What is a Reptile

Reptiles are animals which have a body covered in scales. Scales are structures that grow on the epidermis. They contain keratin which is similar to what is in human nails and hair.

Reptiles are ecothermic – which means they are cold blooded – and their body temperature varies with the temperature of its surroundings. They are unable to produce their own body heat so they must either bask in the sun to warm up, or seek shade to cool down.

They hatch young that look like little versions of adults.


Types of Reptiles

Reptiles belong to the class reptilia. Within this class there are five main groups. These are snakes, lizards, turtles and tortoises, crocodilians and tuataras.


Snakes are a close relative of lizards but they lack legs. While no snakes have legs, not all reptiles with no legs are snakes. Some species of lizard have lost their legs.

Snakes lack moveable eyelids which means the eyes are always open. They also lack an external ear opening.

Examples of snakes are pythons, boas, adders, cobras, sea snakes, vipers and many more.

Learn more about this group of reptiles with our fact file on their group.

burmese python
emerald tree boa


Lizards are a group of reptiles which are closely related to snakes. They can be distinguished as they all possess one of three features which snakes don't. These features are legs, moveable eyelids and an external ear opening. While some lizards lack some of these features they all have at least one while all snakes lack all three.

Examples of lizards are dragons, geckoes, monitors, legless lizards, iguanas, chameleons and more.

Learn more about lizards with our fact file on this group.

central bearded dragon

Turtles and Tortoises

Turtles and tortoises make up a group of reptiles which all share the common feature of a hard shell on their back. The shell is developed from the ribs and acts as a shield to defend their body from harm.

Turtles typically spend most of their time in the water. They can live in both fresh and salt water. Tortoises spend most of their time on land.

Learn more about this group of reptiles with our fact file.


Crocodilians are a group of reptiles which are semi-aquatic splitting their time between land and water. They have been around since the time of the dinosaurs.

Examples of crocodilians are alligators, crocodiles, the gharial and caimans.

Learn more about this group of reptiles with our fact file.


Tuataras are a unique reptile. Closely resembling a lizard, they are in fact the only surviving member of a the order Rhynchocephalia, a group of lizards which existed at the same time as the dinosaurs.

Tuataras are currently only found in New Zealand.

Find out more about tuataras on our fact page


Learn more about what make's reptiles different in this video from Wilbur's Wildlife

There are more than 8000 species of reptiles. The heaviest is the saltwater crocodile which can weigh up to 1,000 kg (2,200 pounds). The smallest is the dwarf gecko which measures only 19mms long (3/4 of an inch).

Reptiles are among the longest lived animals in the world. Large tortoises can live for more than 150 years and alligators can live nearly 70 years.


Reptile Fact Files


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