Whether people love reptiles or run the other way at the mere mention of them, reptiles bring out a curiosity in people like no other kind of animal.
What other kinds of animals can effortlessly slither through the grass, grow and live in an awkward, bulky shell, or use their tongue to ďsmellĒ their environment?
Reptiles include animals like snakes, lizards, turtles and alligators. They range in size from just a few inches to over twenty feet long. Though they may appear very different from each other, they share many of the same traits to help them survive in almost any environment.
Itís time to dispel the myth that reptiles feel slimy and slippery. They all have thick, dry skin that is covered with scales for protection. Most reptiles do not live in water, so thick scaly skin also prevents them from drying out. As a reptile grows, it must shed its outermost layer of skin. Snakes shed their skin all in one piece but other reptiles like lizards shed their skin in pieces.
Mammals and birds can make their own body heat and can keep the temperature inside their body the same whether itís cold or warm outside, but reptiles canít do this. The temperature inside their body changes with the temperature outside (they are poikilothermic) and they cannot make their own body heat (they are ectothermic). They prefer temperatures between 65 and 85, so how can they live in any climate except the very warmest? The secret lies in their behavior. Reptiles will bask in the sun to warm up during the day and hide in warm areas to prevent themselves from cooling off too much at night. During the colder seasons, many reptiles will hibernate in the soil or in small, protected areas like cracks in the earth or spaces under large rocks. Reptiles that live in desert-like regions will do something similar to get away from the blistering heat of the sun during the hottest months. They aestivate (hibernate during hot weather) in cool protected areas.
Very few reptiles give birth to live young. Instead, most lay eggs unlike any other type of eggs. The chicken eggs you see in the supermarket have hard shells but reptile eggs have thick, leathery shells to protect them from drying out. Reptile babies must be ready to face the world when they hatch because most reptiles donít make very good parents. After a female lays her eggs she does not stay with them to protect and feed them. They must be ready to find vegetation or their prey, and protect themselves from becoming another animalís main course.
The next time you see a reptile like a snake, remember all of the differences between humans and reptiles. They have some amazingly unique ways of surviving in the same world.
Click here for a list of reptiles