7 facts about reptiles and amphibians to impress your friends
Get excited for the opening of London Zoo’s new Reptile and Amphibian House next year with seven mind-blowing facts from our Team Leader of Reptiles and Amphibians, Dr Chris Michaels. They’re sure to wow your friends and family.
- 1. There aren’t many animals that can claim to live in a volcano, but the Lake Oku clawed frog is one of them! London Zoo is the only Zoo in the world to look after this incredibly rare species, found in a single lake formed by a volcano crater in northern Cameroon. They belong to the Pipid family, a group of frogs thought to have evolved during the Jurassic Period, 150 million years ago. That’s around the time that now-extinct giant reptiles like the Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus also walked the earth, as well as the earliest known bird: Archaeopteryx.
- 2. Speaking of birds and dinosaurs, did you know that birds are actually dinosaurs? That’s right, dinosaurs didn’t really go extinct, birds are in fact a very specialised type of dinosaur, which survived the mass extinction 65 million years ago. Strangely enough, the closest living relative of birds are crocodiles – these groups separated more than 200 million years ago and, while birds look a lot different to the ancestor that lived at that time, crocodiles have barely changed in all that time!
- 3. Reptiles and amphibians enjoy all kind of diets, from carnivorous crocs to leaf-loving tortoises, so our zookeepers have to be expert chefs in a variety of animal cuisines. Many of our species are called insectivorous – which means they only eat insects and other invertebrates. In fact, several of our reptiles and amphibians will only eat live prey, so we breed our own colonies of crickets, locusts and beetles for these fussy eaters. Our caiman lizard’s favourite dish is whole snails, while our Komodo dragon prefers a juicy hunk of rotting meat for his dinner! Rather them than us…
- 4. They might have an unfair reputation for cold-bloodedness, but reptiles and amphibians can be great parents. The mighty king cobra constructs a nest for its eggs and guards it ferociously. Midwife toad fathers carry a string of their eggs on their back legs and carefully release them into water when they are ready to hatch. And dominant male gharials, a type of crocodile found in Asia that can grow up to six metres long, diligently look after a creche of newly hatched babies, allowing them to rest on his back for a breather from swimming.
- 5. Amphibians have ‘thinner’ skin than reptiles, mammals and birds, which means they can breathe and drink through their skin. Many amphibians use their permeable skin to their advantage, allowing them to stay underwater when mammals would have to surface for air, or to absorb water from the soil when a bird might have to find a water source to drink from. Some salamanders, like the Cuetzalan salamander that we are helping to conserve in Mexico, have even got rid of their lungs entirely through evolution and are wholly dependent on their skin for oxygen!
- 6. Some amphibians use toxins in their foods to build a chemical defence against would-be predators. Poison dart frogs, like the dyeing blue poison frogs found at London Zoo, are famous for being incredibly toxic. The dyeing blue poison frog gets its name because indigenous South American people have been recorded rubbing the toxins on parrot chicks, causing the feathers to emerge in a range of different colours. But did you know that the poison dart frogs don’t make the toxins themselves? They synthesise (create) most of them from the ants and other insects they eat, which means that the frogs at London Zoo aren’t very toxic at all, because we feed them non-toxic insects.
- 7. Some female reptiles can store sperm and lay eggs or give birth to young several years after mating. Scientists are still studying the phenomenon, but it’s thought that being able to delay reproduction in this way helps to ensure that babies survive – it means that the female can wait until it’s safe to have young. But some reptiles have taken this skill even further – they can reproduce without ever having mated! The ability is called parthenogenesis, and London Zoo proved that Komodo dragons can do it in 2005, when our female Sungai lay a clutch of fertilised eggs that contained only her DNA!
- BONUS FACT* Many snakes have incredibly toxic venoms, which they’ve developed over millions of years of evolution and use to kill their prey quickly. Snakes can also use the venom to defend themselves when they feel threatened by other animals, including humans. But, the venoms of several species of snake are also now used as the basis for medical drugs that will save lives, with drugs originating from snake venom being used to treat conditions like strokes and heart attacks!
*OK, we couldn’t decide on just seven facts – Chris has so many! – so we gave you an extra one. To find out more about the new Reptile and Amphibian House and its residents, read our feature in the autumn edition of Wild About magazine, exclusive for Gold Members, Fellows and Patrons.
Select a blog
Our people are our greatest asset and we realise our vision for a world where wildlife thrives through their ideas, skills and passion. An inspired, informed and empowered community of people work, study and volunteer together at ZSL.
At ZSL, a key area of our work is the employment of Nature-based Solutions – an approach which both adapt to and mitigates the impacts of climate change. These Solutions, which include habitat protection and restoration, are low-cost yet high-impact, and provide multiple benefits to people and wildlife. We ensure that biodiversity recovery is at the heart of nature-based solutions.
A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.
Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!
We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.
From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.
A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.
Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.
Read testimonials from our Members and extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.
ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.
An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.