THE IMPORTANT STUFF
- There are four main groups of reptiles: turtles and tortoises; lizards and snakes; crocodiles and alligators; and the tuatara (endemic to New Zealand only).
• Reptiles are defined as any cold-blooded vertebrate (they have a backbone or spine) whose skin is usually covered in scales and lay eggs. They are members of the (Linnaean) class Reptilia.
• Reptiles are called cold-blooded because they can't regulate their own body temperature. Their body temperature is dependent on the external temperature of their location, which means that their bodies react to the temperature of their surroundings. When they get too warm, they can go into a burrow or find shade to cool off. When they get too cold they can lay out in the sun to warm themselves up. Scientists use the term "ectothermic" for cold-blooded and "endothermic" for warm-blooded.
• Many reptiles spend the majority of their time on land, but some spend a great deal of time in the water. Reptile species can be found in all types of habitat except polar ice and tundra. This also means that reptiles don't burn as much energy keeping their body warm and, as a result, they don't have to eat nearly as much food as a similar sized mammal or other warm-blooded animal.
• There are more than 8,000 species of reptiles in the world, inhabiting every continent except Antarctica where it is too cold (250 species of turtles, 23 species of crocodilians, 5,500 species of snakes and 3,000 species of lizards).
• Contrary to appearances, the skin of a reptile is usually cool and dry, not slimy. Lizards and snakes have a single sheet of overlapping scales. Other reptiles grow plates (separate areas of scales). The main function of the skin is to keep water in the animal's body. Reptiles can go without water for long periods, and many species thrive in deserts.
• Eating Habits: Reptiles are diverse and what they eat differs from species to species. Most are carnivores that feed on small invertebrates, insects, small mammals and other reptiles. But some reptiles are herbivores (adult green iguanas and turtles, for example), that feed on plant material as varied as grasses, fruits, shrubs and marine plants. And most snakes for instance, swallow their prey alive. However, poisonous snakes generally wait for their venom to kill an animal before they swallow it.
• Reptiles, like birds, have voluntary control over the muscles in their eyes, which determine their pupil size. This means that they are able to constrict or dilate their pupils at will, not just in response to light.
• Reptiles have existed for more than 300 million years. The Mesozoic Era, which began 245 million years ago, is known as the Age of Reptiles, a chapter in Earth's history when the reptile dominated terrestrial habitats
• Even though many reptile species have remained almost unchanged for hundreds of millions of years, they are now in danger of extinction due to the human activity. This can be directly through hunting, or indirectly, through the destruction of their natural habitat and pollution. The most common threat to reptiles has been the introduction of invasive species by humans, such as predator species, or plants that have drastically changed the reptiles’ habitat. That’s why Kamp Kenan is committed to organizations like The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), an action-oriented global partnership dedicated to maintain zero turtle
DID YOU KNOW?
- The brain of a reptile is not more than 1 percent of his body mass. This means that the brain of a 70-pound python is no larger than a lima bean.
• Crocodiles have been known to swallow rocks so they can dive deeper into the water. Some snakes have over 300 pairs of ribs.
• The shell of a turtle is made up of a bunch of bones (around 60) all connected together.
• Turtles have no ears to hear with, but they are thought to have excellent eyesight and sense of smell. They can also feel vibrations from loud sounds.
• Lizards and snakes smell with their tongues.
• Alligators and crocodiles look slow, but can move very quickly when attacking.
• Snakes are legless reptiles. They move along the ground by flexing their body and can move very quickly despite not having legs.
• Only a small percentage of snakes are venomous, but many snakes are constrictors. They squeeze their prey with their bodies until the animal is dead or immobile. Then they swallow it whole. If the meal is large enough, a snake can go weeks, even months without eating again.
• Some reptiles, like the gecko, when attacked, can distract an enemy by waving their tail. When the enemy attacks the tail, the tail breaks off but keeps wriggling. This defensive feature, also know as “caudal autonomy” allows the reptile to get away and grow a new tail later.
REPTILE WORLD CHAMPIONS
- The world's fastest reptile, measured on land, is the spiny-tailed iguana of Costa Rica. It has been recorded at 21.7mph.
• The fastest snake in the world is the aggressive black mamba found in the southern part of tropical Africa. They can reach top speeds of 10-12 mph (16-19 km/hr) in short bursts over level ground.
• Four species of chameleons, called Brookesia micra, have recently been discovered in Madagascar measuring tens of millimeters from head to tail, the reptile is no bigger than the flies that form his average-sized cousin's lunch. These miniature lizards have beaten the dwarf gecko and taken the spot as the world’s tiniest reptile.
• The world's Largest Reptile is the Saltwater Crocodile of Australia, which can grow to lengths of 7 meters (over 21 feet) and weigh 2,000 pounds.
• The world’s longest snake was a reticulated python that was 32 feet 9 1/2 inches long. Did you know that pythons are expert swimmers, and that their sea voyages have distributed them among a variety of islands in the Indo-Australian Archipelago? Yet, as well as being at home in water, reticulated pythons are aggressive constrictors that suffocate their prey and ingest it whole. They have been reliably recorded at 6.95 meters (22.8 ft) — slightly longer than saltwater crocodiles, albeit nowhere near as heavy.
• The Green Anaconda is the heaviest snake, while the Reticulated Python is the longest snake.
• The biggest lizard is the Komodo Dragon. This deadly hunter can reach lengths up to 3 meters (10 ft). Their saliva contains virulent strains of bacteria that grow rapidly and ensures that a bite from one these guys usually result in sepsis and fatal infection.
• The largest turtle is the leatherback turtle, which can weigh 1,800 pounds with an 8-foot long shell. They have a flipper span of almost 3 meters (8 ft), and are unique among turtles thanks to their lack of a hard, bony shell. Instead, their ridged, leathery carapace is built for speed, making them among the fastest reptiles on Earth — as well as among the most humungous. Speed capacity and lots of fatty tissue keeps them warm for long sea voyages and deep dives of up to 1,200 meters (4,000 ft).
• The all-time verified record holder for oldest tortoise, according to Guinness World Records, is Tui Malila, a radiated tortoise from Madagascar who died in Tonga in 1965 at the age of 189.
• Adwaita, an Aldabra giant tortoise that died in 2006 in the Alipore Zoological Gardens of Kolkata, India, is believed to have lived to the age of 255 years, but this has not been confirmed.
ARE REPTILES RELATED TO DINOSAURS?
The name dinosaur means “terrible lizard”. Dinosaur comes from the Greek words deinos (“terrible” or “fearfully great”) and sauros (“reptile” or “lizard”). This name is a bit misleading, because dinosaurs are not lizards. Instead, they represent a separate group of reptiles which, which had very different characteristics from today’s reptiles. In fact, it is thought that many dinosaurs eventually evolved into birds and were thought to be warm-blooded. Reptiles on the other hand are cold-blooded.
What we call reptiles were around before, during, and after dinosaurs. Dinosaurs evolved from more primitive reptilian relatives about 230 million years ago but belong to their own separate group. (Don Lessem)
Among the earliest-known dinosaurs was eoraptor from Argentina, a dog-sized meat-eater, 228 million years old. Living reptiles like crocodiles are relatives of dinosaurs, but they came from animals that developed before dinosaurs, so they are just cousins of dinosaurs. (Don Lessem)
Some living animals, like reptiles, look a lot like what we imagine dinosaurs to be, but that's just a coincidence. Reptiles all have bent legs, and dinosaurs have straighter legs. Dinosaurs walked with their legs underneath them, which is one way to tell if a dinosaur is actually a dinosaur. (Don Lessem) The other would be the fact that in many cases it might be humongous!