Listed below are words and definitions that pertain to reptiles and amphibians as well as nature in general. The list defines things like basic genetics, anatomy, reproduction and development, etc.




Aglypha - A term used to describe a group of colubrid snakes which do not have grooved or hollow fangs for venom delivery, but instead must rely on chewing their victim to allow the venom to do it's job.

Allopatric - A term applied to two or more populations that occupy mutually exclusive, but usually adjacent, geographical areas.

Ambient Temperature - The temperature of the environment surrounding the animal in question.

Anal Spur - Anal spurs are the vestigial remnants of legs found on each side of the vent in primitive snakes, such as boas and pythons. The bone is considered a hip bone, which has no connection with the spine and simply "floats" in the muscle mass. There is sometimes a bone, considered a femur, which sticks out of the snake's side. This primitive femur is then covered by a corneal spur, which resembles a claw. Males' spurs are generally longer and more pointed than females', and are used for clasping and tickling during courtship and mating. Sometimes they are used during fights to scratch the opponent.

Aquatic - Frequenting water, or living or growing in water. Technically, only animals that have gillsfor exctracting oxygen from the water are aquatic, whereas others, such as turtles and water snakes, are semiaquatic.

Arboreal - Tree-dwelling.

Aestivation - Dormancy during summer or dry season.

Albinism - A lack of melanin pigment in the eyes, skin and hair (or more rarely the eyes alone). Albinism results from inheritance of recessive genes.

Allele - Any of the different versions of a gene that may occur at a certain locus.

Amelanistic - Lacking the black pigment, and has pink eyes.

Amino acid - The main building blocks of proteins, which are chained together in many different ways to create many different proteins.

Amplexus - The sexual embrace of a male frog or toad: the clasping of the female's body around the back by the male's forelimbs until eggs are laid and fertilized.

Anerythristic - Lacking the red pigment.

Anterior - located near or torwards the head.

Antivenom - A substance administered to a snakebite victim to serve as an antidote or neutralizer of venom injected by a snake. Antivenoms are produced ny injecting horses, rabbits, or other animals with venom and then removing their blood to produce a serum. The antivenom commonly used for bites of pit vipers differs from that used for coral snake bites. It is also referred to as "antivenin."

Attenuated - Thin or slender.

Axanthic - A complete lack of the yellow pigment.

Azygous - Odd, not paired.

Base pair - A pair of complementary bases which are some of the building blocks of DNA.

Barbels - Small,fleschy, usually downward projections of the skin on the chin and/or throat (in some kinds of turtles and the tadpoles of the Mexican Burrowing Toad).

Basking / Sunning - To expose oneself to enjoy warmth.

Bifurcate - Branched or forked, as in the tongue of a snake or monitor lizard.

Binomial Nomenclature - The system of scientific classification and identification of species in which each is identified by its genus and species. Example: Homo sapiens

Biodiversity - Reffering to the numbers, distribution, and abundance of species within a given area.

Bioindicator - A species whose health or condition, either at the individual level or at the population level, is indicative of the conditionof the habitat or eco-system as a whole.

Biomass - The weight of living things in the environment.

Biomonitor - To measure and record the number, types, and characteristics of organisms.

Boss - A raised rounded knob on top of the head between the eyes or on or near the end of the snout (on certain toads).

Bridge - The part of the turtle's shell which connects the carapace and plastron.

Canthus Rostralis - The ridge from the eye to the tip of the snout that seperates the top of the muzzle from the side.

Capsule - The membrane eveloping another structure.Capsule of the eye: the elastic \ scale-like structure that protects the lens of the eye.

Carapace- Upper part of a turtle's shell.

Caudal luring - An ambush strategy employed by a relatively immobile predator whose tail display resembles the quarry of a more agile actively foraging predator, thus enticing it into striking range.

C.B. - An abbreviation for captive born.

Chromosome - A large string or clump of DNA. These are paired in animals, and humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes.

Cirri - Downward projections from the nostrils in males of certain lungless salamanders. The naso-labial groove extends downward to near the tip of each cirrus.

Class - In the scientific system of classification (taxonomy), class is the division between phylum and order.

Cline - A gradual change in a variable characteristic.

Cloaca - The chamber into which the digestive, urinary, and reproductive systems empty, opening to the outside through the anus.

Cluster - Reffering to eggs that stick together during the incubation process.

Codominant - Genes that, when present together, will both influence the appearances of the same trait.

Codon - A sequence of 3 base pairs that codes for either a specific amino acid, or the end of a protein, known as a “stop codon.”

Cold-Blooded - Referring to an animal whose metabolism and body temperature are dependent on external heat sources.

Communal - A community or group of several individuals.

Concertina locomotion - A method of locomotion used by snakes in which they anchor the posterior portion of their body, extend the anterior portion, and then pull themselves forward.

Copulate / Copulation - To engage in sexual intercourse or mate.

Costal grooves - Vertical grooves on a salamander's side.

Courtship - The process that preceeds mating in reptiles and usually involves actions such as rubbing or biting by the male to increase the receptivity of a female to mating.

Cranial crests - Bony ridges on the head of some toads - interorbital (between the eyes) or postorbital (behind the eyes).

Crepuscular - Active at twilight and/or dawn.

Cryptic - Serving to conceal.

Cryptic coloration - A type of camoflage that makes creatures difficult to spot against its background.

Cusp - A pointed toothlike projection on the upper jaw of some turtles.

Cuspate - Possesing an enlarged point at the middle of the upper jaw (in certain tadpoles and turtles).

Deceptive coloration - when an organism's color fools either its predators or prey. There are two types of deceptive coloration: camouflage and mimicry.

Defecation - The process of eliminating waste through the cloaca.

Desiccate - To dehydrate or dry out completely.

Dewlap - "Throat fan;" vertical, loose flap of skin on the throat of some iguanid lizards.

Dimorphism - Difference in form, color, or structire between members of the same species. The sexes may be different or there may be two color phases of the same sex (dichromatism).

Diurnal - Active during daytime hours.

DNA - The substance that the genetic code is built with, and is a component of codons, genes, and chromosomes.

Dominant - A gene that will keep other genes in the same locus from affecting the appearance of a trait in the animal.

Dorsal - Pertaining to the back or upper surface of the body.

Dorsal Gap - The area above the upper lip of tadpoles where the oral disc ends.

Dorsolateral - Pertaining to the area at the juncture of the back and the side.

Dorsum - The entire upper surface of an animal.<

Duvernoy's Gland - A gland in snakes located above the teeth in the upper jaw. This gland produces secretions that flow down the exterior groove of the rear fangs when the snake bites its prey.

Dysecdysis - Incomplete or improper shedding.

Ecdysis - Shedding or molting of the old skin after the new skin develops underneath.

Ecosystem - The surrounding area of living organisms and non living elements that interact in a specific area.

Ectotherm - A "cold-blooded"animal; an animal that regulates its temperature behaviorally by means of outside sources of heat ( e.g., amphibians, reptiles).

Egg Tooth - A small protuberance on the beak or nose of vertebrates that are hatched from eggs, i.e., birds and reptiles. Some lizards and snakes develop a true tooth that is shed after use; birds and other reptiles generally develop an analogous epidermal horn that is reabsorbed or falls off.

Emarginated - Intended, as on either side of the oral disc of some kinds of tadpoles.

Embryo - The earliest stage of a developing fertilized egg that will eventually turn into offspring.This term particularly describes the time of the most rapid growth.

Embryonic Sac - The membrane-like covering in which the embryo / fetus develops.

Endemic - Confined to, or indigenousin, a certain area or region.

Entrails - Internal organs.

Envenomate - The act of injecting venom.

Enzyme - Proteins that catalyze certain chemical processes in living cells.

Epiglottis - The epiglottis is a lid-like flap of fibrocartilage tissue covered with a mucus membrane, attached to the root of the tongue. It projects obliquely upwards behind the tongue and the hyoid bone.It also prevents food from going into the trachea and instead directs it to the esophagus.

Estivation - A state of inactivity during prolonged periods of drought or high temperatures, usually while the animal is in seclusion.

Excrescence - A natural outgrowth of the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin), as on the linbs or digits of amphibians during the breeding season.

Extinct - A species that is no longer in existence.

Extirpated - Reffering to the elimination of a species from a particular region; local extinction.

Extralimital - Occuring outside the geographical area .

Family - In the scientific system of classification (taxonomy), family is the division between order and genus.

Fauna - The animals living in a specified region.

Femoral pores - A series of small openings on the underside of the thighs of some lizards.

Fertility - Pertaining to the ability to conceive offspring.

Fertilization - The joining of male and female reproductive cells, leading to the development of a new individual.

Fetus - The developing young in the later stages of development up until the time of birth.

Flagellum - An extension of the tail of some tadpoles that is capable of moving independently from the rest of the tail.

Form - A species or sub species; a distinct, identifiable population.

Fossorial - Adapted for digging, burrowing, and living in the soil.

Fracture Planes - Zones of softer tissue in the tail bones of some species of lizards that permit the tail to break off easily when it is seized by an enemy.

Gene - The chemical unit of heredity responsible for producing specific traits in the developing offspring. A string of base pairs (DNA) that is the smallest unit of genetic inheritance.

Genetics - The study of hereidity.

Genus - A group of closely related species. Interbreeding between organisms within the same category can occur. Usually the first word in a scientific name.

Genotype - The genetic makeup of an animal, usually referring to the absence or presence of specific genes of interest.

Genus - In the scientific system of classification (taxonomy), genus is the division between family and species.

Gestation - The period of the developing of young (pregnancy) and / or eggs inside the body.

Gills - External organs located on the sides of the neck and used in underwater respiration.

Gill slit - An opening or hole in salamanders at the base of the external gills.

Girth - The measurement around a cylindrical object; especially the measurement around the waist.

Granules - Very small, flat scales.

Granular scales - Tiny grainlike or pebblelike scales that do not overlap one another.

Gravid - Bearing eggs or developing young; pregnant.

Growth Rings - Concentric subcircular areas on the scutes of some turtles. Each ring represents a season's growth. Rings, if present, are most evident in young turtles; they are usually not countable in adults.

Gular - On or pertaining to the throat. Also the most anterior scutes (orscute) on a turtle's plastron.

Hemipenis (pl. hemipenes) - One of the paired copulatory organs of male snakes and lizards.

Heterozygous - When both corresponding genes for one locus are different versions.

Hibernation - Dormancy during winter.

Heredity - The genetic transmission of a particular trait from parent to offspring.

Herpetofauna - The species of amphibians and reptiles that inhabit a given area.

Herpetologist - A scientist who studies snakes, other reptiles, and amphibians.

Herpetology - The study of reptiles and amphibians.

Herps - An abbrieviated word refering to reptiles and amphibians.

Hibernation - The dormant state of reduced metabolism which certain animals succumb to during winter months.

Homozygous - When both corresponding genes for one locus are the same version.

"Hot" - a term used when referring to venomous reptiles.

Husbandry - The management or care of living things.

Hydration - The absorption of water by the body.

Hybrids - Offspring of two different varieties, races, species, or genera.

Hypomelanism - A reduction of the black pigment.

Impaction - Inablity of the eggs to correctly move through the reproductive tract. The overloading of an internal organ, such as the intestine.

Incipient - In the first stages or beginning. An incipient population is still small but beginning to reproduce and become established.

Incubation - The process through which eggs are heated until the offspring hatch.

Indigenous - A plant, animal, or people native to a region.

Infertility - The inablity to produce offspring.

Infertile Eggs - Eggs containg no developing offspring.

Intergrades - Animals of related and adjoining subspecies that may resemble either form or exhibit a combination of their characteristics.

Interorbital - Between the eyes.

Jacobson's Organ / Vomeronasal Organ (VNO) - Snakes and lizards use their tongue to pick up particles from the air and ground and put them into this organ. The organ is made up of two tiny cavities in the roof of the mouth and are lined with sensitive tissue that aid in the sense of smell. It is here that the particles are identified, analyzed, and acted upon. Since these cavities are split apart from each other, the tongue itself also has to split. This is why snakes and lizards have forked tongues.

Juvenile - A young animal:prior to becoming an adult.

Keel - A ridge on individual dorsalscales of some snakes: longitudinal ridge on the carapace or plastron of turtles; the raised edge along the upper edge of thetail in some salamanders.

Kingdom - In the scientific system of classification (taxonomy), kingdom is the first division by which all known life is divided. There is some argument regarding the division of single-celled organisms, but a common five-kingdom system is often utilized including Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protista, and Monera.

Labial - Of or pertaining to the lip.

Labial Tooth Rows - Rows of tiny, horny projections on the lips of tadpoles.

Larva(e) - A post-hatching immature stage that differs in a appearence from the adult and must metamorphose before assuming adult characters ( e.g., a tadpole).

Lateral - Pertaining to the side.

Lateral Undulation - A method of locomotion used by snakes in which they use waves of the body to push against the ground's surface and move the body forward.

Lethargy / Lethargic - Drowsy,dull, lifeless, or weak.

Leucism / Leucistic - A general term for the phenotype resulting from defects in pigment cell differentiation and/or migration from the neural crest to skin, hair or feathers during development. This results in either the entire surface (if all pigment cells fail to develop) or patches of body surface (if only a subset are defective) having a lack of cells capable of making pigment.

Leukoderma / Leukopathia / Piebald / Vitilingo - Partial or total loss of skin pigmentation, often occurring in patches.

Locus - A specific “slot” on a chromosome which corresponds to a certain location, kind of like an address to a certain house. Different genes in the same locus can control one or more traits. A locus is generally referred to as the gene “for” a certain trait.

Malnutrition - The state in which an animal has receivedfaulty or inadequate nutrition.

Mental gland - An organ on the chin of male lungless salamanders that produces a secretion sexually stimulating to females.

Metabolism - The physical and chemical processes involved in the breakdown of food into energy, and the development of stores of chemicals within the body for use during growth and development of tissues.

Metamorphose - A period of transformation from larval to adult form; ( e.g., the transition of a tadpole to a frog).

Metabolic Rate - Ihe rate in which food ingested is broken down into energy for use by the body.

Middorsal - Pertaining to the center of the back.

Midventral - Pertaing to the center of the belly.

Mimicry - A condition in which an animal looks or acts like something else, often a more dangerous animal.

Miscarriage - The loss of offspring from the body of the mother before they are able to survive independently.

Monotypic - The only representative of its group, such as a genus with only one species.

Mucous Membrane - The passages connecting to the outside openings in which the lining is made up of cells that produce mucus, the oral cavity, the air passages, the upper digestive tract, the rectum, etc.

Mutation - An alteration of one or more genes. Generally these are interesting when they cause a change in the phenotype of an animal.

Naso-labial groove - A hairline grooverunning from the nostril to the edge of the upper lip in lungless salamanders.

Necrosis / Necrotic - Death of an individual or groups of cells, or of specific areas of tissue. Another term, "cheesy", is used to to describe cell death in which the tissues resemble cottage cheese.

Neonate - Newborn.

Neoteny - A condition in which salamanders fail to metamorphose but become sexually mature and reproduce while retaining larval feature.

Neotenic - Mature and capable of reproduction but retaining the larval form, appearence, and habits.

Nictitating membrane - A clear third eyelid present in some animals that can be drawn across the eye for protection and to moisten the eye while also keeping visibility.

Nocturnal - Active at night.

Non-venomous - An animal who, because of its delivery system or the components of its venom, is not toxic to humans.

Ocelli - Round, eyelike spots.

Ocular - The large scale covering the eye-spot of blind snakes.

Oocyte - An egg that has not yet reached full development.

Opaque / Opacity - Having no luster; dull or cloudy.

Opisthoglypha - Snakes which have some of the posterior maxillary teeth enlarged and grooved to aid in venom delivery. This type of venom delivery occurs in colubrid snakes.

Oral Disc - Fleshy parts of a tadpoles mouth.

Order - In the scientific system of classification (taxonomy), order is the division between class and family.

Oviparous - Producing young by means of eggs that hatch after laying ( e.g., turtles).

Ovoviviparous - Producing young by means of membranous eggs retained within the body of the female until hatching ( e.g. " live-bearing" reptiles).

Ovulation - The formation and release of the ovum ( egg cell)prior to fertilization.

Palpation - A method of examination in which the examiner feels the size or shape or firmness or location of something. The term also is frequently used in the field of veterinary medicine to refer to the method used for pregnancy checks.

Papillae - Small, nipple-like protuberances.

Parasite - An organism that lives on or in another organism at whose expense it receives nourishment.

Paravertebral Stripe - A stripe lying to one side but paralleling the mid-line of the back.

Partoid gland - A large glandular structure on each side of the neck or behind the eyes of toads and some salamanders.

Parthenogenesis - Reproduction by the development of an unfertilized egg ( e.g., species of whiptail lizards that reproduce only one sex-females--and--reproduce by means of unfertilized eggs.)

Pattern mapping - recording the color patterns of amphibians, has been widely accepted for several species as a reliable, non-invasive technique.

Phalanges - The bones of the toes. (Singular:phalanx.)

Phenotype - The appearance of an animal, which is generally dependent on its genotype.

Pheromone - A chemical that is relesed by an animal and used as a signal to other animals of the same species. Female snakes will often release pheromones to attract male snakes during the mating season.

Phylogeny - The evolutionary relationships among different groups and species of animals.

Phylum - In the scientific system of classification (taxonomy), phylum is the division between kingdom and class.

Photoperiod - The amount of daylight hours versus the night hours the animal experiences.

Pigment - any material in color of plant or animal cells.

Pipping - Using the egg tooth to assist in the breaking or tearing of the eggshell.

Pit organ - Pit organs on snake faces are thought to detect either body heat or infrared radiation that is given off by warm bodies. These warm bodies include prey, threatening attackers and even a warm place to hibernate.

Passive Intergrated Transponder tag - (PIT tag), are radio-frequency identification tags about the size of a grain of rice. Each tag has a unique code that can be read with a portable scanner. PIT tags are usually implanted in the body cavity with a modified syringe. PIT tag emit signals that can be read by a PIT tag reader in close proximity. Pit tags are expensive ($4.75 to $6.00 per tag, $950 or more for the reading device) and may be less reliable than presumed.

Plastron - The lower part of a turtle's shell.

Posterior - Located at or torward the rear end of the body.

Postocular - Behind the eye.

Postorbital - Behind the eyes.

Prehensile - Adapted for grasping or wrapping around.

Preocular - Anterior to the eye.

Prey - An animal or organism that is caught by another for food.

Probing - The technique in which the sex is determined by measuring the internal sheath containing the reproductive organs.

Probes - The specialized tool to do the probing.

Process - An extension of a structure or organ.

Procrypsis - camoflauge or concealment from predators.

Propagation - Reproduction; to mutliply by breeding.

Protective coloration - Coloration or color pattern of an animal that affords it protection from observation either by its predators or by its prey.

Protein - A chain of amino acids. There are many different proteins which can perform many different functions in the body.

Proteolysis - The directed degradation (digestion) of proteins by cellular enzymes called proteases or by intramolecular digestion.

Proteroglyphous - A term generally refering to a group of venomous snakes which have front of the jaw positioned, fixed fangs that are specifically grooved for venom delivery. This type of venom delivery is used by elapid snakes and cobras.

Punnett Square - Named after Reginald C. Punnett, a method of predicting the outcome of a mating by determining what possible outcomes there can be, and how likely each one is. Click here for a brief tutorial \ example.

Race - Subspecies.

Radiotelemetry - A method using a radiotransmitter attached to or implanted in an animal to track its movements by locating it using a directional antenna and radio receiver.

Rear-fanged - Referring to the characteristic of some snakes of having enlarged teeth in the back of the mouth.

Recessive - A gene that must be present in the homozygous state in order for its corresponding trait to appear.

Rectilinear locomotion - A method of locomotion used by snakes in which they crawl in a straight line and use their ribs and belly scales to push themselves forward. Rectilinear locomotion is generally used by large, slow-moving snakes when they are not in a hurry.

Regurgitate - To vomit partially digested stomach contents by way of the mouth.

Reticulation - A network of lines.

Rejuvenate - To replenish or return to a normal state.

Rookery - A site associated with the developement or care of the young.

Rugose - Wrinkled or warty.

Scale Pits - Tiny depressions on the posterior portions of the dorsal scales in some kinds of snakes.

Scute - A large scale; horny shields or plates covering a turtle's shell.

Serrate - Having projections in the shape of the teeth of a saw. Jaws of some tadpoles may be serrated.

Sexing - To determine the accurate sex of an individual.

Sheath – A tubular envelope of tissue containing a body part or organ.

Siblings - Offspring of same parents, but not necessarily at same birth.

Sibling Species - Two or more species presumably derived from a common parental stock. They often resemble one another closely and may occur together or replace each other geographically.

Solenoglypha - A term that commonly refers to the group of venomous snakes that have tubular fangs positioned at the front of the jaw, namely the vipers. The word originates from Greek terms vaguely meaning 'pipe grooved'. These fangs work like hypodermic needles, allowing for direct injection of venom.

sp. - An abbreviation for "species". It is used when you know the genus of an something (animal \ plant) but not the species.

Spatulate - Flat and rounded at tip;shaped like the blade of a kitchen spatula.

Sperm - The male reproductive cells that fertilize an egg during breeding.

Spiracle - A tubelike external opening,on the left side in most kinds of tadpoles, for the exit of respiratory water.

Species - Individual organisms which are very similar in appearance, anatomy, physiology and genetics due to having relatively recent common ancestors.

Spermatophore - A cone-shaped jellylike mass topped with a sperm cap, deposited by male salamanders during courtship. The sperm cap is picked up by the cloacal lips of the female.

Spicule - A tiny pointed structure.

spp. - An abbreviation if you find more than one of a genus.

Stress - the biological changes that occur in the body as a result of adverse external influences, such as the need to defend against injury or damage.

Subcaudals - The scales beneath the tail; in a double row in most snakes, but in a single row in others. Sometimes shortened to "caudals."

Subocular - Beneath the eye.

Supraocular - Above the eye.

Supraorbital Semicircle - A row of small scales seperating the supraoculars from the the median head scutes in certain lizards.

Suture - A seam; the boundary between scales or scutes.

Sympatric - A term applied to two or more populations that occupy identical or broadly overlapping geographic areas.

Sympatry - the occurrence of organisms in overlapping geographical areas, but without interbreeding.

Tadpole - The larva of a frog or toad.

Taxon - The technical term for a unit or category,i.e., for a species, sub-species, genus, family, etc. (Plural: taxa.)

Taxonomy - The science of the classification of animals or plants.

Thermal Receptor - Heat-sensitive organs located on either side of the head that look like small pits. These pits contain membranes sensitive to infrared radiation and allows the snakes to locate their prey based on temperature differences with their environment.

Tibia - The leg (of toads and frogs) from heel to knee.

Toe-clipping - To mark salamanders , toads, and frogs individually, two to four toes are removed with small, good quality scissors. Generally, no more than three toes are removed, but never more than one toe from each foot. Removing two toes is optimal, because a single toe can be occasionally lost by accident or attempted predation, and a minimum number of toes cut should minimize any adverse effects caused by the procedure.

Trait - A characteristic, such as a certain distinct appearance, that can be inherited.

Troglodyte - A cave dweller.

Transformation - See metamorphosis.

Tubercle - A small knob or a rounded protuberance in the skin.

Tympanum - The eardrum.

Venomous - Possessing glands for synthesizing venom and the ability to deliver it in such a way that it is toxic to humans.

Vent - Anus; opening of the cloaca to the outside of the body.

Venter - The entire undersurface of an animal.

Ventral - Pertaining to the abdominal or belly surface.

Vestigial - Remnant of a structure that functioned in a previous stage of individual or species development.

Visible Implant Elastomer - (VIE) is a two-part silicone based material that is mixed immediately before use. VIE tags are injected as a liquid that soon cures into a pliable, biocompatible solid. The tags are implanted beneath transparent or translucent tissue and remain externally visible. In many amphibians, VIE tags are even visible through darkly pigmented skin. VIE tags are widely used for marking an ever-broadening range of finfish, crustaceans, reptiles, and amphibians.VIE is available in six fluorescent and four non-fluorescent colors. The fluorescent colors are highly visible under ambient light and provide the option of greatly enhanced tag detection when fluoresced with the VI Light.

Vocal sac - An expandable pouch on the throat of male frogs and toads that becomes filled with air and acts as a resonating chamber when they vocalize during courtship; the sac collapses at the end of the call.

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Warm-Blooded - A body that can maintain a uniform temperature without depending on external heat sources.

W.C. - An abbreviation for wild caught.

Xanthic - Having a yellow or yellowish color.

Xeric - Dry.

Zoological Classification -
















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