Reptiles Lesson for Kids: Definition, Characteristics & Facts

Instructor: April Gwen Ellsworth

April has a master's degree in psychology and has experience teaching special populations from preschoolers to adults.

Slithering snakes, creeping crocodiles, timid turtles, adventurous alligators. What do each of these animals have in common? Let's find out in this lesson on reptiles.

What are Reptiles?

How do you tell the difference between an alligator and a crocodile? Do you think snakes are scary or fascinating? When you are thinking about these animals, you are thinking about reptiles.

Reptiles are vertebrates, or animals with a backbone, like the one you have going down the middle of your back.

All reptiles are ectothermic: their inside body temperature changes when their surroundings change. This is different from your inside body temperature, which usually stays the same, even when you're in the hot sun or cold snow. But if a reptile sits in the sun too long, it will roast, so it must move to the shade or water to cool off.

Reptiles are covered with small, bony plates called scales for protection, unlike your smooth skin. They also breathe air through lungs, and lay eggs.

Reptiles live everywhere but the coldest, icy places. And guess what? When a reptile is born, it can survive by itself and doesn't need its parents for food or care.

Scientists divide reptiles into the following four main groups.

Turtles and Tortoises

It's easy to recognize a turtle or tortoise because of the protective shell that covers its body. Its backbone is actually part of the shell.

Most have a sharp jaw shaped like a horn for eating, but no teeth - their strong horn cracks snail shells or rips off big chunks of plants. Some turtles are predators, meaning they eat other animals, but most turtles and all tortoises eat only plants.

Turtles and tortoises are a lot alike, but the main difference is that tortoises live only on land, and turtles spend some time in the water. Did you know that the Galapogos tortoise can live for 100 years and weigh over 600 pounds?

Turtles and Tortoises
turtles, tortoises

Lizards and Snakes

If you had a staring contest with a snake, who would win? It would always be the snake because snakes don't have eyelids!

All lizards have teeth and most eat only insects, but some eat only plants, and some eat animals like mice. All snakes, however, are predators, and most have teeth. Snakes eat eggs, fish, birds, frogs, and other animals.

Lizards and snakes shed their skin from time to time. Snakes, of course, don't have arms or legs, but lizards have four legs.

Snakes and Lizards
snakes, lizards.

Crocodiles and Alligators

So, how do you tell a crocodile from an alligator? Look at its mouth, or snout - a crocodile's snout is pointed, while an alligator's is flatter.

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