Abstract Aim To explore the respective power of climate and topography to predict the distribution of reptiles in Switzerland, hence at a mesoscale level. A more detailed knowledge of these relationships, in combination with maps of the potential distribution derived from the models, is a valuable contribution to the design of conservation strategies. Location All of Switzerland. Methods Generalized linear models are used to derive predictive habitat distribution models from eco-geographical predictors in a geographical information system, using species data from a field survey conducted between 1980 and 1999. Results The maximum amount of deviance explained by climatic models is 65%, and 50% by topographical models. Low values were obtained with both sets of predictors for three species that are widely distributed in all parts of the country (Anguis fragilis, Coronella austriaca, and Natrix natrix), a result that suggests that including other important predictors, such as resources, should improve the models in further studies. With respect to topographical predictors, low values were also obtained for two species where we anticipated a strong response to aspect and slope, Podarcis muralis and Vipera aspis. Main conclusions Overall, both models and maps derived from climatic predictors more closely match the actual reptile distributions than those based on topography. These results suggest that the distributional limits of reptile species with a restricted range in Switzerland are largely set by climatic, predominantly temperature-related, factors.