What Is A Reptile?

We're so glad you asked! There is a world of pets beyond cats and dogs — and reptiles are quite popular!

In short, a reptile is a cold-blooded, air-breathing vertebrate animal. And they've been roaming the Earth for over 315 million years. 

Characteristics of a Reptile

On the surface, you'll notice reptiles aren't furry like pet hamsters or feathered like pet birds. Instead, they have smooth skin, scales, or bony plates.

So how do they stay warm? A reptile pet will bask under its heat lamp or move into a sunny spot when living in the wild. When the pet is ready for a cool down, it moves to the shade or relaxes under a rock in its habitat. Reptiles don't have sweat glands or use panting to lower their body temperature.

On the inside, reptiles have lungs to help them breathe. Contrary to popular thoughts, reptiles don't have gills like fish.

When it comes to reproduction, most reptiles lay eggs. This is different from mammals, like cats and dogs, that birth live young. A few reptile exceptions are the boa constrictor and python. Both snakes give birth to live babies.

Reptiles also:
• Live on land (not in the water)
• Shed the outer layer of skin regularly
• Crawl on short legs, or slither on their bellies
• Regulate their metabolism based on the temperature of their environment

Reptiles vs. Amphibians

Reptiles and amphibians are two types of pets that are often confused with each other. Amphibians are also cold-blooded vertebrates that lay eggs, but unlike reptiles, they spend part of their lives in the water and part of their time on land (which is the definition of amphibious). Amphibians need a body of water or a moist environment like a swamp to survive.

To help them live this lifestyle, amphibians are born with gills to breathe both under water and in the open air. Amphibians also "breathe" by absorbing water through their skin to stay hydrated and healthy. Reptiles don't have these adaptations. You may have heard of a few popular amphibians, including frogs, newts, salamanders, and toads.

3 Popular Reptile Species

As you search for your new pet reptile, consider these three popular reptile species when browsing the pet store or local reptile show.

1. Snakes: These legless pets are fun to watch twist and climb on branches in their habitat. Common pet snake types include ball pythons, corn snakes, and rosy boas. Learn more about types of pet snakes in "5 Types of Small Pet Snakes For Reptile Lovers."
2. Turtles: They may have a lazy reputation, but turtles can be active, playful pets. Look into box turtles and Russian tortoises. Learn more about turtles in "Zilla's Guide to Turtles and Tortoises."
3. Lizards: With their big eyes and short legs, a pet lizard can amuse onlookers for hours. Common lizard pets include geckos, bearded dragons, and chameleons. Learn more about pet lizards you can choose from in "10 Pet Lizard Types for Reptile Lovers."

When you're looking for a less common pet and one that doesn't need daily walks or litter box cleanings, consider a reptile. You may find your next best friend might just be a snake, turtle, or lizard.


Merriam-Webster Dictionary - Reptile
The National Wildlife Federation - Reptiles
The National Wildlife Federation - Amphibians
Center for Biological Diversity - Reptiles
National Geographic - Reptile Pictures & Facts
National Geographic - Amphibian Pictures & Facts

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