Reptiles Exploration

What is a reptile?

Here are a few things you’ll expect to see in the class reptilia:

  • They are cold-blooded animals.
  • Most lay eggs (the exceptions include boas and several other snakes)
  • They have scaly, dry skin.  Sometimes they have hard outer shells, like turtles and tortoises.
  • They have much smaller brains compared with mammals.
  • They breathe air.

Reptiles live on every continent except Antarctica.  Because they are cold blooded they don’t need to eat as much food as warm blooded animals (like us!).  Instead they rely on their environment to maintain their temperature.  They don’t rely on their own energy to do it.


Snakes are reptiles without legs.  They slither along by flexing their bodies.  Some snakes have over 300 pairs of rib bones.  Most of them aren’t poisonous, but constrictors can be just as deadly anyway.  They wrap themselves around their prey and squeeze so tightly that the animal dies.  They swallow their prey whole.  If it’s a big meal they may not need to eat again for months.  Many kinds of snakes have very interesting and unique markings.

Eastern Green Mamba. Photo by DocSean, CC license

 Crocodiles and Alligators

Alligators are only found in two countries – the United States and China.  They live near fresh water and have wider snouts than their crocodile cousins.  Crocodiles, existing both in freshwater and saltwater, live all over the world.  They are terrific swimmers and are incredibly fast, both in the water and on land.  They can definitely outrun humans, and are very dangerous.  They can hold their breath for about an hour underwater.  They also have terrific senses – keen sight, smell, and hearing.

American alligator. Photo by Gareth Rasberry, CC license


Lizards are kind of like snakes with legs.  They have dry, scaly skin.  They are generally more active at night, sitting and soaking up sunlight for warmth during the day.  Most lizards are excellent climbers.  Some can shed their tails to avoid danger.  Lizards generally aren’t harmful to humans; even the venomous ones can’t do much harm to people.  The komodo dragon is the exception to this.  They are the largest of the lizards, very venomous, and known to attack humans.  Lizards typically lay eggs.  They generally live in the warmer areas of the world.  There are over 5,000 different species across the globe.

Photo by order_242 from Chile, CC license


There are actually three families – turtles, tortoises, and terrapins.  Turtles live mostly in the water and have webbed feet, tortoises live on the land and eat shrubs and grasses.  They usually live in warm climates.  Terrapins live in swampy areas, spending time on both land and in the water.  Turtles are protected by the hard shells on their backs, but they can still feel pressure and pain through them, just like you can through your fingernails (which are made up of the same stuff as turtles’ shells).  They have a strong sense of smell, and many turtles also have a unique ability to navigate across the globe, returning to the exact beaches where they were hatched.  They don’t have teeth, but eat a variety of plants and animals with their sharp beaks.

Photo by Brocken Inaglory, CC license

Reptile Explorations and Expeditions

  • Start this lesson out with an expedition to the pet store.  You’re sure to see some really cool reptiles, and chances are, the employees can tell you some interesting things about them.  Make a list of all the kinds of reptiles you see while you’re there.  You might even want to bring a camera and take pictures of them.  Find out as much as you can about whether or not reptiles make good pets, and find out what kind of care they need, how long they live, and what they eat.  Our pet store has two super friendly pet tortoises that roam around and visit with the customers.
  • Make an art project about one of the families of reptiles.  My pre-school and young elementary kiddos made these slinky snakes by cutting out ovals from brightly colored scrapbook paper, and then attaching the ovals together with brads.  I helped by punching holes in the sides of the ovals.  The brads allow them to slither and wiggle along like snakes.  They have wiggly eyes and pipe cleaner tongues that we attached with glue.  On the back side of each body segment you can write simple facts you learned about snakes during the lesson.


  •  Write a shape poem about one of the reptile families.  For example, print a turtle coloring sheet or sketch a simple turtle, then compose a poem about turtles and their unique traits.  Fill in the poem on the turtle’s shell.
  • Discover the differences between reptiles and amphibians.  Make a Venn diagram about their differences and commonalities.


  • Choose one species of reptile to learn about.  Read about it, create a visual project, and present it in an oral report.  Write informational note cards to guide your speech and rehearse it before you present your information.

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