Slithery, Scaly Reptiles (FLWCRNC)

Summary:

What characteristics are common of all reptiles and what makes this class of animals different from others? Participants will see several live specimens including turtles, snakes and alligators and will discover how their appearance (shell shape, mouth shape, body shape, etc.) is a window to the animal’s habits and survival strategies. Participants will also learn about the American alligator reintroduction and management by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Grade Level:

K - 12 (This program is suitable for all grade levels. Use age-appropriate vocabulary.)

Recommended Setting:

Indoor or outdoor classroom

Outdoor Activity:

No

Location:

Forrest L. Wood Crowley’s Ridge Nature Center, Jonesboro

Contact:

Education Program Coordinator, 870-933-6787

Duration:

25 minutes

Suggested Number of Participants:

25 - 120

Special Conditions:

Must have a minimum of 25 students

Objectives:

  • Identify physical characteristics of reptiles.
  • Identify different species of reptiles in Arkansas.
  • Discuss how these animals live, their basic biology and place in the food chain

Key Terms*:

Camouflage

Carapace

Carnivore

Cold-blooded

Generalist

Herbivore

Jacobson’s organ

Nictitating membrane

Plastron

Poikilothermic

Scale

Scute

Specialist

Venomous

*See glossary for definations

Materials:

Education animals (turtles, snakes, alligator)

PowerPoint presentation

Background:

Reptiles are cold-blooded vertebrates whose bodies are covered in scales and who breathe oxygen. Snakes, lizards, turtles and alligators are included. These animals are often feared because people think they are dangerous. A majority of species in this class are harmless but are often killed because of this misconception. They are actually a benefit to their environment in that they consume and control pests.

Procedure:

  1. Prior to participants’ arrival, select several education reptiles to discuss.
  2. Ask what they know about reptiles and their characteristics as opposed to a mammal, bird, fish or amphibian. Highlight all characteristics they didn’t list, and discuss each characteristic.
  3. Talk about how varied reptiles are and how their appearance indicates where it may live or what it may eat. Discuss the shape difference between a terrestrial turtle and an aquatic turtle. Talk about the diets of various snakes and how to tell a venomous snake from a nonvenomous snake (shape of the head and eye pupils). Show the alligator’s teeth and describe his diet and hunting tactics, including how well camouflaged he is, how well placed his nostrils and eyes are and what role the nictitating membrane plays in his hunting. Mention that alligators are “living fossils” and describe what that means. Be sure to discuss the basic biology of the education animals used, pointing out that most are well camouflaged.
  4. Discuss population trends of alligators and how the AGFC has played a role in restoring local populations after overhunting or habitat destruction. Emphasize that alligators are extremely important as apex predator in their ecosystem.
  5. Answer any questions.

Review:

  • List the physical characteristics of reptiles.
  • Name four reptiles in Arkansas.
  • Explain the difference between a terrestrial turtle and an aquatic turtle.

Resources:

  • Wilson, Steven N. (1998). Arkansas Wildlife: A History. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press.
  • Trauth, Stanley E., Henry W. Robison, and Michael V. Plummer (2004). The Amphibians and Reptiles of Arkansas. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press.

Glossary:

Camouflage – colors, tones, patterns, shapes or behavior an organism uses to blend with its surroundings; also concealment that alters or obscures the appearance; also protective coloration, a common animal defense

Carapace – a bony or chitinous shield or shell covering some or all of the dorsal (back) part of an animal, such as a turtle

Carnivore – any animal that consumes other animals that are living (predation) or dead (scavenging)

Cold-blooded – (ectothermic) – relating to an organism that regulates its body temperature by exchanging heat with its surroundings

Generalist – a species which can thrive in many environmental conditions with a variety of resources

Herbivore – a plant-eating animal

Jacobson’s Organ – either of a pair of blind, tubular, olfactory sacs in the roof of the mouth, no longer functional in humans but well-developed in many animals, especially reptiles

Nictating membrane – transparent inner eyelid in birds, reptiles and some mammals that closes to protect and moisten the eye; also called a third eyelid

Plastron – part of a turtle’s shell that covers the belly

Poikilothermic – refers to an organism whose temperature varies with the ambient temperature of the immediate environment; also known as cold-blooded

Scale – one of the thin, flat, horny plates that cover certain animals such as snakes, lizards and pangolins; or one of the hard, bony plates covering certain other animals such as fishes

Scute – a bony external plate similar to scales but derived from the epidermis; describes the scales of some armored mammals, such as the armadillo, and occasionally used as an alternative to scales in describing certain fishes, such as sturgeons

Specialist – a species that can only thrive in a narrow range of environmental conditions or has a limited diet

Venomous – able to inflict a poisoned bite, sting or wound