Sorting out the State Reptile Mess

A while back, I stumbled across a great piece by Nicholas Lund, of The Birdist, about the official bird of each state.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lund’s take on the subject, even if he was objectively wrong on some of the finer points (case in point, mockingbirds are amazing).

That aside, I couldn’t help but agree with the basic thrust of the piece: Most of the states made pretty bad selections.

My interest piqued, I began wondering what the list of state reptiles looks like.

It was not pretty.

Image from Unsplash.

As It Stands: Official State Reptiles of the United States

Just for clarity, let’s take a peak at the list as currently construed:

  1. Alabama – Alabama red-bellied turtle (Pseudemys alabamensis)
  2. Alaska – No designation
  3. Arizona – Arizona ridge-nosed rattler (Crotalus willardi willardi)
  4. Arkansas – No designation
  5. California – Desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
  6. Colorado — Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta)
  7. Connecticut – No designation
  8. Delaware – No designation
  9. Florida – American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
  10. Georgia – Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)
  11. Hawaii – No designation
  12. Idaho – No designation
  13. Illinois – Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta)
  14. Indiana – No designation
  15. Iowa – No designation
  16. Kansas – Ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata)
  17. Kentucky – No designation
  18. Louisiana – American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
  19. Maine – No designation
  20. Maryland – Diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin)
  21. Massachusetts – Garter snake (Thamnophis sp.)
  22. Michigan – Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta)
  23. Minnesota – No designation
  24. Mississippi — American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
  25. Missouri – Three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis)
  26. Montana – No designation
  27. Nebraska – No designation
  28. Nevada — Desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
  29. New Hampshire – No designation
  30. New Jersey – No designation
  31. New Mexico – New Mexico whiptail lizard (Cnemidophorus neomexicanus)
  32. New York – Common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
  33. North Carolina – Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)
  34. North Dakota – No designation
  35. Ohio – Northern black racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor)
  36. Oklahoma – Eastern collared lizard (Crotophytus collaris)
  37. Oregon – No designation
  38. Pennsylvania – No designation
  39. Rhode Island – No designation
  40. South Carolina – Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)
  41. South Dakota – No designation
  42. Tennessee — Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)
  43. Texas – Texas horned lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum)
  44. Utah – No designation
  45. Vermont – Painted turtle (Chrysemys picta)
  46. Virginia – No designation
  47. Washington – No designation
  48. West Virginia – Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus).
  49. Wisconsin — No designation
  50. Wyoming – Horned lizard (Phrynosoma sp.)

While a few states got it right, the list is full of choices that are either boring, uninspiring or just plain odd. And as you likely noticed, 24 states could not even be bothered to recognize an official state reptile.

We’ll address the problems that already exist before moving on to the states that haven’t identified an official scaly critter. But first, we need to agree on the characteristics that make for a good state reptile.

Image from Unsplash.

Criteria: What Makes a Good State Reptile?

Ideally, reptilian ambassadors should be charismatic, geographically relevant and ecologically important.

Bonus points go to states that select species of particular conservation concern, as the official designation helps spread awareness of the challenges facing these species.

Additionally – and I really shouldn’t have to come out and say this, but here goes – duplicates are not allowed.

Part of the whole reason we select things like state reptiles, birds and flowers is for meaningless state pride! How can you properly ridicule another state that shares your official reptile?

So, since some of the states can’t seem to act like grownups, I am going to have to do it for them. First, let’s deal with the duplicates.

Resolving the Redundancies

Image from Pixabay.

North Carolina and Tennessee both claim the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina), but neither of them are keeping it.

North Carolina gets a personal favorite, as I’m giving them the cottonmouth or water moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus). Native to the eastern portion of the state, water moccasins are much maligned, but these generalist predators play important roles in local ecosystems.

Tennessee is getting a pretty cool animal too, but I need to first chastise the state for selecting the box turtle some 16 years after North Carolina had already called dibs.

I applaud the choice of the box turtle in the abstract, but it’s really unforgivable that they copied North Carolina — particularly so, given that Tennessee doesn’t face the same diversity shortage that, say, Idaho or North Dakota do. There are tons of cool reptiles living within the state’s borders.

Admonishment over, I’m giving Tennessee the slender glass lizard (Ophisaurus attenuatus).

One of a handful of legless lizard species native to the U.S., the slender glass lizard is classified as “In Need of Management” by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Official recognition should help raise awareness of these lizards and aid in the state’s protection efforts.

California and Nevada both selected the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) as their state reptile. The tortoise itself isn’t a terrible choice; it’s mildly charismatic, important to the local ecosystems and listed as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species.

But, only one state can have it.

I am giving it to Nevada. Partially to shame California, who shouldn’t have picked the tortoise in the first place.

But apparently, the all-powerful tortoise lobby got involved, as they’re want to do, and those big chelonian lobby dollars started flowing. This obviously caused California to forget all about the San Francisco garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia) — the species I’m now assigning the state.

Never mind the fact that these snakes are gorgeous, and skip over the federal protection they enjoy — these serpents are NAMED AFTER ONE OF YOUR CITIES.

For shame, California, for shame.

Image from Pixabay.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, three different states – Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi – all selected the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) as their official reptile.

All three states can make a reasonable case for the animal, but only one can have it, so Mississippi keeps the gator. The animal is named after the state, after all.

I don’t want to punish Florida (at least, not for this — there are plenty of reasons to penalize the Sunshine State), so they get another crocodilian, the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus).

As a diehard fan of the Atlanta Falcons (particularly Deion Jones, heh heh), it pains me to give Louisiana such an awesome animal, but they get the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii).

Gargantuan denizens of the bayou, alligator snapping turtles are perhaps best-known for their lure-like tongues, which they use to entice fish into their waiting jaws.

Most of the duplicates mentioned thus far are bad, without being terrible. But buckle up, because we are now moving on to the most egregious offenders.

Vermont, Michigan, Illinois and Colorado are all fighting over (or worse yet, content to share) the parakeet of the reptile world – the painted turtle (Chrysemys picta).

There’s nothing really wrong with painted turtles, but they aren’t a compelling choice for any of the four states.

Vermont should have selected the adorable and endangered spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata), while Michigan should have opted for the wetland-stalking copperbelly water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta), which is endangered in the state. As far as I’m concerned, these are the now the official reptiles for both states, so spread the word.

Illinois and Colorado both get lucky, as I’m giving them both rattlesnakes. The Land of Lincoln gets the small rattlesnake known as the massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus), while The Centennial State gets the prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis).

Image from Wikipedia.

The Good, the Bad and the Meh

Duplicate entries now addressed, we can start sifting through the selections the remaining 15 states picked. Some of these selections are actually pretty good, but others, well, not so much.

States That Picked Good Official Reptiles

Starting with the good, New Mexico, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia and West Virginia knocked it out of the park. South Carolina, Texas and New York also did pretty well for themselves.

Most of these states chose animals with special relevance to their geographic region, and several of the selected species are experiencing population declines too.

Four of the states even picked animals named after their state:

  • New Mexico chose the fleet-footed New Mexico whiptail lizard (Cnemidophorus neomexicanus)
  • Arizona picked the Arizona ridge-nosed rattler (Crotalus willardi willardi)
  • Texas went with the blood-squirting Texas horned lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum)
  • Alabama picked the endemic and endangered Alabama red-bellied turtle (Pseudemys alabamensis)

These states are all keeping their choices. Kudos.

Image from Wikipedia.

West Virginia gets an emphatic slow clap for stepping up to the plate and picking the timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) — one of the coolest critters in the scaly world.

Meanwhile, my home state of Georgia gets a polite, but sincere golf clap for picking the ecosystem-creating, yet vulnerable gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus).

This is a hard choice to argue, but (as you’ll see in a minute) it means no state gets the federally protected eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi).

South Carolina selected the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), which is a pretty good choice. Also, it fits in with their coastal theme.

New York chose the common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina), which is not particularly rare or uniquely tied to the state. Nevertheless, I am pleased that they selected such an awesome creature. Its also one of the biggest predators inhabiting Central Park, so there’s that.

Image from Unsplash.

States That Picked Bad Official Reptiles

While they’re still better than those states who failed to pick anything, Ohio and Massachusetts aren’t impressing anyone with their selections.

Ohio picked the northern black racer (Coluber constrictor constrictor), while Massachusetts picked a generic (literally, as they don’t identify the species) garter snake (Thamnophis sp.).

Ugh.

There’s nothing “wrong” with the black racer, but Ohio has a much better option: the Lake Erie water snake (Nerodia sipedon insularum). A great example of a conservation success story, this species — which was formerly designated as “threatened” — is now considered common.

There are numerous reasons the Lake Erie water snake — which only inhabits the islands of its namesake lake — has celebrated a comeback. But two of these reasons are especially interesting and encouraging.

  1. Humans have started constructing shoreline structures in a way preserves — and potentially even improves — the habitat’s suitability for the snakes. Typically, stories involving humans and habitat issues feature the opposite narrative, but this is one of the few cases in which humans have made the situation better for snakes.
  2. The snakes have rolled with the round-goby punches. An invasive species that colonized the lake in the mid-90s, the round goby has outcompeted many neighboring species. But the snakes appear to have simply shifted their diets in response — the goby represents about 90% of the snakes diet, according to U.S. Fish & Wildlife.
Image from Wikipedia.

As for Massachusetts, they’re now getting the eastern rat snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis). Formerly called the black rat snake, the species has been split into three similar, but genetically distinct species.

All three species are pretty similar in broad terms. They vary in terms of color and pattern, but they are all capable of reaching 6 feet or so, they’re excellent climbers, and they all subsist primarily on birds, eggs and rodents (as adults — juveniles eat lizards and other small stuff).

I’m picking this species in large part because it deserves recognition somewhere, and Massachusetts doesn’t have any other great candidates that I haven’t already placed elsewhere. Also, it is actually quite rare in Massachusetts and listed as endangered in the state.

So, if you consider the awesomeness of the species and the conservation value official recognition would provide, I’m pretty pleased with this choice.

Image from Pixabay.

States That Picked Uninspiring Official Reptiles

The remaining states that identify a state reptile fall into the “meh” category.

Maryland went with the diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin), which isn’t a horrible choice and seems culturally relevant to the state.

Wyoming picked a generic horned lizard (Phrynosoma sp.), which would have been great if they could have been troubled to just pick a species. Oklahoma’s choice – the eastern collared lizard (Crotophytus collaris) makes sense, but leaves a little to be desired. And I say this as a fan of collared lizards.

Missouri went with the three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis), when they should have picked the coachwhip (Coluber flagellum), and Kansas picked the ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata), when they probably should have picked the Great Plains skink (Plestiodon obsoletus).

Now that we have straightened out those who at least tried to pick a state reptile, let’s move on to those who couldn’t be bothered to consider the issue.

Image from Wikipedia.

Setting Up the Slackers: States without an Official Reptile

As mentioned, 24 states didn’t even bother to identify an official state reptile, which fills me with a unique type of disdain. I tried to remain professional about this, but as you’ll see, I didn’t always succeed.

In fact, I punished some of these states for their apathy. We’ll look at each of them below, but I’ve broken them into geographic regions to make it easier to find your home state’s new reptile.

Official Reptiles of the Non-Contiguous States

We’ll start with the 49th and 50th states in the union.

There aren’t a whole lot of choices for Alaska, as only four reptiles are confirmed to live in the state. But even that is slightly disingenuous, as all four of these are sea turtles, who are occasionally spotted in the waters of the southern portions of the state.

At any rate, I am going to pick the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) for Alaska. The biggest U.S. state gets the biggest living turtle, which seems appropriate.

Moving across the Pacific, we arrive at Hawaii. While a few lizards crawl around the state’s constituent islands, they are all introduced species. The state’s last known native lizard – the copper-striped blue-tailed skink (Emoia impar) – was formally declared extinct in 2013.

Accordingly, Hawaii gets the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas). Pretty fitting for a state primarily associated with beaches.

Image from Pixabay.

Official Reptiles of the Southeast

Fortunately, only one southeastern state failed to identify an official reptile. It’s still disappointing that any southeastern state would do so, given the plethora of cool critters they could have selected.

But, it could have been worse. At any rate, let’s deal with the offenders.

Because Arkansas didn’t go to the trouble of opening a field guide and picking a snake, lizard or turtle deserving of special recognition, I’m going to dole out some punishment. I’m giving the state a noble creature that deserves inclusion, yet no state wants: the green anole (Anolis carolinensis).

Deal with it, Arkansas. Enjoy your color-changing critter.

Photo by Ben Team.

I had to have the eastern king snake (Lampropeltis getula getula) represented on the list, and Virginia seems as good a place as any to claim it.

King snakes are infamous for their snake-eating ways, but they’re interesting for a variety of other reasons, including their expansive range: They’re found (in one form or another) from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Their color patterns, habits, and size varies across this range, but they’re all relatively similar in most respects.

Sliding west, we come to Kentucky. Note that some may consider Kentucky part of the Midwest, but I’m lumping it in with the southeastern states because I was once accosted by some random resident with supernaturally strong feelings about his state’s allegiances.

Given the fact that the state didn’t select a reptile on its own, and it has burdened the country with the most infamous turtle to ever draw breath, I’m having some fun at its expense: Kentucky, you get the stinkpot (Sternotherus odoratus).

This species, which is also called the common musk turtle, is actually pretty endearing, but that’s not why I picked it for you. This is punishment, pure and simple.

Image from Wikipedia.

Official State Reptiles of the Northeast

A number of northern states failed to designate an official reptile, but unlike the southern and western states that did the same, it’s at least partially understandable why these states abstained. After all, it’s cold in the northeast, and reptiles are only active for a small time period each year.

No matter the reason for their failure to identify official reptiles, I’m designating the following snakes, lizards and turtles for the northeastern states.

Despite its northern location, Connecticut has several neat reptiles living within its borders. But because most of these have already been claimed by neighboring states, Connecticut is kind of stuck with the ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus).

Don’t get me wrong – I really like ringneck snakes, but they aren’t exactly spotted turtles or rattlesnakes.

While technically venomous animals, ringneck snakes are regarded as harmless to humans. Their venom is mild, and they’re typically unable to open their mouths wide enough to bring their small fangs into play. For that matter, they rarely even attempt to bite when handled.

Instead, these cute little snakes save their venom for their prey, which includes lizards, salamanders, invertebrates and other small snakes.

Image from Wikipedia.

Maine has a surprisingly diverse reptile fauna, given its northern location. Nevertheless, they have relatively few species that are both worthy of state reptile status and unclaimed by other states.

I gave them the smooth green snake (Opheodrys vernalis), a pretty, harmless species that has served as a reptilian ambassador for countless children.

I assigned a few reptiles simply because I wanted them to appear somewhere on the list. And that’s why I gave Rhode Island the eastern milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum).

Named for their habit of hanging out around barns (which caused farmers to mistakenly believe they were subsisting on cow’s milk), these rodent-, lizard- and snake-eating serpents are closely related to king snakes.

New Hampshire gets the wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) – a terribly endearing species, which is experiencing population declines throughout most of its range.

Image from Wikipedia.

While I did think about giving Pennsylvania the coal skink (Plestiodon anthracinus), but in the end, I decided the northern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen) was more appropriate.

Delaware has a few cool reptiles, but I needed to get the Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) somewhere on the list, and Delaware seemed as good a place as any.

New Jersey is home to a surprisingly diverse collection of native reptiles, given it’s relatively northern location. But one of the state’s most important reptiles — the bog turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii) — has been listed as endangered by the state since 1974 (they’re federally classified as “threatened”).

Though their numbers are declining, bog turtles currently inhabit three different regions in the state. This illustrates yet another example of a state that should have picked an endangered or threatened species, which would undoubtedly benefit from the increased awareness such designation would yield.

Image from Wikipedia.

Official State Reptiles of the Rocky Mountains

Alright, I’ll give a few of these states a pass, as they’re not located in the most species-rich region in the country (in terms of non-avian reptiles — they’ve got tons of cool mammals and birds).

But if you ask me, these states stand to gain even more than some others by making a selection. At any rate, here goes.

Like many of the state’s neighbors, Montana lacks a ton of reptilian diversity. So, I’m more-or-less compelled to give them the sagebrush lizard (Sceloporus graciosus). The lizards aren’t particularly charismatic, but they are important components of western sagebrush habitats and they allow us to get an important lizard genus on the list.

Idaho doesn’t have many native reptiles, but there are still a few neat species in the area, including the northern alligator lizard (Elgaria coerulea), which I’m now recognizing as the state’s official reptile.

The northern alligator lizard is one of the few U.S. representatives of the family Anguidae, as well as one of the few live bearing lizards native to the United States. So, all in all, I’m pretty pleased with this choice.

Image from Wikipedia.

Official State Reptiles of the Great Plains and Midwest

I don’t really know where the Great Plains stop and the Midwest begins, so I’m just lumping them together here. This region may not be famous for its reptilian fauna, but there are several very intriguing species that call this portion of the country home.

Nevertheless, I’ll be honest: I couldn’t always figure out a fantastic pick for some of these states. Case in point, I gave Indiana the northern map turtle (Graptemys geographica).

The northern map turtle is a fine and interesting species, but I primarily assigned it to Indiana because I couldn’t come up with anything better that wasn’t already claimed.

Want a better reptile next time, Indiana? Pick one yourself.

Image from Wikipedia.

Fox snakes are another example of a species I just wanted to include. Formerly recognized as a single species, they are now regarded as two distinct entities: the eastern fox snake (Pantherophis gloydi) and Minnesota’s new state reptile — the western fox snake (Pantherophis vulpinus).

Iowa’s native reptiles are relatively ho-hum, but they do have bullsnakes (Pituophis catenifer sayi), which are pretty bad-ass serpents.

Though harmless to humans, bullsnakes have evolved some pretty slick rattlesnake-mimicking tricks. Their color patterns look somewhat rattlesnakey, but most importantly, they vibrate their tails and hiss to mimic the sounds produced by a rattlesnake’s rattle.

Making our way back to the Midwest, we come to Nebraska.

Nebraska has an interesting collection of native reptiles, including those of both eastern and western affinities. With this in mind, the unusual lesser earless lizard (Holbrookia maculata) seems like a good fit.

No, this is not a particularly sexy choice, but it’s important to ensure we have a diverse array of official reptiles across the country. And given this lizard’s unique anatomy and the fact that it hails from yet another lizard genus, I’m reasonably pleased with this pick.

Image from Wikipedia.

While I took painted turtles away from several states earlier (mostly because there were better choices available), I am actually giving it to North Dakota.

Painted turtles are an important and widespread species found throughout the country, so they necessitate inclusion somewhere. And because North Dakota doesn’t have that many reptiles from which we can choose, they get the western painted turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii).

I am giving South Dakota the western hognose snake (Heterodon nascicus), because these bizarre serpents — who’re famous for their death-feigning defense mechanism — deserve recognition somewhere on our list. Plus, there aren’t a ton of potential choices for South Dakota anyway.

Wisconsin’s northerly location limits the number of species from which we can choose. However, it turns out that the state is home to an interesting character, who absolutely deserved inclusion on our list: the spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera).

Softshells reach pretty large sizes and typically have positively pugnacious dispositions. In fact, many laypersons are undoubtedly bitten (quite badly) every year, unaware of the species’ defensive nature.

Image from Pixabay.

Official State Reptiles of the Western States

Unsurprisingly, most of the western states designated an official reptile, as the West — particularly the Southwest — is home to quite an array of species. But a few failed to do so, which means I had to deal with them as well.

Utah lucks out and gets one of the coolest lizards in the entire country – the western chuckwalla (Sauromalus ater).

Aside from having the coolest name of any lizard in the country, the chuckwalla is a unique, American lizard that plays an ecological role that is similar to that of Africa’s uromasytx lizards (Uromastyx spp.).

The western pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata) is the only freshwater turtle native to most of the western states, and they work quite well as the state reptile for Oregon.

There aren’t that many reptile species native to the Pacific Northwest, but there is one particularly interesting character native to the region: the rubber boa (Charina bottae). The world’s most northerly boa species, rubber boas are much tinier than their tropical cousins, reaching about 2 feet in length.

So, congratulations, Washington. The rubber boa is now your state reptile.

Image from Pixabay.

The Complete List: Official State Reptiles and My Corrections

Now that we’ve been through all the states one-by-one, here is the new list of official state reptiles as decreed by yours truly.

Just to reiterate for those who may’ve stumbled upon this page while trying to complete their homework or a class project, these aren’t the actual state reptiles — they’re simply my recommendations.

So, don’t put these on a test or anything — that won’t turn out well. You can just scroll back up to the top of the page to see the ones the states actually recognize at the moment.

Just know that on the very first day after I’m elected president, we’re going with this new lineup:

  1. Alabama – Alabama red-bellied turtle (Pseudemys alabamensis)
  2. Alaska — Leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
  3. Arizona – Arizona ridge-nosed rattler (Crotalus willardi willardi)
  4. Arkansas — Green anole (Anolis carolinensis)
  5. California – San Francisco Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia)
  6. Colorado – Prairie rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis)
  7. Connecticut — Ringneck snake (Diadophis punctatus)
  8. Deleware — Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina)
  9. Florida — American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)
  10. Georgia – Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)
  11. Hawaii — Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas)
  12. Idaho — Northern alligator lizard (Elgaria coerulea)
  13. Illinois – Massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus)
  14. Indiana — Northern map turtle (Graptemys geographica)
  15. Iowa — Bullsnake (Pituophis catenifer sayi)
  16. Kansas — Great Plains skink (Plestiodon obsoletus)
  17. Kentucky – Stinkpot (Sternotherus odoratus)
  18. Louisiana — Alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii)
  19. Maine — Smooth green snake (Opheodrys vernalis)
  20. Maryland — Diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin)
  21. Massachusetts – Eastern rat snake (Pantherophis alleghaniensis)   
  22. Michigan — Copperbelly water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster neglecta
  23. Minnesota — Western fox snake (Pantherophis vulpinus)
  24. Mississippi — American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
  25. Missouri – Coachwhip (Coluber flagellum)
  26. Montana — Sagebrush lizard (Sceloporus graciosus)
  27. Nebraska — Lesser earless lizard (Holbrookia maculata)
  28. Nevada – Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
  29. New Hampshire — Wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta)
  30. New Jersey – Bog turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii)
  31. New Mexico – New Mexico whiptail lizard (Cnemidophorus neomexicanus)
  32. New York — Common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina)
  33. North Carolina – Water moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus)
  34. North Dakota — Western painted turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii)
  35. Ohio – Lake Erie water snake (Nerodia sipedon insularum)
  36. Oklahoma — Eastern collared lizard (Crotophytus collaris)
  37. Oregon — Western pond turtle (Actinemys marmorata)
  38. Pennsylvania — Northern copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen)
  39. Rhode Island — Eastern milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum)
  40. South Carolina — Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)
  41. South Dakota — Western hognose snake (Heterodon nascicus)
  42. Tennessee – Slender glass lizard (Ophisaurus attenuatus)
  43. Texas — Texas horned lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum)
  44. Utah — Western chuckwalla (Sauromalus ater)
  45. Vermont — Spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata)
  46. Virginia — Eastern king snake (Lampropeltis getula)
  47. Washington – Rubber boa (Charina bottae
  48. West Virginia – Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)
  49. Wisconsin — Spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera)
  50. Wyoming — Horned lizard (Phrynosoma sp.)
Image from Pixabay.

The Breakdown & Notable Absences

Just in case you were wondering, were we to implement my new list of official state reptiles, we’d have:

  • 2 crocodilians
  • 11 lizards
  • 19 snakes
  • 18 turtles

A couple of other noteworthy numbers:

  • The list includes four different rattlesnakes (the prairie rattlesnake, the timber rattlesnake, the Arizona ridge-nosed rattlesnake, and the massasauga).
  • The list includes three sea turtles (the leatherback, loggerhead and green sea turtles).
  • Both crocodilians native to the U.S. are represented.

I feel pretty good about these numbers, but despite my repeated attempts, I wasn’t able to find a home for a few of the most iconic species in the country.

Most of the problems revolved around southeastern snakes or southwestern lizards.

For example, I could not fit in the eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi) — an amazing, federally protected species — on the list. This is primarily because it’s only currently found in Florida and Georgia. But I gave Florida the American crocodile, and Georgia already picked the gopher tortoise.

Similarly, gila monsters (Heleoderma suspectum) and desert iguanas (Dipsosaurus dorsalis) are also incredible species, but they were left off because their states required other choices.

Another problem was the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), which absolutely deserved a spot (it only breeds along the Gulf of Mexico and western Atlantic coasts), but I couldn’t find a good state for it.

Image from Unsplash.

It’s puzzling that states don’t invest more care in their state reptile selections, given that many seem to go to great lengths to select their official tree, flower, mammal or bird.

But I’ve been fascinated by reptiles for long enough to know that this is simply the way it goes.

Many people fear reptiles, and some feel nothing but disgust when confronted with scaly creatures. To see this first hand, one need only look at the number of skid marks on the road leading to the now lifeless body of some poor snake or turtle who was simply trying to cross the street.

It’s worth trying to change these attitudes, but this isn’t an easy goal to achieve.

If we’re to have any success, we need to increase the public’s awareness of reptiles and stop the demonization of which they’re often the target.

But to do that, we’ll need to celebrate — dare I say, officially recognize — some of the country’s most interesting and important reptiles. About half of the states have done so, but only about half of these appear to have considered the issue carefully.

Maybe this will embarrass some of them into caring.

Header image from Pixabay.

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