Abstract There are many anecdotal reports of massive day-to-day variation in activity levels of tropical reptiles and amphibians, and intuition suggests that weather conditions may be responsible for much of that variation. Our analysis of a large data set on the activity levels of tropical snakes and frogs confirms the existence of this short-term variation in activity levels, reveals strong synchrony between sympatric taxa in this respect, but also shows that standard weather variables (temperature, humidity, precipitation, moonlight, atmospheric pressure) are surprisingly poor at predicting the numbers of individuals and species encountered during standardized surveys. We recorded the numbers of snakes and prey taxa (frogs) encountered on 349 nights over the course of one year on a 1.3-km transect in the Adelaide River floodplain, in the wet–dry tropics of Australia. Frogs, water pythons (Liasis fuscus), slatey-grey snakes (Stegonotus cucullatus) and keelbacks (Tropidonophis mairii) all showed strongly seasonal patterns of activity. After adjusting for seasonal differences, encounter rates were related to climatic conditions but different taxa responded to different weather variables. Water python activity was related to amount of moonlight, keelback activity was related to temperature, and frog activity was related to relative humidity, rainfall, temperature and moonlight. However, weather variables explained relatively little of the variation in activity levels. Strong synchrony was evident among encounter rates with various taxa (independent of season and weather conditions), suggesting that activity levels may be determined by other unmeasured factors.