Zoology

Understanding the four Groups of Reptiles



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Reptiles. What does the title reptile stand for? To the untrained eye, a reptile could mean many things. Most often we refer to lizards and crocodiles as reptiles but there is so much more to the species than that. Turtles, alligators, frogs and even snakes are reptiles.

There are four basic grouping categories in the lizard species. The first and foremost of these is the turtle and tortoise group. Turtles are water lovers with webbed feet enabling them to swim with great ease in their habitat. Quite often you can discover turtles in both fresh and salt water areas. They live in swamps, rivers, streams and the ocean and generally only come on land to lay eggs or bask in the hot sun.

Tortoises, however, are land lovers. Their feet are not webbed but short and stubby to aid them in walking across the sandy beaches. Their diet consists mainly of greenery such as shrubs, leaves and sometimes cactus. Tortoises use their strong legs to dig underneath the ground so they have a place to hide when it is too hot.

Next, we encounter the Lizard and snake group. Lizards are very similar to snakes except they have legs. Ironically enough, some lizards look more like snakes because they do not have legs. Lizards have a small head, short neck and a long extended body. Lizards, unlike snakes have movable eyelids (means they blink). Lizards eat a variety of foods ranging from small insects to larger birds. Many lizards stick to a diet of flowers, leaves and berries though.

Snakes have long slender bodies, no legs or eyelids, and are found in both water and on land. Covered in scales, the snakes body allows them quick accurate movements. They are able to quickly coil up to warm their body and conserve body heat and slither through small openings. Snakes are carnivores and eat many things in range from rodents to antelopes! Some snakes are able to swallow eggs with just one bite, the muscles in their throat contracting to crush the egg. Many species of snakes are poisonous and not safe to be around so as with any other strange animals, be sure a parent or other mature individual is present.

The third group of reptiles are the crocodiles and alligators. All species of crocodiles and alligators are called the crocodilians but there are some differing characteristics between the two. Alligators are commonly found in freshwater habitats in the United States and China. They have a wide U shaped snouts and their teeth are shaped differently than a crocodiles.

Crocodiles have a narrow V shaped jaw with excessive fangs on their lower jaw protruding even after the mouth is closed. Crocodiles are most frequently found in salt water habitats as they have an extra gland in their mouths allowing them to get rid of excess salt in their systems. Although these characteristics are general there are 23 varying species so sometimes its harder to differentiate the two.

Last but not least, the final group of reptiles is the tuatara. The tuatara is the only living species from ancient reptiles dating as far back as the time of the dinosaurs. Tuatara's have a crest of spiky scales down their backs and spines. They prefer the cooler weather unlike most lizards who like the warmer weather. These reptiles are nocturnal where many others are not. They have a very slow metabolism and if need be they can go up to an hour without breathing. Tuatara's tend to eat small beetles but have been noted to eat birds and eggs. The young tuatara's hunt for their food during the day, because at night they are at risk of being ate by larger tuatara's.

These four groups define the reptile species down to a tea. There are lots more facts and information available on line at www.sandiegozoo.org where i found much of the information i have used here.

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