Taxonomy Helper

Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS)


    Kingdom: Animalia
    Division: Chordata
    Subdivision: Vertebrata
    Class: Reptilia

More about reptiles...

Five-lined skink (Eumeces fasciatus).
Five-linked skink (Eumeces fasciatus) Photographer Credit: John J. Mosesso/

Visit the reptiles section of the NBII to learn more about reptiles.

Species Spotlight

Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) [Photo: Bruce Avera Hunter, NBII Digital Image Library]

Eastern box turtle
Terrapene carolina carolina

Description: About 15 cm x 10 cm in size. Brown carapace has markings colored orange or yellow. The hind feet have four toes.

Habitat: Open woodlands, pastures, and marshy meadows.

Distribution: Eastern United States from southern Maine to Florida; west to Michigan, Illinois, eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Status: Not an endangered species at the national level, but some U.S. states list T. carolina as a species of special concern.

Resources: Animal Diversity Web

Species Spotlight

Red Eared Slider
John J. Mosesso

Red-eared Slider
Trachemys scripta elegans

Description: Red-eared sliders are a medium sized pond turtle with a carapace length of 125-289 mm (5-over 11 in). They have a unique, broad red or orange stripe behind each eye.

Life History: These are omnivorous turtles and will eat insects, crayfish, shrimp, worms, snails, amphibians and small fish as well as aquatic plants. Red-eared sliders are found both in fresh and brackish waters including coastal marsh ponds and may compete with native aquatic turtles.

Distribution: Native Range of this turtle is the Mississippi Valley area of the United States. Red-eared sliders are popular pets and as a result have become established in many parts of the world including all over the United States, Australia, South East and Far East Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and South Africa.


NAS Factsheet

Global Invasive Species Database

Reptiles (class Reptilia)

What are Reptiles?
Reptiles of the southeastern U.S. are vertebrates of the taxonomic class Reptilia including animals such as snakes and lizards (order Squamata), turtles and tortoises (order Testudines), and crocodilians (order Crocodilia). Commonly called "cold-blooded," reptiles are ectotherms, meaning they are unable to regulate their own body temperature and are instead influenced by the temperature of their surroundings. Reptiles are characterized by skin with scales or horned plates and commonly reproduce by laying eggs, although some types of snakes bear live young. In Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee, reptiles are represented by the three taxonomic orders listed below.

American Alligator (Alligator mississiippiensis) [Photo: Corbin, Ginger L., U.S. FWS]

Crocodilians (order Crocodilia)
Crocodilians include animals such as alligators and crocodiles. There is one family within this order in the region.

Broad-headed Skink (Eumeces laticeps)  [Photo: Theresa Thom, U.S NPS]

Snakes and Lizards (order Squamata)
Squamates include animals such as snakes and lizards. There are nine families in within this order in the region.

Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) [Photo: Mary Hollinger, NOAA]

Tortoises and Turtles (order Testudines)
Tortoises and Turtles include animals such as terrapins, sea turtles, and pond turtles. There are seven families within this order in the region.

Ecological Importance of Reptiles
Reptiles play an important role in ecosystems as both consumers and as prey items. For example, snakes and other reptiles consume many small mammals and invertebrates, helping to balance these populations in the ecosystem. Reptiles can regulate plant growth as well. Aquatic turtles play a crucial role in regulating growth of aquatic plants, contributing to healthier aquatic ecosystems (NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, 2006). Reptiles such as snakes, lizards, and turtles are a food source for many larger predators. Reptiles such as alligators and snapping turtles will consume other reptiles, including their own species (Fuller & Somma, 2002).

Reptiles of the Southeastern United States
The southern states harbor the greatest diversity of reptiles in the U.S. In the Southeast, turtle species diversity is higher than anywhere else in the nation, along with a type of lizard called skinks that prefer the Southeast's abundant moisture (Stein, Kutner, & Adams, 2000). Water snakes of the genus Nerodia are found only in the states east of Texas. While mammalian and amphibian species diversity increases in mountainous areas, reptile species diversity is highest in the Mississippi Valley, an area lacking widespread variations in elevation (Stein et al., 2000).

Within Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee, reptile species number as follows: in Alabama, there are 85 species with one endemic species; in Mississippi, there are 82 species with one endemic species; in Tennessee, there are 58 species but no endemic species; in Kentucky, there are 53 species but no endemic species (Stein et al., 2000).

For more about reptiles of Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee, refer to the NBII catalog query for reptiles on our "Reptile Web Resources" page.

  • Fuller, P., and Somma, L.A. (2002). Macrochelys temminckii. Retrieved March 19, 2008 from USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL., Web site:
  • Integrated Taxonomic Information System [on-line database]. Available (Accessed May 2008).
  • NatureServe. 2008. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available (Accessed: May, 2008).
  • NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center. (2006). Sea Turtles Trophic Ecology. Retrieved March 19, 2008 from NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center Protected Resource Division Web site:
  • Stein, B.A., Kutner, L.S., & Adams, J.S. (Ed.). (2000). Precious Heritage: The Status of Biodiversity in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Reptile Types

    Florida worm lizard (Copyright: Siar Anthranir) Amphisbaenians
    Amphisbaenians have a worm-like appearance.
    Alligator (Mosesso, NBII Digital Image Library) Crocodilians
    Crocodilians are large reptiles with powerful limbs and tails.
    Western fence lizard (Mosesso, NBII Digital Image Library) Lizards
    Lizards are the largest and most diverse group of reptiles.
    Eastern ribbon snake (Mosesso, NBII Digital Image Library) Snakes
    Snakes are limbless and eat prey whole.
    Tuatara (Copyright Dr. Paddy Ryan) Tuatara
    Tuatara have a lizard-like appearance.
    Wood turtle (Mosesso, NBII Digital Image Library) Turtles
    Turtles have a shell, lack teeth, and lay eggs for reproduction.

    Photo Credits: Amphisbaenians - Copyright Siar Anthranir (Siar Anthranir Photography Catalog); Crocodilians, Lizards, Snakes, Turtles - John J. Mosesso (NBII Digital Image Library); Tuatara - Copyright Dr. Paddy Ryan (Ryan Photographic)

    Species Spotlight

    American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)
    American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) [Photo: Rodney Cammauf, National Park Service]

    American crocodile
    Crocodylus acutus

    Description: Males and females have armored bodies and a muscular flat tail. The strong tail helps to propel the crocodiles forward while swimming. Crocodiles have longer, more pointed snouts than alligators; also, unlike alligators, crocodiles have the fourth tooth on the lower jaw protruding from the mouth.

    Habitat: Occupies lagoons, shallow lakes, coastal mangrove swamps, marshes, and other aquatic habitats. Tends to live in nonsaline waters when not breeding. Moves to more saline water when breeding.


    Along the Caribbean coasts from southern Florida to northern South America. Also found along the Pacific Coast of Middle America.

    Status: American crocodiles are severely to rapidly declining around the world. The United States protects the American crocodile as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. One major threat to the crocodile is poaching for skins. Habitat loss is also a great threat, especially in Florida.


    NatureServe Explorer: An Online Encyclopedia of Life

    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Endangered Species Program

    Species Spotlight: Rough Green Snake

    Rough Green Snake
    Big Thicket Association

    Rough Green Snake
    Opheodrys aestivus

    Description: Plain light green, slender snake with white, cream or yellow belly. Adult length is 22-32 in. (56-81 cm). Juvenile coloration is similar to adults, but not as brightly colored. The females lay up to a dozen eggs in rotting logs or stumps during June or July. The eggs hatch in late summer. It is docile and will not bite.

    Habitat: This snake is distinctly arboreal and is found in trees, low bushes, tangles of vines, or tall grass. Often found in lush green vegetation overhanging streams and ponds and in gardens. It escapes from predators by climbing into dense vegetation for camouflage.

    Distribution: Ranges from northern Florida to southern New Jersey and west to eastern Texas, Nebraska, and Missouri.


    Florida Museum of Natural History

    Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

    The NBII Program is administered by the Biological Informatics Program of the U.S. Geological Survey
    About NBII | Accessibility Statement | NBII Disclaimer, Attribution & Privacy Statement | FOIA Logo       USGS Logo       USAgov Logo