Reptiles

This captive-bred Northern pinesnake can be seen at the Walter Criley Visitor Center at Radnor Lake.

This captive-bred Northern pinesnake can be seen at the Walter Criley Visitor Center at Radnor Lake.

The name reptile comes from the Latin word meaning “to creep”. Inside Radnor Lake State Natural Area, the reptile family includes snakes, turtles & tortoises, and lizards. Reptiles inhabit every continent except Antarctica. At Radnor Lake reptiles are everywhere. On warm sunny days, look for turtles basking on logs in the lake, lizards darting on fence posts, and snakes stretched on tree limbs or across a rock.

Reptiles use the environment to regulate their body temperatures. They lounge in the sun on logs and rocks to raise their temperature and retreat to water or shade to lower it. Most reptiles lay eggs (oviparous), but some retain the eggs within the body and give live birth (ovoviviparous). All of Tennessee’s venomous snakes, and some nonvenomous ones, give live birth. Apart from being an integral part of the food web, their number and variety are good indicators of an ecosystem’s health.

There are 35 species of snakes in Tennessee; four are venomous. More than 15 species can be found at Radnor Lake. Only the Timber Rattlesnake (identified by rattles on the end of the tail) and Copperhead (identified by hourglass shaped markings across the back) are venomous. These two are reclusive and seldom encountered. Frequently seen at Radnor are the Midland Watersnake (resembles a Copperhead), Grey Ratsnake, Cornsnake, Gartersnake, and Kingsnake. Many nonvenomous snakes will imitate venomous snakes when disturbed by flattening their head, rattling their tail, and hissing loudly. Some snakes, like milksnakes, mimic venomous snake color patterns.

Snakes smell by collecting scent particles from the air on their tongues. Those particles are deposited on the Jacobson’s organ in the roof of the mouth, which transmits the smelly message to the brain.

Snakes are one of the most misunderstood animal families and are often injured or killed by people who think they are scary, dangerous, ugly, or evil.

Remember it is illegal to harm, kill, remove, or possess wild native snakes.

There are 9 species of lizards in Tennessee. Common species at Radnor include Broad-headed Skink, Common and Southeastern Five-lined Skink, Little Brown Skink, and Northern Fence Lizard. Unlike snakes, most lizards have limbs and external ears. All of our lizards are insectivores. Many can detach their tails to escape from predators. The tail will grow back over time. Lizards have complex social behaviors. They communicate by head bobbing, doing pushups, and arm waves.

Turtles and tortoises are characterized by a bony or cartilage shell that acts as a shield. They are able to withdraw their head and limbs into this shell to protect them. The box turtle has a hinged lower shell that can completely close to protect it from predators. Turtles spend much of their lives in water, while tortoises are generally land animals. Four turtles are native to Radnor Lake: the Eastern Box Turtle, Red-eared Slider, Common Snapping Turtle, and Soft-shelled Turtle. The most common is the Red-eared Slider and the rarest is the Soft-shelled Turtle.

Little is known about turtle brumation (reptilian hibernation), but when temperatures begin to drop, turtles enter a state of suspended animation and may not eat, move, or even breathe for much of the winter!

In May 2015 the first alligator snapping turtle was discovered at Radnor Lake. She was confirmed to have eggs. Snapping turtles have fierce dispositions when encountered. Be sure to keep your fingers and toes away from their powerful beaks.

Remember, in Tennessee it is illegal to keep any wild native turtle as a pet.