Reptiles are cold-blooded animals characterized by their scales and ability to lay eggs.
They include animals like crocodiles, snakes, lizards, and turtles. Snakes are reptiles!
Reptiles are tetrapod vertebrates, meaning they all have back-bones and the majority have four legs, with snakes being the exception. Most reptiles’ skin is made up of scales, so they often shed the outer layer of their skin. Some do this quicker than others, but it’s usually all down to the temperature of their environment – so, where they live!
Types of reptiles
Snakes are reptiles with long, thin bodies and no legs. More than 3,000 species of snakes worldwide live everywhere except in Antarctica, Iceland, Ireland, Greenland, and New Zealand.
Some lizards look like snakes because they have no legs, but the way to tell the difference is that lizards have eyelids, and snakes don’t!
Nearly all snakes are covered in scales, which serve two primary purposes: they help trap moisture in arid climates and reduce friction as the snake moves.
Crocodilians comprise a range of giant reptiles, including alligators, crocodiles, caiman, and gharials. They are ferocious predators and can be found all around the world. The larger species can devour large mammals, from antelope to bison. Others prey on smaller animals, and some feed on fish.
There are two types of crocodiles, depending on the environment in which they live: freshwater and saltwater. The saltwater crocodile is one of the enormous reptiles in the world!
Alligator species are primarily found in the Americas, while crocodile species can be found in Africa, Asia, and Australia.
Chameleons mostly live in the rain forests and deserts of Africa. Many chameleons can change color, which helps them attract mates, regulate their body temperature, and keep intruders away.
A veiled chameleon is also known by its scientific name Chamaeleo calyptratus. They live up to eight years and can grow up to 24 inches. You’ll be happy to hear that the veiled chameleon isn’t close to going extinct – this means we can expect to see these cool reptiles around for many years to come! They have a very distinct look as they have a pointed heads, but what makes this even more interesting is that they use this structure to channel water into their mouths.
One of the fascinating things about the veiled chameleon is that it can change color! How cool is that? This makes the chameleon one of the more popular types of reptiles, as lots of us find the color-changing nature captivating. These reptiles can change color by loads of pigmented cells in their skin. Furthermore, the color they change can often mimic their surroundings or assert dominance. In other words, show others who’s boss! This makes this type of reptile pretty unique.
Tortoises and turtles
Tortoises and turtles have been around for nearly 200 million years, and very little has changed about them in that time!
Though they look similar, tortoises usually live on dry land and have round, stumpy legs. On the other hand, turtles spend much of their time in the water, and many have adapted webbed feet to help them swim in ponds and rivers. Feet are a helpful way of telling apart a tortoise from a turtle! Tortoise feet typically resemble tiny elephant feet, whereas semi-aquatic and aquatic turtles have webbed feet. It is only the sea turtle that has true flippers.
The Indian Star Tortoise is another popular type of reptile and can be found in Asia. They can live up to 80 years and can only travel less than one mile per hour. This means that they are very slow! Like many others, this tortoise is famous in the exotic pet trade, so you can expect many people to have tortoises as pets in their homes.
Lizards are among the most common reptiles, with over 6,000 species worldwide. Many lizards live on the ground, but some species live in trees and others underground, like the worm lizard.
A lizard’s diet usually consists of insects and other small animals, and some lizards enjoy plants. However, there are more giant lizards, like the monitor lizard, that prey on animals as big as deer!
Similar to snakes, lizards shed their skin. However, unlike snakes, their skin usually peels off in large chunks rather than all at once.
Reptiles can be found on most continents except Antarctica.
In Britain, common reptiles include Britain’s only venomous snake, the adder, grass snakes, and common lizards. There are six native species of reptiles in the UK: three snakes (grass, smooth, and adder) and three lizards (joint, sand, and slow worm). Some species have been introduced to the UK.
Reptiles can be found in various habitats, from compost heaps to woodland areas.
In Britain, reptiles are easier to see basking in sunny areas. So chances are that if you ever see a snake, as a reptile, it will enjoy the sunshine to warm itself up.
Unlike birds and mammals, reptiles do not maintain constant body temperature.
They do not have fur or feathers to keep warm or sweat glands and the ability to pant to help them cool down.
Because of this, they actively need to seek sunlight or shade to help maintain their body temperature.
This makes them cold-blooded animals with slow metabolisms. Snakes are reptiles, as you might have guessed because they are scaly creatures who mostly lay eggs to reproduce.
Reptile reproduction is also dependent on temperature.
Most reptiles lay their eggs in a simple nest and leave, waiting for them to hatch.
Depending on the species, this can take as little as a few days or as long as a few months.
The soil temperature around the nest helps determine what proportion of the eggs will hatch male or female.
Most infant reptiles can walk, move or swim within hours of birth.
Although snakes are reptiles and lay eggs, boas and pythons give birth to live young.
- Reptiles first appeared in fossil records 315 million years ago
- Because the mother leaves the eggs, snakes have to fend for themselves from birth
- They use methods like biting, hissing, and camouflaging to defend themselves from predators.
- The size of reptiles’ brains relative to their body is much smaller than that of mammals.
- The heaviest reptile alive today is the Komodo dragon, weighing in at up to 92kg!
Vocabulary for teaching about reptiles
Adaptation – a characteristic of an organism that increases its chance of survival in its environment.
Camouflage – an organism’s coloration and shape that allows it to blend in with its surroundings (also known as “cryptic coloration”).
Cold-blooded – an animal that is unable to control its body temperature automatically. Instead, body temperature is dependent on the temperature of its environment.
Environment – the conditions that affect an organism, such as plants, animals, water, soil, weather, landforms, and air.
Food chain – the transfer of energy through various stages due to the feeding patterns of a series of organisms.
Habitat – a place in an ecosystem where an animal, plant, or other organism lives.
Mammal – a warm-blooded, vertebrate animal.
Predator – an organism (usually an animal) that preys on and consumes other animals.
Prey – an organism caught or hunted for food by another organism
Scales – the shield of skin that protects a reptile. Reptilian scales are made of keratin, like hair, and are in an overlapping arrangement.
Vertebrates – an animal with a vertebral column (backbone or spinal column).