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Life Cycles of Reptiles

| Updated September 26, 2017

Reptiles have been around for hundreds of millions of year. Their life spans can range from a few years to decades. The inception, hatching and maturing of a reptile depend on factors ranging from the species to food resources and temperature. Though males are needed for fertilization, some healthy female adults will develop and lay eggs on their own.


According to National Geographic, reptiles have thrived for around 300 million years and ruled the Earth during the time of the dinosaurs. They are cold-blooded and covered in protective scales. Most are land-dwelling and lay eggs. Snakes, lizards, turtles, crocodiles and alligators are all reptiles.


The majority of reptiles lay their eggs by a water source or in moist soil. Egg shells can be thick and rough or have the consistency of paper. The incubation period depends on the species of reptile and other factors such as surrounding temperature.


Hatchlings are generally able to fend for themselves as soon as they are mobile, but according to ExoticPetVet.com some mothers will not directly leave eggs after laying them. For example, the female python will coil herself around her eggs to regulate their temperature and protect them from predators. Crocodiles will also guard their nests and hatchlings after they emerge from their eggs.


The time it takes for a reptile to reach sexual maturity depends largely on the species and outside factors, such as food availability and warmth. Elaborate mating rituals that can last for hours precede the act of mating itself, wherein the male deposits his sperm into the female for fertilization. However, some reptile species, such as the green iguana, can develop and lay eggs without the aid of male fertilization or by using sperm stored within her body for up to six years. According to Melissa Kaplan of Anapsid.org, if a female lays unfertilized eggs, they are much like unfertilized chicken eggs and will not develop into hatchlings. Unfertilized eggs are abandoned and either decompose or are eaten by scavengers.


If you plan to breed or raise reptiles as pets, thoroughly research the breeding and incubation habits of each particular species. Some females, if not given adequate laying conditions such as moist soil and warmth, will harbor their eggs until they become ill. Be certain you possess the correct food and living conditions to keep the reptiles healthy and comfortable.