Protected Reptiles

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Information about Protected Reptiles

Published on November 19, 2008

Author: josephineebejergrech



Protected Reptiles in Malta, part of an eTwinning project by Jake Feneck 3.5

Leathery Turtle The leathery turtle is the most distinctive of the marine turtles being placed in a separate family, of which it is the only representative. It is also the largest marine turtle and reptile generally, but also one of the largest living creatures on the Earth. Carapace can be even more than 3 m long, and the whole animals can weight more than 500 kg. Carapace of this species is covered by a smooth skin, which is black, often spotted with white, and without scutes leathery is a truly pelagic species, primarily distributed in tropical areas. Nevertheless, some specimens were recorded even in Arctic waters.

Green Turtle Female common green turtles return to the same beaches regularly and in great numbers to lay their eggs. Throughout history these turtles have been an important source of food to local human populations and sea voyagers. The common green turtle was once common in the warm oceans of the world, but has become increasingly scarce in areas where it is commercially exploited.

Mediterranean Chameleon Chameleons belong to the lizard family although they look rather different from the common lizard. Their body has adapted to their way of living, in trees. The legs have five digits. Three digits on each leg oppose the other two digits. This enables the animal to get a firm grip on the branches while moving. The tail also says in this process by curling round the twigs providing a sort of anchorage.

The chameleon is a predator. Unlike many predators it does not peruse its preys. It has a very inactive way of going about this operation. The main diet of this animal is small insects, which settle on the branches. When a victim is identified, it moves very slowly towards it without making its presence known with the aid of its camouflage. When it is about ten centimeters away, it opens its mouth slowly and with great speed shoots out its tongue at the prey. It’s tongue can even reach longer distances than the ten centimeters mentioned. The tip of the tongue is very sticky. When the tip touches the prey, the poor insect has no way of escaping and before it knows it is in the chameleon's mouth. The reptile has a very accurate aim and thus rarely misses its target.

In its native habitat, the chameleon rarely descends from the trees, which offer it protection. The only time it leaves the tree, is when the female, in this case, is ready to lay its eggs which it does under the loose soil under the tree. Due to our Island’s natural habitat and the fact that trees are rare, these reptiles frequently descend from the tree they are in to cross over to other trees. To do this it moves across open spaces and also roads. Although this creature is very slow in its movements it can run very fast but not fast enough to escape being run over by cars. It is a common sight to see such animals squashed in the road.

As mentioned earlier, the chameleon is most famous for changing its colors. In its skin it has different pigment cells which are black, yellow and red. The animal changes its color by controlling these pigment cells by dispersing or concentrating its various pigments. It changes its colors to match that of its background. On trees and vegetation the reptile takes a greenish color while on ground it usually takes a brownish colour to match the soil and bare habitat.

Apart from camouflage, it also changes colour for other reasons. When the reptile is calm it usually is of a greenish colour, but when it is frightened, it takes a very pale colour and opens its mouth wide making a sound while puffing itself. By doing this it hopes to frighten its predator. Thanks to environmental awareness, this reptile is now protected in our Islands. Person caught in possession of chameleons, risk a fine which is not small. This animal is harmless to man. It helps agriculture as it feeds on insects, which at times are harmful to crops .

Maltese Wall Lizard The Maltese Wall Lizard ( GREMXULA TA' MALTA) is about twenty eight centimetres and consists of four subspecies. Maltensis found on the islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino is generally greenish and often speckled. Filfolensis is found on Filfla and is blackish with blue or pale blue spots, it is the largest of the four races. Kieselbachi found on Selmunett islands varies in colour from brown to grey with small black spots and a yellow belly. Generalensis found on Fungus Rock is coloured reddish below with bluish flanks. Lizards feed mostly on insects, but also on fruit and vegetatble matter. When cornered by a predator, as a last resort they shed their tail. This is possible due to an anatomical arrangement whereas by the use of certain muscles a special bone breaks. Blood vessels are immediately closed by spasms and the tail falls off writhing vigorously for a few minutes. Whilst the predators attention is so occupied the lizard tries to escape. This tactic however is costly in energy requirements since it entails the loss of a store and the necessity of growing a new tail. In rare circumstances the tail is only partially broken off and a new one grows. The end result is a two tailed lizard. This is possible in all the races.

Females and young lack the bright colours of the males, and are generally brownish. Male shows territorial behaviour, claiming a small patch of land and threatening other approaching males. During their threat display, the males puff themselves up, tremble and raise their heads to display the bright colours below the neck. When a female approaches, the male makes similar movements, which now serve to attract the female for eventual mating. This takes place in Spring, soon followed by the laying of 1-2 eggs in the soil or under a stone. Eggs normally hatch between June and Mid -August. Endemic to Malta and the islands of Linosa and Lampione, where a fifth subspecies occurs. A separate race probably exists on Kemmunett.

Algerian Whip Snake Coluber florulentus algirus (Jan, 1833) Algerian Whip Snake maltese : Serp Algerin Size : Up to one metre long. Colouratio n : Dorsally pale ochre or grey with transverse black bars at intervals and a black spot below the eye; ventrally white. Biology : This species lives in cracks in rocks and fortifications. It is active at sunset and feeds on lizards, skinks, geckos, small snakes, young birds and small mammals.

Leopard Snake Elaphe situal leopardina (Bonaparte, 1834) Leopard Snake maltese: Lifgha Size : Up to one metre long. Colouration : Dorsally pale brown with dark brown or reddish black-edged transverse spots and a forked black mark on the occiput and nape; ventrally white checkered with black.

Coluber viridiflavus carbonarius (Bonaparte, 1833) Black Whip Snake maltese: Serp iswed Size : Up to two metres long. Black Whip Snake

Colouration : Dorsally the adult is black but juveniles are a dark green marked with grey and dark brown; ventraklly white to yellowish white. The different colouration at different ages has led some previous naturalists to think that this species was represented in the Maltese Islands by two subspecies - carbonarius and the nominative - viridiflavus .

Biology: This snake is very lively and often climbs trees in search of food. It hunts around mid-day and feeds on lizards, skinks, geckos, rats, mice, frogs, and the young and eggs of ground or tree-nesting birds. The Whip Snake lives in rock cracks and under rubble. When cornered it strikes and bites furiously. The animal hibernates during the winter months. Records : A very widespread species recorded from Malta, Gozo and Comino

Cat snake Telescopus fallax fallax (Flieschmann, 1831) Cat Snake maltese : Serp Size: Up to just one metre long. Colouration: Dorsally pale brown or greyish with dark brown transverse spots and a lateral alternating series of brown transverse bars; ventrally greyish white with fine grey specks.

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