Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Reptile and Amphibian Mythunderstandings

©1996 Melissa Kaplan


All lizards have legs.
Some lizards, including the European legless lizard, California's legless lizard, and the Eastern glass snake (so called because of its defensive tail dropping tendencies) and slender legless lizards, are all lizards who have no legs, living lifestyles that make them unnecessary. They do have external ear openings and moveable eyelids like other lizards. Snakes have neither external ear openings nor moveable eyelids.


Snakes don't have bones.
All snakes have bones: skull and jawbones, backbones, and lots and lots of ribs. Large pythons, boas and anacondas may have 300-400 pairs of ribs.


All snakes are venomous.
Out of the 110 species of snakes in the United States, only 20 are venomous. Venomous insects, fish, and poisonous plants pose more of a threat to humans than do venomous snakes. In fact, more people die each year of bee stings than snake bites. If you encounter a snake in the wild that you are not sure about, leave it alone and it will leave you alone. Back away slowly; don't try to run it off by throwing things at it.


Snakes can hypnotize you with their stare.
Snakes not only can't hypnotize you, most can't even see you very well. Lacking moveable eyelids, snakes can't blink; thus they even sleep with their eyes "open." Most snakes have very poor eye sight, and can only track the presence and movement of animals by their heat and when they move.


Ball pythons don't have to eat.
All animals have to eat to live. Ball pythons, especially the wild caught ones, may be reluctant eaters and fast for long periods of time because they don't recognize the mice we offer them as being food. Just being alive, however, burns of calories, and if they don't eat to replenish those calories, they will die. Ball pythons may be tricked in different ways into eating; if not, they will have to be force fed special foods.


All lizards eat flies and other insects.
Many species of lizards are vegetarians, consuming only leaves, flowers and fruits. Some species of lizards eat primarily plant matter with a few insects, other invertebrates, or small animals now and then. Others eat primarily invertebrates or only animals, including other lizards, snakes, amphibians, fish, birds and mammals. You cannot make a carnivorous reptile into a vegetarian and you should not feed animals to vegetarian lizards. Doing either will result in serious health problems and an early death.


Snakes can sting you with their tongues.
When a snake flicks its tongue, it is smelling the air. If it flicks its tongue at you, it is learning whether you are something edible (no snakes eat people or food that people generally eat) or a possible danger to it, such as a snake predator. Snakes recognize their owner's by their smell, and recognize other people with whom they frequently interact. When a snake's tongue touches you, it has a light, feathery touch that may tickle a bit.


Only venomous snakes have teeth; that's why other snakes can't bite.
All snakes have teeth, rows of recurved teeth (pointing backwards, rather like rows of sharp crochet hooks) that enable them to grip their prey. Venomous snakes have these teeth, plus special teeth, called fangs, that are used to deliver the venom. Some have fangs near the front of their mouth, others have fangs towards the rear of their mouths. Lizards have teeth, too, even vegetarian lizards like green iguanas.


Some snakes have stingers in their tails.
No snakes have stingers in their tails. Some have hard skin on their tail tip that may be due to a variety of reasons, such as unshed skin or new scales emerging as the snake is growing. Some burrowing snakes may have a hardened tip on their tail that they use to push against the ground to give them some leverage as they burrow new tunnels.


Some snakes are vegetarians.
No snake is a vegetarian, nor do any snakes eat vegetation. All snakes are carnivores with diets, depending on species, ranging from arthropods, other invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, or mammals. Some snake species are cannibalistic and will eat other snakes, including members of their own species.


All snakes have to eat live prey.
In the wild, snakes do not eat carrion. In captivity, however, most snakes who will eat rodents can be converted to feeding easily and willingly on prekilled rodents. This is more humane for the rodent and safer for the snake as many can be injured while catching and killing their prey. Many people believe that snakes "need" to kill their prey. Most do not, and those who do will still "kill" their already dead prey. Some people say that it is not natural to feed a snake (or rodent-eating lizard) killed prey. Captivity isn't natural, however. Many snakes are injured every year, some even dying of their wounds, from being fed live prey; since we are responsible for their well-being, one of the things we must do is make sure they will not be harmed during feeding.


You get warts from touching frogs and toads.
You get warts from catching certain human viruses, not from amphibians. The slimy skin of the frog keeps it moist when it is out of the water. The bumpy skin of toads and some frogs helps camouflage them in their habitat. The secretions from the parotoid glands of toads and frogs can cause skin irritations and may be poisonous to some species of animals, like the cane toad (aka, marine toad, Bufo marinus) is to humans.


All toads are poisonous and can kill people.
All toads have lumps on the back of their heads, parotoid glands, that produce a chemical substance. In some toads, this makes them taste terrible to the animal that is trying to eat them. A few species on every continent, however, do produce highly toxic substances that can be harmful to humans. They secrete the substance in self-defense, such as when they feel like they are about to be somebody's dinner. The poison from the poison arrow frogs in South America is is obtained only after they hold the frogs over a fire. In captivity, long term captives don't bother producing the substance after repeated gentle handling by keepers (who usually wear surgical gloves when the frogs must be handled).


You can spread special slime on a young turtle and get a Ninja turtle.
There are no Ninja turtles, but many young humans are convinced that the turtle they catch in the yard, win at a fair, or buy at a pet store can in time be made into a Ninja. The Ninja Turtle craze has had a devastating impact on the world's water turtle population as millions of kids demanded their very own Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello, and Michelangelo, and parents who knew nothing about proper turtle care indulged them. Note: no turtle has ever survived on a pizza diet or in the sewer!


Turtles and tortoises just need a leaf of lettuce a day.
A lettuce leaf, even lots of lettuce leafs, will starve a turtle or tortoise. Depending on the species, turtles and tortoises eat a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, leafy greens, even hays and grasses. Some water turtles eat invertebrates, fish, and crustaceans; some sea turtles enjoy a meal of jelly fish, seaweed, mollusks, eel grass, and other sea plants and invertebrates. Some tortoises and box turtles enjoy such tasty morsels as snails, slugs and worms.


It's okay to carve your name or other information into a turtle or tortoise shell.
Humans can decide for themselves to get tattooed or pierced; turtles and tortoises don't have that choice. Their shells are made of living tissue - bone, skin, blood and nerves - and when you cut into them, it hurts. Cut into the shell and create an opening into the body cavity, and the turtle or tortoise may well die of infection. Since their shells are living tissue, they also should never be painted.


It's okay to poke a hole in a tortoise's shell and chain it so it won't escape from your yard or keep digging holes.
It is not okay to do this...tortoises will keep straining and digging, some literally turning their feet into bloody stumps as they keep digging away at the concrete patio or hard earth, trying to do what comes naturally: burrow for protection from the sun and to nap. Chaining them can cause shell fractures, which, left untreated, can cause injury and death. Chaining and preventing them from digging may also cause such stress that they may sicken and die.


Reptiles are easy to care for. They make great pets for young children.
Most reptiles available for sale in the United States are wild-caught; most are imported from other countries. Experts estimate that 50% of the animals shipped to the U.S. die before or shortly after arriving here, and that 90% of those who survive and are sold die within their first year in captivity. This high death rate is primarily due to the fact that most people who sell and buy them do not know what their needs are nor how to care for them properly, and most fail to seek out what information does exist on proper care. Reptiles are easy to care for only if you know what you are doing and what the animal needs.

You say parotid, I say parotoid...
Just in case things weren't confusing enough with our slickery amphibian friends, we have a new term to deal with: parotoid glands.

According to the Cortland Herpetology Connection at the State University of New York, the parotoid glands are "large skin glands that appear as swellings on each side of the back of the head of toads (family Bufonidae) and some salamanders."

On the other hand, the parotid glands are in humans, being the largest of the salivary glands, located just in front or below the ear. The parotids' ducts opens in the mouth just opposite the second molar in the upper jaw (OnLine Medical Dictionary).

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