• Badlands formations against the blue sky; photo by Rikk Flohr

    Badlands

    National Park South Dakota

There are park alerts in effect.
show Alerts »
  • Visitor Center Open / Road Construction

    Park roads and parking lots are under construction. Expect occasional 10 - 15 minute road construction delays along Hwy 240 Loop Road. There is limited parking at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. Please follow the signs to park in designate areas.

Reptiles

Long, cold winters keep reptile diversity fairly low in Badlands, with just 9 species found in the park. These snakes, lizards, and turtles contend with extremes of weather that may include temperatures ranging from over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer to -20 F or colder in the winter. Because reptiles are ectothermic, or cold-blooded, their body temperature varies with environmental conditions. Very cold or hot conditions are especially challenging for these animals.

 
Painted turtle

NPS Photo by Larry McAfee

The open prairie and rugged badlands formations offer little in the way of shelter. Snakes and lizards are most active during the cooler parts of the day in summertime, seeking shade during the mid-day hours. In the winter, their metabolisms slow as they take shelter underground. They may go for months without eating. Similarly, painted and snapping turtles are found in association with water in summertime, and pass the winter by burying themselves in the mud at the bottom of streams or small ponds.

The prairie rattlesnake is the only venomous snake in the park. Despite perceptions of rattlesnakes as aggressive, they prefer to avoid or ignore people. Bites are extremely rare and no fatalities have ever been recorded in the state of South Dakota. Nevertheless, their bites are dangerous, and prairie rattlesnakes should never be approached. To avoid surprising a snake, carefully watch where you put your hands and feet while hiking. Wear long pants and boots rather than sandals, particularly when walking in tall grass.

 

Remember that reptiles, like all park wildlife, are protected by law. It is illegal to harass or disturb them. Leave them alone and enjoy them from a distance.

 

Badlands Reptile List

Common Name

Scientific Name

Park Status

Abundance

Residency

Snapping Turtle

Chelydra serpentina

Probably Present

NA

NA

Racer

Coluber constrictor

Present in Park

Common

Breeder

Western Hog-nosed Snake

Heterodon nasicus

Present in Park

Rare

Breeder

Milksnake

Lampropeltis triangulum

Probably Present

NA

NA

Gopher Snake

Pituophis catenifer

Present in Park

Common

Breeder

Plains Garter Snake

Thamnophis radix

Present in Park

Common

Breeder

Common Garter Snake

Thamnophis sirtalis

False Report

NA

NA

Painted Turtle

Chrysemys picta

Present in Park

Common

Breeder

Western Box Turtle

Terrapene ornata

Unconfirmed

NA

NA

Short-horned Lizard

Phrynosoma hernandesi

Unconfirmed

NA

NA

Fence Lizard

Sceloporus undulatus

Probably Present

NA

NA

Six-lined Racerunner

Cnemidophorus sexlineatus

Unconfirmed

NA

NA

Prairie Rattlesnake

Crotalus viridis

Present in Park

Common

Breeder



Did You Know?

The rugged badlands topography

To the Lakota, this harsh and desolate landscape was known as "mako sica," meaning “land bad." Early French trappers similarly described the area as “bad lands to travel across." Today, geologists consider all the places in the world with similar topography and formation badlands.