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What Is a State Reptile?

A state reptile is an emblematic creature chosen by a region to symbolize its natural heritage, much like a state flower or bird. These reptiles reflect the unique biodiversity and cultural significance of the area. Have you ever wondered how these creatures are selected and what they represent for your state? Join us as we explore the stories behind these scaly symbols.
Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus

A state reptile is a species of lizard, snake, alligator, terrapin, tortoise or turtle officially adopted by one of the American states. The reptile is found in the state, although not necessarily in abundance or throughout it. Only about half of American states have a reptile state symbol, although most have an official motto, nickname, flower and insect. All 50 states have adopted a state bird and tree. For a reptile to be considered by a state, it must first be proposed in a bill before it can be approved by the legislature and officially adopted.

Minnesota's unofficial state reptile is the Blanding's turtle, which is considered an endangered species. Minnesota makes conservation and protection efforts to help keep the species from being eliminated. Although the Blanding's turtle was proposed in 1998 as the state's reptile, it wasn't officially adopted.

The alligator is the state reptile of Florida and Louisiana.
The alligator is the state reptile of Florida and Louisiana.

States that have officially chosen turtles include Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Like Louisiana, the American alligator is Florida's official state reptile; the loggerhead sea turtle, which is also South Carolina's choice, is its saltwater selection. North Carolina and Tennessee share the Eastern box turtle as their states' official reptile. Colorado and Michigan share the painted turtle. Alabama's state turtle is the red-bellied variety, while Kansas claims the ornate box turtle and New York has the snapping turtle.

The garter snake is the state reptile of Massachusetts.
The garter snake is the state reptile of Massachusetts.

The tortoise is a species of turtle that tends to prefer drier habitats. Whereas many turtles like to live in damp areas, yet are versatile, most US tortoises prefer dry, hot, sandy terrain. The desert tortoise, which is the state reptile of California and Nevada, is one of these tortoises. Another is Georgia's official reptile, the gopher tortoise, that prefers a sunny climate and dry, sandy soil.

The terrapin is another turtle species that typically prefers a different environment. Maryland's state reptile is the diamondback terrapin. This type of turtle spends most of its life in coastal swamp waters.

The painted turtle is the state reptile of Michigan.
The painted turtle is the state reptile of Michigan.

Snakes are the state reptiles for four states. Two species of rattlesnake, the ridge-nosed for Arizona and the timber for West Virginia, are state reptiles. Ohio has officially adopted the black racer snake as its reptile, while Massachusetts' state reptile is the garter snake.

Both Texas and Wyoming have the horned toad, which is actually a lizard, as their state reptile. The "horned" part of the name refers to the spines on the reptile's back. The "toad" refers to the round mid-section of this lizard that is a member of the iguana family. New Mexico's state reptile is the whiptail lizard, while the Eastern collared lizard is Oklahoma's official choice.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of having a state reptile?

Designating a state reptile serves to recognize a species that has significance to a particular state, whether through its prevalence, its role in the state's ecosystem, or its cultural importance. It's a form of state symbol, akin to a state flower or bird, that helps promote awareness of the region's natural heritage and can also draw attention to conservation efforts for that species or its habitat.

How is a state reptile chosen?

A state reptile is typically chosen through a legislative process. It often starts with a proposal, which can be influenced by public opinion, educational campaigns, or interest from specific groups such as schools or wildlife organizations. The proposal is then debated and must pass through the state's legislative body, similar to other laws, before being officially designated by the governor's signature.

Which state was the first to designate a state reptile, and what is it?

The first state to designate an official state reptile was Maryland in 1975, choosing the Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin). This selection highlights the terrapin's ecological importance as a native species to the brackish coastal tidal marshes of the eastern and southern United States, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay area.

Are state reptiles protected by law?

While being designated as a state reptile does not automatically confer legal protection, it can raise public awareness and support for the species, which may lead to conservation actions. Some state reptiles may already be protected under federal or state laws if they are considered threatened or endangered. For example, the Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), the state reptile of California and Nevada, is federally listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Can a state have more than one state reptile?

Typically, states choose only one official state reptile. However, there is no rule preventing a state from designating more than one if there is a compelling reason to do so. The designation is a symbolic act, and the criteria can vary based on the state's legislative decisions and the unique natural history of the region.

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    • The alligator is the state reptile of Florida and Louisiana.
      The alligator is the state reptile of Florida and Louisiana.
    • The garter snake is the state reptile of Massachusetts.
      By: tdoes
      The garter snake is the state reptile of Massachusetts.
    • The painted turtle is the state reptile of Michigan.
      By: Floki Fotos
      The painted turtle is the state reptile of Michigan.