Reptiles may be one of the most diverse groups of animals on the planet. There are reptiles that live in hot, dry deserts and reptiles that can survive freezing Arctic temperatures. There are even some reptiles that live almost fully aquatic lives.
In this article, we’ll cover a list of reptiles that are aquatic.
There are many pet and wild reptiles that would be considered aquatic. Sea snakes are the only reptiles that are fully aquatic and spend their entire lives submerged. However, other reptiles like sea and pond turtles, crocodiles and alligators, and water dragons are always found in or very close to a body of water.
The definition of an aquatic animal can be pretty restrictive. Under the real guidelines, even a sea lion might not be considered “aquatic.” First, we’ll talk about what an aquatic reptile means for the purpose of this article. Then, we’ll list some of our favorite captive and wild aquatic reptiles.
13 Reptiles That Are Aquatic, Or Semi-Aquatic
The difference between fully aquatic and semi-aquatic animals is notable.
Animals that are truly aquatic, spend their lives tethered to a body of water. Aquatic animals never emerge from bodies of water. Some examples of fully aquatic animals are fish, dolphins, and eels.
Semi-aquatic animals, on the other hand, describe animals that spend time both on land and in the water. These animals can be like seals, who spend the majority of their time and their water but need to return to land for things like mating and breeding.
It’s important to keep in mind that while we talk about reptiles that are aquatic, we are usually describing reptiles that are semi-aquatic. Below, we’ll talk about the one group of reptiles that is truly aquatic and never heads to land. Now, let’s get to our list of reptiles that are aquatic.
1. Red-Eared Slider
One of the first aquatic reptiles we’ll talk about is the red-eared slider. Without a doubt, it’s the most common aquatic pet you’ll find available for reptile lovers.
These pond turtles are one of the turtle species that spend most of their lives in freshwater. Red-eared sliders can often be found in slow-moving or still bodies of water with muddy bottoms. In captivity red-eared sliders often need to be kept in large pools are ponds outside.
This is because red-eared sliders are often sold as tiny quarter-sized hatchlings but can become fairly large as adults.
2. Common Musk Turtle
Common musk turtles or stinkpot turtles are one of the easiest aquatic reptiles to keep as a pet. These turtles stay very small and can be housed in 20 to 30-gallon tanks indoors.
Because of their size and easy husbandry requirements, these turtles are actually great for beginner keepers. Musk turtles spend much of their time swimming around in the water but always need a haul-out area to dry off on. These turtles have funny lip-like mouths and need to eat their food in the water.
Just a side note, musk turtles are named because of the foul musk odor they can emit when threatened.
3. Spotted Turtle
Spotted turtles are another species of aquatic turtle that can be found in the wild or kept as a pet. Just like many other aquatic turtles, spotted turtles are often shy and skittish.
They aren’t good pets for handling but are great to observe swimming around in their tanks. Hatchlings often spent almost all of their days in the water, while adults will tend to spend more time basking on land. In the wild, spotted turtles are found in the United States in swamps and wetlands across the east coast.
Spotted turtles are aptly named because of the cute yellow polka dots on their black shells
4. Chinese Water Dragon
Chinese water dragons are another species of aquatic reptile. Chinese water dragons are adorable, lanky, green lizards that can be kept as pets. These dragons are only suitable for advanced reptile keepers.
Just like their name implies, Chinese water dragons love to swim and need to have enough room to paddle around in their enclosure. These semi-aquatic reptiles often grow to a length of 3 feet and will need an enclosure at least 6 feet in length.
Besides being aquatic, Chinese water dragons are also arboreal. That means that these lizards can often be found high up in trees in the wild. In captivity, Chinese water dragons are one of the reptiles that need very tall enclosures.
5. Asian Water Monitor
As their name implies, Asian water monitors are large aquatic monitor lizards. Though uncommon, Asian water monitors are sometimes kept as pets. Because of their large size, intricate care requirements, and long lifespan, these pets should not be taken in without deep consideration.
Usually, you can find an Asian water monitor in a sanctuary or zoo. Of course, these water monitors exist in the wild as well. In the wild, Asian water monitors spend plenty of time swimming lazily through streams and rivers. When they swim, they look like miniature crocodiles.
Though these lizards traverse land reasonably well, biologically, they’re much better suited for water.
6. Chinese Crocodile Lizard
Chinese crocodile lizards are another aquatic reptile that can be found in the wild or kept as a pet.
Just like Asian water monitors, these lizards are incredible swimmers. They use their long tails to propel themselves forward in the water and are able to slow down their respiratory rate for a deep dive. Even though Chinese crocodile lizards, like to spend a lot of time on land, you won’t find them far away from a body of water that they can use to escape predators.
Chinese crocodile lizards don’t need as much space as a water monitor or water dragon but should still only be taken on by expert reptile keepers.
7. Water Anole
Anoles are some of the most popular pet reptiles because of their small size and simple diet.
Water anoles are an aquatic species of anole. It was discovered that these tiny lizards are able to dive deep underwater by using a large bubble of air. This bubble stays attached to the anoles head and it stays submerged and the lizards can take breaths from it. Through this strategy, anoles can dive underwater, and stay there for up to 15 minutes at a time.
It goes without saying that these lizards live an aquatic lifestyle. In captivity, these lizards need a terrestrial and aquatic environment to be fulfilled.
Crocodiles are one of the biggest reptiles that are aquatic. Crocodiles spend a great majority of their life underwater. The water is where they mate, breed, and even hunt. Saltwater crocodiles are an amazing mention in the crocodile family as they may spend hours at a time submerged underwater.
Even though crocodiles are aquatic and great swimmers, you can often find them sprawled out on the land. There are many reasons why crocodiles go on land but two of the most important art are to bask in the sun and to lay eggs.
Just like crocodiles, alligators are another aquatic reptile.
The last two existing species of alligators are the Chinese and American alligators. You can find both of these species of alligators frequenting bodies of freshwater like rivers, lakes, springs, swamps, and streams. Alligators have a very similar lifestyle to crocodiles where they will spend a good amount of time in the water but will go on land to warm up and to lay eggs.
Caimans are a small aquatic relative of crocodiles and alligators. Though it can be difficult to tell these three reptiles apart, caimans especially like to spend their time submerged and hidden deep in swamps. Even though caimans are aquatic, they’ll also take advantage of the large roots of the trees surrounding them to haul out and bask in the sun.
11. Green Anaconda
Anacondas are famous, predatory snakes that have a bad reputation. However, that reputation may be well earned because Green anacondas are one of the largest snakes in the world. Not only are the snakes large, but they are intimidating because they can be found both on land and in water.
In general, anacondas are extremely well adapted to swimming and life in water. However, you’re also able to find these huge snakes in grasslands and areas of thick vegetation in South America.
12. Marine Iguanas
Marine iguanas may be one of the most unique aquatic reptiles. Marine iguanas are large lizards found in the Galapagos islands.
These lizards have a very interesting lifestyle. They spend their days basking on the rocks in the sun while diving into the freezing, cold ocean to forage for algae. These iguanas are tied to the ocean and feed exclusively on plant matter found underwater. Despite all of the time these lizards spend in the ocean they still do a lot of other important things, like breeding and mating, on land.
13. Sea Turtles
Even though you might consider these reptiles fully aquatic sea turtles still don’t spend their entire lives out in the ocean.
Sea turtles are incredibly well adapted to marine life. They’ve got large flippers that they use to navigate the ocean, and they spend most of their long lives there. However, sea turtles come to land once a year to lay their eggs.
Sam sea turtles bury their eggs in the sand, while others just leave them there to hatch. There are only seven species of sea turtles left today and they’re all at risk of extinction from human activities.
Reptiles That Are Fully Aquatic
Technically, all of the reptiles we’ve mentioned until this point are not considered fully aquatic. Even though they spend much or most of their time in the water, the reptiles above still must go on land at some point during their lives. Now, we can talk about the one group of reptiles that is actually fully aquatic.
14. Sea Snakes
Sea snakes are a family of snakes that are also called coral reef snakes. Most species of sea, snakes are fully aquatic, and only come to the surface to take a breath of air. Unlike fish, sea snakes do not have gills and cannot live life completely underwater.
Most sea, snakes are venomous and have long, thin, paddle-like tails adapted for swimming. Some species of sea snakes are docile, but others are downright aggressive and should be avoided at all costs.
Beaked Sea Snake
The beaked sea snake is one aquatic reptile you should avoid. This snake is incredibly venomous and is responsible for most of the deaths associated with sea snake bites. This snake is found in the Arabian Sea and is most commonly sighted on the coastline of India.
The biggest sea snake has incredible adaptations to live alive underwater. This snake can dive up to 100 m deep and can stay underwater for up to five hours. Because of the excessive time they spend in the sea, they have special glands to help them get rid of extra salt in their diet.
Not only are these snakes venomous, but they are openly aggressive.
Olive Sea Snake
If the beaked sea snake is the most aggressive sea snake, the olive sea snake may be the least aggressive. These aquatic reptiles are often described as curious and inquisitive by divers. They’re one of the most commonly sighted sea snakes on Australia’s coral reefs.
Though these snakes aren’t known to pursue humans, their bites are fatal. Something that makes the olive sea snake special is that its entire life cycle is completed at sea and it never emerges on land.
Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake
Like many other sea snakes, the yellow-bellied sea snake is able to live a fully aquatic life. This snake is considered to be the most pelagic sea snake and can often be founding the open ocean.
Females need to find shallow waters and tide pools in which to birth their young. Amazingly, the yellow-bellied sea snake is able to take in about 33% of its oxygen needs through its skin while diving or while at the surface of the water.
What Reptiles Can Live Underwater?
Despite some of the amazing adaptations, we’ve talked about in aquatic reptiles today, there aren’t any that can live underwater. Reptiles aren’t fish and don’t have gills. Just like marine mammals, aquatic reptiles, need to come to the surface to breathe even if it’s only every few hours. None of these reptiles are equipped to live an entire life submerged underwater.
It’s amazing that so many reptiles are aquatic. Considering that many species of reptiles have adapted to life in the desert with almost no water, it’s a miracle that other reptiles can stay submerged underwater for hours at a time.
Aquatic reptiles have special adaptations to survive in water like ways to take in oxygen through their skin, specialized limbs for swimming, and strategies for hunting.
Since aquatic reptiles aren’t fully aquatic, they pose a special difficulty as pets. Keeping an aquatic reptile as a pet means, you need both an aquatic area and a terrestrial area for your pet reptile. That means extra space, time, and resources. However, if you’re willing to commit to the work, an aquatic reptile may be one of the most rewarding animals to keep.