group (class or clade) of tetrapod animals
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Reptile is the common name for one of the main groups of land vertebrates. It is not used so much by biologists, who use more accurate terms.

Temporal range: Pennsylvanianpresent, 312–0 mya
Clockwise from above left: Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus), Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus), and Sinai agama (Pseudotrapelus sinaitus)
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Clade: Sauropsida
Class: Reptilia
Laurenti, 1768
Living groups

See text for extinct groups.

Global reptile distribution (excluding birds)

The name "reptile" comes from Latin and means "one who creeps". All living reptile species are cold blooded, have scaly skin, and lay cleidoic eggs.[1][2] They excrete uric acid (instead of urea), and have a cloaca. A cloaca is a shared opening for the anus, urinary tract and reproductive ducts. Reptiles also share an arrangement of the heart and major blood vessels which is different from that of mammals.[3] Birds have all of these features.

Many important groups of reptiles are now extinct, for example the mosasaurs. We used to say the dinosaurs were extinct, but they survive in the form of their feathered descendants (birds). Ancient reptiles that do survive include the turtles, the crocodiles and the Tuatara, the lone survivor of its group. The great majority of present-day reptiles are snakes and lizards.

The study of living reptiles is called herpetology.

Birds in relation to reptiles


Some reptiles are more closely related to birds than they are to other reptiles. Crocodiles are more closely related to birds than they are to lizards. Theropod dinosaurs are even more closely related, because birds evolved from them.

Cladistic writers prefer to put the birds (over 10,000 species) with what people usually call reptiles.[4][5][6] (see Sauropsida)



Reptilia is an evolutionary grade rather than a clade. The main reason is that the term 'reptile' does not include birds, the descendents of theropod dinosaurs. Another reason is that the word 'reptile' is misleading because many extinct types were very different from living reptiles.

So instead of Reptilia as a taxonomic class, today many experts use Class Sauropsida (which includes all reptiles and birds, living and extinct). Class Synapsida includes mammals and all their forebears. Reptile is still the usual informal term to describe living snakes and lizards. Mammals are a genuine clade, and so Mammalia is still the taxonomic term.

Since reptiles are not monophyletic, reclassifying them is one of the key aims of researchers.[4][7][8] Some taxonomists, such as Benton,[9] make Sauropsida and Synapsida class-level taxa. The two groups split in the Carboniferous, from stem-group Amniotes (the early tetrapods, which laid cleidoic eggs).

Eye feature


A membrane forms an inner eyelid in reptiles and birds. Whitish or translucent, it can be drawn across the eye to protect it from dust and keep it moist. It is called the nictitating membrane.

Reptiles can live in large and small sizes. Their land sizes can be both bigger and smaller than mammals. Titanosaurs were the largest land reptiles, and the smallest land reptile is a chameleon 13.5mm long.[10]

Living reptiles



  1. Some give birth to live young, with the cleidoic eggs developing internally.
  2. 2008. "Squamata Suborder: Serpentes". The University of Georgia Museum of Natural History. [1] Archived 2010-06-13 at the Wayback Machine
  3. Goodrich E.S. 1930. Studies on the structure and development of vertebrates. Macmillan, London.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Gauthier J.A., Kluge A.G & Rowe T. 1988. The early evolution of the Amniota. pp103–155 in Michael J. Benton (ed) The phylogeny and classification of the tetrapods, Volume 1: Amphibians, Reptiles, Birds. Systematics Association, Special vol 35A. Clarendon Press, Oxford.
  5. Laurin, Michel; Reisz, Robert R. (1995). "A reevaluation of early amniote phylogeny" (PDF). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. 113 (2): 165–223. doi:10.1111/j.1096-3642.1995.tb00932.x.
  6. Modesto, S.P. (1999). "Observations of the structure of the Early Permian reptile Stereosternum tumidum Cope". Palaeontologia Africana. 35: 7–19.
  7. Gauthier J.A. 1994. The diversification of the amniotes. In D.R. Prothero and R.M. Schoch (eds) Major features of vertebrate evolution. 129-159. Knoxville, Tennessee: The Paleontological Society.
  8. Laurin M. & Gauthier J.A. 1996. Amniota, Mammals, reptiles (turtles, lizards, Sphenodon, crocodiles, birds) and their extinct relatives. Version 01 January 1996. The Tree of Life Web Project.
  9. Benton, Michael J. 2004. Vertebrate Paleontology. 3rd ed, Blackwell, Oxford. ISBN 0-632-05637-1.
  10. 'Smallest reptile on earth' discovered in Madagascar. BBC News [2].