's something to look forward to.
|Jones, Lawrence L. C. , William P. Leonard, Deanna H. Olson, editors.
Amphibians of the Pacific Northwest.
Seattle Audubon Society, 2005.
|Ernst, Carl H., Roger W. Barbour, and Jeffrey E. Lovich.
Turtles of the United States and Canada.
Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994
|Petranka, James W.
Salamanders of the United States and Canada.
Smithsonian Institution, 1998.
|A great update of the previous guide. It has expanded its definition of "Pacific Northwest" to include the northern California Coast and the Siskiyou Mountains. This adds a few more California salamanders to their list, which includes many amphibians found in California, including the recently discovered (2005) Scott Bar Salamander. (It also has some great pictures of transformed Cope's Giant Salamanders.)
||This guide covers all of the turtles found in California, native and introduced, and in the rest of North America north of Mexico, with illustrations, range maps, and excellent descriptions.
A second edition was published in May, 2009, with updated information and revised species names:
Carl H. Ernst and Jeffrey E. Lovich. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Second edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.
|This book covers all of the salamanders of the US, including all of those described in California before 1998, with some of the most detailed species accounts available for California species.|
Common Kingsnakes, A Natural History of Lampropeltis getula. 2009.
Mountain Kings - A Collective Natural History of California, Sonoran, Durango and Queretaro Mountain Kingsnakes.
Tricolor Books, 2004.
Zonata, the California Mountain Kingsnake.
LM Digital, 2004.
|All you could ever want to know about common kingsnakes, including over 500 photos of snakes and their habitat, range maps, coverage of all subspecies and all known naturally occurring aberrant morphs (70 of which are found in California) and non-natural designer morphs, field stories, explanations of field techniques, detailed range maps, and a reference bibliography. It was written before Lampropeltis taxonomy was changed, but don't let that stop you.
To get this book, email email@example.com.
|Everything you didn't know you needed to know about Mountain Kingsnakes, and more. A fun and informative read by a veteran herper who is obsessed by these snakes. Anyone who wants to learn where and how to find mountain kingsnakes should read this book.
Full disclosure: this book uses one of my pictures, but I do not make any money if you buy it. It also includes an inaccurate account of one of my outings with the author, but I forgive him his creative license in trying to make me look like a fool....
| Outstanding photos and excellent descriptions of one of the most beautiful and sought-after California snakes. (The companion book on Lampropeltis alterna - the Gray-banded Kingsnake, is also highly recommended.
|Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett.
Guide and Reference to the Amphibians of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii.
University Press of Florida, 2009.
|Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett.
Guide and Reference to the Snakes of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii.
University Press of Florida, 2009.
|Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett.
Guide and Reference to the Turtles and Lizards of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii.
University Press of Florida, 2009.
|Combined, these three books are a comprehensive coverage of California's herps, with photographs of every species, range maps, and species descriptions, including coverage of all of the recent taxonomic changes (as of 2009). A nice addition is the inclusion of short descriptions of some of the author's experiences when hunting for herps in the field.
Full disclosure: the amphibians book uses one or more of my pictures, but I do not make any money if you buy it.
|Bartlett, R.D. , & Alan Tennant.
Snakes of North America - Western Region.
Gulf Publishing Co., 2000.
|Brennan, Thomas C., and Andrew T. Holycross. Amphibians and Reptiles in Arizona.
Arizona Game and Fish Department, 2006.
|Brown et. al.
Reptiles of Washington and Oregon.
Seattle Audubon Society, 1995.
|This guide covers all of the snakes in California and the west (including subspecies), with photographs, range maps, and species accounts. (A companion to the Snakes of North America - Eastern Region.) Lots of good information about breeding and reproduction.
||Finally, a guide that covers all of Arizona's herps! (which include many found in the deserts of southern California) and an excellent one at that, with outstanding photographs and identification tips and a great section about Arizona's various habitats. An excellent model for state field guides - small, concise, and beautifully illustrated.
||A great introduction to the reptiles of the northwest, including some from California. Excellent photography and detailed descriptions of many species that also occur in California.|
|Michael Lannoo (Editor)
Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species.
University of California Press, June 2005.
Robert L. Bezy. Night Lizards: Field Memoirs and a Summary of the Xantusiidae. ECO Herpetological Publishing & Distribution. 2019.
|Ronald Altig and Roy W. McDiarmid.
Handbook of Larval Amphibians of the United States and Canada.
Comstock Publishing Associates, 2015.
|This is the best single printed source of information about the life histories of California's amphibians of which I'm aware. The first half of this massive book is loaded with essays on amphibian conservation. The second half contains very thorough and detailed species accounts for all of the amphibians of the U. S. A. along with excellent range maps.The accounts do not include a physical description of the appearance of each species, but they cover just about everything else you would want to know. Modified versions of many of these accounts can be read on AmphibiaWeb.
||Species accounts with range maps for all six species of night lizards found in California and all other species, historical perspectives on herpetologists who studied night lizards, and lots of entertaining accounts of herping adventures around the world, including a look at Baja California in the 1960s when it was an unpaved wilderness, coming face-to-face with an African cobra, and many adventures in Mexico and Central America searching for night lizards.|
|Degenhardt, William G., Charles W. Painter, & Andrew H. Price.
Amphibians and Reptiles of New Mexico.
University of New Mexico Press, 1996.
|Rossman, Douglas A., Neil B.Ford, & Richard A. Siegel.
The Garter Snakes - Evolution and Ecology.
University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.
|Conant, Roger and Joseph Collins.
A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians -Eastern and Central North America.
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.
|Outstanding dot-locality range maps, photos, and extensive accounts. A model for other state books. A number of California species are found as far east as New Mexico.||A complete guide to the Garter Snakes, including all of those found in California, with very extensive accounts.||This is an older edition of the field guide for the rest of the USA not covered by the Stebbins Field Guide, including all states east of the Rocky Mountains. (It was revised in 2016. See above.) A few species found in California range far enough east that they are also covered in this guide. It also covers a few non-native species that have been introduced into California.|
|Sherbrooke, Wade C.
Introduction to Horned Lizards of North America.
University of California Press, 2003.
Rattlesnake - Portrait of a Predator.
Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998.
|Hubbs, Brian R., & Brendan O'Connor.
A Guide to the Rattlesnakes and other Venomous Serpents of the United States.
Tricolor Books, 2011.
|This book covers all of the Horned Lizards (including Mexican species) with lots of great natural history photographs of horned lizards, and their predators.
||Lots of good pictures and information about buzzworms in this nicely-designed book.
||The authors' original 2009 guide to the rattlesnakes of the United States has been expanded to cover all of the venomous serpents of the United States, including Rattlesnakes, Coral Snakes, Copperheads, and Cottonmouths, with 170 color pictures and 42 range maps.
|Klauber, Laurence M.
University of California Press. (Abridged from the 1956 two volume Rattlesnakes: Their Habits, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind.) University of California Press, 1982.
|Klauber, Laurence M.
Rattlesnakes: Their Habits, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind.
University of California Press, 1956. (Hardcover 2 volume set.) (Second Edition, 1997.)
|Hayes, William K., Kent R. Beaman, Michael D. Cardwell, and Sean P. Bush, editors.
The Biology of Rattlesnakes.
Loma Linda University Press, 2009.
|The classic guide to rattlesnakes by the late great California Herpetologist.
||"Due in part to the toxic nature of their venom, rattlesnakes comprise the most popular and well-studied group of snakes in the world. The Biology of Rattlesnakes showcases the finest research to date by investigators encompassing an enormous breadth of expertise. With 50 original contributions from 98 authorities covering a diverse range of topics, this landmark volume will be looked upon as authoritative for years to come. The beautiful, full-color plates depicting many of the more than 30 rattlesnake species add a tasteful touch."
|Joshua M. Parker, Ph.D & Simone Brito, M.S. Reptiles & Amphibians of the Mojave Desert: A Field Guide. Snell Press, 2013.||Ernst, Carl H. and Evelyn M. Ernst.
Venomous Reptiles of the United States, Canada, and Northern Mexico: Heloderma, Micruroides, Micrurus, Pelamis, Agkistrodon, Sistrurus (Volume 1)
Johns Hopkins University Press. 2011
|Ernst, Carl H. and Evelyn M. Ernst.
Venomous Reptiles of the United States, Canada, and Northern Mexico: Crotalus (Volume 2)
Johns Hopkins University Press. 2011
|This is a very nice compact field guide to the reptiles and amphibians found in the Mojave Desert, made with an emphasis on the identification of animals seen in the field. The book's compact size and excellent layout will make it easy to use in the field:
A different color code for Salamanders, Frogs, Turtles, Lizards, and Snakes corresponds to a handy index that folds backwards off of the front cover to make it very easy to look up a particular animal.
There are two pages per species, with the common and scientific names in bold on the top of the left page followed by a short overview of the animal.
Two color-coded tabs on the edge of the page offer quick access to information - one showing if an animal is harmless, mildly venomous, or dangerously venomous, and the second showing the animal's IUCN conservation status - Not Yet Assessed, Least Concern, Vulnerable, or Endangered.
Next is a section with brief descriptions of size, distinguishing features, similar species, subspecies, habitat, activity period, diet, reproduction, young, and likelihood of encounter. (Many pages could have been written on these subjects, but the emphasis here is on the basics needed for field use.)
There are excellent range maps at the bottom of the page, one showing the overall range, and one with a closer look at the range of the animal in the Mojave Desert that also shows major roads, cities, and parks, and state lines.
The right page shows several pictures, including some different color, pattern, sex, and age variations.
There are also several short sections including an introduction to reptiles and amphibians, evolution and paleontology, classification, Mojave Desert habitats and suggestions on where to view reptiles and amphibians, along with a glossary and a very good list of references.
Full discolsure: This book uses some of my photographs, but I don't make any money if you buy it.
|This is an updated version of the landmark reference Venomous Reptiles of North America which has been split into two volumes and now covers northern Mexico. Volume one covers venomous lizards and elapid and viperid snakes found in North America north of Mexico's twenty-fifth parallel.||This is an updated version of the landmark reference Venomous Reptiles of North America which has been split into two volumes and now covers northern Mexico. Volume two covers all of the crotalus species in North America north of Mexico's twenty-fifth parallel.|
|Corkran, Charlotte and Chris Thoms. Amphibians of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Lone Pine Publishing, 1996.||Nussbaum, R. A., E. D. Brodie Jr., and R. M. Storm. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Pacific Northwest. Moscow, Idaho: University Press of Idaho, 1983.||Green, David M., Linda A. Weir, Gary S. Casper, and Michael J. Lannoo. North American Amphibians- Distribution & Diversity. University of California Press, 2013.|
|Lots of good pictures of eggs and larvae to help with identification.||The classic guide to the herps of Cascadia.||At its publishing, the most current guide to the amphibians of California and the rest of the country, with a brief description,
one photo, and a range map.
Full disclosure: Several of my photos are used but I don't make any money if you buy it.
|Bishop, Sherman C. Handbook of Salamanders. Cornell University Press, 1943.||Smith, Hobart M. Handbook of Lizards, Lizards of the United States and of Canada. Cornell University Press, 1946.||Wright, Albert Hazen and Anna Wright. Handbook of Frogs and Toads of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press, 1949.
|These old Comstock Classics contain lots of still-useful information along with a nice historic perspective on the study of the respective families. The lizard guide even tells you what kind of ammunition to use when you shoot lizards to collect them. (I guess noosing was too much trouble in those days.)|
|Wright, Albert Hazen and Anna Wright. Handbook of Snakes of the United States and Canada. (2 Volumes.) Cornell University Press, 1957.
||Jean Raffaelli. Les Urodeles du Monde. 2nd edition. Penclen Edition, 2013.||Hubbs, Brian. Harmless Snakes of the West. Tricolor Books, 2013.|
|Another Comstock Classic, in two separate volumes.||If you don't read French, you'll have to just enjoy the many photographs and range maps of 850 species of the world's salamanders.
Full disclosure: This book includes a few photos of mine, but I don't make any money if you buy it.
|One of my favorite things about this guide is that it lists "other common names," (something I've been meaning to add to my site, too) - Gopher Snake = Blow Snake, Hisser, Pacific Pine Snake, etc.|
|Grismer, L. Lee.
Amphibians and Reptiles of Baja California, Including Its Pacific Islands and the Islands in the Sea of Cortes.
The University of California Press, 2002.
|Filip A. Tkacyzk.
Tracks & Sign of Reptiles & Amphibians: A Guide to North American Species.
Stackpole Books, 2015.
|Murphy, John C.
Arizona's Amphibians & Reptiles: A Natural History and Field Guide.
Book Services, 2018.
|A beautifully-designed guide to the herps of Baja California, with excellent photos (though I wish there were more of them and that they were larger), range maps, and extensive species accounts.
||More than 600 color photos, drawings, range maps and descriptions illustrate the tracks and signs left by reptiles and amphibians to help you determine what kind of animal left the tracks or signs you find in the field.||The natural history, description, and range of all the reptiles and amphibians found in the state of Arizona, with photos of each species and range maps. Full disclosure: This book includes
a few photos of mine, but I don't make any money if you buy it.
|C. Kenneth Dodd Jr. Frogs of the United States and Canada, 2-volumes.
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013
|Over a thousand illustrated pages in two volumes with maps and full species accounts for all species of frogs north of Mexico.
A new edition is in preparation for release in December 2020.
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