5 remarkable facts about reptiles

The prehensile tailed skink (Prasinohaema prehensicauda) from the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Credit: Christopher Austin

Today it’s Reptile Awareness Day! We reached out to our lizard-loving science friends to learn their favorite reptile facts and bring them to you to celebrate the day.

1. Big and poisonous

The Komodo dragon is poisonous! And the extinct giant parent Megalania was the largest poisonous animal to ever live.

Brian Fry, University of Queensland

2. And you, Brutus?

Most reptiles have indeterminate growth. This means that they grow rapidly from birth and then continue to grow even after reaching adulthood, whereas humans stop growing when they reach adulthood. This is why every now and then a giant snake or crocodile is found.

Dane Trembath, Australian Museum

Brutus, a 5.5 meter croc in the Adelaide River in the Northern Territory. Credit: Creative Commons.

3. Dig monitors

A monitor lizard here in Australia has the deepest nests of any known vertebrate on Earth, digging (through backfilled sand) to four meters or more! They also dig these crazy helical burrows that were only known to animals that disappeared from the fossil record before this discovery.

Simon Clulow, University of Canberra

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Yellow-spotted monitor lizard (Varanus panopte). Credit: Reg Morrison / Auscape

4. Duel placentas

Living lizards have a placenta (like mammals) – but most have two different placentas for each baby! There is a mammalian-like placenta that supplies the embryo with oxygen, sugars, and protein, and a yolk-sac placenta that most reptile embryos still retain, which supplement fat stores.

Mark Hutchinson, University of Adelaide and South Australian Museum

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Extraembryonic membranes of a viviparous lizard, the southern skink (Pseudemoia entrecasteauxii). Reproduced from Griffith, et al., 2016.

5. Robust reptiles

Sea snakes can breathe through their skin! Up to 30% of their oxygen needs can be exchanged underwater, allowing them to dive deep. A sea snake even has an enlarged vein that runs above the brain to increase the oxygen supply to the head while diving.

Jenna Crowe-Riddell, University of Adelaide

Two black snakes are coiled in a reef
A male and female turtle-headed sea snake underwater. Credit: Jenna Cowe-Riddell.

Cosmos Magazine


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