Reptile Species found on BHI



Click below to learn more about the different species of reptiles found on Bald Head Island

American Alligator

American Alligator, Alligator mississippiensis



Identification: Alligators are large, dark reptiles with bodies covered in scutes. They are commonly mistaken for crocodiles but alligators have a ‘U’-shaped snout, while crocodiles have a more pointed ‘V’ shape. In warm areas they can grow to be sixteen feet long, with males slightly larger than females. Juvenile alligators have yellow stripes on their backs down to their tails.
 
Habitat and Habits:  Alligators live in freshwater. They visit salt water environments about once a year to rid themselves of external parasites, but they cannot tolerate extended salinity exposure. Alligator moms will carry their young on their backs until they are about 2 years of age. They will then kick their young out of the pond leaving them to find their own spots.  
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
The American alligator is a conservation success story. Once on the endangered species list, there are over one million alligators in the total population!
 
Cool Facts: 

  • Using their tails, alligators can jump up to seven feet out of the water.
  • The temperature of alligator eggs determines the newborns’ sex. 
  • Alligators propel themselves through the water with their tails.

 
On BHI:  There are about fifty alligators on Bald Head Island. A great place to look for one is the wildlife overlook off Stede Bonnet. Sign up for a Bald Head After Dark tour to look for them at night!

Broad-headed Skink

Broad-headed Skink, Plestiodon laticeps



Identification: Broad-headed skinks are built similarly to the more common five-lined skink, but with a much larger head which is orange to red. Their other coloration is much more dull; their bodies are mostly beige or gray with five lateral lines that become difficult to distinguish with age. Juveniles have bright blue tails just like young five-lined skinks.
 
Habitat and Habits: Broad-headed skinks can be found throughout the southeastern U.S., from southern Pennsylvania south to Florida and west to Texas, although they are typically not found in the Appalachian mountains. They are the most arboreal of the skinks, with adult males often preferring to live in trees found in wooded areas, swamps, or on barrier islands. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Due to their large population and resilience to human disturbances like logging, clearing, and residential development, broad-headed skinks are not particularly threatened. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Juvenile broad-headed and five-lined skinks look very similar.
  • Broad-headed skinks are the largest skink in the southeast U.S.
  • As adults they have powerful jaws that allow them to eat various invertebrates.

 
On BHI: You can find broad-headed skinks across the island, especially in open sunny areas in the forest or backyards.  
   

Eastern Glass Lizard

Eastern Glass Lizard, Ophisaurus ventralis


Identification: Eastern glass lizards are legless lizards that look almost identical to snakes if seen from far away in the forest underbrush. Legless lizards can be distinguished from snakes by their ear holes and eyelids. Their coloration is distinct - they generally have light brown to bluish-gray backs and pale yellow undersides,sometimes with a few dark stripes running along the sides. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Eastern glass lizards are infrequently seen because they are usually tucked away in thick underbrush in forested areas. They will come out onto roads to bask, however, which often leads to them getting hit by cars or golf carts. They are found from North Carolina south to Florida and west to Louisiana in the coastal plain, often found around sandy habitats such as pine forests, dunes, and wetlands.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Although they are infrequently seen, populations of glass lizards are stable; the most likely potential threat is land development of the wetland habitats they call home. They are also fairly tolerant of human disturbances. 
 
Cool Facts: 

  • When escaping from predators they break off their tail in multiple pieces.
  • Glass lizards can regrow their tails over a period of months to years.
  • Unlike some reptiles, glass lizard females are attentive to their eggs until they hatch.

 
On BHI: Be very quiet and watchful walking through the maritime forest or salt marsh hammocks and you might get lucky enough to spot one of these lizards slithering through the underbrush! Join BHI Conservancy’s Reptile Round Up to learn more.

Five-lined Skink

Five-lined Skink, Plestiodon fasciatus


Identification: This native lizard is named for the five longitudinal lines that run down its back.  They typically have a bluish-gray to black back with pale, whitish or yellow lines running down to a blue tail. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Five-lined skinks are found from Michigan and New York south to Florida and west to Texas. A related western skink species can be found across the western U.S. They are eaten by many animals, including crows, hawks, foxes, raccoons, and opossums. They may escape from predators by dropping their tails, but can regrow them later. 
 
Conservation:  Least Concern. 
 
Five-lined skinks have a widespread range and stable populations. There are no known threats to their populations as of now.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Five-lined skinks are one of the most common lizards in North America.
  • During breeding season, the throats of male five-lined skinks turn orange.
  • Juvenile five-lined skinks have brilliant blue tails that become duller as they get older.

 
On BHI: You can find these native lizards while hiking around the island - they love to live under the boardwalk at the conservancy! Check out the BHI Conservancy’s Reptile Round Up to learn more about local lizards.
   

Green Anole

Green Anole, Anolis carolinensis


Identification: This small green lizard typically grows up to 6” in length with a bright or medium-green back and white belly. When threatened, it will show off a bright red throat pouch (called a dewlap) as a sign of aggression. Green anoles may also change color (to brown) if they feel threatened or notice predators nearby. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Green anoles are arboreal, meaning they are typically found in trees.  They live throughout the southeastern United States, from southern Virginia to Florida, and west to Texas, in forested areas that are usually close to water. They are diurnal and may be seen hunting prey or basking in the sun.   
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Green anoles are highly adaptable and well-suited to changing habitats. However, more types of anoles from the Caribbean and Florida are being introduced further north, and nothing is known about how the green anole will interact with and compete with similar species. 
 
Cool Facts: 

  • Green anoles show dominance by flaring their bright dewlaps. 
  • They are called ‘American chameleons’ since they can change from green to brown.
  • They can tolerate urban habitats well and are often found basking on roofs or fences.

 
On BHI:  Green anoles can be found across the island, particularly in or near the maritime forest. Check out the BHI Conservancy’s Reptile Round Up to learn more about these local lizards.
 

Banded Water Snake

Banded Water Snake, Nerodia fasciata


Identification: Banded water snakes are non-venomous, mid-length, heavy-bodied snakes that are semi-aquatic. They are typically gray or brown with darker-colored crossbands that are larger on the snake’s back and narrower down its sides. Some morphs may be so dark that it can be difficult to distinguish the crossbanding. 
 
Habitat and Habits: These aquatic snakes are found near freshwater ponds, rivers, wetlands, swamps, and lakes. They inhabit the south-central U.S. from Indiana south to Louisiana and east to Florida. They are active both at night and during the day, and can be seen basking on logs and hunting for fish and small amphibians. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Banded water snakes are not severely threatened by habitat loss or human disturbance yet, although it may become a problem in the future. Water quality degradation is a potential problem as well. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • They are frequently mistaken for copperheads because of their coloration. 
  • When threatened, they will flatten their bodies and emit a foul-smelling musk.
  • Unlike most snakes, banded water snakes give birth to live young istead of laying eggs. 

 
On BHI: You might be able to spot these snakes around the freshwater ponds on the golf course or on Stede Bonnet Wynd. Check out the BHI Conservancy’s Reptile Round Up to learn more about local snakes.

Black Racer

Black Racer, Coluber constrictor


Identification: There are two subspecies of black racer snakes: northern and southern. They are long, slender snakes that can reach up to seventy inches and are non-venomous. Black racers have black backs, gray/black bellies, and bright white scales right under their jaw and on their throat. 
 
Habitat and Habits: They are found throughout the southeastern U.S. in several different habitats including open fields, forests, and edges of wetlands. They are diurnal and use their eyesight to hunt, so they are usually seen foraging in the underbrush during the day. Black racers are fast and agile hunters that eat a large variety of prey. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
These snakes are common, but habitat loss due to development is always a potential threat, just as it is for many other snake species. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Young black racers are tan with blotchy patterns down their back resembling rat snakes.
  • Raptors, king snakes, and some mammals are common predators of black racers. 
  • They are not aggressive and will usually slither away quickly when approached. 

 
On BHI: Look along the road in the morning to catch a glimpse of black racer snakes basking in the sun, but be careful not to hit them!  Check out the BHI Conservancy’s Reptile Round Up to learn more about local snakes.

Black Rat Snake

Black Rat Snake, Pantherophis obsoletus


Identification: The black rat snake is a medium length (three to five feet), common, non-venomous snake with a black back and a white/gray underside and chin. It can easily be mistaken for a black racer, but black racers have a white patch under their chin only, rather than an entirely white underside. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Black rat snakes are found throughout the central and southeast U.S. from southern New England and southern Michigan to Florida. They are excellent climbers that prefer wooded areas, although they can live in habitats such as rocky hillsides and flat, open farmland as well.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Black rat snakes are common snakes that can live in many different habitats and eat a variety of prey. Development of forest areas may be a potential threat, however. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • When threatened, black rat snakes will kink themselves up and remain motionless.
  • They are one of the most common large snakes found in urban and suburban areas.
  • They are one of the most common predators of wood duck eggs. 

 
On BHI: Look for black rat snakes in the maritime forest or salt marsh hammocks.  They may also be seen sunning themselves on roads near the forest in the early mornings. Check out the BHI Conservancy’s Reptile Round Up to learn more about local snakes.
 

Eastern Coachwhip

Eastern Coachwhip, Masticophis flagellum


Identification: One of the largest native snakes in North America, coachwhips can reach up to eight feet, but are usually around five feet in length. They have long, thin bodies and get their name from their tails, which resemble a braided whip. Their coloration can vary, though most have a dark body transitioning to a lighter-colored tail with two longitudinal rows of dark spots running along their undersides. Very dark morphs may be mistaken for black racers. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Coachwhips are found throughout the southern U.S. from the Atlantic to Pacific coasts. They can live in a variety of habitats but prefer open, sandy areas such as dunes or open roadsides. They have a varied diet, including small birds, rodents, and lizards. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Coachwhips have no known major threats. They could potentially be hurt by habitat loss due to development, but they have a large range which makes this unlikely. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • The largest coachwhip ever measured was 102 inches long.
  • Unlike many other snakes, coachwhips are often active in extremely hot weather.
  • They can reach speeds of up to four miles per hour on the ground and can climb. 

 
On BHI: Look for coachwhips in the sand dunes and open areas near the maritime forest.  Check out the BHI Conservancy’s Reptile Round Up to learn more about local snakes.

Corn Snake

Corn Snake, Pantherophis guttatus


Identification: Corn snakes have a reddish-brown back with irregular splotches of darker brown or gray all the way down their tails. Their bellies are pale white with black or dark gray patches that resemble a checkerboard. They are non-venomous snakes, so their heads are small and roughly triangular-shaped, but not widely triangular like the heads of venom-producing species. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Corn snakes are found across the eastern and southeastern part of the U.S. from southern New Jersey all the way down to Louisiana and Florida. They can live in many different environments, but particularly like dry, pine forests. They hunt for rodents that they can strangle with their muscular bodies before swallowing them whole. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Corn snakes are common in the pet trade. They are taken from their native habitat and many people who keep them as pets do not understand how to feed and care for them properly, leading them to become malnourished.   
 
Cool Facts:

  • They are named for the checkered pattern on their underside that looks like Indian corn.
  • Corn snakes use their forked tongues to taste the air looking for food.
  • Corn snakes “hear” by feeling vibrations with the bones in their jaw. 

 
On BHI:  If you’re quiet and careful, you might be able to spot one in the maritime forest around the island. Otherwise, stop by the BHI Conservancy to visit the resident corn snakes. 

Grey Rat Snake

Grey Rat Snake, Pantherophis spiloides


Identification: Like other rat snakes, the gray rat snake is a non-venomous, long, slender snake. Their general appearance is pale gray on the back with dark, gray-brown patches that span their bodies. Coloration can vary among individuals, and similar to other rat snakes, they will have a checkerboard pattern of black and white scales on their underside. They also have a dark band from the eye to the back of the jaw.
 
Habitat and Habits: Mostly active at night, this snake preys on lizards, frogs, birds and their eggs, and some rodents. Gray rat snakes are good climbers and quite agile snakes. They can be found in many different habitats including swamps, pine forests, marshes, open fields or residential areas. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Gray rat snakes have a large range and can live in many different habitats, including those in disturbed areas, so they do not have many major threats beyond general habitat degradation.  Like other snake species, however, being run over by cars and golf carts while they are basking can be a problem. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Female gray rat snakes can lay between five and twenty-seven eggs.
  • Their color and pattern resembles the juvenile coloration of several other rat snakes.
  • If cornered they may coil and strike, but they are more likely to play dead than fight back.

 
On BHI: Look along the road in the morning for basking gray rat snakes, or check open clearings in the forest or fields.  Check out the BHI Conservancy’s Reptile Round Up to learn more about local snakes.

Rough Green Snake

Rough Green Snake, Opheodrys aestivus


Identification:  Rough green snakes are bright green with yellow bellies. They are agile climbers because their bellies have rough scales that increase their traction. They tend to be long, thin snakes that can reach forty-five inches in length. They are nonvenomous snakes and rarely bite. 
 
Habitat and Habits: Found throughout the southeastern U.S., the rough green snake is commonly seen in forested areas near water. They are arboreal snakes that eat insects including crickets and spiders.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
No major threats to this species are known, although habitat loss due to development could be a potential threat. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • They are diurnal and coil up in trees to sleep at night. 
  • They have a home range of about sixty-seven meters, but are not territorial. 
  • Rough green snakes have extraordinary vision which helps them hunt live prey.

 
On BHI:  Look in the maritime forest to find these snakes, or come to a Reptile Round Up at the BHI Conservancy to learn more about local snakes.   

Green Tree Frog

Green Tree Frog, Hyla cinerea 


Identification: These frogs have light green backs and cream or white-colored bellies. They can be up to two inches long. Males have crinkles under their necks and are slightly smaller than females. Green tree frogs are difficult to distinguish from squirrel tree frogs; the only way to tell is the appearance of light yellow spots on the underside of green tree frogs.
 
Habitat and Habits: Tree frogs live around fresh water and prefer areas with ample vegetation both in and around the water. These frogs like to climb and eat insects as they go, rather than jumping on the ground to catch their food. They are most active at night and when it rains.    
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Because frogs are amphibians that breathe through their skin, they are common indicator species for the environments in which they live. This means that frogs are usually one of the first species to die as a result of environmental change. Changes might include anything from the introduction of pollutants to rising water and air temperatures. Populations numbers are therefore reflective of environmental health; lots of frogs means that an area is healthy while fewer frogs can indicate a more unhealthy environment.
 
Cool Facts:  

  • They can change color from dark to light green depending on temperature and wellness.
  • The green tree frog is the state amphibian of Louisiana and Georgia.
  • Green tree frogs can live for up to three years.

 
On BHI: Green tree frogs can be found anywhere from backyards, to the golf course, to the wildlife overlook. Join BHI Conservancy on Bald Head After Dark to learn more about their calls and take part in frog spotting.
   

Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad

Eastern Narrow-mouthed Toad, Gastrophryne carolinensis


Identification: Narrow-mouthed toads are small, flat frogs that range from gray to brown in color. Their color can change day to day with the mood of the frog and they usually have heavily-mottled undersides. These frogs are usually about 1.5 inches in length. 
 
Habitat and Habits: These toads generally live under logs and coverboards. They can be found around freshwater and live mostly in lower elevation regions. They eat a lot of insects; ants in particular are a favorite of Eastern narrow-mouthed toads. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Eastern narrow-mouthed toads currently have stable populations and are not facing any major threats. However, like other toads, they are affected by water quality, and numbers can quickly decrease in polluted environments.
 
Cool Facts: 

  • Their call is often described as a buzzing sound similar to those made by bees.
  • The males will call from sheltered areas to attract females.
  • They secrete mucus that can irritate human eyes.

 
On BHI: Narrow-mouthed toads can be found anywhere from backyards, to the golf course, to the wildlife overlook. Join BHI Conservancy on Bald Head After Dark to learn more about their calls and take part in frog spotting.   

Spring Peeper

Spring Peeper,  Pseudacris crucifer


Identification: Spring peepers are small tan to brown frogs. They have a dark ‘x’ mark on their back, though it can be indistinct.  They have large toe pads on their long toes, and usually grow 1-1.5 inches long.
 
Habitat and Habits: Spring peepers prefer to live in forests near wetlands. They need to be near water because they are born as tadpoles and can inhabit areas near marshes, ponds, or swamps. In the north, they periodically freeze in the winter during hibernation. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Spring peepers have a large population and range, as well as many subpopulations. Because they do not do well in urban areas, habitat loss is a potential future threat to these frogs. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • Spring peepers are named for the chirping calls they make in early spring.
  • Only the males can call. They do so to attract mates.
  • Groups of spring peepers are called armies.

 
On BHI: Spring peepers can be found anywhere from backyards, to the golf course, to the wildlife overlook. Join BHI Conservancy on Bald Head After Dark to learn more about their calls and take part in frog spotting.  
 

Southern Leopard Frog

Southern Leopard Frog, Lithobates sphenocephalus


Identification: The southern leopard frog is a green or brown frog with yellow ridges along its back. They have darkened spots on their backs and light spots on their ear drums. They can grow up to five inches long, with males having slightly larger forearms than females.
 
Habitat and Habits: These frogs usually live in or near freshwater, but you can sometimes find them in the salt marsh near brackish water. They live close to the water when breeding, but can live on dry land for long periods of time. They tend to be nocturnal but will come out during rainfall. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Because frogs are amphibians that breathe through their skin, they are common indicator species for the environments in which they live. This means that frogs are usually one of the first species to die as a result of environmental change. Changes might include anything from the introduction of pollutants to rising water and air temperatures. Populations numbers are therefore reflective of environmental health; lots of frogs means that an area is healthy while fewer frogs can indicate a more unhealthy environment.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Females can lay up to 4,000 eggs in a mass.
  • The male's vocal sacs are spherical when inflated to call.
  • The dish “frog legs” almost always is made from southern leopard frogs.

 
On BHI: Frogs are nocturnal animals, so you can usually find them around water sources at night. Join BHI Conservancy on Bald Head After Dark for a chance to see them and much more!

 

Southern Toad

Southern Toad,  Anaxyrus terrestris



Identification: Southern toads are about three inches long, with females being slightly larger than males. They are often brown and mottled, but can be red, gray or black. Warts cover their body and their skin is dry.
 
Habitat and Habits: Southern toads tend to be nocturnal, burrowing during the day in sandy soil. Just after a heavy rainfall, males will call to begin the mating process. During the colder months they become inactive, staying in their borrows throughout the day and night. 
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
These toads are abundant throughout their range. There is no current need for conservation efforts. Only in Florida where cane toads are present is there a decline in the population. 
 
Cool Facts:

  • The eggs only take two days to hatch into tadpoles.
  • They have poisonous glands on both sides of their necks.
  • These toads seem to enjoy living in suburban areas where people attract bugs.

 
On BHI: Frogs and toads are prevalent at night on Bald Head around any of the freshwater ponds on the island. Join BHI Conservancy on Bald Head After Dark to go frog hunting!

Squirrel Treefrog

Squirrel Treefrog, Hyla squirella



Identification: Squirrel tree frogs look similar to green tree frogs. They tend to be green with a whitish underside, but are capable of changing colors to camoflage themselves. They can grow up to 1.5 inches long.  
 
Habitat and Habits: Tree frogs live around fresh water and prefer areas with ample vegetation both in and around the water. These frogs like to climb and eat insects as they go, rather than jumping on the ground to catch their food. They are most active at night and when it rains.  
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Because frogs are amphibians that breathe through their skin, they are common indicator species for the environments in which they live. This means that frogs are usually one of the first species to die as a result of environmental change. Changes might include anything from the introduction of pollutants to rising water and air temperatures. Populations numbers are therefore reflective of environmental health; lots of frogs means that an area is healthy while fewer frogs can indicate a more unhealthy environment.
 
Cool Facts:

  • It is often called the “rain frog” because of its affinity for calling during the rain.
  • Its call is repeated fifteen to twenty times in ten seconds.
  • ‘Hyla’ means belonging to the woods.

 
On BHI: Squirrel tree frogs can be found anywhere from backyards, to the golf course, to the wildlife overlook. Join BHI Conservancy on Bald Head After Dark to learn more about their calls and take part in frog spotting.

 

Common Snapping Turtle

Common Snapping Turtle, Chelydra serpentina


Identification: Common snapping turtles range in color from olive green to brown to black. Their carapace can grow to fourteen inches in length and is unique for the three rows of serrated keels near the tail of the turtle. Snapping turtles also have relatively large heads and tails compared to other freshwater turtles.
 
Habitat and Habits: The common snapping turtle can be found throughout the eastern U. S. and can inhabit nearly any body of freshwater. Some have even been found in brackish bodies of water. Snapping turtles’ strong jaws allow them to eat a wide variety of organisms ranging from birds to fish to aquatic plants. They are more aggressive than other reptiles and breed in the summer months.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Threats to the common snapping turtle include hunting, habitat loss, and habitat fragmentation. Many are killed trying to cross roads.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Snapping turtles can live to be thirty years old.
  • Snapping turtles can weigh more than thirty-five pounds.
  • They can lure in fish for prey using a projection that looks like a worm on their tongue.

 
On BHI: Look for snapping turtles in the freshwater ponds on the island or even in the brackish water salt marsh. Check out the BHI Conservancy’s Reptile Round Up to learn more about local turtles.

 

Diamondback Terrapin

Diamondback Terrapin, Malaclemys terrapin


Identification: White or gray skin with black speckles and spots is the most obvious trademark of the diamondback terrapin. The species gets its name from the pattern of thin, concentric circles on their scutes that resemble diamonds. Many terrapins are also yellow on the underside of their shell, the plastron.
 
Habitat and Habits: Diamondback terrapins live in brackish water. These turtles eat small crustaceans like fiddler crabs as well as fish. Female terrapins will come up on land in early May-June to lay their eggs. Then they return to the marsh, leaving their eggs behind to hatch and the babies to find their own way to the marsh. 
 
Conservation: Vulnerable. 
 
Terrapins are frequently caught in crab traps, which prevent them from reaching the surface to breathe, and can cause them to drown. In many areas, cars can also be a major threat for nesting terrapins who cross busy roads to get to soft sand for nesting. 
 
Cool Facts: 

  • This is the only terrapin native to the United States.
  • These turtles hibernate in the winter by burying themselves in mud.
  • Diamondback terrapins were once harvested and eaten in terrapin soup. 

 
On BHI:  You can find these unique turtles in the salt marsh anywhere on Bald Head Island!  For a closer look, join BHI Conservancy for a Kayaking the Creeks in the afternoon or evening. Or visit the BHI Conservancy campus to meet the resident terrapin.
 

Eastern Box Turtle

Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina carolina


Identification: Although their top shell (called the carapace) varies in color, it is always dome shaped. Eastern box turtles have a hinge on their lower shell (called the plastron), which is usually brown or black. Their have four claw-like projections on their hind legs that help them to walk. Males and females can be differentiated using eye color; males have red/orange eyes while females’ eyes are brown.
 
Habitat and Habits: Eastern box turtles are most often found on land near wooded areas, but can seek refuge from high temperatures in small bodies of freshwater. They are omnivores and can breed in every season except winter, with females laying clutches of four eggs, on average.
 
Conservation: Vulnerable. Humans are the largest threat to box turtles. Habitat degradation and fragmentation by humans limits the resources available to turtles, while many are killed by vehicles and pesticides. They are often taken from the wild and turned into pets, which is an additional reason for their population decline.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Its named after the turtle’s ability to close the shell, protecting limbs from predators.
  • Young eastern box turtles are too large to completely enclose themselves in their shells.
  • Box turtle hatchlings can overwinter in the ground.

 
On BHI: Look for eastern box turtles in the maritime forest, or stop by the BHI Conservancy to visit the resident box turtles and check out the BHI Conservancy’s Reptile Round Up to learn more about local turtles.

Eastern Mud Turtle

Eastern Mud Turtle, Kinosternon subrubrum


Identification: Eastern mud turtles are small, brown, oval-shaped turtles that only grow to about four inches. They have two hinges on their plastron, which is yellowish brown in color.  A yellow stripe may also be apparent on their heads.
 
Habitat and Habits: Eastern mud turtles live in shallow, slow moving bodies of water like ponds and wetlands, but can sometimes be found on land. They are omnivorous, and prefer bodies of water with dense vegetation. The female only lays one clutch per year, which usually contains between two and five eggs.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
The coloration of these turtles help them avoid predators and capture by humans for pet trade.
 
Cool Facts:

  • They can tolerate small amounts of salinity.
  • Young hatch in fall, overwinter in the nest during winter, and emerge in spring.
  • Eastern mud turtles are named for the color of their young, which are red-orange at birth.

 
On BHI: Come to the BHI Cnservancy to visit the resident eastern mud turtle or take a look in the freshwater ponds on the island. Then check out the BHI Conservancy’s Reptile Round Up to learn more about local turtles.

Green Sea Turtle

Green Sea Turtle, Chelonia mydas


Identification: Green sea turtles can grow up to four feet and 500 pounds. They usually have a streaky brown carapace and a yellow-white plastron. Where some sea turtle have five distal scutes, the green sea turtle has only four with five along the center of the shell.
 
Habitat and Habits: Green sea turtles are a species found all around the world. They have nested in over eighty countries, but can be found in tropical waters during non-nesting periods. They consume sea grasses and are known as the lawnmowers of the ocean. Green sea turtles crawl onto beaches at night to nest, laying about 100 eggs in a nesting chamber before camouflaging the nest and returning to the ocean.
 
Conservation: Endangered.
 
Pollution, hunting, bycatch, and beach erosion are all factors contributing to the green sea turtle’s decline.
 
Cool Facts:

  • They are named for an internal layer of green fat that results from their sea-grass diet.
  • The Green sea turtle is the largest hardshell sea turtle.
  • Green sea turtles can swim up to thirty-five miles per hour.

 
On BHI: Green sea turtles occasionally nest on our beaches in the early part of the summer. By becoming a member of the BHI Conservancy you will have an opprotuntiy to attend a Turtle Walk to potentially see a nesting event.

Leatherback Sea Turtle

Leatherback Sea Turtle, Dermochelys coriacea


Identification:  Leatherback sea turtles are massive, growing up to eight feet and 2,000 pounds. Their shell structure is also unique. Leatherbacks have a softer, keratinized structure covered by a leather shell and are known as soft-shelled sea turtles.
 
Habitat and Habits:  Leatherbacks have the widest range of all sea turtles, inhabiting the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. They mainly wander, but migrate to the tropics to mate. Their diet is primarily jellyfish as they have special structures in their mouths to force jellies into their stomach.
 
Conservation:  Vulnerable.
 
Leatherback populations are threatened by plastic pollution because they often mistake plastic for their favorite food - jellyfish. Bycatch, beach erosion, and climate change are other factors contributing to their decline.
 
Cool Facts:

  • They can dive deeper than 4,000 feet because of their specialized shell structure.
  • They can eat more than their body weight in jellyfish during feeding periods.
  • Leatherbacks can travel more than 12,000 miles.

 
On BHI:  A leatherback turtle nested on Fort Fisher in 2010, and they can be found in the waters off of Bald Head Island. Learn more about this species of sea turtles on Sea Turtles of BHI.

 

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Caretta caretta


Identification: Loggerheads are named for their large, cylindrical heads. They usually grow to three feet long and three feet wide, and weigh about 300 pounds. Their carapace is reddish-brown and usually contains five lateral scutes on each side while their plastron is yellow.
 
Habitat and Habits: Loggerheads live in all oceans, excluding the arctic, and typically prefer to live in coastal regions rather than the deep sea. Their diet is influenced by their strong jaws, allowing them to consume crustaceans with hard shells. Female loggerheads can store sperm, allowing them to lay nests of 100-120 eggs three to six times per nesting year. Usually, females take two to four years off before nesting again.
 
Conservation:  Endangered.
 
Similar to other sea turtles, loggerhead populations are declining because of climate change, pollution, beach erosion and development, poaching, and fishery bycatch.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Only 1 in 1000 sea turtles will live to sexual maturity.
  • The sex of loggerhead hatchlings is determined by the temperature of the nest.
  • Loggerheads are known to repeatedly nest on the beach where they were born.

 
On BHI: The loggerhead sea turtle is the most common beach nester. By becoming a member of the BHI Conservancy you will have an opprotuntiy to attend a Turtle Walk to potentially see a nesting event.

Yellow-bellied Slider

Yellow-bellied Slider, Trachemys scripta scripta


Identification: Yellow-bellied sliders are named for the bright yellow stripes on their appendages and their bright yellow plastron, as well as their tendency to slide off of logs and rocks when they are disturbed. Their carapaces are fairly flat and they have slightly webbed feet. Males grow to about eight inches while females are larger, reaching lengths of about eleven inches.
 
Habitat and Habits: Yellow-bellied sliders live in freshwater ponds and are mainly carnivorous when young, becoming more omnivorous as they age.  Like other reptiles, these turtles lay eggs on land.  Nests usually contain 5-20 eggs and females can lay them up to three times per year.
 
Conservation: Least Concern.
 
Although yellow-bellied sliders are affected by habitat fragmentation and pollution, no significant effects have been found on the overall population thus far.
 
Cool Facts:

  • Females may travel over one kilometer (0.62 miles) to find a suitable nesting spot.
  • Male sliders use their long fingernails to convince females to mate with them.
  • These turtles can live for more than twenty-five years.

 
On BHI: You can find these turtles in freshwater ponds around the island, especially at the Wildlife Overlook. Visit BHI Conservancy’s resident yellow-bellied slider in the Fleming classroom. Then check out the BHI Conservancy’s Reptile Round Up to learn more about local turtles.