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Adaptations of Reptiles

| Updated November 01, 2017

Reptiles have adapted in many ways to be more successful in their natural environments, including how they regulate their body temperatures and how they find food. These adaptations also can affect the type of care pet reptiles require.

Temperature Regulation

One of the adaptations with the most direct impact on pet reptile care is temperature regulation. While mammals can regulate their body temperatures internally, reptiles are ectothermic, which means they use their environment to maintain their temperatures. As a result, most pet reptiles need heat elements in their habitat so they have a place to warm up. Additionally, reptiles indigenous to hot climates are more likely to be nocturnal so they can avoid the extreme heat of the daytime.

Laying Eggs

Both reptiles and amphibians lay eggs to produce offspring. However, reptiles have adapted to produce an egg that offers more protection. Amphibian eggs lack shells and must be laid in water so they stay moist; reptile eggs, on the other hand, have hard shells to keep the embryos inside safe from the environment and from predators. However, reptile eggs cannot be laid in water. If you are breeding pet reptiles, provide a dry place for the mother to lay her eggs.

Prey Catching Behaviors

Reptiles have adapted to different eating behaviors to increase their survival in the wild. Many reptiles are omnivorous, meaning they will eat both animals and plants; others are carnivorous or herbivorous only. Similarly, reptiles have adapted multiple ways to obtain their food:

  • Chameleons use tongue projection to  shoot their tongue toward nearby prey, grab it and pull it into their mouths. 
  • Alligator snapping turtles have adapted tongues that resemble worms when their mouths are open so they can fool unsuspecting worm-hunting prey. 
  • Snakes have various ways of catching and subduing prey, including constriction and venom. 
  • Many pet snakes, particularly the smaller ones, simply eat the prey alive. 

All of these adaptations allow reptiles to obtain food in their natural environments as well as captivity. If you want your pet reptile to eat a healthy diet, learn how to present the food so your pet will want to eat it.

Protective Adaptations

To survive, reptiles have adapted a number of defensive tactics to keep predators away, such as:

  • Camouflage so they are more difficult to spot in their environment. 
  • Bright colors to warn predators they are poisonous. 
  • Disposable tails that grow back so the tail can distract predators while the reptile escapes
  • Hiding places to escape or avoid predators.

In pet reptiles, the first two of these adaptations often make chameleons and coral snakes, respective, popular choices. Pets with tail autonomy should never be picked up by their tails and should not have their tails deliberately removed just to see them grow back. Pet reptiles who use hiding places for security may not face real predators in the habitat you create for them, but they still feel more comfortable and less stressed if you make logs, leaves and small caves available for them to hide inside.

Efficient Excretion

Most reptiles make efficient use of the water they take into their bodies. Their skin is waterproof so they do not lose water through sweating the way humans do. They also absorb as much water as possible from their food meaning their stools are harder and easy to clean up. The majority of reptiles do not urinate. Reptiles mix their liquid and solid waste together, which makes cage clean up easy.