What good are reptiles?
There is a lot of fear surrounding snakes and other reptiles. What you might not realize is that reptiles do a lot of good. For example, snakes eat rats and other small animals. Rats can carry diseases to people, so keeping their population under control is very important.
Importance of Reptiles
Reptiles play an important role in the life of humans. In addition to playing an important role in many food chains, which keep the populations of small animals under control, reptiles serve as food, pets, and have played roles in art and culture for thousands of years.
Reptiles as Food
Reptiles are important as food sources for people:
- Green iguanas, a type of large lizard, are eaten in Central America.
- The tribals of Irulas from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in India are known to eat some of the snakes they catch.
- Cantonese snake soup is consumed by local people in the fall to prevent colds. The soup is believed to warm up their body of those who eat it.
- Cooked rattlesnake meat is commonly consumed in parts of the Midwestern United States.
- Turtle soup is consumed throughout the world.
Reptiles as Pets
Reptiles also make good pets. In the Western world, some snakes, especially less aggressive species, like the ball python or corn snake, are kept as pets. Turtles, particularly small land-dwelling and freshwater turtles, are also common pets. Among the most popular are Russian tortoises, Greek spur-thighed tortoises, and terrapins. Large constrictor snakes like pythons, boa constrictors, and anacondas are powerful wild animals capable of killing an adult human, and they are commonly kept as pets. Many people don't think this is a wise idea, as these reptiles pose dangerous threats to people, especially children.
Reptiles are capable of recognizing people by voice, sight and smell; many are capable of learning. Some species actually benefit from interaction with humans. When cared for properly, all live as long or longer than mammalian pets of similar size. Having a reptile as a pet, you get to learn about everything from adaptation, behavior and the environment, to nutrition, camouflage and reproductive strategies. Learning about the natural history and proper captive care of these animals just might change your world outlook and get you thinking more about the environment as a whole.
Keep in mind that if you want to have a snake as a pet, that there are no herbivorous snakes, and you must be willing to feed it a proper diet. Be prepared to feed your snake or other reptile mice, rats, birds' eggs, insects, or fish. And these need to be served raw. Of course, the herbivorous reptiles, such as the green iguanas and some tortoises, are much easier to feed. They eat foods such as chopped collard greens, romaine lettuce, chopped squash and bananas.
Reptiles in Art and Culture
Finally, reptiles play a significant role in folklore, religion, and popular culture. The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped reptiles and often put lizards in their art. Snakes or serpents are connected to healing and to the Devil. Since snakes shed and then heal again, they are a symbol of healing and medicine, as shown in the Rod of Asclepius (Figure below). In Egyptian history, the Nile cobra is found on the crown of the pharaoh. This snake was worshiped as one of the gods.
The Rod of Asclepius, where the snake is a symbol of healing and medicine.
Reptiles have also played roles in more recent popular culture. Unforgettable reptiles include Leonardo, Donatello, Michaelangelo, and Raphael, otherwise known as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Godzilla, one of the most famous movie reptiles who has been terrorizing Japanese cities for years. Dino, from The Flintstones is one of the more lovable television reptiles. On the other hand is Nagini from the Harry Potter series. This tremendously long snake (roughly 12 feet) is difficult to forget as she was very important to Lord Voldemort. Though her appearances are far and few between, her unwavering loyalty to the Dark Lord makes her one of the more infamous reptiles.
iguana: Large lizard native to tropical areas of Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Rod of Asclepius: Symbol of healing and medicine featuring a serpent-entwined rod.
- Reptiles are eaten as food and kept as pets.
- Reptiles have served as symbols in folklore, religion, and popular culture.
Use the resource below to answer the questions that follow.
- Explain how gecko lizards can climb walls and walk across ceiling?
- What do you find on the tips of the hairs on geckos' feet? Why are these important to their climbing ability?
- What is gecko tape? Why is it unique? Think carefully, and give as many reason as you can.
- What uses can you imagine for gecko tape?
- What would be the downside if you exterminated all snakes?
- What reptiles are kept as pets?