During comprehensive surveys conducted at BNL in 1994 and 1995, five species of reptiles were observed on transect surveys, and an additional five species were added as results of incidental observations.  Along the terrestrial transects, the eastern box turtle was the most frequently observed reptile. Box turtles were found in all habitat types sampled including pine plantations, pitch pine/oak forests, fields and wetlands. The garter snake, milk snake, hognose snake, northern brown snake, and black racer were found in upland habitats. The ribbon snake, garter snake, snapping turtle, painted turtle, and spotted turtle were found in wetland habitats. The snapping turtle and painted turtle were commonly observed along the Peconic river system. The spotted turtle was uncommon, as only a few shells from dead turtles were found in the headwater areas of the Peconic River upstream of the BNL Sewage Treatment Plant.  Few snakes were found in uplands, the black racer was the most common species observed in this area.  Other species including the eastern hognose snake, milk snake, and northern brown snake are represented on site by only one observation each. The low number of upland observations of terrestrial snakes partially due to the dry sandy habitat on the BNL site and possibly due to past use of pesticides. The eastern garter snake was the only snake found using an artificial hiding place.

Selected Reptile Species Accounts


Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina)

The box turtle is the only exclusively terrestrial turtle found on the BNL site. While relatively common in pine barrens habitats, box turtles are often killed by automobiles and brush fires. Box turtles are most frequently observed in spring months or after rain storms; they generally aestivate (remain dormant) in swampy areas during the warmer summer months. Box turtles are territorial: an individual turtle may spend its life in an area scarcely larger than a football field, provided habitat conditions remain favorable.

During surveys box turtles were commonly observed in the undeveloped portions of the BNL site, while occasional observations were made of hatchlings and juveniles. Both adults and young were typically observed in wetlands, particularly in the summer and fall. A number of box turtle shells were found onsite: one by Water Tank Pond, two each by Zeek's Pond and wetland, and several were found within or adjacent to the wetlands associated with the Peconic River.

Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentine)

Snapping turtles are commonly observed in the Peconic River, Zeek's Pond, the RHIC ponds, and the ecology field ponds. Female snapping turtles have been observed laying eggs in June in the sand borders of the east firebreak. Snapping turtles are aquatic and feed on aquatic vegetation, carrion, and occasionally fish and amphibians. Snappers are the largest species of turtle found on the BNL site. Adults estimated at 5 to 15 lbs. have been observed.

Spotted turtle (Clemmys guttata)

The spotted turtle, a New York State species of special concern, is a distinguished semiaquatic species with a dark shell and bright yellow spots. Habitats include emergent marshes, wetlands, bogs, small ponds, ditches and other shallow water bodies (Conant, 1975). It is omnivorous, feeding on a variety of aquatic invertebrates, fish, amphibians, and vegetation. It hibernates in soft mud bottoms of ponds and wetlands during the winter. The spotted turtle breeds in early to late spring and lays eggs in June and July (DeGraaf and Rudis, 1983). Spotted turtles appear to be present in the Peconic river system in very low numbers.

Stinkpot (Sternotherus odoratus)

Stinkpots prefer quiet or slow-moving, shallow, mud-bottomed waters. They are highly aquatic, seldom leaving the water except to lay eggs. The stinkpot is a small turtle (carapace [shell] length from 3 to 5.375 in.) that is sometimes mistaken for a juvenile snapping turtle. One adult male stinkpot was observed at the east firebreak on the Peconic River in 1994. The stinkpot is cited as a unique species in the Peconic drainage due to its local rarity; it is widespread and common in other portions of New York.


Black racer (Coluber constrictor)

The black racer is diurnal (daytime-active), feeding on large insects, frogs, other species of snakes, small rodents, and birds. The adults are uniformly black on the back with white or gray bellies. The black racer has been observed in the Gamma Field, on the edges of forested wetlands, and in pitch pine/oak forests.

Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platyrhinos)

The eastern hognose snake is listed as a special concern species by the State of New York. Populations in portions of the state have declined due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Their preferred habitat is open, sandy-soiled areas, thinly wooded upland hillsides, cultivated fields, or woodland meadows. Their principal food source is frogs and toads. They hibernate in the winter months by burrowing deeply in to loose soils.

During surveys, only one adult (24 in.), eastern hognose snake was observed and photographed on the berm north of the sewage treatment lagoons.  While the black racer, garter, and ribbon snakes appear to be fairly common on the BNL site, the hognose and milk snake appear to be quite uncommon. The scarcity of hognose snakes is not due to a lack of a food supply; fowler's toads are common throughout the BNL site.

Milk Snake (Lampropeltis triangulum)

Milk snakes are usually found under rotting logs or stumps. They are secretive and usually not seen in the open except at night.  They inhabit a variety of habitats including pine forests, open deciduous woodlands, meadows, farmland, and suburban areas. Common food items include rodents and small birds.

Reptiles observed on the BNL site

Reptiles listed in alphabetical order by scientific name.

Common Name Scientific Name
Snapping turtle Chelydra serpentina
Spotted turtle Clemmys guttata
Painted turtle Chrysemys picta
Box turtle Terrapene carolina
Stinkpot turtle Sternotherus odoratus
Common Name Scientific Name
Northern brown snake Storeria dekayi
Eastern garter snake Thamnophis sirtalis
Eastern ribbon snake Thamnophis sauritus
Eastern hognose snake Heterodon platyrhinos
Northern black racer Coluber constrictor
Eastern milk snake Lampropeltis triangulum

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Last Modified: October 27, 2010
Please forward all questions about this site to: Karen Ratel