Reptiles are always cold-blooded and are always covered in scales. Being cold-blooded means that their bodies react to the temperature of their suroundings. Reptiles are born on land and have very strong insticts from the start, which means that they are on their own from birth. Reptiles are one of six classifications of animals; amphibians, birds, fish, invertebrates, mammals and, of course, reptiles.
Reptiles are divided into 4 groups. 1. Crocodilians are a large group that include crocadiles, alligators, gharials, and caimans. Crocodilians first appreared over 84 million years ago. Today, there are 23 different species of crocodilians on the planet. 2. Squamates are the most diverse of the reptile family with nearly 7,400 different species. This group consists of snakes, lizards, and worm-lizards. Modern squamates arose about 160 million years ago, during the late Jurassic Period. The earliest lizard fossils date back to between 185 and 165 million years ago. 3. Tuataras are reptiles that are lizard-like in appearance but are different because their skulls are not jointed. This group was once wide-spread but is now down to only 2 species. The first tuatara appeared 220 million years ago, about the same time period as the first dinosaurs. 4. Turtles are among the most ancient of reptiles alive today and have changed very little in the 200 million years they've been around. It is believed that the turtles of today closely resemble the turtles that roamed Earth during the days of the dinosaurs. Pretty cool, eh?
Ok, so why should be care about reptiles? Reptiles play a fundamental role in our ecosystem. These wonderful and helpful creatures impose an important check on insect and rodent populations. Some of the most venomous snakes in the world prevent the spread of disease-carrying rodents, making their usefulness more important than their danger. Crocodiles and alligators can prevent the overpopulation of fish along coastal area. This helps to keep the aquatic ecosystem healthy and balanced. Many reptiles feed off dead animal carcasses, which are called carions. This is especially true of the Komodo Dragon. They play an important role in cleaning up the environment of dead, rotting animals that can spread disease. Reptiles themselves are also prey, meaning that they can become for other animals and humans, as well.
Reptiles, just like us amphibians, are bioindicators. The health and abundance of reptiles is used to gage the health of the ecosystem. Reptiles and amphibians, both, are monitored for changes. This gives scientists a better and clearer understanding of how how the planet is doing. When we're not doing well, neither is Mother Earth! So it easy to see why reptiles are important!
I hope you'll tak a little time today, or over the weekend, to get to know reptiles. When you become familair with them, and understand their their value, it is easier to see their beauty, as well. Reptiles, like most animals, won't bother you unlss you bother them. And, just like you, they want to be healthy and cared for; to be treated with the respect and dignity that all living creatures deserve.
Happy Reptile Awareness Day!