Reptiles

Nature and Science
Baby Snapping Turtle

Reptiles include snakes, skinks, and turtles. They can be found throughout the Lakeshore in all of the different habitat types and are an important and conspicuous part of the Lakeshore’s fauna. Of the eighteen reptiles likely to occur in the park, only a handful may be found on the islands. Midland painted turtles, common garter snakes, and northern ring-necked snakes are the three species which are most likely to befound on either island.

Reptiles are vertebrates that are primarily terrestrial. Though some live in or near water, they all lay eggs on dry land. Their bodies are covered with scales or boney plates. Reptiles depend on the outside environment for body heat, unlike birds and mammals which can produce heat internally. Snakes differ from other reptiles in being legless and in lacking both eyelids and external ear openings. Their eyes are covered by a protective transparent scale, and they hear by picking up vibrations through their skull and jaw bones.

Turtles depend on the sun as an external source of heat to maintain life and normal activity. They spend much time basking on logs, stream banks or other open, sunny places. A basking turtle is able to obtain a body temperature several degrees warmer than the air. As winter approaches and they are no longer able to maintain a warm enough body temperature, turtles decrease their feeding activities. Most Michigan turtles burrow in to the bottom soil of lakes, ponds, and streams to survive the long Michigan winter. The box turtle, a land hibernator, is the exception. Turtle species that make Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore their home include the eastern box turtle, midland painted turtle, northern map turtle, snapping turtle, spotted turtle, and the wood turtle. Reports of the Blanding’s turtle remain unconfirmed. If you see one, take a picture and report it to a ranger!

Snakes adjust their body temperature by moving in and out of warm or cool places. In Michigan, most snakes probably prefer a body temperature of about 75 to 85o F. Extended exposure to freezing conditions would be fatal, and they pass the winter in a dormant state in underground rodent burrows or other natural frost free shelters. Whether they like them or fear them, people find snakes fascinating.
Despite being legless, snakes inhabit most environments on earth that are ice free for at least part of the year. Deserts, oceans, forests, grasslands, lakes, rivers, marshes, mountains, farms, and cities - all are homes to some of the 2400 known species of snakes. Only 18 species of snakes are found in Michigan, 12 of which are found within the National Lakeshore.

Snakes species that are common to the mainland include the blue racer, Dekay’s brown snake, eastern garter snake, eastern hog-nosed snake, eastern milk snake, eastern smooth green snake, midland brown snake, northern red-belly snake, northern ribbon snake, northern ring-necked snake, and northern water snake. None of these species are poisonous and are typically harmless unless handled by an over-curious youngster. The Lakeshore is included within the potential habitat area of the Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, proposed for federal listing as a threatened species, however, they have not been verified as living within the Lakeshore.

Of the 18 reptiles likely to occur in the park, only a handful may be found on the islands. Midland painted turtles, common garter snakes, and northern ring-necked snakes are the three species which are most likely to be found on either island.

Reptiles face threats from the animal trade, roads, and climate change. All reptiles are protected within the Lakeshore. Please do not capture or handle any of these species. Help reptiles be a part of our world so their offspring can be a part of our children's future.

What You Can Do To Help

  • Learn all you can about Michigan’s native reptiles.
  • Support efforts to protect wetlands and adjacent uplands used by reptiles.
  • Be alert for turtles and snakes crossing roads. If it can be done safely, you can slow down or even
  • Stop to help a turtle cross a road. Always move it in the direction it was heading.
  • Enjoy watching turtles and snakes in the wild but resist the urge to take them home as pets.
  • Do not release captive reptiles include snakes, skinks, and turtles. They can be found throughout the Lakeshore in all of the different habitat types and are an important and conspicuous part of the Lakeshore’s fauna.

Last updated: January 24, 2018

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