By Roger Williams Park Zoo, Education Department
Summer is great time to go on a reptile watch. There are fun things to discover right in your own backyard! Throughout New England, you can find reptiles in almost any habitat — from ponds, to meadows, to forests.Â Types of reptiles include snakes, lizards, turtles, tortoises, alligators and crocodiles. In New England you are most likely to spot a turtle or a snake.
Reptiles are covered in scales, lay eggs, and use lungs to breathe air. They are also cold-blooded, which means that their body temperature is determined by the air around them (not that their blood is actually cold).Â Knowing this makes reptiles easier to find. In the summer, early in the morning is the best time look.Â At mid-day, you can lure reptiles to your yard by simply placing a piece of plywood on the grass. Snakes and turtles may hide under there to keep cool in the heat.
Looking for Turtles
To find turtles, head to your nearest pond, lake or river. Depending on the time and heat of the day you can look for turtles on rocks or in the water. The easiest to identify will be the painted turtle and the snapping turtle. Painted turtles are about 6-10” in length. They have a dark, stream-lined shell, and are distinguished by yellow and orange streaks on their faces and bodies. Snapping turtles are most likely the largest turtles you’ll find on your watch — usually growing over a foot in length! Out of the water you’ll be able to see the long tail of the snapper — sometimes growing as long as the turtle’s shell.
Looking for Snakes
In your backyard, you are most likely to come across a garter snake. These snakes range in color, but you can usually identify them by a thin yellow or tan stripe running the length of their back.Â Garter snakes are rarely aggressive and will happily spend the day feeding on nearby earthworms and amphibians or basking in the warmth of your drive way.
Now that you know what you’re looking for, you’re ready to go on a reptile watch! When you find a reptile, remember that the best way to observe is to stay quiet, move slowly and keep a respectable distance from the animal. Reptiles prefer to be left alone and any loud noises or quick movements may startle them, causing them to bite in self-defense.
For more information about animals in their natural habitat, visit Roger William’s Park Zoo located at 1000 Elmwood Avenue. Providence, RI.