Reptiles have the reputation of being one of the most feared families in the animal kingdom but that fear is often based on nothing more than horror stories! All are 'Cold-blooded', this means that they rely on their surroundings for warmth and many spend much of their time basking in the sun as they try to heat up enough to function.
Tortoises are a great family favourite but they are becoming increasingly rare as both habitat destruction and exploitation by people selling them as pets or using their shells to make gifts takes its toll! Because they can live to great ages (over 100 years in some species) the illegal trade in tortoises as pets 30 years ago is having an impact now as the populations of breeding adults in the wild has fallen dramatically.
Ranging in size from tiny Wall Lizards (these can be found in the wild here on the Isle of Wight) to huge Komodo Dragons that can kill prey the size of cows! Depending on the species, Lizards (including crocodiles) and Geckos can be carnivorous, insectivorous, omnivorous or vegetarian; there are some that eat only seaweed! One of the most commonly known is the Green Iguana that can grow to over 2 meters in length! These are often kept as pets but they are very fussy eaters that must have a specially balanced diet with low protein and high calcium levels. They also require ultra-violet light if kept indoors and are can become aggressive when breeding age is reached.
This is an extremely misunderstood family and as well as having the usual pressures on wild populations (habitat destruction and predation) there is the added persecution from humans who want to kill them just because they are frightened of them! This fear is not based on bad experience but rather on the reactions of our friends and family to them, if for example your parents 'hate' snakes the chances are that you will too, you just won't know why! Snakes don't deserve this bad reputation, they aren't wet, slimy and cold, most of them are non-venomous and they won't bite without good reason! (you've got more chance of being bitten by a pet Hamster!).
Turtles & Terrapins
These are basically aquatic Tortoises. The body structure is the same with a hard shell for protection but their diet is far more varied than the Tortoises. Terrapins are typical opportunists eating a wide range of food including fruit, vegetation, fish and meat. All of these hard-shelled reptiles are egg layers, normally laying them in warm sand and leaving them to incubate and hatch on their own.
Famous for changing their colour to match their environment, they actually don't! They do change colour depending on mood, temperature and humidity. All are insect feeders that catch their prey by stealth. They have the ability to move their eyes independently and can have one looking forward and one backwards at the same time!
Crocodiles & Caiman
These large aquatic reptiles are fearsome predators. They hide under the surface of slow moving water, with only their eyes and nostrils showing, waiting for unsuspecting prey to come close enough for them to attack. Habitat destruction and illegal hunting are still taking their toll on wild populations. Our West African Dwarf Crocodiles are babies born in the UK as part of a global breeding and conservation program.