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REPTILES THAT NEED US TO GET TO 350 Photo credits
Blue spiny lizard (Sceloporus serrifer)
Range: Mexico
The spiny lizards in the genus Sceloporus include some of the most well-known lizards in North and Central America, such as the familiar western fence lizard. However, rising temperatures from climate change are causing these lizards to disappear at an alarming rate. Spiny lizards need to bask in the sun to warm up, but if conditions get too hot, they’re forced to retreat into the shade instead of spending time searching for food. Lizards that can’t get enough to eat don’t have enough energy to lay eggs or give birth, putting populations at risk of extinction. In Mexico, scientists found that spiny lizards went extinct at 12 percent of the sites where they had been present in the 1970s to 1990s, and these extinctions tended to occur where temperatures had increased the most during their breeding seasons. If climate change continues unabated, scientists predict, 58 percent of spiny lizard species in Mexico will go extinct by 2080, including all those native to high elevations.
Broad-headed snake (Hoplocephalus bungaroides)
Range: Sydney Basin, New South Wales, Australia
The venomous broad-headed snake, which can reach nearly three feet in length, was once common throughout its range. Now urban development and rock removal have driven this snake from all but a fraction of that historic range. Under current, worst-case climate change predictions, the species faces additional habitat loss and disrupted breeding seasons, and with already dwindling populations, it’s highly unlikely that the broad-headed snake would successfully adapt to and recover from such change and disruption.
Cagle’s map turtle (Graptemys caglei)
Range: Endemic to Guadalupe, San Antonio, and San Marcos rivers in Texas
The Cagle's map turtle is a rare riverine turtle that survives only in the muddy waters of the Guadalupe River system in Texas. This turtle’s green-tinted shell is decorated with intricate, swirling markings and serrated edges at the rear. Sex determination of developing turtles is temperature-dependent, with high incubation temperatures producing only females and low temperatures producing only males. Thus, warming temperatures from climate change threaten to disrupt the turtle’s gender balance.

In 2004, the Center petitioned to list the Cagle’s map turtle, which was placed on the federal candidate list in 1977 but is still without federal protection. In 2007, our allies petitioned the state of Texas to ban all commercial harvest of freshwater turtles. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department voted to end commercial harvest in public waters but continued to allow unlimited commercial harvest of seven species from private waters.
Desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Range: Southern California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona
Desert tortoises have lived in the deserts of California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah since the Pleistocene. As many as 1,000 tortoises per square mile once inhabited the Mojave in the early 20th century. But by the end of the century, this population of the desert tortoise was listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, largely due to vanishing habitat, while Army translocation projects threaten to devastate the Mojave population. The desert tortoise will face increasing stress from drought, heat waves, and changes in the vegetation it relies on for food, in addition to the cumulative impacts of global warming with livestock grazing, human disturbance, disease, fire, and predators.

Thanks to a lawsuit by the Center and Desert Survivors, in 2008 Fort Irwin officials suspended a disastrous desert tortoise translocation project that killed hundreds of the animals. A new translocation project was proposed in 2009 — but it was put on hold after a flood of comments from our supporters.
Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas)
Range: Worldwide distribution in tropical and subtropical waters
The green sea turtle is one of the oldest sea turtles studied; in fact, much knowledge about sea turtle ecology comes from studies of this species. Green sea turtles’ common name derives from the green fat underneath their shells. Like other sea turtles, over their average lifespan of 80 years, they migrate long distances between feeding grounds and hatching beaches. Sea turtles spend almost all their lives submerged but must breathe air, routinely diving for about five minutes and surfacing to breathe for one to three seconds. They can sleep underwater for several hours, but their ability to hold their breath is affected by activity and stress, which is why turtles drown in fishing gear within a relatively short time. Global warming threatens the green sea turtle in several ways: Rising sea levels may inundate nesting beaches; increased sand temperatures can lead to changes in the sex ratio of hatchling turtles; warming ocean temperatures are leading to mass coral bleaching, damaging reef habitats where turtles feed; and changes in ocean currents can alter turtle migrations paths and feeding patterns.

The Center takes to court to defend the green sea turtle and other sea turtle species from longline fishing through our Fisheries Campaign.
Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
Range: Tropical reefs of the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans
The critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle is the only species in its genus. Its distinguishing feature: the sharp, curving, beak-like mouth from which it gets its common name. Its chosen prey includes sea sponges, which are highly toxic and can be lethal when eaten by other creatures — but not for the hawksbill. Human fishing practices and the use of hawskbill shells for tortoiseshell trinkets have resulted in the hawksbill facing the possibility of extinction. Global warming threatens the hawksbill in several ways: Rising sea levels may inundate nesting beaches; increased sand temperatures can lead to changes in the sex ratio of hatchling turtles; warming ocean temperatures are leading to mass coral bleaching, damaging reef habitats where turtles feed; and changes in ocean current can alter turtle migrations paths and feeding patterns.

The Center works hard to stop longline fishing practices that ensnare the hawksbill and other sea turtles.
Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)
Range: Western Atlantic seaboard from Florida to New England; Gulf of Mexico
The critically endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle is the smallest and rarest sea turtle. In 1947, there were an estimated 89,000 nesting females, but by the mid-1980s, that number had plummeted to an estimated 1,000. One of the biggest threats to the species has been shrimp trawling, which entangles and drowns the turtles. Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles change color with development. As hatchlings, they’re almost entirely a dark gray, but adults have a yellow-green or white undershell and a gray-green upper shell. Sea-level rise may inundate nesting beaches for the Kemp’s Ridley; increased sand temperatures can lead to changes in the sex ratio of hatchling turtles; and changes in ocean current can alter turtle migrations paths and feeding patterns.

The Center has waged a long battle to curtail fishing practices such as longlining and trawling that threaten the Kemp’s Ridley.
Leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
Range: All tropical and subtropical oceans, as far south as the southernmost tip of New Zealand and as far north as the Arctic Circle
As ancient as the dinosaurs, leatherback sea turtles are the heaviest reptiles on the planet. In addition to longlines and gillnets, these remarkable creatures face the threat of global warming. Rising sea levels, increased sand temperatures, and stronger storms threaten the sandy beaches the turtles use to nest. Shifting currents may alter the ocean’s upwelling patterns, which turtles depend on for food. And because turtles lack sex chromosomes, their genes don‘t determine whether a hatchling is male or female. Instead, buried eggs take their cue from the ambient temperature. With a mere two-degree increase over 29 degrees Celsius, a nest will produce all females — a few degrees higher, and eggs won‘t hatch at all. To maintain a viable breeding population, a cool, male-producing year must come at least once every five to 10 years.

Since leatherbacks are particularly imperiled in the Pacific Ocean, in 2007 the Center petitioned to obtain critical habitat for leatherbacks off California and Oregon. In 2009, we filed a notice of intent to sue to speed habitat protection.
Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta)
Range: Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans
Loggerhead sea turtles make some of the longest known journeys of any sea turtle species, each year migrating more than 7,500 miles between nesting beaches in Japan and feeding grounds off the coast of Mexico. Along the way, they must navigate past millions of longline hooks, which catch and kill thousands of sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals, and sharks. Gillnet fisheries likewise entangle and drown many loggerheads. Making matters much worse, rising sea levels due to global warming threaten to destroy Florida’s nesting beaches, and rising temperatures could dramatically tilt the balance of male and female turtles being hatched, endangering the species’ reproductive abilities. This is because turtles’ gender is determined by temperature; in warmer weather, there are fewer males born, and with a temperature just two degrees higher than 29 degrees Celsius, almost all hatchlings are females.

The Center has repeatedly litigated to curtail commercial fishing practices harming the loggerhead. Following one lawsuit, longline fishing for swordfish was prohibited along the West Coast. In 2007, we petitioned to list North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles as endangered, as well as to increase protections in key nesting habitat.
Mexican garter snake (Thamnophis eques megalops)
Range: From central and southeastern Arizona to Oaxaca, Mexico
Oases in the desert, Southwestern streams are among the most delicate ecosystems on the planet. In these shallow, ephemeral waters, species like the Mexican garter snake once carved out a precarious existence. But these highly adapted, rare animals are no match for pumping, livestock grazing, and flood control, which have already nearly dried up desert rivers. Future climate scenarios, with an increase in temperature and more precipitation extremes — including increasing drought — threaten the riparian habitat of the Mexican garter snake.

In 2007, the Center filed suit to overturn a decision denying the snake protection, and in May of the next year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally announced it would revisit the species’ status. In 2008, the Service once again denied the species federal safeguards, making it a mere “candidate” for listing, but we’ll continue our fight to protect the snake.
Sonoyta mud turtle (Kinosternon sonoriense longifemorale)
Range: Quitobaquito Springs in Arizona, Rio Sonoyta in Sonora, Mexico, and a spring complex at Quitovac
This tenacious little mud turtle is easily identifiable, as it’s the only turtle to live in the Sonoran Desert. Perfectly adapted to live in only a handful of locations, the Sonoyta mud turtle now occurs only in one reservoir and limited stream habitat in Arizona and Mexico. The Sonoyta mud turtle’s aquatic habitat is threatened by decreasing rainfall, droughts, and floods projected for the Southwest. Its home reservoir could silt in over time, or the dam could fail in a storm or extreme flooding event, with devastating consequences for the Sonoyta mud turtle. Because turtles are slow to mature and reproduce, they’re incapable of expanding rapidly to take advantage of temporary habitats created by periods of high precipitation, and populations can decline rapidly during drought years.

After the turtle languished for eight years as a candidate for protection, the Center petitioned for formal Endangered Species Act protection for the mud turtle in 2005.
Three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis)
Range: South-central United States
Three-toed box turtles are the state reptile of Missouri and have long been kept as pets. These turtles are recognizable for their highly domed shell and three-toed back feet (hence their name). In the wild, these box turtles are threatened by global warming as environmental changes threaten to dramatically alter the forests, marshes, and humid grasslands they call home. Sex determination of developing turtles is temperature dependent, and warming temperatures from climate change threaten to disrupt the turtle’s gender balance. One study has found that under future climate conditions, three-toed box turtles might experience precariously low growth rates as smaller individuals produce fewer eggs.

In 2009 the Center, along with local groups from each state, petitioned wildlife and health agencies in Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, South Carolina, and Tennessee for a ban on commercial harvest of freshwater turtles.
Wood turtle (Glyptemys insculpta)
Range: Northeastern United States and southeastern Canada
Not surprisingly, the wood turtle spends most of its time in wooded areas. It is, however, also semi-aquatic and dependent on streams, rivers, and ponds. A great escape artist and climber, this species has been known to systematically probe fenced-in areas to find a means of escape. In a series of maze experiments back in 1932, researchers concluded that the North American wood turtle had the learning capacity of a rat. Unfortunately, climate change may hurt wood turtles through increasing the frequency of flood events. Seasonal floods have been documented to displace northeastern wood turtles and cause higher mortality.

In 2009, the Center joined local groups in petitioning the Ohio governor, Department of Natural Resources, and Department of Health to ban turtle harvesting in the state, whose northeastern corner is home to the wood turtle.