Reptiles may not be the first animals you think of when imagining the kinds of species that inhabit coastal and Great Lakes national parks, but these fascinating creatures are an important part of aquatic and nearshore ecosystems. Unlike mammals, reptiles are “cold-blooded,” which means that they can’t regulate their body temperature internally. Coastal and Great Lakes national parks provide many opportunities to learn about this process and the ways in which reptiles have adapted to both hot and cold environments.
In addition to the more common lizards and snakes, parks like Everglades are home to alligators and crocodiles – ancient species relatively unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs. These top predators act as habitat engineers, because their digging provides water holes that many species rely on in the dry season. Sea turtles are also an ancient species, and have long been an inspiration for people all over the world to protect beach habitat. Although sea turtles spend most of their lives in the ocean, they return to nest in the beaches where they hatched – beaches that are found in parks like Dry Tortugas and Padre Islands.
Unfortunately, sea turtles, alligators, and other marine reptiles face many threats, including habitat destruction, marine debris, use of their body parts for commercial products like alligator hand-bags and turtle soup. National parks not only protect essential habitat for these animals, they also give us a chance to learn more about and appreciate these ancient creatures with which we share the planet.