Refine your search

Log in

Login to your account

Username *
Password *
Remember Me

Reptile Information

Reptiles, the class Reptilia, are an evolutionary grade of animals, comprising today's turtles, crocodilians, snakes, lizards and tuatara, as well as many extinct groups. A reptile is any amniote (a tetrapod whose egg has an additional membrane, originally to allow them to lay eggs on land) that is neither a mammal nor a bird. Unlike mammals, birds, and certain extinct reptiles, living reptiles have scales or scutes (rather than fur or feathers) and are cold-blooded. Advocates of phylogenetic nomenclature regard the traditional category 'Reptilia' to be invalid, and prefer to use the 'Amniota' or rather 'Sauropsida' category, because not all descendants of a common ancestor are included. However, in practice, these non-cladistics classifications, such as reptile, fish, and amphibian, remain in use by some biologists, especially in popular books written for a general audience. The historically combined study of reptiles and amphibians is called herpetology.

The earliest known reptiles originated around 315 million years ago during the Carboniferous period, having evolved from advanced reptile-like amphibians that became increasingly adapted to life on dry land. Some early examples include the lizard-like Hylonomus, Casineria and possibly Westlothiana, although the latter may be an advanced land-dwelling amphibian. In addition to the living reptiles, there are many diverse groups that are now extinct, in some cases due to mass extinction events. In particular, the K–Pg extinction wiped out the pterosaurs, plesiosaurs, ornithischians, and sauropods, as well as many species of theropods (e.g. tyrannosaurs and dromaeosaurids), crocodyliforms, and squamates (e.g. mosasaurids).

Modern reptiles inhabit every continent with the exception of Antarctica. Several living subgroups are recognized:

Testudines (turtles, terrapins and tortoises): approximately 400 species
Sphenodontia (tuatara from New Zealand): 2 species
Squamata (lizards, snakes, and worm lizards): over 9,600 species
Crocodilia (crocodiles, gavials, caimans, and alligators): 25 species

Although they have scutes on their feet and lay eggs, birds have historically been excluded from the reptiles. They, therefore, do not appear on the list above. However, as some reptiles are more closely related to birds than they are to other reptiles — crocodiles are more closely related to birds than they are to lizards — cladistic writers who prefer a more unified (monophyletic) grouping usually also include the birds, which include over 10,000 species.

Reptiles are tetrapod vertebrates, either having four limbs or, like snakes, being descended from four-limbed ancestors. Unlike amphibians, reptiles do not have an aquatic larval stage. Most reptiles are oviparous (egg-laying), although several species of squamates are viviparous, as were some extinct aquatic clades— the fetus develops within the mother, contained in a placenta rather than an eggshell. As amniotes, reptile eggs are surrounded by membranes for protection and transport, which adapt them to reproduction on dry land. Many of the viviparous species feed their fetuses through various forms of placenta analogous to those of mammals, with some providing initial care for their hatchlings. Extant reptiles range in size from a tiny gecko, Sphaerodactylus ariasae, which can grow up to 17 mm (0.7 in) to the saltwater crocodile, Crocodylus porosus, which may reach 6 m (19.7 ft) in length and weigh over 1,000 kg (2,200 lb).

History in Reptile Research

It was not until the beginning of the 19th century that it became clear that reptiles and amphibians are, in fact, quite different animals, and Pierre André Latreille erected the class Batracia (1825) for the latter, dividing the tetrapods into the four familiar classes of reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals.

The British anatomist Thomas Henry Huxley made Latreille's definition popular and, together with Richard Owen, expanded Reptilia to include the various fossil "antediluvian monsters", including dinosaurs and the mammal-like (synapsid) Dicynodon he helped describe. This was not the only possible classification scheme: In the Hunterian lectures delivered at the Royal College of Surgeons in 1863, Huxley grouped the vertebrates into mammals, sauroids, and ichthyoids (the latter containing the fishes and amphibians). He subsequently proposed the names of Sauropsida and Ichthyopsida for the latter two groups.

In 1866, Haeckel demonstrated that vertebrates could be divided based on their reproductive strategies, and that reptiles, birds, and mammals were united by the amniotic egg.

The terms "Sauropsida" ("lizard faces") and "Theropsida" ("beast faces") were used again in 1916 by E.S. Goodrich to distinguish between lizards, birds, and their relatives on the one hand (Sauropsida) and mammals and their extinct relatives (Theropsida) on the other. Goodrich supported this division by the nature of the hearts and blood vessels in each group, and other features, such as the structure of the forebrain. According to Goodrich, both lineages evolved from an earlier stem group, Protosauria ("first lizards") in which he included some animals today considered reptile-like amphibians, as well as early reptiles.

The traditional class Reptilia (green field) includes all amniotes which are not mammals or birds, making it a paraphyletic group.[note

In 1956, D.M.S. Watson observed that the first two groups diverged very early in reptilian history, so he divided Goodrich's Protosauria between them. He also reinterpreted Sauropsida and Theropsida to exclude birds and mammals, respectively. Thus his Sauropsida included Procolophonia, Eosuchia, Millerosauria, Chelonia (turtles), Squamata (lizards and snakes), Rhynchocephalia, Crocodilia, "thecodonts" (paraphyletic basal Archosauria), non-avian dinosaurs, pterosaurs, ichthyosaurs, and sauropterygians.

In the late 19th century, a number of definitions of Reptilia were offered. The traits listed by Lydekker in 1896, for example, include a single occipital condyle, a jaw joint formed by the quadrate and articular bones, and certain characteristics of the vertebrae. The animals singled out by these formulations, the amniotes other than the mammals and the birds, are still those considered reptiles today.


Appearance of Reptiles and more

Reptilian lungs

All reptiles breathe using lungs. Aquatic turtles have developed more permeable skin, and some species have modified their cloaca to increase the area for gas exchange. Even with these adaptations, breathing is never fully accomplished without lungs. Lung ventilation is accomplished differently in each main reptile group. In squamates, the lungs are ventilated almost exclusively by the axial musculature. This is also the same musculature that is used during locomotion. Because of this constraint, most squamates are forced to hold their breath during intense runs. Some, however, have found a way around it. Varanids, and a few other lizard species, employ buccal pumping as a complement to their normal "axial breathing." This allows the animals to completely fill their lungs during intense locomotion, and thus remain aerobically active for a long time. Tegu lizards are known to possess a proto-diaphragm, which separates the pulmonary cavity from the visceral cavity. While not actually capable of movement, it does allow for greater lung inflation, by taking the weight of the viscera off the lungs.

Crocodilians actually have a muscular diaphragm that is analogous to the mammalian diaphragm. The difference is that the muscles for the crocodilian diaphragm pull the pubis (part of the pelvis, which is movable in crocodilians) back, which brings the liver down, thus freeing space for the lungs to expand. This type of diaphragmatic setup has been referred to as the "hepatic piston." The airways bronchia form a number of double tubular chambers within each lung. On inhalation and exhalation air moves through the airways in the same direction, thus creating a unidirectional airflow through the lungs. A similar system is found in birds and monitor lizards.

Turtles and Tortoises

How turtles and tortoises breathe has been the subject of much study. To date, only a few species have been studied thoroughly enough to get an idea of how turtles breathe. The results indicate that turtles and tortoises have found a variety of solutions to this problem.

The difficulty is that most turtle shells are rigid and do not allow for the type of expansion and contraction that other amniotes use to ventilate their lungs. Some turtles, such as the Indian flapshell (Lissemys punctata), have a sheet of muscle that envelops the lungs. When it contracts, the turtle can exhale. When at rest, the turtle can retract the limbs into the body cavity and force air out of the lungs. When the turtle protracts its limbs, the pressure inside the lungs is reduced, and the turtle can suck air in. Turtle lungs are attached to the inside of the top of the shell (carapace), with the bottom of the lungs attached (via connective tissue) to the rest of the viscera. By using a series of special muscles (roughly equivalent to a diaphragm), turtles are capable of pushing their viscera up and down, resulting in effective respiration, since many of these muscles have attachment points in conjunction with their forelimbs (indeed, many of the muscles expand into the limb pockets during contraction).

Breathing during locomotion has been studied in three species, and they show different patterns. Adult female green sea turtles do not breathe as they crutch along their nesting beaches. They hold their breath during terrestrial locomotion and breathe in bouts as they rest. North American box turtles breathe continuously during locomotion, and the ventilation cycle is not coordinated with the limb movements. This is because they use their abdominal muscles to breathe during locomotion. The last species to have been studied is the red-eared slider, which also breathes during locomotion, but takes smaller breaths during locomotion than during small pauses between locomotor bouts, indicating that there may be mechanical interference between the limb movements and the breathing apparatus. Box turtles have also been observed to breathe while completely sealed up inside their shells.


Most reptiles lack a secondary palate, meaning that they must hold their breath while swallowing. Crocodilians have evolved a bony secondary palate that allows them to continue breathing while remaining submerged (and protect their brains against damage by struggling prey). Skinks (family Scincidae) also have evolved a bony secondary palate, to varying degrees. Snakes took a different approach and extended their trachea instead. Their tracheal extension sticks out like a fleshy straw, and allows these animals to swallow large prey without suffering from asphyxiation.

Reptile Skin

Reptilian skin is covered in a horny epidermis, making it watertight and enabling reptiles to live on dry land, in contrast to amphibians. Compared to mammalian skin, that of reptiles is rather thin and lacks the thick dermal layer that produces leather in mammals. Exposed parts of reptiles are protected by scales or scutes, sometimes with a bony base, forming armor. In lepidosaurians such as lizards and snakes, the whole skin is covered in overlapping epidermal scales. Such scales were once thought to be typical of the class Reptilia as a whole, but are now known to occur only in lepidosaurians. The scales found in turtles and crocodiles are of dermal, rather than epidermal, origin and are properly termed scutes. In turtles, the body is hidden inside a hard shell composed of fused scutes.

Lacking a thick dermis, reptilian leather is not as strong as mammalian leather. It is used in leather-wares for decorative purposes for shoes, belts and handbags, particularly crocodile skin.


Excretion is performed mainly by two small kidneys. In diapsids, uric acid is the main nitrogenous waste product; turtles, like mammals, excrete mainly urea. Unlike the kidneys of mammals and birds, reptile kidneys are unable to produce liquid urine more concentrated than their body fluid. This is because they lack a specialized structure called a loop of Henle, which is present in the nephrons of birds and mammals. Because of this, many reptiles use the colon to aid in the reabsorption of water. Some are also able to take up water stored in the bladder. Excess salts are also excreted by nasal and lingual salt glands in some reptiles.


Most reptiles are carnivorous, and many primarily eat other reptiles.

Most reptiles are insectivorous or carnivorous and have rather simple and comparatively short digestive tracts, meat being fairly simple to break down and digest. Digestion is slower than in mammals, reflecting their lower resting metabolism and their inability to divide and masticate their food. Their poikilotherm metabolism has very low energy requirements, allowing large reptiles like crocodiles and the large constrictors to live from a single large meal for months, digesting it slowly.

While modern reptiles are predominately carnivorous, during the early history of reptiles several groups produced some herbivorous megafauna: in the Paleozoic, the pareiasaurs and the synapsid dicynodonts; and in the Mesozoic several lines of dinosaurs. Today, the turtles are the only predominantly herbivorous reptile group, but several lines of agamas and iguanas have evolved to live wholly or partly on plants.

Herbivorous reptiles face the same problems of mastication as herbivorous mammals but, lacking the complex teeth of mammals, many species swallow rocks and pebbles (so called gastroliths) to aid in digestion: The rocks are washed around in the stomach, helping to grind up plant matter. Fossil gastroliths have been found associated with both ornithopods and sauropods, though whether they actually functioned as a gastric mill in the latter is disputed. Salt water crocodiles also use gastroliths as ballast, stabilizing them in the water or helping them to dive. A dual function as both stabilizing ballast and digestion aid has been suggested for gastroliths found in plesiosaurs.

Nerves of Reptiles

The reptilian nervous system contains the same basic part of the amphibian brain, but the reptile cerebrum and cerebellum are slightly larger. Most typical sense organs are well developed with certain exceptions, most notably the snake's lack of external ears (middle and inner ears are present). There are twelve pairs of cranial nerves. Due to their short cochlea, reptiles use electrical tuning to expand their range of audible frequencies.

Intelligence of Reptiles

Reptiles are generally considered less intelligent than mammals and birds. The size of their brain relative to their body is much less than that of mammals, the encephalization quotient being about one tenth of that of mammals,[86] though larger reptiles can show more complex brain development. Larger lizards, like the monitors, are known to exhibit complex behavior, including cooperation. Crocodiles have relatively larger brains and show a fairly complex social structure. The Komodo dragon is even known to engage in play, as are turtles, which are also considered to be social creatures and sometimes switch between monogamy and promiscuity in their sexual behavior. One study found that wood turtles were better than white rats at learning to navigate mazes.


Most reptiles are diurnal animals. The vision is typically adapted to daylight conditions, with color vision and more advanced visual depth perception than in amphibians and most mammals. In some species, such as blind snakes, vision is reduced.

Some snakes have extra sets of visual organs (in the loosest sense of the word) in the form of pits sensitive to infrared radiation (heat). Such heat-sensitive pits are particularly well developed in the pit vipers, but are also found in boas and pythons. These pits allow the snakes to sense the body heat of birds and mammals, enabling pit vipers to hunt rodents in the dark.

Reproduction of Reptiles

Most reptiles reproduce sexually.

Reptiles have amniotic eggs with hard or leathery shells, requiring internal fertilization when mating.

Reptiles generally reproduce sexually, though some are capable of asexual reproduction. All reproductive activity occurs through the cloaca, the single exit/entrance at the base of the tail where waste is also eliminated. Most reptiles have copulatory organs, which are usually retracted or inverted and stored inside the body. In turtles and crocodilians, the male has a single median penis, while squamates, including snakes and lizards, possess a pair of hemipenes, only one of which is typically used in each session. Tuatara, however, lack copulatory organs, and so the male and female simply press their cloacas together as the male discharges sperm.

Most reptiles lay amniotic eggs covered with leathery or calcareous shells. An amnion, chorion, and allantois are present during embryonic life. The eggshell protects the crocodile embryo and keeps it from drying out, but it is flexible to allow gas exchange. The chorion aids in gas exchange between the inside and outside of the egg. It allows carbon dioxide to exit the egg and oxygen gas to enter the egg. The albumin further protects the embryo and serves as a reservoir for water and protein. The allantois is a sac that collects the metabolic waste produced by the embryo. The amniotic sac contains amniotic fluid which protects and cushions the embryo. The amnion aids in osmoregulation and serves as a saltwater reservoir. The yolk sac surrounding the yolk contains protein and fat rich nutrients that are absorbed by the embryo via vessels that allow the embryo to grow and metabolize. The air space provides the embryo with oxygen while it is hatching. This ensures that the embryo will not suffocate while it is hatching. There are no larval stages of development. Viviparity and ovoviviparity have evolved in many extinct clades of reptiles and in squamates. In the latter group, many species, including all boas and most vipers, utilize this mode of reproduction. The degree of viviparity varies; some species simply retain the eggs until just before hatching, others provide maternal nourishment to supplement the yolk, and yet others lack any yolk and provide all nutrients via a structure similar to the mammalian placenta. The earliest documented case of viviparity in reptiles is the Early Permian mesosaurs, although some individuals or taxa in that clade may also have been oviparous because a putative isolated egg has also been found. Several groups of Mesozoic marine reptiles also exhibited viviparity, such as mosasaurs, ichthyosaurs, and Sauropterygia, a group that include pachypleurosaurs and Plesiosauria.

Asexual reproduction has been identified in squamates in six families of lizards and one snake. In some species of squamates, a population of females is able to produce a unisexual diploid clone of the mother. This form of asexual reproduction, called parthenogenesis, occurs in several species of gecko, and is particularly widespread in the teiids (especially Aspidocelis) and lacertids (Lacerta). In captivity, Komodo dragons (Varanidae) have reproduced by parthenogenesis.

Parthenogenetic species are suspected to occur among chameleons, agamids, xantusiids, and typhlopids.

Some reptiles exhibit temperature-dependent sex determination (TDSD), in which the incubation temperature determines whether a particular egg hatches as male or female. TDSD is most common in turtles and crocodiles, but also occurs in lizards and tuatara. To date, there has been no confirmation of whether TDSD occurs in snakes.

Defense mechanisms

Many small reptiles, such as snakes and lizards that live on the ground or in the water, are vulnerable to being preyed on by all kinds of carnivorous animals. Thus avoidance is the most common form of defense in reptiles. At the first sign of danger, most snakes and lizards crawl away into the undergrowth, and turtles and crocodiles will plunge into water and sink out of sight.

Reptiles Camouflage

Reptiles tend to avoid confrontation through camouflage. Two major groups of reptile predators are birds and other reptiles, both of which have well developed colour vision. Thus the skins of many reptiles are plain or mottled gray, green, and brown to allow them to blend into the background of their natural environment.

If the danger arises so suddenly that flight is useless, then crocodiles, turtles, some lizards, and some snakes hiss loudly when confronted by an enemy. Rattlesnakes rapidly vibrate the tip of the tail, which is composed of a series of nested, hollow beads.

Alternative Defense in Snakes

Camouflage will not always fool a predator. When caught out, snake species will adopt different defensive tactics and use a complicated set of behaviors when attacked. Some will first elevate their head and spread out the skin of their neck in an effort to look large and threatening. Failure of this strategy may lead to other measures practiced particularly by cobras, vipers, and closely related species, who use venom to attack. The venom is modified saliva, delivered through fangs from a venom gland. Some non-venomous snakes, such as the American corn snake or European grass snake, play dead when in danger.

Defense in Crocodilians

When a crocodilian is concerned about its safety, it will gape to expose the teeth and yellow tongue. If this doesn't work, the crocodilian gets a little more agitated and typically begins to make hissing sounds. After this, the crocodilian will start to change its posture dramatically to make itself look more intimidating. The body is inflated to increase apparent size. If absolutely necessary it may decide to attack an enemy.

Some species try to bite immediately. Some will use their heads as sledgehammers and literally smash an opponent, some will rush or swim toward the threat from a distance, even chasing the opponent onto land or galloping after it.[96] The main weapon in all crocodiles is the bite, which can generate very high bite force. Many species also possess canine-like teeth. These are used primarily for seizing prey, but are also used in fighting and display.

Shedding and Regenerating Tail

Geckos, skinks, and other lizards that are captured by the tail will shed part of the tail structure through a process called autonomy and thus be able to flee. The detached tail will continue to wiggle, creating a deceptive sense of continued struggle and distracting the predator's attention from the fleeing prey animal. The animal can partially regenerate its tail over a period of weeks. The new section will contain cartilage rather than bone, and the skin may be distinctly discolored compared to the rest of the body. The tails are often a separate and dramatically more intense color than the rest of the body so as to encourage potential predators to strike for the tail first.