21 Common Reptiles in Tennessee (W/Pics!)
Are you wondering what reptiles you can find in Tennessee?
This is a great question! Although these reptiles are widespread, they can be difficult to find. Most reptiles, including snakes, turtles, and lizards, are secretive and shy. But observing and finding reptiles is a really fun experience!
Below you will find a list of the most common and interesting reptiles that live in Tennessee. In addition, you will find detailed pictures, along with range maps for each species to help with your identification!
And if you’re looking for a more comprehensive list of specific reptiles like snakes, lizards, or turtles, check out our ID guides to these fascinating creatures!
24 Common SNAKES That Live in Tennessee! (ID Guide)
9 Common LIZARDS Found in Tennessee! (With RANGE MAPS)
21 COMMON Reptiles in Tennessee:
#1. Eastern Copperhead
- Agkistrodon contortrix
- Adults reach lengths between 20 and 37 inches.
- Stout body, broad head, and elliptical pupils.
- Coloration varies from pale tan to pinkish-tan with darker, splotchy, hourglass-shaped bands, which are darker at the edges.
Look for these VENOMOUS reptiles in deciduous forests and mixed woodlands, often near rocky outcroppings. You’re more likely to see them active during the day in the spring and fall when the weather is cooler. During the middle of summer, Eastern Copperheads are often nocturnal.
Eastern Copperhead Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
This species is an ambush hunter, meaning that it selects a suitable site and waits to surprise its prey. In addition, copperheads are considered “pit vipers,” which means they have a heat-sensing organ located between their eyes. This adaptation helps these venomous reptiles find and judge the size of their prey by being able to sense infrared!
Bites are rarely fatal, even though they’re one of the only venomous reptiles in Tennessee.
The venom they produce has relatively low potency. In addition, copperheads also frequently employ false strikes, dry bites, and warning bites. Dry bites contain no venom, and warning bites have a relatively small amount of venom.
These reptiles primarily feed on small rodents, frogs, birds, and large insects like cicadas. After the initial bite, they will wait for the venom to take effect before consuming their prey whole.
#2. Timber Rattlesnake
- Crotalus horridus
- Adults typically range from 30 to 60 inches in length.
- Coloration is variable and generally ranges from yellowish-brown to gray to almost black. Look for dark brown or black crossbands on their back.
- Heavy-bodied with a characteristic rattle on the tail.
The Timber Rattlesnake, also known as the Canebrake Rattlesnake, is found in various habitats. Look for these venomous reptiles in lowland thickets, high areas around rivers and flood plains, agricultural areas, deciduous forests, and coniferous forests.
Timber Rattlesnake Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
These snakes are ambush predators, waiting for unsuspecting prey to come within their strike range. They feed primarily on small mammals but may also consume frogs, birds, and other smaller reptiles. Timber Rattlesnakes strike their prey and release them, waiting until their venom has taken effect before eating them.
These venomous snakes are potentially the most dangerous reptile in Tennessee due to their large size, long fangs, and high venom yield. Luckily, Timber Rattlesnakes have a mild disposition and don’t bite often. Additionally, they typically give plenty of warning by rattling and posturing.
The Timber Rattlesnake played a noteworthy role in U.S. history. Found in the original 13 colonies, it was used as a symbol during the American Revolution. In 1775 it was featured at the center of the “Gadsden Flag.” This yellow flag depicts a coiled and ready-to-strike Timber Rattlesnake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.”
#3. Northern Watersnake
- Nerodia sipedon sipedon
- Adults range from 24 to 55 inches in length.
- Coloration is pale grey to dark brown with reddish-brown to black bands.
- Large adults become darker with age and appear almost plain black or dark brown.
- Females tend to be larger than males, and coloration is most vivid in juvenile and wet individuals.
Northern Watersnakes are one of the most common reptiles in Tennessee!
Northern Watersnakes prefer slow-moving or standing water like ponds, lakes, vernal pools, marshes, and slow-moving rivers and streams. They’re often seen basking on rocks or logs in or near the water.
Northern Watersnake Range Map (Yellow area below)
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
These reptiles primarily feed on fish and amphibians by hunting along the water’s edge and shallow water during the day. They grab their prey and quickly swallow while it’s still alive!
While non-venomous, they can deliver a painful bite!
Their saliva contains a mild anticoagulant that can cause bites to bleed, making the injury appear worse. These important defense mechanisms help water snakes survive predators such as raccoons, snapping turtles, foxes, opossums, other snakes, and birds of prey.
#4. Northern Cottonmouth
- Agkistrodon piscivorus
- Adults range from 26 to 35 inches in length. Females are typically smaller than males.
- Most individuals are dark gray to black with a broad head, heat-sensing pits between the eyes and nostrils, elliptical pupils, and a blunt snout.
- Some individuals have a brown, gray, tan, or blackish coloration.
- Also commonly called Water Moccasins, Black Moccasins, or Gapers.
Cottonmouths are the ONLY venomous reptile in western Tennessee found in water.
Be on the lookout for these snakes near swamps, marshes, ponds, slow-moving streams, rivers, flooded fields, and drainage ditches. But they aren’t limited to just aquatic habitats. Cottonmouths can also be found in palmetto thickets, pine forests, dune areas, and prairies.
Northern Cottonmouth Range Map
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
These reptiles have several defensive tactics to warn potential threats to stay away! They often vibrate their tail in the leaf litter, pull their heads up and back, and then open their mouth to hiss and expose a white interior. This particular display is what earned them the name “cottonmouth.“
Since they are venomous, please use extra caution if you encounter an unknown water snake. Quite a few species look similar, especially if you just get a glance as one moves across the water.
Luckily, receiving a bite from a Northern Cottonmouth is rare. But when it does happen, it’s very serious as their venom destroys tissue. It is rare to die from their bite, but it does cause swelling and bruising and can leave scars.
#5. Eastern Garter Snake
- Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
- Adults typically range from 18 to 26 inches in length.
- Coloration varies and can be mixtures of green, brown, or black. Look for a distinct yellow or whitish stripe down the center of their back.
- Some individuals may exhibit a checkered body pattern.
- Subspecies of the Common Garter Snake.
Eastern Garter Snakes are a very common reptile in Tennessee!
In fact, they are typically the snake species that people come across the most. They’re well-adapted to living around people and can often be found in city parks, farmland, cemeteries, and suburban lawns and gardens. Though not required, they prefer grassy environments near freshwater sources such as ponds, lakes, ditches, and streams.
Look for these reptiles in Tennessee basking in the sun in grassy areas near cover.
Eastern Garter Snakes protect themselves when they are cornered or feel threatened. For example, if you disturb one, it will defecate and release a foul-smelling musk from its glands. It’s also common for them to bite as a last resort!
The Eastern Garter Snake most commonly preys on toads, frogs, slugs, salamanders, fish, and worms. However, they are very opportunistic and will eat other insects and small animals they can overpower.
- RELATED: 17 COMMON Amphibians in Tennessee!
#6. Eastern Milksnake
- Lampropeltis triangulum triangulum
- Adults typically range from 24 to 36 inches in length.
- Coloration is tan or gray with 3 to 5 rows of reddish-brown, black-edged blotches.
- Look for a gray or tan Y- or V-shaped mark near the rear of the head.
Eastern Milksnakes get their unique name from an old myth that they milked cows since they’re commonly found in barns! Obviously, this isn’t true. Instead, their presence inside barns is likely due to the high number of mice, some of their favorite prey.
Eastern Milksnake Range Map
Eastern Milksnakes occupy various habitats, including fields, woodlands, agricultural areas, and rocky outcrops. Like other reptiles in Tennessee, these beautiful snakes are secretive and spend much of their time beneath the ground. However, you may be able to find one underneath rocks, logs, boards, and other debris.
The Eastern Milksnake prefers to feed on small mammals like mice and shrews. However, they’ll also consume various types of prey, including birds and bird eggs, lizards, snakes, amphibians, fish, earthworms, slugs, insects, and carrion.
Like other individuals in the kingsnake family, they will prey on venomous pit vipers. Their blood contains venom-neutralizing properties!
#7. Gray Ratsnake
- Pantherophis spiloides
- Adults range from 42 to 72 inches in length though individuals up to 101 inches have been recorded.
- Coloration varies. Most Gray Ratsnakes are typically completely black.
- There may be red, white, or yellow flecking on the scales.
Unlike many reptiles in Tennessee, Gray Ratsnakes are most at home in trees!
They are excellent climbers and often hunt and spend time in trees. Growing up, I used to see them in a large walnut tree in our backyard!
They’re also spotted near barns and old buildings since these places provide them access to their favorite food, rodents. This species is an active hunter and a powerful constrictor. They suffocate larger prey using their strong coils but often swallow smaller prey immediately.
If disturbed, Gray Ratsnakes either flee for cover or remain motionless in an attempt to avoid detection using their excellent camouflage. In dry leaf litter, they may also vibrate their tail, producing a rattlesnake-like sound. Finally, when they feel cornered or are grabbed, these reptiles will strike their attacker as a last resort.
#8. Eastern Hog-nosed Snake
- Heterodon platirhinos
- Adults typically range from 20 to 30 inches in length.
- Coloration can be yellow, gray, brown, black, olive, or orange, often with darker blotches or spots down its side and back, though solid gray and black individuals are fairly common.
- They have thick bodies, broad, triangle-shaped heads, and an upturned snout.
Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes primarily prey on toads. They have enlarged teeth at the rear of the upper jaw to puncture and deflate toads that puff up when threatened. These reptiles also have large adrenal glands, which secrete hormones to counteract the toad’s potent skin poison!
When disturbed, Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes lift their head off the ground and flatten their neck like a cobra! They may also hiss and display a false strike.
If this display fails to scare off a predator, the snake will play dead. They’ll roll onto their back, let their tongue hang out, and emit musk from glands near the base of their tail. Interestingly, when the threat has left, the snake will right itself and continue as normal. 🙂
#9. Dekay’s Brownsnake
- Adults typically range from 6 to 13 inches in length.
- Coloration is light brown or gray to dark brown or black with two rows of dark spots down the back, sometimes linked.
- They have a dark streak down the head and may have a light stripe down the center of the back.
Dekay’s Brownsnakes occupy various terrestrial habitats as long as there’s plenty of cover available such as rocks, logs, boards, and trash and organic debris. As a result, they’re often found in backyards and gardens under objects.
These secretive, nocturnal reptiles hunt during the evening and night, feeding primarily on slugs and earthworms. They typically grab and quickly swallow their prey alive.
These docile reptiles usually don’t bite in defense. Instead, if captured, they often squirm vigorously or flatten their bodies and may release foul-smelling musk.
This species is considered common in most of its range and is not a major conservation concern. It adapts well to human development and has a reputation as a “city snake.”
#10. Six-Lined Racerunner
- Aspidoscelis sexlineata
- 2.25 to 3.75 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- “Dark fields,” or broad stripes in between lighter stripes on whiptails, are brown to black.
- 6-8 light stripes vary in color from white or yellow to gray-blue.
- The coloring is much brighter in males, with greens on the back and light turquoise on the belly.
This reptile is easy-to-spot in Tennessee.
Six-Lined Racerunners are insectivores, and their primary food source is termites. However, they also eat beetles, ants, and spiders, so these small whiptails can be handy if you have a pest problem.
The Six-Lined Racerunner lives up to its name, clocking speeds up to 18 miles per hour! They have no problem outmaneuvering predators and curious humans!
#11. Eastern Fence Lizard
- Sceloporus undulatus
- 1.5 to 3.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloration is highly varied – grayish-white, brown, reddish, and nearly black are common.
- Females have dark, wavy lines across the back. Males have two patches of blue on the throat.
You’ll likely find the Eastern Fence Lizard in open forests with plenty of fallen logs and debris to hide in. They’re most active during the early morning before it gets too hot.
In Tennessee, this reptile has adapted to a small but dangerous threat – imported fire ants!
Bites from fire ants can kill an Eastern Fence Lizard in less than an hour. To combat these non-native insects, these spiny lizards have adapted longer arms and legs, thicker skin, and new behaviors like climbing trees to stay out of harm’s way.
#12. Common Five-Lined Skink
- Plestiodon fasciatus
- Adults are up to 8.75 inches long.
- Five stripes are most apparent in hatchlings and fade as the skinks grow.
- Males have orange-red coloring on the jaw during the breeding season.
- Hatchlings are black with light stripes. The black coloring often fades to gray, and the lighter stripes darken.
Look for Common Five-Lined Skinks in wooded areas near cover objects. Their diet consists of spiders, beetles, crickets, and other insects.
Females attend to their eggs throughout the incubation period. They spend almost all of their time defending the eggs until they hatch!
If you come across a nest, you may notice the mother curled up on top of or around the eggs. She also rolls the eggs to maintain their humidity, moves them back to the nest if they become disturbed, and even eats eggs that aren’t viable!
#13. Broad-headed Skink
- Plestiodon laticeps
- Adults are up to 12.75 inches long.
- Coloring in males is uniform brown or olive. Females often keep some form of stripes that are more apparent in hatchlings.
- The tail is gray in adults and blue in young.
- Males develop orange-red coloring on the jawline during the breeding season. Sometimes the entire head turns bright orange.
Look for Broad-Headed Skinks in swamp forests, woodlands, or vacant lots with debris.
You can easily recognize this species of reptile in Tennessee by its triangular head!
Broad-Headed Skinks are one of the few skink species at home among trees! They will often climb trees for cover and protection from predators. They forage on the ground for their food, searching leaf litter and debris for insects and spiders.
#14. Slender Glass Lizard
- Ophisaurus attenuatus
- 22 to 47 inches long.
- Coloring is generally brown to black, with whitish markings in the middle of the scales.
- Younger individuals have dark stripes along the back and sides, and older individuals develop faint crossbands.
Comparing them to other reptiles in Tennessee, Slender Glass Lizards look more like snakes.
However, unlike snakes, they don’t have flexible jaws, which means they can only eat prey smaller than their head! Prey includes insects, spiders, small rodents, and reptiles.
Glass lizards are named for their extremely fragile tails, which can break off even without being touched. If you notice that the end of its tail is tan with no stripes, you can be sure the lizard lost its original tail.
There are two subspecies:
- Western Slender Glass Lizards (O. attenuatus attenuatus) have shorter tails.
- Eastern Slender Glass Lizards (O. attenuatus longicaudus) have longer tails.
#15. Green Anole
- Anolis carolinensis
- 5 to 9 inches long.
- This species has an elongated head, pointed snout, and round tail.
- The coloring ranges from all green to mottled green and brown to all brown with a white belly and lips.
- The dewlap, or extendable throat fan, is usually pink but ranges in color: white, light gray, magenta, blue, and purple are common.
This reptile is the ONLY species of anole NATIVE to Tennessee.
They primarily live in trees and are excellent climbers. The introduction of the Brown Anole has altered their behavior, making them almost exclusively arboreal.
Anoles are sometimes called American Chameleons because of their ability to change color. Although they aren’t in the same family as chameleons, they adjust their coloring in response to many factors, including emotion, activity level, temperature, and humidity.
Green Anoles and other species of anoles have dewlaps, which are colorful throat fans they can extend to communicate. This feature makes them look a bit like tiny dinosaurs! =)
#16. Common Snapping Turtle
- Chelydra serpentina
- They weigh 10 to 35 lbs. and grow 8 to 18 1/2 inches long.
- The snapping turtle has a long tail, chunky head, and large webbed feet.
- The carapace (upper shell) coloring is black, brown, or olive with no distinct pattern.
These prehistoric-looking reptiles are widespread throughout Tennessee.
Look for them living in marshes, lakes, ponds, rivers, and slow streams. They prefer areas with plenty of aquatic vegetation to hide in and insects, fish, frogs, and birds to eat.
Snapping Turtle Rangemap:
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
Snapping Turtles are best known for their powerful jaws. While there aren’t any recorded incidents of one of their bites causing amputation to a person, it can cause infections serious enough to require an amputation. In fact, their jaws are so strong that snapping turtles commonly eat other turtles!
These reptiles are usually docile but will become very aggressive if removed from the water. One of the best ways to calm an aggressive individual is to place it back into the water, where it can feel safe. I know I have personally picked them up with a large snow shovel to get them off the road and back to safety!
#17. Painted Turtle
- Chrysemys picta
- 2.5 to 10 inches long.
- The carapace is low to the ground and generally dark brown or black.
- As the name suggests, they have distinctive yellow, green, and red striping on the carapace, head, and limbs.
The Painted Turtle is one of the most recognizable reptiles in Tennessee!
Look for its beautiful coloring of bright reds and yellow greens on its shell, limbs, and head. Painted Turtles live near calm, shallow water. They are attracted to areas with plenty of aquatic plants, their primary food source.
Painted Turtle Rangemap:
It’s almost impossible to accurately assess the population of Painted Turtles in Tennessee. Many people keep them as pets and then release them into the wild, causing an ever-expanding range and unstable reproduction rates. These released reptiles can also put pressure on natural populations.
In the wild, Painted Turtles can hold their breath for up to 30 hours!
They also can remain dormant in near-freezing water for up to 4 months. This ability is essential when temperatures often go below freezing.
#18. River Cooter
- Pseudemys concinna
- 9 to 13 inches long.
- The carapace is brown to olive or dark green, with lighter c-shaped and concentric markings in the scutes (sections).
- They have five lighter-colored stripes between the eyes.
River Cooters are highly omnivorous and will eat almost anything they can swallow!
This includes aquatic vegetation, land plant matter, and animals, both alive and dead! They are enthusiastic hunters on land and return to the water to eat.
Eastern River Cooter Rangemap:
Credit: Virginia Herpetological Society
When it comes to breeding, the female River Cooter is very selective! Males have a sort of “dance” when trying to mate with a female, vibrating their long nails and waving their arms in the female’s face. She often ignores potential mates who try to court her until one meets her approval!
#19. Pond Slider
- Trachemys scripta
- 5 to 8 inches long.
- The carapace is usually patterned with concentric rings, with red, olive green, black, and brown sections.
- Yellow to orange markings on the belly and sides are almost always present.
Pond Sliders prefer water with plenty of logs, branches, or vegetation to bask on and often can be seen in large groups.
Pond Slider Rangemap:
The Pond Slider, specifically the subspecies Red-Eared Slider, is the most widely introduced turtle in the world.
This reptile is commonly purchased as a pet in Tennessee and then released into the wild when it gets too large or difficult to take care of. Unfortunately, they can cause damage and put pressure on natural ecosystems.
The Red-Eared Slider is also commonly mistaken for the Painted Turtle because of its red marking at the jawline and brightly colored stripes. However, the carapaces of sliders are much more rounded and helmet-like, and they commonly get larger than Painted Turtles in captivity.
#20. Spiny Softshell Turtle
- Apalone spinifera
- Females are 7 to 21.25 inches long; males are 5 to 12.25 inches long.
- The carapace is flexible with a rough sandpaper texture, with a single row of spines or cones along the middle of the back. There is also a row of pointed tooth-like appendages on the edge of the carapace.
- Coloring is olive, gray, or brown, with black spots on some individuals.
Look for these reptiles in Tennessee in lakes, rivers, and streams with sandy or muddy bottoms and little or no vegetation. I often see them sunning themselves on the banks while kayaking down slow-moving rivers.
Spiny Softshell Turtle Rangemap:
Spiny Softshell Turtles can “breathe” underwater by absorbing oxygen through the skin of their throats. This is a useful adaptation because they spend very little time out of the water, even sunning themselves in shallows or floating on the surface.
This reptile has some other unique adaptations that make it perfectly suited for its environment. Its leathery shell is extremely flat, and it has webbed feet and long claws, which allow it to swim quickly away from predators and bury itself in the muddy bottom.
Its most unique feature is its nose, which is long and snout-like! It can poke its nostrils out of the water and stay completely submerged to protect itself from hungry predators!
#21. Eastern Box Turtle
- Terrapene carolina
- 4.5 to 6 inches long.
- The carapace is high and domed, usually with a ridge along the center running from head to tail.
- Coloring is highly variable, but a pattern of olive, browns, and tans is almost always present.
The Eastern Box Turtle can live for over 100 years under the right conditions!
A typical lifespan for one in the wild or captivity is about 35 years. But in an optimal enclosure, one could live for much longer without the threat of predators or man-made hazards.
Eastern Box Turtle Rangemap:
The vivid designs and relatively easygoing nature of Eastern Box Turtles make them attractive as pets; unfortunately, this contributes to their decline in population. These reptiles require very specific conditions to thrive in captivity. Special UV lighting, large tanks with fresh, clean water, vitamin and mineral supplements, and relatively deep substrate to burrow are just some of the requirements to keep them healthy as pets. Unfortunately, many pet turtles die due to poor conditions or are abandoned because they are too hard to care for.
The markings of the Eastern Box Turtle are so variable you may have a hard time recognizing one by the shell alone! Some have lines running from the center of each scute, and some have rings of dots that form a lace-like pattern. Other individuals’ lighter markings can merge so that the carapace is almost completely light-colored instead of the usual dark background! The video below demonstrates the huge variability!
What types of reptiles in Tennessee have you seen?
Let us know in the comments!