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 Ecuadorian Reptiles

 

                   Giant Tortoises   ׀   Turtles   ׀   Iguanas   ׀   Caimans  ׀  Snakes  ׀  Lizards

 
 

 

Reptilia  



 

Reptiles are found primarily in warmer climates. Ecuador, being a tropical country, boasts thus of many species of lizards, snakes, turtles and crocodiles, with most of them found in the tropical rainforests of the Amazon and the Pacific coastal plains. But some lizards and snakes can also be encountered in the higher paramo regions of 4000m.  The Galapagos islands is a special location for reptiles as in the absence of mammals some unique species evolved there.



 

The Green Anaconda is the largest snake in the world and can be found in fresh water habitats of the Amazon. It is an aquatic snake hunting in the waters for larger prey. Sometimes they can be encountered lying at the shore of rivers to warm up and digest its prey (photo at Pañayacu).



 

  Some 350 species of reptiles are found in Ecuador and three of the four present orders have representatives in the country. Only the tuataras or beakheads are not present in the country and can only be found on a few islands off New Zealand.

There exist some 210 snakes in the country, half of them poisonous, ranging from tiny ones of some 15 cm in length to up to 6m like in the case of the mighty Anaconda. Most are encountered in the tropical regions but some range up into the Andes and one made it to the Galapagos islands.

Their relatives, the lizards are also well represented in the country with many small lizards, geckos and chameleons encountered in many regions including the higher mountain paramo areas.
Interesting are the larger members of this group, the
Iguanas with three endemic species inhabiting the Galapagos islands.

Some 20 species of
Turtles which represent one of the oldest animal lineage still around on earth, whose ancestors date back some 200 million years, make their home in Ecuador, including terrestrial, aquatic and marine species. The best known among them are the Giant Tortoises of the Galapagos islands.

On the Pacific coast one specie of C
rocodiles, the unfortunately now rare American Crocodile, reaching some 6m in length, may be still found. The smaller sized
Caimans especially the Spectacled Caiman, are still more common in the Amazon.

 
 Natural History
 

Reptiles belong to the taxonomic clade of Amniota, which also includes the mammals and birds. The amniotes, which had an amphibian-like (?) common ancestor some 340 million years ago, are recognized as the first fully land vertebrates. Their main feature (and from where they got their name) is the amniote egg which can be laid on land as it is immune to desiccation (in contrast to the amphibians which still lay their eggs in the water). In the Mesozoic era (195 to 65 millions BC) also called the Age of Reptiles, the reptiles flourished. Dinosaurs on land, ichthyosaurs in the waters and pterosaurs in the air among other reptile groups were the dominant animals on the planet. Mammals at that time led a furtive life as mostly nocturnal shrew-like animals and birds just began to evolve from some dinosaurs. For some reasons still discussed (meteorite impact, global volcanism, climate change, combination of all?) this class of animals started then to decline and presently only 4 orders of the original 23 orders have existing species. Members of the other 19 major orders, including the mighty dinosaurs, became extinct and only fossils remind us of their once glory past. But with a total of roughly 6500 living species at present they still outnumber by far their successor in animal dominance, the mammals.

 
 
 
 Living Reptiles Orders
 

Rhynchocephalia  

Tuataras (beakheads) with only two species alive

Squamata  

2 300 snakes,
 3 700 lizards and
140 amphisbaenids

Crocodilia  

22 species of alligators, caimans, gavials and the proper crocodiles

Chelonia  

270 turtles and tortoises

 
 
 
 Classification
 

Reptiles are cold-blooded animals, meaning that they depend on the environment for body heat as they cannot produce internal heat themselves like mammals or birds can. Therefore, most reptiles are found in the temperate and tropical regions of the world but some of them can survive in colder regions, going into hibernation when winter comes. But cold-bloodedness has a significant advantage over warm-bloodedness as they do not need as much food to keep up their metabolism. That is one reason why land mammals are mostly absent on oceanic islands as they cannot survive long rafting trips. Reptiles on the other hand can go an extended time without nourishment. Far away islands like the Galapagos have thus a mainly reptilian land population. Another distinguished feature is that they do not have body hair or feathers but instead are covered with epidermal scales. Reptiles reproduce by laying eggs but in contrast to birds, reptiles do not incubate the eggs and most do not give parental care after birth. Most species lay their eggs into the ground, covering them with earth or sand, which provides the necessary heat for hatching. Some lizards and most snakes however give live birth to young after they developed in eggs within their body.

 

 
 
 
 

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