Field guide training: Reptiles – Part 1

Southern Africa is home to numerous different reptile species. Our blog post provides an essential introduction to the world of reptiles and gives an overview of their most important features. Learn more

Rangerkurs: Eine grosse Landschildkroete auf einer Wiese

Reptiles are known to be the closest still living relatives of the dinosaur. Southern Africa is home to a variety of different reptile species. In total, Southern Africa is home to three of the four reptile orders:

  • Testudinata (turtles and tortoise)
  • Squamata (scaled reptiles like snakes)
  • Crocodilia (crocodile) - oldest group!

The order of the tuatara (sphenodontia) is only common in New Zealand with one living species.

The reptiles of Southern Africa count 517 individual species in total, including 151 species of snakes, 338 species of lizards, 27 species of turtles and one crocodile species – the Nile crocodile. Despite the wide diversity of the different reptile species there are a couple of characteristics which all reptiles have in common:

  • A dry, horny skin covered with a scale or plate structure. This is why their activity depends on the temperature of their surroundings: When the temperature is low, they move as little as possible to save energy.

  • Most reptiles lay eggs. These are not necessarily dependent on a humid environment (a difference to amphibians, which need water for reproducing!).

Rangerausbildung: Ein Waran klettert einen Baum hoch
Naturguideausbildung: Ein Nilkrokodil am Flussufer
Field-Guide-Ausbildung: Eine Zwerg-Schildechse auf einem Stein
  • Fertilization is intern, which means through intercourse.

  • Many reptiles are equipped with the Jacobson’s organ which is located in the upper jaw and used for smelling.

  • It should be mentioned that turtles are not amphibians but reptiles, even though they spend most of their life in water. Turtles deposit their eggs on land and bury them in the sand, they also only us their lungs for respiration and not, like most amphibians, additionally their skin – these characteristics make them a reptile.

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