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Reptiles: A Scaly Introduction

Posted July 06, 2009 12:01 AM by Vi Pham

Reptiles. The very word can send shivers up your spine. But many people don't realize that reptiles don't have to be scary. You don't often see people running away from a box turtle or a day gecko, right?

Most birds aren't very scary either. Technically, birds are reptiles. Turtles, lizards, crocodiles, snakes and birds all descended from the same ancestors. In fact, many of the dinosaurs that we so readily associate with lizards and crocodiles are more closely related to birds.

Leaving Our Feathered Friends Behind

Because evolution has created such a large biological and behavioral gap between birds and other reptiles, most people exclude birds from discussions about reptiles. Given that fact (and because I'm not an ornithologist), I'll exclude birds, too. So when I use the term "reptile", I mean all reptiles except for birds.

Cold Crocs and Hot Horned Lizards

Reptiles (and amphibians, too, for that matter) are ectotherms, or cold-blooded. This means that they use the heat from their surroundings to regulate their body temperature. Through complex biological processes, humans and other warm-blooded animals can maintain metabolic equilibrium (homeostasis) with no conscious effort.

For example, when a human's internal temperature rises significantly, the person starts to sweat to cool off. When body temperature drops, a human shivers to produce heat. By contrast, reptiles must move in and out of the sun and the shade to warm or cool their bodies.

Ectothermy has both advantages and disadvantages. If too cold, a reptile's body functions slow down dramatically. Reptiles become too sluggish to hunt effectively, and cannot properly digest their food. This is why reptiles go into hibernation during cold months of the year. But being too hot can be just as bad. Reptiles can easily overheat and become dehydrated.

The advantage of being an ectotherm is through self regulation; reptiles are extremely efficient creatures. Research has shown that in one day, a reptile uses about 3 percent of the energy that a similarly-sized mammal would.

Learning the Latin

Now it's time to get technical. Using the simple phrase "Kids Prefer Cheese Over Fried Green Spinach", we can talk about the scientific classification of reptiles.

Let's start with K for Kingdom. All animals fall under the kingdom Animalia (hence animal kingdom). Next is P, for Phylum. There is no solid definition for phylum, but the general idea is that animals are placed in a particular phylum based on general body plan and developmental process. Reptiles fall under the phylum Chordata.

C is for Class. Reptiles, for pretty obvious reasons, are in the class Reptilia. So we now come to O, which is for Order. The class Reptilia consists of four orders: Testudinea (turtles), Crocodylia (crocodilians), Rhynchocephalia/Sphenodontida (tuatara), and Squamata (snakes and lizards). Squamates will be the focus of my future entries.

Next is F, for Family. Some examples of families of order Squamata are Gekkonidae (geckos), Iguanidae (iguanas), Boidae (boas), and Pythonidae (pythons). G is for Genus. Also called the generic name, genus separates each family into general types. Family Gekkonidae consists of genera for web-toed geckos, leaf-toed geckos, day geckos, etc.

And last but not least, S is for Species. Species further categorizes genus. Examples of species are leopard gecko, bearded dragon, Burmese python, etc.

Final Words

That concludes this brief introduction to reptiles. For any clarification of terms, please click on the links provided. And please feel free to ask me any questions, too! I'll do my best to answer them.

My next entry will be the start of my snake series.

See you all next week!

Other Blog Entries

New Animal Attractions
Snakes: They're All Around
Snakes: A Family Affair (Part 1)
Snakes: A Family Affair (Part 2)
Snakes: Clever And Deadly Behaviors
Snakes: Do The Locomotion (Part 1)
Snakes: Do The Locomotion (Part 2)

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#1

Re: Reptiles: A Scaly Introduction

07/06/2009 3:29 PM

very interesting. I will enjoy reading up on the dragons as I have one myself.

Btw, some of us enjoy our green spinach, although my dragon does not.

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#2
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Re: Reptiles: A Scaly Introduction

07/06/2009 4:21 PM

Bearded dragons are great!

They will come up in my lizard series blog entries quite often since I have one at home and can easily post pictures I've taken as examples of certain behaviors.

And I'm sure you know this, but just for good measure...
Spinach should not be fed to bearded dragons too often. Many dragons have trouble digesting it. If you don't already know about it, there's a great list of food on the Beautiful Dragons website. Here's the link http://www.beautifuldragons.503xtreme.com/Nutrition.html

Thanks for reading!

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#4
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Re: Reptiles: A Scaly Introduction

07/07/2009 7:42 AM

I love your British Shorthair. I want one.

Titi

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#3

Re: Reptiles: A Scaly Introduction

07/07/2009 7:37 AM

Looking forward to more of your postings.

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#5

Re: Reptiles: A Scaly Introduction

07/07/2009 9:47 AM

Over the weekend I visited a "living museum" in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. One of the workers talked about local snakes and let the kids hold a three-foot-long garter snake. He was quite friendly but I had a hard time getting my mom to stand even 15 feet away - she's terrified of snakes of all kinds! Maybe this blog series will help her learn more. :)

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#6

Re: Reptiles: A Scaly Introduction

07/07/2009 12:24 PM

Sooooooooo interesting. I look forward to the sequel.

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#7

Re: Reptiles: A Scaly Introduction

07/07/2009 5:05 PM

Wow. I may run away from a box turtle or gecko if it was attacking me!

Very interesting read, I will continue to look forward to learning more about reptiles.

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Re: Reptiles: A Scaly Introduction

07/08/2009 9:41 AM

After devouring a small child the vicious snapping turtle digests

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Re: Reptiles: A Scaly Introduction

07/08/2009 10:11 AM

Mr. & Mrs. Blanding (aka turtle) after raiding the beer cooler. Kept me awake all night.

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Re: Reptiles: A Scaly Introduction

07/08/2009 10:22 AM

haha Hilarious

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#8

Re: Reptiles: A Scaly Introduction

07/07/2009 9:55 PM

"Reptiles. The very word can send shivers up your spine"

that's a huge assumption on your part, i like them by the way

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#9
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Re: Reptiles: A Scaly Introduction

07/07/2009 10:28 PM

Well, just because it can send shivers up your spine does not necessarily mean that it will.

I am just stating that many people have a fear, whether rational or irrational, of certain reptiles.

I, for one, love reptiles and have several living at home with me. I've also handled a number of large snakes with every intention of fawning over them and giving them kisses on the head.

Even so, I cannot say that I would never be afraid to hear about a very large reptile roaming around the little park across the street (though I would soon want to investigate it).

I'm glad that you like reptiles and I hope that you will continue to read my blog entries.

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Re: Reptiles: A Scaly Introduction

07/08/2009 9:46 PM

I sure will, i hope an item on those cute gekko's the run around asian houses, they were fun too watch while i was in Vietnam

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#14

Re: Reptiles: A Scaly Introduction

07/20/2009 9:33 PM

See my avatar. Need I say more?

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