With 165 known species of reptile (as of 2019), the state of Texas easily ranks #1 in the country for reptile diversity. And it’s not hard to see why, what with its vast landscapes and variety of distinct environments ranging from deserts and rocky plains to wetlands and dense forests. The hot, sunny climate also plays a big role in making the state perfect for reptile living, who are dependent on outside temperatures to keep themselves warm and functional. East Texas, can be extra attractive to nature-lovers, as it’s dominated by the subtropical ‘Piney Woods’ region and therefore an especially lush part of the state. Plenty of fascinating wildlife can be found in this region and its many state and national parks, and reptiles are no exception! So follow us on this little tour of Northeast Texas’s largest city, and more importantly, the best places in it to find great examples of the state’s famously diverse reptile population!
Tyler State Park
Just 20 minutes north from downtown Tyler, at the western edge of the Piney Woods region, is the beautiful Tyler State Park. It is 985 acres of tall trees surrounding a small lake, located in a humid subtropical climate ideal that nevertheless gets some incredible autumn colors! The warm and verdant environment is ideal for many of Texas’s native reptiles, so keep an eye out in all directions if you want to experience all the diversity this park has to offer! In the ponds, streams, and Tyler State Park Lake itself can be found a wide variety of turtles and water snakes, such as…
-Box turtles, Pond Slider, River Cooters, Aquatic Turtles and Map turtles
-Mud and Musk turtles, Softshells, Common and even Alligator Snapping turtles
-Water snakes including the Banded, Plain-Bellied, Diamondback, Mud- and Swampsnakes
By the water’s edges and in damp, swampy areas, plenty of terrestrial and semi-aquatic reptile species flourish as well:
-Colubrid snakes like the Red-bellied and Western Ribbon
-Venomous snakes species, including Copperheads, Cottonmouths, and Coral snakes (so definitely be careful!)
-A variety of skinks, including the Little Brown, Five-Lined, and Southern Coal skinks
The forest and small fields of Tyler State Park are home to the majority of its lizard species, along with quite a few arboreal snakes too:
-The forest floor and open grasslands can have Six-Lined Racerunners and Prairie lizards, as well as Brown-, Earth-, and Prairie Kingsnakes
-Looking up may reveal tree-dwellers such as the Rough Green- and Western Ratsnake, or lizards like the Green Anole and (invasive) Mediterranean House Gecko
As you can see, there are plenty of different reptiles to be found in this state park, alongside all the fishing, hiking, and scenic views. So if you’re ever in the area, make sure to check in out!
Other Parks and Natural Locales
East Texas, the city of Tyler included, is full of preserved natural environments all around the place. Parks, preserves, and wildlife refuges dot the landscape, including everything from fields and woodlands to hills and bodies of water. All these little ‘pockets’ of nature amidst the urbanized environment provide habitats for numerous wildlife – especially reptiles, who tend to be quite good at staying under the radar and adapting to small, isolated environments. In smaller places, you can expect to find smaller, more mobile reptiles.
-Lizards like Green anoles, House geckos, skinks, Texas Spiny and Southern Prairie lizards can be found in abundance throughout the state
-Similarly, faster and more widespread colubrid snakes like Racers, Garters, Milk- and Kingsnakes are frequent sights in these mini ecosystems
Larger areas like the Little Sandy National Wildlife Refuge, Lake Palestine, and Lake Tyler (all of which are within 20 miles of downtown Tyler) provide sanctuary for a much more diverse roster of herps. Since they exist in the same region (and relatively very close proximity!) as Tyler State Park, you can expect to find the same species inhabiting them. Regardless of where you go in Texas, you’re likely not far from some type of lizard, turtle, or snake!
The Caldwell Zoo
For a more sure-fire way to see some interesting reptiles, take a trip to the famous Caldwell Zoo located at the northwest edge of the city – an easy 5 to 10 minute drive from downtown Tyler! With excellent reviews, dozens of exhibits, and over 200 different animal species to see, this zoo is an great destination to visit for anyone interested in the natural world! Their Herpetarium exhibit in particular is home to over 20 unique species of reptile, quite a few of which are native to the state itself. These Texan-natives include:
-Grey-Banded King snake
-Timber and Western Diamondback rattlesnakes
-Texas Horned lizard
That last herp is of special interest to the zoo: the Texas Horned Lizard is a unique reptile famous for its incredibly spikey appearance and weird ability to shoot blood out of its eyes as a defense mechanism. Unfortunately, these lizards are considered a threatened species due to habitat loss. This has led to the species’ population declining rapidly over the years and getting them put on the protected animals list. To combat this, the Caldwell Zoo along with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department run a special conservation and breeding program whose aim is to rebuild the Horned Lizard’s population – a program you can support just by paying a visit and checking out the sites!
The City Itself
Last but not least is the city of Tyler itself! While human development and urbanization has changed the environment drastically from what it once was, that hasn’t stopped many reptiles from moving in alongside people and making the best of the situation! This is especially noticeable for the more adaptive and low-profile species, who are able to navigate the complex human world through a variety of ways.
-By far the most common are arboreal lizards, like Green anoles and House geckos. They’re small size and excellent climbing skills make them adept at city living, and it shows. You generally can’t walk down a single road without passing by at least one clinging to a wall, lamp post, or street tree.
-While generally less noticeable, many snakes make their homes in the urban landscape as well. Slithering through foliage, tunnels, roadside ditches, and storm drains makes an easy way to travel for many of the sleeker snake species, like Water snakes, Garters, Racers, Copperheads, Milk- and Kingsnakes.
-Even rarer, but not by much, many turtle species can be found in the various small ponds, lakes, and even pools throughout Tyler. Smaller species like Box and Mud turtles and Pond Sliders are most common, but sometimes larger species like Softshells and Snapping turtles make their way into urban bodies of water as well!
While not as vibrant or diverse as more natural settings, the urban and suburban environments of Tyler, Texas still make an excellent habitat for many species of reptile. So keep an eye out even when just walking down the streets – you never know what you may find!
Situated near the edge of the Piney Woods ecoregion, the city of Tyler is uniquely positioned for residents and visitors alike to experience the natural beauty East Texas has to offer. And for reptile lovers especially it offers a wide diversity of species to see – understandably, considering Texas has the largest number of distinct reptile species in the country. This means that no matter where you go in the city and surrounding areas, you can be pretty confident that you will find some sort of turtle, lizard, or snake around.
-Tyler State Park is definitely the go-to option for someone wanting to find some wildlife in a natural setting. 985 acres of trees, fields, and a small lake provides ample habitat for wide range of reptile species, from aquatic turtles and snakes to woodland lizards.
-Other than just the state park, there are still plenty of natural areas to find reptiles in. Small parks, rivers and creaks, pockets of woodland, nature preserves, and agricultural plots are all home to the myriad of herps native (and not) to Texas.
-For those wanting a more educational look at Texan wildlife, the Caldwell Zoo has hundreds of exhibits to see – including a reptile house with more than 20 species (7 native to the area) to learn about!
-The city of Tyler itself is also a prolific reptile habitat. Despite its urbanized and human-populated landscape, plenty of the more adaptive herp species make a living in the streets and suburbs, parks and ponds, dotted around the city. Even when your just walking down the road, you won’t be surprised to see small lizards and snakes scurrying around.