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Reptiles 101

You know the basics about reptiles. They’re often green. They aren’t furry. You’re not inclined to cozy up with one on the couch while you stream Netflix. But they do have their charms, or they wouldn’t be in something like 1.8 million households. So let’s dig a little deeper and talk reptiles.

Reptiles are a class of vertebrates. A vertebrate is an animal with a backbone or spinal column, including mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, and amphibians. A reptile is cold-blooded and usually lays eggs (except for those like the boa constrictor, who gives birth to live young). They’re most easily recognized by their dry, scaly skin. Snakes, turtles, lizards, and crocodilians are all reptiles. Unlike fish or amphibians, reptiles don’t have gills—they use lungs to breathe.

Nature intended reptiles to be left in the wild. And the manner in which reptiles find their way to pet stores is undeniably cruel. Learn all you can about their needs before adopting, i.e., if you bring a snake home, give him a space where he can stretch out to his full length. Imagine yourself in a cage where you couldn’t ever stretch your arms and legs? If you want to adopt a pet reptile, you can have the pet you want plus give a home to one who needs it through Reptile Rescue groups. Sounds crazy, I know. But you’re not buying a houseplant (no offense to houseplants), you’re buying someone with a face.



  • Snakes have internal ears but not external ones. And they don’t rely on their ears to hear. They use the bones in their jaws to sense nearby vibrations.
  • Snakes are carnivores.
  • Snakes don’t have eyelids.
  • Snakes are found on every continent in the world except Antarctica.
  • Snakes’ flexible jaws allow them to eat prey bigger than their head.
  • Snakes can’t bite food, so they have to swallow it whole.
  • Snakes are not territorial.
  • Snakes are mostly solitary creatures.
  • There are over 3,000 species of snakes in the world.
  • Snakes are afraid of are large birds, wild boards, and raccoons, as well as your dog. If you see one while walking your dog, hold tight to your dog’s leash, and just keep walking.
  • Due to a snake’s “Jacobson’s organ,” as well as their smell receptors, they are very sensitive to the strong odors of cinnamon and clove oils.
  • Keeping trees, shrubs, mulch, and large rocks away from your house will help keep snakes from finding a cozy spot in your yard to call home.
  • A snake’s diet depends on its species.
  • Only a quarter of them are venomous, and most snakes aren’t a threat to humans or pets. Yet many of them are unnecessarily killed or removed from their habitat.

If you decide to adopt a pet snake, find out what makes him happy. Provide him with enough space to stretch out fully, and add basking rocks and climbing branches into his environment. If you bring the rocks and branches from outdoors rather than purchasing them in a pet shop, be sure they are clean. A snake also needs at least one heating lamp. Just don’t place it where he can get close to it. This can cause burns. These are only a few items to know before adopting a snake. Do your research before making the decision to bring one into your home.


  • Turtles are of the order Testudines characterized by a special bony or cartilaginous shell developed from their ribs and acting as a shield.
  • There are 356 species of turtles.
  • Turtles are found worldwide except Antarctica, on land, and in the sea.
  • Turtles can be found in either salt or freshwater.
  • Can live 30-40 years if kept healthy. Sea turtles can live 80 years.

For a turtle, spending their life in a tank is sort of like how you would feel if you were forced to spend your life in the bathtub. If you adopt a turtle, provide a large enough tank for him to have space to roam and take him out sometimes for supervised playtime. Also, keep his tank clean—turtles poop a lot and can become sick or die if isn’t. Fun Fact: Turtles are playful and active creatures who can learn to recognize their owner!


  • Tortoises have rounded and domed shells, while turtles have thinner, flat shells.
  • Tortoises live mostly on land, as opposed to turtles, who mostly live in the water.
  • Tortoises live 80-150 years.
  • Tortoises are herbivores.
  • Because they live so long, they require owners who are willing to make the commitment to give them a forever home.
  • Tortoises have been around for over 200 million years. That’s longer than lizards, birds, crocodiles, mammals, and snakes.
  • A group of tortoises is called a creep. Most tortoises, however, are loners.
  • Tortoises have strong mouths and no teeth.
  • They have a good all-round vision.
  • Tortoises have a very good sense of smell.
  • They draw heat from their environment.
  • The color of their shell indicates if they come from a warm climate.
  • Tortoises are affectionate creatures who readily recognize their owners.

If you want to adopt a tortoise, find a rescue group. Be aware that if you buy from a pet store, you should under no circumstance, buy one without its paperwork. The illegal trade in tortoises is a criminal offense and can lead up to five years in prison for both the buyer and seller.



  • Though one of the most common types of lizards found in pet stores, the iguana is not a good choice for a beginner. Neither is the Chinese Water Dragon, due to its very specific requirements when it comes to heat, humidity, lighting, and diet.
  • The leopard gecko is easiest to keep in captivity.
  • Lizards need proper care, special lighting, and special food.
  • Some lizards can detach their tails if caught by predators.
  • There are 6,000 species of lizards.
  • Chameleons have such long tongues which they rapidly extend from their mouth.
  • Chameleons eat insects.
  • Some chameleons change color to help them communicate with each other or use for camouflage.
  • Geckos have no eyelids.

Take your gecko out for supervised fun from time to time. Their unique toes make them awesome climbers who are fun to watch!


If you decide to keep a frog as a pet, choose one from a reptile rescue rather than catching one from the wild and hoping he acclimates to living in captivity. It will end better for both of you.

The United States is home to a diverse range of reptiles, but they face threats due to exploitation, habit destruction, and pollution. Rather than feel at a loss to do something about this, you can visit The Humane Society and The National Wildlife Federation to learn how you can help.

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