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Reptile Classification

Reptiles are divided into four orders which contain between 2 and 7000+ species each.

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Reptile Classification

With so many possible colors, how would a chameleon be classified?

Chameleons are a distinctive and highly specialized type of lizard. They are distinguished partly by their parrot-like feet, their separately mobile and stereoscopic eyes, their very long, highly modified, and rapidly extrudable tongues, crests or horns on their distinctively shaped heads, and the ability of some to change color. But there are approximately 160 species of chameleons. So how are they classified?

Classification of Reptiles

There are more than 8,200 living species of reptiles, with the majority being snakes or lizards. They are commonly placed in four different orders. The four orders are described in Table below .

Order Characteristics Example
Crocodilia: crocodiles, alligators, caimans, gharials They have four sprawling legs that can be used to gallop; they replace their teeth throughout life; they have strong jaws and a powerful bite; they have a more advanced brain and greater intelligence than other reptiles; they have a four-chambered heart.


Sphenodontia: tuataras They are the least specialized of all living reptiles; their brain is very similar to the amphibian brain; they have a three-chambered heart, but it is more primitive than the heart of other reptiles.


Squamata: lizards, snakes

Lizards: most have four legs for running or climbing, and they can also swim; many change color when threatened; they have a three-chambered heart.

Snakes: they do not have legs, although they evolved from a tetrapod ancestor; they have a very flexible jaw for swallowing large prey whole; some inject poison into their prey through fangs; they have a three-chambered heart.


Testudines: turtles, tortoises, terrapins They have four legs for walking; they have a hard shell covering most of their body; they have a three-chambered heart.



  • There are more than 8,200 living species of reptiles, and they are placed in four orders: Crocodilia, which includes crocodiles and alligators; Sphenodontia, or tuataras; Squamata, which includes lizards and snakes; and Testudines, such as turtles and tortoises.

Practice I

Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

  1. Which animals comprise the Crocodilia?
  2. Describe crocodilian structures.
  3. Which animals comprise the Squamates?
  4. Compare and contrast snakes and lizards.
  5. Which animals comprise the Testudines?
  6. Describe Testudine characteristics.
  7. What are ectotherms?


1. Compare and contrast crocodilians with other orders of reptiles.




Order of large reptiles; includes crocodiles and alligators.


Order of reptiles; lizard-like reptiles that includes only one living genus, the tuatara.


Order of reptiles; distinguished by their skins, which bear horny scales or shields; includes lizards and snakes.


Order of reptiles; characterised by a special bony or cartilaginous shell that acts as a shield;includes turtles and tortoises

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