Copperbelly Water Snake, John MacGregor photo



Reptiles (formerly Class Reptilia) include about 3,700 kinds of lizards, 2,300 snakes, and 240 turtles and tortoises worldwide. Snakes and lizards (Class Lepidosauromorpha) are now recognized as biologically distinct from turtles (Class Testudines) and have been placed in completely separate groups. For the sake of simplicity, we will continue to treat all of our snakes, liza​rds, and turtles as reptiles. At the present time, 56 species of reptiles are known to occur in Kentucky (10 lizards, 32 snakes, and 14 turtles). One additional snake – the Eastern Coachwhip – has not been seen in Kentucky in more than 40 years and was probably not native to our state in the first place. Most of our reptiles are native, but at least 2 species (Common Wall-lizard and Mediterranean House Gecko) are exotics that have been introduced into Kentucky from other parts of the world. Download a copy of our snake booklet.


Kentucky’s reptiles occur in a wide variety of habitats. In general, our lizards tend to prefer dry, open areas although some types of skinks occur in damp woodlands as well. The snakes form a highly variable group from a habitat perspective; some are largely aquatic and must live in and near water; others are primarily terrestrial. Some kinds of snakes spend most of their time underground in burrows and small mammal runways, and some are largely arboreal and spend most of their time climbing among trees, shrubs, and vines. Most Kentucky turtles (13 of 14) are basically aquatic and leave the water only to make overland migrations between water bodies or to lay their eggs. Only 1 species (Eastern Box Turtle) is terrestrial. All of Kentucky’s lizards and snakes are carnivorous; most turtles are more omnivorous as adults and largely carnivorous as hatchlings, but our four kinds of map turtles feed almost completely on freshwater invertebrates. ​

Research and Monitoring

KDFWR pays special attention to about 46% of the Kentucky reptile fauna (4 lizards, 16 snakes, and 6 turtles) in response to a variety of conservation issues. Some species have extremely limited ranges in the state, some occur only in widely scattered colonies and are disappearing due to long-term changes in habitat, and others are becoming scarce for unknown reasons. In addition, we keep track of a few species that are doing just fine here in Kentucky but are declining in some of our neighboring states. Some of KDFWR’s activities on behalf of these reptiles include spotting scope surveys and transect counts for basking snakes and turtles, laying out and regularly checking coverboards and old roofing tin to track snake and lizard numbers in selected areas, nighttime road cruising for snakes, surveying new areas and habitats, identifying snakes from photos and shed skins submitted to KDFWR from the public, supporting university research, and creating detailed occurrence maps for each species to provide a baseline for future work.

Species List

A complete list of reptile species known from Kentucky appears below. Those marked with asterisks (**) are currently being studied, tracked, monitored, or given special management consideration as a species of greatest conservation need under Kentucky’s Wildlife Action Plan.


Skinks (5)

  • Coal Skink**
  • Five-lined Skink​
  • Broadhead Skink
  • Southeastern Five-lined Skink**
  • Ground Skink
Geckos (1)
  • Mediterranean House Gecko​

Glass Lizards (1)

  • Slender Glass Lizard**

Fence Lizards (1)

  • Northern Fence Lizard
Racerunners (1)​
  • Six-lined Racerunner**
  • Common Wall-lizard
Five-lined Skink

Five-lined Skink, Photo by John R. MacGregor


Pit Vipers (4)

  • Copperhead
  • Western Cottonmouth**
  • Timber Rattlesnake**
  • Western Pigmy Rattlesnake**

Egg-laying Harmless Snakes (15)

  • Scarlet Snake**
  • Eastern Racer
  • Prairie Kingsnake
  • Black Kingsnake
  • Scarlet Kingsnake**
  • Milk Snake
  • Rough Green Snake
  • Corn Snake**
  • Rat Snake
  • Northern Pine Snake**
  • Southeastern Crowned Snake**
  • Eastern Worm Snake
  • Ringneck Snake
  • Mud Snake**
  • Eastern Hognose Snake

Live-bearing Harmless Snakes (13)

  • Kirtland’s Snake**
  • Mississippi Green Water Snake**
  • Copperbelly**/Plainbelly Water Snake
  • Broad-banded Water Snake**
  • Diamondback Water Snake**
  • Northern/Midland Water Snake
  • Queen Snake
  • Brown Snake
  • Redbelly Snake
  • Western Ribbon Snake**
  • Eastern Ribbon Snake**
  • Eastern Garter Snake
  • ​Smooth Earth Snake
Corn snake on hay

Corn Snake, Photo by John R. MacGregor


Softshells (2)

  • Smooth Softshell**
  • Spiny Softshell

Snapping Turtles (2)

  • Common Snapping Turtle
  • Alligator Snapping Turtle**

Mud and Musk Turtles (2)

  • Eastern Mud Turtle**
  • Common Musk Turtle

Pond and Box Turtles (8)

  • Southern**/Midland Painted Turtle
  • Common Map Turtle
  • Ouachita Map Turtle
  • Mississippi Map Turtle**
  • False Map Turtle**
  • Eastern River Cooter
  • Red-eared Slider
  • Eastern Box Turtle
River Cooter Turtle
River Cooter, Photo by John R. MacGregor