Adaptation - An inherited (genetically controlled) characteristic of an organism that helps it to survive and reproduce in the environment it inhabits. These are often interpreted as evolutionary changes in response to selection pressures present in that environment.

Albino - A lack of pigment in the skin. (Pinkness comes from the blood color)

Ambient temperature - The overall temperature of the environment.

Amphibian - Cold-blooded vertebrates that live in water and on land, including frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and caecilians.

Amniote - An animal that produces an embryo within a sac that contains amniotic fluid. Amniotes include turtles, lizards, snakes, tuataras, crocodilians, birds, and mammals.

Amniote - This is a group of tetrapods (four-limbed animals with backbones or spinal columns) that have terrestrially adapted eggs, including amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.

Anterior - The front or head end of an animal

Aquatic – Animal that lives in water.

Arboreal – Lives in trees. Climbing species that spends the majority of its time off the ground in the trees or bushes.

Autotomy – the ability of some reptiles to voluntarily shed body parts, usually in defense, and then grow back the lost limb.

Axillary - The area on the sides and belly, behind or below the front legs. The "armpit" area.


Basking spot - A warm spot in a habitat intended to simulate the natural heat and light of the sun for reptiles to bask in.

Bipedal Locomotion - Literally, moving on two feet. Refers to running on the hind legs, which is seen in some very fast lizards, particularly on loose surfaces such as sand. Some tropical lizards can even run for short distances across the surface of water.

Bridge - The area connecting the carapace and plastron on chelonians (turtles and tortoises).

Brumation – Reptile equivalent of hibernation.


Caecilian - A type of amphibian that is blind, legless and shaped like a worm.

Captive Bred - It means that your pet was bred in captivity using parents that are also kept in captivity.

Carapace –Name given to the hard, bony shell covering the dorsal/ upper portion on tortoises, turtles, terrapins and crustaceans.

Carnivore - Animals who hunt and eat other animals for their diets; meat eater.

Caudal - Referring to the tail end of an animal

Caudal Autonomy - A defensive feature found in many lizard and salamander species, where the tail vertebrae are easily broken, so that the tail will break off if it is grabbed by a predator. Also called tail separation.

Chelonian - A category of reptiles that includes turtles, tortoises and terrapins.

Cloaca - A body opening that serves both for excretion and for the reproductive organs.

Clutch - A group of eggs that is laid in the same place at the same time (or nearly the same time), and will hatch at the same time.

Cold blooded - An animal that cannot regulate its own body temperature and metabolic function and must instead rely on external environmental conditions. (Also see Ectothermic).

Constrictor - A snake that kills its prey by grabbing the animal and throwing two or three coils around it. The force of constriction (squeezing) prevents the prey from breathing, and it usually dies within seconds. The snake can then relax its grip and swallow the animal headfirst.

Cranial - Often referring to the top of the head (cranial crest).

Crepuscular - Animals that become active at dusk, dawn or twilight.

Crest - A decorative ridge of spikes or skin that are found on the necks, backs, and/or tails of some reptiles.

Crocodilians - A category of reptiles that includes alligators, crocodiles, gavials and caiman.


Dewlap - A flap or fold of skin found on the throat of some lizards, such as iguanas. It generally stretches from the chin to the chest, and it may be used during displays of territoriality or aggression.

Dimorphism - Any of the various differences between individuals of the same species; like color and size. Often sex-related differences.

Diurnal – Animals that are active during the day. Opposite of nocturnal.

Dorsal - Referring to features on the back or along the spine of the animal.


Ecdysis - The natural process of shedding skin to allow for growth.

Ecology - The branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings.

Ectothermic - An animal whose body temperature varies with the temperature of its surroundings (also called cold-blooded). Ectothermic animals cannot regulate their own body temperature so they source their body heat from their surroundings. For example they will bask for heat, seek shade, burrow or hibernate.

Endemic - Indigenous to a specific region or area.

Endothermic - An animal that maintains its body temperature at a relatively constant level by physiological means regardless of the temperature of the environment (also called warm-blooded)

Estivation (or Aestivation) – similar to hibernation except dormancy occurs during hot or dry seasons to remain hydrated or escape the heat. Some Reptiles will do this by burying themselves and remain dormant when the climate is too dry and/or hot for comfort.


Fossorial – Animals that burrow or dig. They spend a lot of time underground, so they require deep substrate.


Gene - unit of heredity that determines the characteristics of the offspring

Genetics - the study of heredity and the variation of inherited characteristics.

Genotype - an organism’s genetic composition. Heredity - the transmission of genetic characters from parents to offspring.

Genus - A grouping by kind or class. Several united species makes a genus.

Gestation - The period of time between mating and the birth of the young.

Gravid – Reptile equivalent of being pregnant. A female reptile bearing eggs or embryos.


Habitat - The environment where a plant or animal naturally lives.

Hatchling – a newly hatched reptile, equivalent of a baby.

Hemipenes (or Hemipenis) – dual sex organs of a male snake and lizard.

Herbivore – Animals that only eat plant matter, such as leaves, vegetables, flowers etc.

Herpetology – the scientific study of reptiles and amphibians.

Hibernate - To pass a cold season in sleep or seclusion.

Husbandry – a term used to describe the everyday care of an animal. Good husbandry requires fulfilling all of your pets requirements by keeping their enclosures clean, providing fresh food and water daily and generally monitoring the health and well being of an animal regularly.

Hygrometer – A device that monitors humidity levels.


Insectivore - Animal that mostly eats insects for their diet.

Invertebrate - Animals that have no spinal column or backbones.


Jacobson's organ - An organ located in the roof of the mouth that allows reptiles that "smell" with their tongue to detect odor.

Juvenile – sub-adult. An animal that is not quite an adult or old enough to breed.


Keel - A ridge down the center of a scale. Very sharp keeling may make an animal appear quite rough. In general, an animal with keeled scales will appear less shiny and lustrous than one with unkeeled scales, as the keeling causes the reflected light to scatter.


Lateral - Referring to the sides of the body. "Laterally compressed" means flattened in such a way that the thing is high but not very wide.

Litter - The offspring of a multiple birth.

Live Birth - In reptiles, this is when the eggs hatch while still inside the female, and the young soon emerge alive. The young do not obtain nutrients from their mother while in the reproductive tract, as is the case with most mammals. A condition known as ovoviviparous.


Melanin - black or brown skin pigments.

Melanism - Blackness, the opposite of albinism.

Metamorphosis – a process of change from a larval state to an adult state, which may severely alter the appearance, behavior and lifestyle of that creature. Life stage transition between being a child (larva) and adult (frog/butterfly/salamander etc).

Musking - a defense mechanism where a snake secretes a small amount of foul smelling liquid from its vent when frightened or agitated. This musk is not harmful, but can be quite unpleasant, so washing your hands with anti-bacterial hand wash afterwards is advised.

Mutation - An abnormal gene that under certain circumstances can cause an animal to be born with an appearance other than wild-type (typical form and characteristics).


Nest - The burrow or pallet dug by the female in which to deposit her eggs.

Neurotoxin - A poison that affects the nervous system.

Nocturnal - Animals that are active at the night.


Omnivore (Omnivorous) - Animals that eat both meat protein and plants for their diet.

Oviparous – Producing eggs that hatch outside the body.

Ovoviviparous – Reptiles or fish producing eggs that are hatched within the body, so that the young are born alive but without placental attachment.


Parotoid glands - Paired glands that appear as large bumps on a reptile. In some herps, they secrete toxic substances used for self-defense.

Parietal eye - An organ found on some lizards on the top of their heads. It senses light and is active in prompting hormone production and assisting with thermoregulation. Also known as a pineal eye or third eye, though it does not actually form images.

Plastron - The shell covering the underside (bottom) of a turtle or tortoise that protects its abdomen; opposite the carapace.

Poikilothermal - Term used for variable temperature cold-blooded animals.

Posterior - Having to do with the rear or hind end.

Prehensile tail - Capable of grasping or wrapping with the tail.



Reptile - any of the cold-blooded vertebrates constituting the class Reptilia, characterized by lungs, an outer covering of horny scales or plates, and young produced in amniotic eggs. The class today includes the tortoises, turtles, snakes, lizards, and crocodiles; in Mesozoic times it was the dominant group, containing the dinosaurs and related forms

Riparian - Animals living on both land and water. Also known as semi-aquatic.

Rostral (horns) - Horns around the nose area.


Scute - A horny, chitinous, or bony external plate or scale, as on the shell of a turtle or the underside of a snake. Also called scutum.

Semi-aquatic - Able to live on both land and water; some turtles and frogs. Also known as riparian.

Setae - The tiny, hair-like projections located on the toe pads of some lizard species. Setae allow these lizards to walk and climb on vertical surfaces, such as glass, and even ceilings. Singular: seta.

Sexual Dimorphism - Refers to a species where the males and females are different in appearance. This can be a difference in size, or in other visual features.

Species - One or more animals, which closely resemble one another. A group of them together forms a genus.

Sub-adult – refers to a reptile that is not fully grown or of breeding age, yet may resemble an adult, but in miniature form.

Substrate – material that lines the bottom of a reptile or amphibian enclosure, used as bedding or for burrowing for your reptile. Popular choices include aspen, eco-earth, bark chips and reptile carpet.


Taxonomy - The science of classifying plants and animals.

Terrarium – type of reptile enclosure, usually for terrestrial species that appreciate soil-type substrates.

Terrestrial – Terrestrial species live on the ground and rarely climb.

Thermo-regulation – Cold-blooded animals thermo-regulate, which means they control their own body temperature by moving between warm and cool areas of their habitat.

Toxin - A poisonous substance.

Tympanum - The external eardrum.



Venom - A toxin produced by an animal.

Vent - common and widely used name for a reptile's Cloaca (see Cloaca) In reptiles this opening may also serve the reproductive organs. It is seen as a marker of where the body ends and the tail begins, which is hard to determine in some animals, such as snakes.

Ventral – Pertaining to the underside or stomach part of an animal; opposite of dorsal.

Vertebrate - Animals that have a backbone or spinal column and includes mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Vertebrates are members of the subphylum Vertebrata, a primary division of the phylum Chordata that includes the fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, all of which are characterized by a segmented spinal column and a distinct well-differentiated head. There are currently about 58,000 species of chordates. Vertebrates are the largest group of chordates, and make up about 5% of all described animal species; the rest are invertebrates, which lack backbones.

Vestigial - Remaining in a species only in a much reduced or useless state. Vestigial body parts or organs are evidence of parts that the ancestors of an animal had, but that the modern animal no longer needs or uses. For example, the Rosy Boa bears vestigial traces of the legs of its lizard ancestors.

Viquarium - An enclosure or container for keeping reptiles and amphibians.

Vivarium – an enclosed environment, as a glass container, in which plants or animals are raised under conditions that approximate their natural habitat.

Viviparous – gives birth to live young. Live-bearing animal, whose young are sustained by some connection to its mother.

Voracious - If your reptile or amphibian has a voracious appetite, that means that it readily consumes its food in a greedy fashion.


Warm blooded - An animal that can regulate its own body temperature and metabolic function; also known as warm blooded. (Also See Endothermic).

Wild-type - The typical form of an organism, strain, gene, or characteristic as it occurs in nature, as distinguished from mutant forms that may result from selective breeding.




Zoonosis - a disease that can be passed from animal to man. In reptile keeping Salmonella is a possible zoonosis.