Reptile Species

Reptiles are ectotherms, meaning they rely on ambient thermal variation to control their internal temperatures. This is a stark contrast to endotherms such as birds and mammals, which use metabolic heat production to keep their internal temperatures high.


This lizard would appear to have a lumbering gait, but can actually run very fast! It also uses chemoreception to sense chemicals in the air that supplement or even replace its sense of smell.

Komodo Dragon

The Komodo dragon is a solitary creature that eats almost anything it can catch, ranging from small lizards and insects to birds and snakes. It is also a top predator that scavenges recently dead animals, helping to control disease and promoting natural recycling. It can also swim well and climb trees, using its claws for support. These lizards are most active during the day, but they do sleep at night and can run at fast speeds in short bursts.

Males and females exhibit a rare form of courtship that resembles the behavior depicted in the movie “Jurassic Park.” They fight for territory and the attention of females by grappling on their hind legs. The loser is then pinned to the ground, while the winner licks and rubs his chin on the prone female to determine her receptivity.

Females lay about 20 eggs in September, burying them on hill slopes or within pilfered megapode (stocky, chicken-like) bird nests. A single female can produce up to 30 offspring in a lifetime.

While a bite from a Komodo dragon or other monitor lizard may feel like a pinprick, the venom they contain can be lethal. Bites on humans can cause rapid swelling, disruption of blood clotting and painful, throbbing sensations that last for several hours.

Leatherback Sea Turtle

The largest, deepest diving and most migratory of all sea turtle species, the leatherback is recognized by its elongated carapace (shell) that lacks scutes, seven distinct ridges running longitudinally and a cloaca with five ridges. Its rubbery skin is dark grey to black with white blotches and spots, and hatchlings have rows of white stripes down the length of their shells. Leatherbacks have paddle-like front flippers that are proportionally larger than other sea turtles, giving them the ability to plow through fast currents over long distances on foraging trips.

Jellyfish are their main prey, but they also eat fish, squid, sea urchins and floating sea weed. Their large mouths are lined with sharp, tooth-like cusps for catching and slicing these gelatinous invertebrates. They can eat up to twice their own body weight in one day!

Like many other reptiles, leatherbacks are vulnerable to habitat degradation and human activity. In the United States, they are protected by the Endangered Species Act and internationally by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Vulnerable status. Vessel strikes are a major cause of strandings in the U.S., particularly in coastal waters and near ports and waterways. Beach erosion caused by increased storm frequency and intensity can also reduce the number of nesting beaches, especially in male-dominated areas. Climate change could further threaten these migratory and wide-ranging turtles by increasing temperatures on their breeding beaches.


Snakes are elongated, limbless, carnivorous reptiles of the suborder Serpentes (order Squamata). Like all squamates, snakes are ectothermic, meaning they cannot generate their own body heat. Instead, they rely on their surroundings to warm them up and keep them active. This explains why you will often see snakes basking in the sun to warm up.

Most snake species are oviparous and lay eggs, but some, such as pythons and reticulated pythons, give live birth. Female snakes usually grow larger than males, and they will leave a trail of pheromones to lure a potential mate. The forked tongue of a male snake will then follow the trail and taste the chemicals in the air. If he thinks the pheromones are good enough, he will move forward to meet up with his rival.

Snakes have many adaptations that enable them to live in different habitats, including forests, deserts and wetlands. They also call caves and other places under rocks home. Because they are ectothermic, snakes spend about 70% of their solitary lives tracking and eating prey. They do not use any legs or wings to fly, but are capable of moving fast and climbing using their slender bodies and specialized scales. Their unique skulls are made up of many unfused bones and can stretch widely in several directions. This allows them to eat prey much larger than their head.


Lizards are air-breathing vertebrates with special skin — scales, bony plates or a combination of both. They regularly shed this skin and are ectothermic, meaning they must regulate their body temperature by moving into the sun or the shade. Because of this, they have a slow metabolism and are susceptible to changes in the environment.

They live on every continent, in terrestrial habitats, including swamps and deserts. Some species are tree dwellers, with long toes and a prehensile tail, while others live in burrows or the water. Marine iguanas, for instance, spend much of their lives underwater, although they can also be seen on the beach.

A lizard’s camouflage and ability to remain absolutely motionless in a vulnerable position are key defenses against predators, including birds of prey and carnivorous mammals. Some species are able to break off a piece of their own tail, which has a weak spot just for this purpose, to escape from an enemy’s grasp. They can grow it back over time, but it won’t look quite the same.

Like snakes, lizards are tetrapods, descended from four-limbed amphibious ancestors. Most lay calcareous or leathery eggs in protective structures. Some display ovoviviparity, where the eggs are retained in the mother’s body until they hatch, with nutrients provided by a yolk sac or chorioallantoic placenta. A few lizards, such as the prairie skink, reproduce through vivipary, where they give birth to fully formed young that resemble miniature adults.