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An American Alligator eye and top of head pops up above the waterline.

Islands and Lakes

While islands and lakes might seem like opposites—land surrounded by water vs. water surrounded by land—they are both semi-isolated environments that can give rise to unique species as well as offer refuge to more wide-ranging ones. Whether you're swinging by Islands and Lakes to take a close look at American alligators or to soak in the dazzling colors of dozens of kinds of African cichlids, there's a little bit of everything in these diverse environments!

  • An aracari bird, with its long, banana-shaped bill sits patiently on a staff member's hand during an animal floor program.


    Keep an eye out for animal presentations in Islands and Lakes.

  • A juvenile Barbour's map turtle peers interestedly at the camera, the sharp ridges at the top of its shell's dome distinctive.


    Get close to a group of American alligators and discover the unique pattern of the map turtle.

  • An electric blue cichlid swims near a pebbled habitat floor.


    Find out more about why cichlids thrive in Africa's lakes.

Ecosystems bursting with life

Islands and lakes are unique ecosystems that can be both isolated and cosmopolitan. The great African rift lakes sequestered a few kinds of cichlids that evolved into hundreds of specialized species, a colorful sampling of which you can see in this exhibit. While islands’ nearshore waters attract fishes found elsewhere, mainland species that wind up on islands can gradually change through adaptation to new environments. A lake on an island, like our alligators’ Florida Keys blue hole, offers plenty of shelter plus an unrivaled food supply.

Map turtle

Moonlight gourami