Reptiles are a fascinating group of vertebrates with one of the longest histories of any living creature on Earth. First appearing over 300 million years ago, reptiles are believed to have descended from amphibians and during the course of their evolution, have produced many unique offshoots, the most famous being the dinosaurs. Today, reptiles inhabit every continent except Antarctica and encompass approximately 8,700 species, split into the orders of:
Crocodilia– crocodiles, gharials, caimans and alligators Sphenodontia– tuataras from New Zealand Squamata– lizards, snakes and amphisbaenids (“worm-lizards”) Testudines– turtles and tortoises
All reptiles are cold-blooded, with skin covered in scales rather than hair or feathers, and most lay eggs (“oviparous”) although there are certain species that give birth to live young. Reptiles are also one of the most misunderstood of creatures, with perhaps more myths, superstitions and legends about them than any other animal. So here are 10 real facts about reptiles which you may not know:
- Turtles are synonymous with “slow” and lazy – they have long been mocked in literature and folklore for their slow speed. But did you know that the fastest reptile in the world is actually a turtle? Yes, turtles may be slow on land but in water, they are streamlined and fast: the Pacific leatherback turtle can swim at speeds up to 35km/hr making it the fastest-moving reptile in the world. On land, the fastest reptile is the spiny-tailed iguana of Costa Rica, which has been known to travel at speeds of up to 33km/hr.
- Rattlesnakes are widely known to be deadly but did you know that they can still bite after they are dead? Research done by the California Academy Sciences in San Francisco has shown that rattlesnakes are still capable of striking for up to an hour after it has been decapitated or shot, with scientists believing that the reflexes are possibly triggered by infrared sensors still active in the snake.
- Chameleons will change their body colour not just for camouflage and to blend with the background but also according to light, temperature and even its moods!
- For most animals, freezing means a certain death but for the North American wood frog, freezing is actually a strategy for surviving the long, cold winters. As the temperature drops, the frog surrounds its organs with freezing water, which causes its heart to stop beating, its lungs to stop breathing and its kidneys to shut down. The frog enters a state of “suspended animation” where it can stay for months until spring arrives when it will thaw out and become fully functional again in 10 hours.
- Snakes are one of the most feared creatures on earth with many people believing them responsible for numerous deaths. But in fact, in the United States, four times more people dies from wasp and bee stings than from snake bites!
- Another unique thing about chameleons – they are the only animals to be able to move and focus their eyes separately, rotating them in different directions and giving them the ability to look in two different directions and focus on completely separate objects simultaneously.
- To more on the chamelons, it is also the only animal with a tongue capable of stretching to 3 times its body length in order to capture food. The tongue is catapulted out of the mouth at enormous speed and snares its prey using the sticky tip.
- The snake responsible for most human deaths is not the famous king cobra or rattlesnake but the carpet viper which lives in the region from West Africa to India. Similarly, although the black mamba is widely considered the most poisonous snake, the Asian Cobra actually kills more people on average, making it the more deadly snake.
- Contrary to popular belief, snakes are not the most venomous animal in the world – this distinction belongs to the gold poison arrow frog which has enough poison in its system to kill 20 humans.
- If you see a crocodile swallowing stones, it has not gone crazy – in fact, crocodiles often swallow large stones which remain in their stomachs, helping them to grind up and digest their food (much like a bird’s gizzard) and also acting as a ballast to help them dive deeper!