Three orders of reptiles occur in Alabama: • Testudinata – the turtles. • Crocodilia – the alligators • Squamata – the snakes and lizards.
Order Testudinata The turtles have the body enclosed in a bony case of dermal plates with a dorsal carapace and a ventral plastron. Their jaws have no teeth, but do have a horny sheath. The vertebra and ribs are fused to the shell. The anus is a longitudinal slit.
Family Chelydridae The snapping turtles are among the largest freshwater turtles. They are characterized by massive heads with powerful hooked jaws, long tails, relatively small, cross-shaped plastrons, and carapaces with 12 marginal scutes on each side.
Macroclemmys temmincki – Alligator snapping turtle
Family Emydidae The emydids are the world’s largest family of turtles. They have a large plastron and a short tail. The plastron has twelve marginal scutes, with the pectoral scutes touching the marginals.
Family Kinosternidae The mud and musk turtles. The kinosternids have a large plastron with ten or eleven scutes. The pectorals of the plastron are not in contact with the marginals.
Family Testudinae The tortoises are terrestrial, with elephantine hind feet. Their forelimbs are shovel-like and are adapted for digging.
A gopher tortoise burrow. Gopher tortoises can serve as keystone species in longleaf pine habitats.
Family Trionychidae The soft-shelled turtles have a shell covered with a leathery skin. The snout ends in a tubular proboscis. They are highly aquatic.
The only sea turtle that commonly nexts along Alabama’s beaches is the loggerhead, Caretta caretta, which belongs to the family Cheloniidae.
Order Crocodilia Large and well-armored, with sculptured heads, protruding nostrils, and well-muscled, compressed tails. Front feet have five toes, while webbed hind feet have four toes. Ear is covered with a movable flap. All are aquatic carnivores. Males tend to grow larger than females.
In much of their range, alligators serve as a keystone species much like the gopher tortoise.
Spectacled caiman Caiman crocodilus
Alligators are dangerous animals. FOXNews.com - Florida Woman Loses Part of Arm to Alligator Attack Ananova - Alligator suspected of killing toddler http://www.ecofloridamag.com/alligatorattacks.pdf Tampabay: Gator attack ends protection on island The Daily Beacon Online - Alligator attacks woman
Order Squamata Suborder Lacertilia The Lizards Two pairs of relatively equal legs, long tail. Superficially resemble salamanders, but have dry, scaly skin, toothed jaws, and external ear openings. Some 3,000 species worldwide.
Family Anguidae Eleven general of about 80 species. Anguid lizards have elongate, shiny, stiff bodies and tails. Tiny or absent legs. Stiffness results from abundance of body armor in skin. Many species are so stiff that they could not breathe if not for flexible lengthwise groove of soft, granular scales along sides. Most are terrestrial and burrowing. In some species, the tail vertebrae have fracture planes.
Family Iguanidae A large family of moderately sized lizards. Have five clawed toes on each of four legs, and a long tail. Most species either arboreal or terrestrial. Highly visually oriented.
While I’m thinking about it, here’s another exotic that is becoming increasingly common. It’s in the Family Gekkonidae. Hemidactylus turcicus – Mediterranean house gecko
Family Scincidae Cosmopolitan group of 87 genera and 1280 species found on every continent except Antarctica. 15 species in U.S. Typically has a cylindrical body and tail covered by smooth, sleek scales. Terrestrial skinks have small legs. Fracture planes in tails allow the tail to break off. In such cases, the tail is usually brightly colored. Diurnal.
Eumeces fasciatus Five-lined skink