Reptile Species

Unlike amphibians, most reptiles have highly permeable skin and rely on their lungs for oxygen. This fact alone can be a clue to identifying the species.


The ancestor of modern reptiles first evolved thick scaly skin about 350 million years ago and replaced amphibians as dominant terrestrial vertebrates. Today, these reptiles include turtles, lizards, snakes and crocodilians.

Komodo Dragon

Komodo dragons are generalist carnivores that scavenge or stalk animals from rodents to deer and water buffalo. Fossil records indicate they could even take down the now-extinct dwarfed elephants that roamed the islands during the Pleistocene. They often ambush their prey, hiding until an unsuspecting animal comes by. Then the dragon pounces and delivers a devastating bite. Unlike the more aggressive crocodiles, Komodo dragons have relatively weak bite strength and instead rely on their long claws to slash and tear into their victims, causing blood loss and shock. They also inject saliva containing 50 strains of deadly bacteria, which poison their victims in addition to the physical trauma of the bite.

Once a victim begins to collapse, the dragon follows it and consumes its entire carcass, including bones, hooves, skin, and intestines (after swinging them around with their claws to dislodge their contents). They can eat up to 80 percent of their body weight in a single feeding.

Komodo dragons breed once a year and males are able to identify females, which lay up to 30 eggs, by a unique pattern of scales on their legs and necks. They are not territorial, however, and will mate with several females to ensure fertilized eggs. Mating takes place between May and August. Dominant males display for potential mates by pacing and wrestling in stately ritualized postures, using their tails to support themselves.

Leatherback Sea Turtle

With four large, clawless flippers, this ocean-going reptile is capable of diving down to depths of more than a mile. Leatherbacks are the largest of all sea turtle species and can reach up to 10 feet in length. They nest at night on sloping sandy beaches backed by vegetation and lay six to eight clutches in a season. They are known to renest up to seven miles from the original nesting site and may take up to three years to mature.

Although little is known about their life expectancy, it is believed that Leatherbacks can live up to 50 years or more. They spend the majority of their lives at sea, with females only coming ashore to lay eggs. When they do, their large size makes them opportunistic when selecting a nesting beach. Like many other reptiles, temperature determines the sex of the hatchlings–if the eggs are warm, they will be female; cooler temperatures produce males.

Once the hatchlings emerge from their nests, they instinctively head to the sea and are at high risk of predation. In addition to carnivorous sharks, they are also preyed upon by land predators such as raccoons, skunks, mongooses, coatis and dogs, as well as by marine birds, crabs and fish. They are especially vulnerable to the ingestion of floating marine debris, such as discarded plastic bags and balloons, which resemble their favorite jellyfish prey.


The chameleon’s ability to change its skin color helps it blend in with its habitat. The lizards that live in rain forests are usually green, while those that dwell in deserts are more likely to be brown. They also use their color to communicate: turning darker signals hunger, while flashing bright colors attracts potential mates.

Their eyes are another important adaptation. Chameleons have the ability to move their eyes independently of one another, giving them a 360-degree view of their surroundings. They can even enlarge their eyes for closer inspection of an object or potential prey.

These scaly reptiles are carnivores that hunt and eat insects, spiders and other small creatures. Their long tongues can be as much as twice their body length and are covered in suction cup-like structures that allow them to grab onto their prey and draw it back into their mouths to be digested. They have a unique way of getting water as well: they either slurp it up with their tongues or they inhale it.

Most chameleons are solitary animals, but during the mating season males will display bright colors to compete for females’ attention. The lizards may also fight to protect their living areas or territory by striking aggressive poses, hissing and biting. They also use their tails to help them climb. The tails are prehensile, meaning they can wrap around branches and cling to them.


Iguanas are large, herbivorous lizards that inhabit tropical areas of Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. They generally do not pose a problem for humans except for eating exotic tropical foliage in gardens and occasionally damaging crops, such as destroying guava trees and oleanders. However, iguanas can also destroy dooryard plants and flowers, including orchids, berries, bananas, tomatoes, and mangos, as well as dig burrows that cause erosion and undermine seawalls and sidewalks.

Although iguanas are not known to be aggressive, they will defend themselves against pets or people that try to catch or corner them. They are equipped with sharp teeth and a whiplike tail used to bite or whip attackers. They can also change their skin color to camouflage or warn predators of their threat. Those found in Fiji, for example, can even turn black to avoid being eaten by their predators.

Their diet consists of leaves, flowers, fruit, and buds, mostly of fig trees (genus Ficus), but also other plants. They have a unique digestive system that uses bacteria to break down plant matter, making it easier to digest. Their skull is specially adapted for chewing tough plant material. It is longer and wider than that of meat-eating animals, with a shorter snout to accommodate the extra jaw muscles required for grinding.