Painted Turtle - Chrysemys picta
Painted Turtles, named for the colorful yellow markings on their bodies, are the most common turtles in North America. They live anywhere there’s fresh water, and can eat just about anything. Although Painted Turtles are cold-blooded, they do better in really cold weather than most other cold-blooded creatures, although they hibernate under the water for the coldest part of the year. The temperature of Painted Turtle eggs determines whether the babies will be male or female when they hatch—if the eggs are colder, the babies will be male, and if they’re warmer, the babies will be female.
Snapping Turtle - Chelydra serpentina
The Common Snapping Turtle is the largest turtle found in New York State, and also the state reptile. Its head is so large, in fact, that it can’t retreat into its shell, and so it snaps its jaws at predators to defend itself, as well as using them to catch prey. Common Snapping Turtles also have really flexible necks, that can reach around most of the shell to bite things that can get anywhere near them! A snapping turtle’s jaws are so powerful that they can bite off your fingers, but they don’t usually attack people. This is one of only two species of snapping turtles in the country, the other being the Alligator Snapping Turtle, which lives in the south.
Box Turtle - Terrapene carolina
The Eastern Box Turtle is a turtle that mostly lives on land, although it’s more closely related to water turtles than true tortoises. It gets its name from the fact that it can close up its shell like a box to hide away from predators. Eastern Box Turtles can live as long as fifty years, though in the wild most live only twenty or thirty. Like most species of turtles, males can be distinguished from females by the fact that the bottom of the shell, or plastron, is bent in slightly so that he can climb on top of the female during mating.
Map Turtle - Graptemys species
The map turtles are a type of water turtle which get their name from the markings on their shells, which look like the lines on a map. Many map turtles also have ridges on the backs of their shells. Females tend to be much larger than males, and are more likely to eat larger prey with thick shells, such as mussels, clams, and snails; though they can eat just about anything. Map turtles tend to be shy, though, and will run away from any humans who approach them. Since they’re rare and only live near water, people have been getting concerned about the destruction of ponds and wetlands by human activities. The most common and widespread species of map turtle, and the one most likely to be found in the Adirondacks, is the Northern Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica)
Wood Turtle - Glyptemys insculpta
The Wood Turtle gets its name from the woody appearance of its shell. Wood Turtles spend time both in the water and on land, living in streams, wetlands, and forests near the water. They hibernate in the winter. Like most turtles, they are omnivorous, eating everything from tadpoles to moss. Wood Turtles are now endangered, owing to the destruction of the habitats where they normally live, and work is currently being done to protect them and keep them safe.
Bog Turtle - Glyptemys muhlenbergii
The Bog Turtle is the smallest turtle in New York. As its name suggests, it mostly lives in bogs and wet meadows, where it can go swimming and lay eggs in grassy areas. Like its relative the Wood Turtle, the Bog Turtle is considered endangered owing to destruction of its habitat, as well as people who collect these turtles to keep as pets. Bog Turtles are shy and secretive most of the time, making them difficult to study.
Common Musk Turtle - Sternotherus oderatus
The Common Musk Turtle is a little turtle sometimes known as a “stinkpot.” It gets its name from the way it produces a bad-smelling musk to scare away predators. They spend most of their time in the water, and only come on land to lay eggs. They don’t often bask in the sun, and tend to come out at night when the weather is warm.
Spotted Turtle - Clemmys guttata
The Spotted Turtle is named for the yellow spots all over its head and tail. These turtles mainly live in the water and eat animals found there. During the breeding season, females dig holes in which to lay eggs, and then bury them by dragging their bodies over the covered nest. The Spotted Turtle used to be very common in New York, but now that its habitat is being destroyed and polluted, it’s become a lot less common, and in certain states it’s actually endangered.
Blanding’s Turtle - Emydoidea blandingii
This turtle’s main home is at the Great Lakes, but it’s been seen here in New York as well. It mostly lives in bays or marshes. Like most turtles, it takes many years before it’s ready to breed, which makes it hard for it to keep up with the destruction of its habitat. It also risks getting hit by cars when it crosses the road. However, if it can survive it has been known to live as long as seventy years!
Diamondback Terrapin - Malaclemys terrapin
Diamondback Terrapins are rare in the Adirondacks because they prefer to live in brackish water—that is, water found in marshes and bays near the sea. However, they have been seen in New York State. These are some of the most colorful and recognizable turtles in the country, and they get their name from the diamond-shaped plates, or scutes, on their shells. In the subspecies found in New York, the skin is a lighter, speckled color and the shell is black or brown with each scute bearing concentric rings. Females are much larger than males. These turtles are smart and have been known to bask or hang out with other Terrapins, but in the wild they’re normally very shy around people. Like most turtles, they’re threatened by climate change and habitat destruction.
Common Garter Snake - Thamnophis sirtalis
The Common Garter Snake is a little snake found just about everywhere in the country, which can be distinguished for the light and dark stripes or spots on its body. Garter snakes are non venomous, and eat just about any kind of small animal, holding onto their prey with sharp, hooked teeth and swallowing it whole. Garter snakes have live babies, and start breeding when they are about a year and a half old. Many larger animals eat Common Garter Snakes, but their color patterns provide much-needed camouflage.
Black Rat Snake - Elaphe obsoleta
Black Rat Snakes, as their name suggests, are black, though they may have some white on their underbellies. They are constrictors, killing their prey by squeezing it. They can also climb trees. Black Rat Snakes are a great help to farmers because they kill and eat the mice and rats which otherwise would destroy the farmers’ crops. Young Black Rat Snakes are sometimes eaten by larger predators such as hawks or raccoons, but adult Black Rat Snakes have no predators other than people. The Black Rat Snake is one of the relatively few snakes in the Adirondacks that actually lay eggs.
Northern Water Snake - Nerodia sipedon
Northern Water Snakes, as their name suggests, spend a lot of time in the water, where they eat animals found in or near water. These snakes aren’t venomous, but many people confuse them for Water Moccasins, also known as Cottonmouths, which are. Cottonmouths, though, can’t be found in the Adirondacks, since they live only in the southern states. Like most species of snakes, they help people out by eating pesky mice and rats. When threatened, they may bite, as well as releasing foul-smelling musk.
Milk Snake - Lampropeltis triangulum
The Eastern Milk Snake is a type of king snake, meaning it eats other snakes, including poisonous ones. It’s one of the more colorful snakes in the Adirondacks, since it tends to be bright red, black, and white. The idea is to look like a venomous Coral Snake to keep away predators, but you can tell the species apart using the old saying “If red touches black, it’s okay Jack; if red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow.” The name “milk snake” comes from the myth farmers developed years ago that these snakes enter barns to steal milk from the cows. Of course, this is just a story.
Timber Rattlesnake - Crotalus horridus
The Timber Rattlesnake is a pit viper, a sort of venomous snake that has heat-seeking “pits” located from their eyes to their nostrils. Various pit vipers are found throughout North America, but only the Timber Rattlesnake lives in the Adirondacks. Although it’s poisonous, it isn’t a particularly dangerous snake, since it tends to avoid humans unless threatened and tries to warn people to stay away using its rattle, which gets longer the older the snake gets. Most people who do get bitten by these snakes survive, though they need to go to the hospital. Timber Rattlesnakes have live babies, like most snakes found in the Adirondacks, but unlike most snakes found worldwide.