Reptiles (Reptilia)

Like birds, reptiles are also vertebrates. This group of around 7900 species, inhabits primarily temperate and tropical areas, and includes alligators, caimans, crocodiles, lizards, snakes, worm lizards, tuataras, turtles and tortoises.

Being cold-blooded animals, they have to depend on the environment to raise or lower their internal temperature since they can not regulate their body heat. This means they have to find shelter when it gets too hot and must warm themselves in the sun after a cold night. There are advantages to being cold-blooded, namely, these animals do not have to burn calories to stay warm so don’t need to eat as often and they can live in habitats that challenge other species.

Their amphibian ancestors were unable to colonize the same habitats as reptiles because of two very special adaptations – scales and hard-shelled eggs. Laying hard-shelled eggs enables reptiles to live in very dry habitats, unlike amphibians who must lay their eggs close to or in water.

Scales, made of keratin like our fingernails, protect the reptiles’ skin and help to reduce loss of bodily moisture. Many reptiles periodically shed their epidermal (skin) layer. Reptiles have greater mobility in their lower jaws due to having several bones, rather than only one as mammals have, enabling them to open their mouths far wider to swallow prey.

The reptiles of Africa are among the most interesting, if scary, animals living in its forests, deserts, mangroves, swamps, freshwater wetlands, and along the coastline in the open oceans. We will have articles on this website exploring the amazing world of reptiles.

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