Turtles lined up on a log, sun bathing, in Rick's Pond
Turtles lined up on a log, sun bathing, in Rick's Pond

HOSP photo N. Allen

What is a reptile?

Reptiles are air-breathing vertebrates covered in special skin made up of scales, bony plates, or a combination of both.

All regularly shed the outer layer of their skin. Their metabolism depends on the temperature of their environment.

Unlike birds and mammals, reptiles do not maintain a constant internal body temperature. Without fur or feathers for insulation, they cannot stay warm on a cold day, and without sweat glands or the ability to pant, they cannot cool off on a hot one. Instead, they move into the sun or into the shade as needed. During cooler parts of the year they become inactive. Because of their slow metabolism and heat-seeking behavior, reptiles are cold-blooded.

Arkansas’s reptilian biodiversity includes four groups:

  • Turtles

  • Lizards

  • Snakes

  • American Alligator

Hot Springs National Park is home to only three of these groups: turtles, lizards, and snakes. They all play an important role in the park’s ecosystems.The park is home to eighteen different species of turtles, including the three toed and the ornate box turtles, snapping turtles, red eared sliders, and others.Lizard species include five different types of skinks, the Western Slender Glass lizard, Northern Fence lizard and the Green Anole.There are twenty-eight species of snakes in the park, including five venomous species. The most common of these is the copperhead, but timber and western diamond back rattlesnakes, pygmy rattlesnakes and water moccasins may also be found.

For a description of several of the most popular reptiles in the park, visit this page.
Three-toed Box Turtle (Terrapene triunguis)
A yellow spotted turtle walking on the trail of Hot Springs National Park.

HOSP photo


There are eighteen species and subspecies of turtles known to occur in Hot Springs National Park. These turtles have a variety of common names, including painted, chicken, map, box, mud, and musk turtles, and sliders, cooters, snappers, and softshells.
Turtles are easily identified by their bony or cartilaginous shells. This shell helps protect turtles from predators and is developed from their rib bones.All turtles lay eggs on land. Females are particular about where they lay and bury their eggs and may travel long distances overland to find a suitable location. Most turtles select well drained, sandy, or loose soil to deposit their eggs, and the site usually faces south or southeast.
Turtle eggs may be hard- or soft-shelled, round or elongated, depending on the species. Stinkpots, mud turtles, and soft shells lay hard-shelled eggs containing a large amount of calcium in the eggshell. Other species lay soft, leathery-shelled eggs with a proportionately lower amount of calcium in the shell. The largest species of turtles all lay spherical eggs: alligator snapping turtles, common snapping turtle, and soft shells. All the rest lay elongated eggs. Freshwater turtles live in ponds and lakes, and they climb out of the water onto logs or rocks to bask in the warm sun.Turtle eggs hatch either in late summer or in early fall, or the young turtles may remain in the egg or nest all winter and emerge in the spring.

Skink eating a bug
Five Line Skink eating a bug on a tree stump.

HOSP photo Mitch Smith


Eight species of lizards have been recorded in the park; their common names include fence lizards; skinks; and Green Anole. Skinks are among the most common lizards; there are five different species of skinks that share several features. All of which are harmless and nonvenomous.
Like other reptiles, lizards are ectothermal, or cold-blooded. They are closely related to snakes, and some even look and behave just like snakes.Most lizards are long, slender reptiles with scales, a long tail, and four legs with claws on their toes. They are different from snakes because they have legs, ear openings, and eyelids. As with other animals, there are exceptions.

Northern Rough Greensnake hanging in a low hanging limb over water.
A Northern Greensnake hanging from a limb over Gulpha Creek.

HOSP photo N.Allen


Arkansas has approximately 40 species of snakes and 28 of them can be found in the park. Of those, only 5 species are venomous snakes.Snakes are possibly the most inspiring and feared of all of reptiles in the park. Snakes can both instill terror and fright and initiate great interest and fascination. The public has little knowledge of all the species and subspecies that dwell within the park’s borders. Although attention is primarily given to the 5 venomous species, many of the snakes are non-venomous and seldom seen.Snakes come in various forms, colors, and sizes.
Snakes have a strictly carnivorous diet. Snakes have the unique ability to greatly expand their mouth’s gape and consume prey that are much broader than their own bodies. A detachable lower jaw and flexibility among skull bones assist in the swallowing process. Some snakes use asphyxiation (condition of being unable to breathe) by constriction to subdue their prey following capture, yet snakes, as a group, are best known for their ability to envenomate (to inject venom into) prey.When you’re learning to identify snakes, there are a few things you need to bear in mind. Specifically, these are:

  • The animal’s length

  • Its head and pupil shape

  • Its pattern and coloration

  • Its habitat type and geographic locality

The length of the snake is important because they can strike upto half it's lentgh. So if you encounter a snake on the trails, give it plenty of space.

The shape of the head is another identification characteristic. For example, pit vipers have squat, wide heads, and non venomous snakes have rounded heads that are the same width as the snake’s body.

Different families and genera of snakes often have different pupil shapes. The three well-known pupil shapes for snakes are: round, vertical, or horizontal.

In Hot Springs National Park, you’ll only encounter vertical (slit-shaped) and round pupils. Most venomous snakes in this region are pit vipers and have vertical pupils. All the other species, including the coral snake, have round pupils. In this case, remember the poem, “Red next to yellow, kill a fellow. Red next to black, a friend of Jack.”

Which brings us to why color and pattern is important for IDing a snake. Many of the non-venomous snakes will mimic a venomous snake by either color, shape of head or its mannerisms. The coral snake color pattern is yellow, red, yellow, black as for the milk snake color pattern is black, yellow, black, red. Some snake can even flatten their heads to give them wide head appearance.

Last updated: October 6, 2022

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Hot Springs, AR 71901


501 620-6715

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