Reptiles are vertebrates that regulate body temperature externally, have dry, glandless skin covered with scales, breathe through lungs and lay large eggs that develop on land. Reptiles include turtles, snakes, and lizards. Most of our reptiles live in the Unseen New World exhibit, but we also have reptiles in Alligator Cove and Critter Encounters!

  • Aldabra Tortoise

    Aldabra Atoll (Western Indian Ocean)

    Scrub, mangrove swamps, coastal dunes, grasslands


    Over 100 years

    Up to 400 lbs, 40 in

    Grasses, plant material

    Aldabra tortoises are one of the largest tortoises in the world found only on the island of Aldabra. These tortoises are keystone species in their habitat and they play a role similar to that of elephants in opening up paths for smaller animals in their habitats. Females will lay 4-15 eggs, young aldabra tortoises are a fraction of their parents size weighing in at just a few ounces. The lifespan of aldabra tortoises is unknown because they outlive scientists that research them! You can see our aldabra tortoises in Critter Encounters.

  • Alligator Snapping Turtle

    Southeastern U.S.

    Deep freshwater


    Up to 45 yrs (wild)

    Up to 175 lbs, 40 in

    Fish, frogs, snakes, worms, clams

    Alligator snapping turtles are among the largest of the freshwater turtles. They can be distinguished from other snapping turtles by three large ridges along the back of their shell, as well as their large head and powerful jaws. Alligator snapping turtles will spend most of their day in the water and usually only nesting females will be seen on land. They can stay underwater for up to 50 minutes at a time and remain so still in the water that algae will often grow on their shells. Alligator snapping turtles have a small pink worm-like lure in their mouth. This lure attracts fish right into the mouth of the turtle where they get eaten by the turtle with a quick snap of their powerful jaws. You can see our alligator snapping turtle in the Unseen New World.

  • American Alligator

    North Carolina to Texas

    Slow moving bodies of freshwater

    Least Concern

    About 50 years

    Up to 1000 lbs, 12 ft (males)

    Large vertebrates, invertebrates, birds, frogs

    The American Alligator was on the verge of extinction in the 1970’s. The alligator was placed on the Endangered Species list and has since made a remarkable recovery.

    An easy way to distinguish alligators from crocodiles is to look at their teeth. Alligators and crocodiles have a very long fourth tooth. When an alligator closes its mouth that tooth is not visible, when a crocodile closes its mouth that tooth is visible from its upper jaw. Alligators can have up to 80 teeth in their mouth at one time and have over 2000 pounds of bite strength. Alligators will become dormant when the weather gets too cold for them. They dig “gator holes” that can be 65 feet long which they use during periods of dormancy. You can see our alligators at Alligator Cove on Jungle Loop.

  • Caiman Lizard

    Amazonian South America

    Rainforests, swamps

    Least Concern

    Up to 12 years

    Up to 12 lbs, 4 ft

    Clams, snails

    Nashville Zoo is one of the most successful breeding institutions for the caiman lizard. Caiman lizards are threatened in the wild due to illegal trade for their skins, therefore there is a strong need for their conservation and protection. You can see our caiman lizards in two tanks in Unseen New World: the Amazon River Tank and a tank near the restrooms.

    Nashville Zoo is a main breeder for Red Level Breeding Program.

  • Dwarf Caiman

    From Venezuela to Brazil

    Freshwater rivers and streams

    Least Concern

    Up to 40 years

    Up to 15 lbs, 5 ft

    Fish, birds, reptiles, invertebrates, small mammals

    Dwarf caiman are the smallest species of crocodile. They like to live in flooded forests with clean and fast-flowing rivers in South America. They will be found alone or in pairs. Breeding can occur throughout the year depending on the habitat and the female will lay 10-25 eggs in a nest that was built. The sex of the eggs are determined by the temperature of the nest during the incubation period. The eggs hatch after a 90 day incubation and the young will stay with the mother for several weeks. Dwarf caiman are mainly nocturnal, spending the day in a burrow while going out at night to hunt. You can see our dwarf caiman in Unseen New World.

  • Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

    Southeastern U.S.

    Palmetto groves, pine forests, fields

    Least Concern

    Up to 25 years

    Up to 10 lbs, 6 ft

    Small mammals, birds

    The eastern diamondback is one of the largest snakes in the US. This venomous snake has a rattle on the tip of its tail which increases in size with each shed. The rattle is shaken rapidly to warn predators to stay away. When they are hunting they are completely silent. Rattlesnakes are the only snake that have this adaptation and two species, the timber rattlesnake and pygmy rattlesnake, are 2 of the 4 venomous snake species that can be found in Tennessee. Diamondbacks are solitary animals that are active during the early morning and evening. This snake is very beneficial to humans as its main prey consists of rats, mice, and rabbits which are often viewed as pests. Their population is at risk due to habitat loss and human misconceptions of rattlesnakes. You can see our eastern diamondback rattlesnake in Unseen New World.

  • Eyelash Palm Pit Viper

    Southern Mexico to Northern South America

    Wooded areas from sea level to montane forests


    More than 10 years

    Up to 0.5 lbs, 32 in

    Small mammals, birds, small reptiles

    These pit vipers are named for the distinctive scales above their eyes. The exact use of which is unknown though it is believed that they help protect the snake’s eyes as it travels through vegetation. The eyelash palm pit viper is the smallest venomous snake in Central America. They generally avoid humans but use their long fangs to inject venom into their prey which they then eat. The eyelash palm pit viper has rough and sharp scales unlike other snakes smooth scales, these are thought to protect it within the trees it lives. The eyelash palm pit viper gives birth to live young, meaning that young either hatch inside the mother or right after the eggs are laid by the female. You can see our eyelash palm pit viper in Unseen New World.

  • Galapagos Tortoise

    Galapagos Islands

    Semi-arid lowlands and moist uplands


    Over 100 years

    Over 400 lbs, up to 4 ft

    Grasses, forbs, fruits, leaves, succulents

    The Galapagos Tortoise is the world's largest tortoise and can only be found in the Galapagos Islands west of South America. The tortoises will spend the cooler parts of the day low on the islands where it is dry and grassy, as the day warms up the tortoises will head to higher elevations where the vegetation is more lush. They usually travel the same path to these locations and will wear a path in the ground. Breeding season is January through August and the female will lay up to 10 eggs. You can find our Galapagos Tortoises in Critter Encounters.

    We participate in the Galapagos Tortoise Species Survival Plan®.

  • Haitian Giant Galliwasp

    Island of Hispaniola

    Tropical rainforests

    Critically Endangered

    10-12 years

    Up to 2 ft

    Insects, worms, small mammals, reptiles

    Not much is known about this secretive lizard. It will eat almost anything that it comes across but prefers insects and other reptiles. Galliwasps give birth to live young after a gestation of about 90 days. They like damp areas of the forest floor and are thought to burrow. Galliwasps are threatened by habitat loss, hunting due to locals mistakenly thinking they are venomous, and the introduction of non-native species such as dogs, cats, and mongooses to their habitat. You can see our galliwasp in the Unseen New World.

    Nashville Zoo is a leader in galliwasp conservation and participates in the Haitian Giant Galliwasp Species Survival Plan®.

  • Gila Monster

    Southwest U.S. and Mexico

    Dry, rocky foothills

    Near Threatened

    Up to 20 years

    Up to 4 lbs, 20 in

    Small vertebrates, eggs, small invertebrates

    The Gila monster is the largest lizard native to the United States and is closely related to the Mexican Beaded Lizard, both of which are venomous. Gila monsters spend the majority of their lives under ground. Their above ground activity happens mostly in the spring and includes mating and gathering their main food source. Each Gila monster has a range of about one square mile. Gila monsters have a mild toxin when they bite, it will be very painful but would not be fatal to humans. Unlike snakes who inject their venom, Gila monsters chew on their prey to get their venom into the open wound of their prey. You can see our Gila monster in Unseen New World.

  • Green Anaconda

    Tropical South America

    Swamps, slow moving streams


    More than 10 years

    Up to 300 lbs, 20 ft

    Large rodents, birds, dogs, sheep, aquatic reptiles

    The green anaconda is the largest snake in the world averaging over 20 feet in length, 300 pounds in weight, and over 12 inches across. 2-12 males will form a breeding ball where they coil around 1 female and engage in fights with each other that can last 2-4 weeks, the winner gets the right to breed with the female. 20-40 live young are born up to 2 feet in length. These snakes are apex predators that will eat anything in their habitat they can constrict and eat. Green anacondas are very adaptable to their environment including floods and seasonal dry times. Similar to other snakes anacondas will eat their prey head first to reduce the obstructions caused by limbs. You can see our green anaconda in Unseen New World.

  • Green Crested Basilisk

    Mexico to the Amazon Basin

    Tropical rainforests


    More than 10 years

    Up to 3 ft

    Insects, small lizards and mammals, crawfish

    The basilisk is known for its ability to run over water. Long legs and long toes with fringed scales allows the lizard to not break the surface of the water as they run across it at 7 miles per hour on their rear legs. As they slow down they move to all fours and eventually start swimming. This behavior is used to either escape predators or find food. Basilisks are great swimmers and can be in the water for up to 30 minutes. Female basilisks will lay 15-17 eggs at a time and she can lay up to 5 clutches of eggs per breeding season. You can see our basilisk in the Unseen New World.

  • Indigo Snake

    Florida, southeast Georgia

    Fields, pine/tropical forests, marshes


    More than 20 yrs

    Up to 11 lbs, 8.5 ft

    Snakes, turtles, frogs, mammals, birds, lizards

    The indigo snake is the longest snake native to the United States. The indigo snake is not venomous or a constrictor. It uses its muscular jaws to overpower prey. The snake used to have a much larger range including parts of Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. The number of indigo snakes has decreased due to habitat loss and fragmentation, collection for pet trade, and gassing of gopher tortoise burrows for the collection of rattlesnakes. Indigo snakes have large ranges of up to 3000 acres and are at the top of the food web in their habitats and have been seen eating venomous snakes like the diamondback rattlesnake. Indigo snake habitats have begun to be restored and snakes have been reintroduced into areas of Alabama. You can see our indigo snake in the Unseen New World.


    We participate in the Indigo Snake Species Survival Plan®.

  • Komodo Dragon

    Indonesian islands

    Open savannah areas


    Up to 30 years

    Up to 300 lbs, 7-9 ft

    Boar, deer, carrion

    Komodo dragons change drastically throughout their lives. When they hatch they are about 10-13 inches long and yellow, green, and black. By the time they reach about 10 years of age they will be 7-9 feet and can weigh almost 300 pounds and be a dull gray or brown. As juveniles the Komodo dragons will live in trees and roll in fecal matter to protect themselves from getting eaten by adults. You can see our Komodo dragons in Critter Encounters.


    We participate in the Komodo Dragon Species Survival Plan®.

  • Mata Mata

    Tropical rivers in South America

    Shallow, muddy, slow moving waters


    40-75 years

    Up to 40 lbs, 18 in

    Fish, amphibians, small mammals, birds

    The unique look of the Mata mata allows for it to blend in to its surroundings while it is looking for food. The many folds of skin along the neck of the turtle allow it to detect the movement of approaching fish. The neck of the mata mata is also longer than the vertebrae inside the shell of the turtle. When prey is within striking distance of the mata mata it can open its mouth so fast that the rush of water also sucks in the prey. The prey is swallowed and the water is expelled back out of the mouth. The mata mata is the only species in its genus and rarely interacts with other mata mata other than to breed. With their weak limbs they rarely venture out of the water and are rarely seen swimming. You can see our mata mata in the Unseen New World.

  • Mexican Beaded Lizard

    Mexico, Guatemala

    Warm, humid deciduous forests; scrub deserts

    Least Concern

    More than 30 years

    Up to 6 lbs, 18 in

    Small mammals, lizards, birds, eggs

    Beaded lizards are one of two venomous lizards along with the gila monster though they don’t inject their venom like snakes. Their venom is stored in grooved pits in their teeth and is delivered to their prey as the beaded lizard chews. Beaded lizards wills spend around 95% of their day hidden in shelters only foraging at night in the summer and during the day in cooler months. Males will engage in battle for reproductive rights with females that could last hours. Beaded lizards are at risk in the wild from habitat loss and the illegal pet trade, with populations in Guatemala suffering the most. You can see our Mexican beaded lizard in the Unseen New World.


    We participate in the Mexican Beaded Lizard Species Survival Plan®.

  • Northern Copperhead

    Eastern to midwest U.S.

    Rocky forested hillsides, wetlands, semi-aquatic habitats

    Least Concern

    Up to 18 years

    Up to 1 lb, 24-32 in

    Rodents, birds, lizards, small snakes, insects

    Copperheads are social snakes which can be found hibernating in dens with other copperheads. They can also often be found in groups near eating, drinking, sunning, and courting sites. These snakes will begin to reproduce around 4 years in age and females give birth to live young after a mating ritual that could last hours and a gestation of 3-9 months. Females provide no care to offspring after birth. Copperheads are copper or orange-brown in color with reddish “saddles” on their back. Often harmless rat snakes are mistaken for venomous copperheads. You can see our copperhead snake in the Unseen New World.

  • Rhinoceros Iguana

    Island of Hispaniola

    Dry, rocky coastal & mainland forests


    Up to 20 years

    Up to 20 lbs, 4 ft

    Fruits and vegetation

    The rhinoceros iguana gets its name from the bumps on its snout which are most pronounced on male iguanas. Breeding will happen at 2 to 3 years of age. Males bob their heads and their spines along their back to attract females. Females will dig burrows to incubate the eggs, there is no parental care after the eggs hatch. Rhinoceros iguanas are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day. They spend their nights in rock crevices, caves, or burrows they have dug. Rhinoceros iguanas are threatened by habitat destruction, invasive species, and illegal hunting. You can see our rhinoceros iguanas inside Unseen New World.

  • South American Bushmaster

    Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia

    Mountainous and lowland tropical rainforests


    More than 12 years

    Up to 11 lbs, 7 ft

    Small mammals

    The bushmaster is a shy species but one of the more deadly snakes. Using heat sensitive pits this snake can detect a temperature difference of as little as 0.0036 degrees for anything within 20 inches from the snake. Bushmasters are ambush predators concealing themselves in areas of high small mammal traffic waiting to strike. The scientific name of this snake Lachesis muta means “silent fate” as no sound is produced directly from the rattle of its tail. You can see our South American Bushmaster inside Unseen New World.

  • Sulcata Tortoise

    Southern edge of Sahara Desert

    Arid savannah & scrubland


    More than 50 years

    Up to 240 lbs, 30 in

    Grasses, flowers, weeds

    Sulcata tortoises are the second largest tortoise after Galapagos tortoises. These tortoises like to live in hot and dry areas of Africa and do not need permanent water sources. They get much of the water they need from eating succulent plants like cactus which store water in their leaves. Sulcatas are great burrowers which they dig during the dry season to avoid dehydration. The skin of sulcatas is resistant to water loss but can absorb water when needed. They will also smear saliva on their arms to cool down if they get too hot. Sulcatas breed between June and March when they will lay 15-30 eggs which hatch after an 8 month incubation period. Sulcata populations have been decreasing due to human population expansion, desertification, and collection for the pet trade. You can see our sulcata tortoises at Shell Station.

  • Yellow Blotched Map Turtle

    Pascagoula River in Mississippi

    Sandy or mud-bottomed rivers


    Up to 100 years

    Up to 7.5 in

    Aquatic insects, crustaceans, fish

    This turtle got its name from its map like markings on its shell. They are completely aquatic leaving the water only to bask or lay eggs. They will reach maturity between 6-9 years and females will lay up to 28 eggs per year. This map turtle is one of ten species of Map turtles, all of which are found only in the Eastern United States. They are at risk from pollution and the removal of logs for them to bask on. You can see our yellow blotched map turtle in the Unseen New World.

    We participate in the Yellow-Blotched Map Turtle Species Survival Plan®.

  • Yellow-spotted Amazon Turtle

    Amazon River Basin

    Calm rivers and riverbanks


    Up to 70 years

    6.5 lbs, 15-27 in

    Grasses, fruits, shellfish, carrion

    The aptly named yellow-spotted Amazon turtles can be recognized by the yellow spots on their heads, which fade with maturation in females but remain present in adult males. In the wild, the primary threat to this species has been hunting by indigenous people for their meat and eggs, but today, more sustainable hunting methods are being implemented in order to preserve the species. You can see our yellow-spotted Amazon turtle inside the main viewing building of Expedition Peru: Trek of the Andean Bear.