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Glossary of Terms

Aestivation (or estivation): A condition of torpor during extended periods of high temperatures or drought; a state of inactivity during which the metabolic processes are greatly reduced.

Anal plate: The plate, or scale, which covers the vent. In most snakes it is usually quite distinct, being larger than the other ventral scales.

Antivenin: A serum derived from antibodies created in the blood of a horse or sheep when the animal is injected with snake venom. In humans, antivenin is injected either through the veins or into muscle, and it works by neutralizing snake venom that has entered the body. The first antivenin, derived from horse blood, was introduced in the United States in 1954. (often referred to as "antivenom")

Arboreal: Living in or amongst the trees.

Basking: A term used to describe the behavior of a reptile when exposing itself to the direct or diffused rays of the sun. Thermoregulation may or may not take place during periods of basking, which are used for other functions, such as attaining a high body temperature, allowing greater mobility, and aiding digestion.

Brumation: A condition of torpor during extended periods of low temperatures; a state of inactivity during which the metabolic processes are greatly reduced but without actual hibernation.

Carnivore: Feeds entirely upon the flesh of animals.

Cloaca: The common chamber into which the genital, urinary, and digestive canals release their contents, and which opens to the exterior through the anus or vent.

Diurnal: Active during the daylight hours.

Dorsal: Relating to the upper surfaces; the back or spinal part of the body.

Heat pit (or loreal pit): The deep cavity situated on either side of the head, between the nostril and the eye, of crotaline snakes (hence the name "pit viper"), which is the external opening to a highly sensitive infra-red detecting organ. This enables the snake to locate and strike at prey in complete darkness. (see pit viper)

Hemipenis (plural = hemipenes): The copulatory organ of male snakes and lizards, paired and located within the base of the tail behind the cloaca. The surface may be covered with an array of hooks and spines, which help to hold the organ securely in place in the female's cloaca during copulation.

Hibernation: An extended period of rest, torpor, or inertness during the winter months, in which metabolism is greatly slowed down. Hibernation occurs in most temperate reptiles and amphibians, and is frequently very prolonged in the most northerly species.

Keel: The slightly raised line, or ridge, on the middle of a single scale in some species of snakes. Keeled scales give the snake's skin a rough appearance.   -  Click HERE for an example.

Mottled: Having colored spots or blotches.

Musk: A strong-smelling fluid, used by male animals to stimulate females. It is also excreted as a defense mechanism when an animal is captured or disturbed.

Nocturnal: Active after dark.

Oviparity: Reproduction that involves laying a shelled egg. The entire development of the embryos, which are nourished in their eggs by large yolk sacs, occurs outside the female's body. Reptiles that reproduce this way are termed "oviparous."

Oviposition: The process of depositing, or laying, eggs.

Ovoviviparity: Reproduction that involves the production of eggs which have a well-developed membranous covering and a store of yolk for the embryos' nourishment. These are retained inside the female's body during embryonic development and hatch immediately before, during, or just after, they are laid. Reptiles that reproduce this way are termed "ovoviviparous."

Pit viper: A common classification for any one of the venomous snakes in the Viperidae subfamily, Crotalinae, all of which share the same characteristic feature of a sensitive, heat-detecting pit. (includes all rattlesnakes, the copperhead, and the cottonmouth)

Poikilotherm (or ectotherm): Any animal in which body temperature varies approximately with that of the surroundings; a cold-blooded species. All reptiles are poikilothermic.

Poisonous: Any organisms that have a harmful effect on another when partially or completely devoured. (Note: this is not the same as "venomous")

Rattle: The sound-producing organ on the tail of rattlesnakes, formed from a series of keratinized rings or segments, each stacked loosely within the other, a new one being added at each skin shedding. Responsible for the characteristic rattling or buzzing noise when the tail is vibrated during moments of excitement.

Thermoregulation: The maintenance or the optimal temperature range in poikilotherms. In reptiles, which are unable to produce metabolic heat to raise their body temperature, thermoregulation must take place by basking when too cool and seeking shade when too warm, in order that bodily functions, such as respiration, digestion, shedding, etc., can continue normally.

Torpor: An energy-saving period of inactivity, in which bodily functions are greatly slowed, exhibited by many reptiles and amphibians during adverse climatic conditions. (See aestivation, hibernation)

Venomous: Relating to an animal that possesses venom. Venomous animals introduce venom into the body of another by means of specialized teeth (fangs) or a sting. (Note: this is not the same as "poisonous")

Vent: The hind opening located on the undersurface of the body at the beginning of the tail; the external entrance/exit of the cloaca.

Ventral: Relating to the lower surfaces; the underside of the body.

Viviparity: A kind of reproduction in animals in which the embryo develops within the body of the mother and receives its nourishment directly via some form of placenta, resulting in the eventual birth of live young. Viviparity occurs in many reptiles and amphibians, as well as in some invertebrates, certain fishes, and mostly mammals, all of which are termed "viviparous."


Most definitions were taken from the following text:

Wareham, David C. The Reptile and Amphibian Keeper's Dictionary: An A-Z of Herpetology. London: Blandford, 1993

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