Snakes are not amphibians. They belong to the animal class of Reptilia, or reptiles.
Since reptiles bear some similarities with amphibians, many people would be forgiven to mistake one for the other. Moreover, both classes are placed in the same branch of zoology- the study of reptiles and amphibians is known as Herpetology.
The amphibian class is made up of animals like frogs, toads, newts, salamanders, caecilians, and blindworms, which are primarily associated with living in both water and land. On the other hand, snakes are in the same groups as scaly animals such as crocodiles, lizards, alligators, and chameleons.
Why Are Snakes Reptiles and Not Amphibians?
There are several reasons why snakes cannot be categorized as amphibians:
1. Egg Laying Location
Amphibians lay their eggs in water, and that is where their life cycles begin. As such, amphibians spend the first part of their lives in water breathing through gills and rocking tails to aid in movement.
On the other hand, snakes begin their lives on land. Snake eggs could be inside the mother’s body or external depending on whether the species is viviparous or oviparous, respectively. Even so, the eggs are laid on land and not in water.
2. Life Cycles
Amphibians have complex life cycles. For instance, frogs start their life as tadpoles living in water, then evolve slowly through stages to become adults that live on land.
Snakes do not undergo any complex life cycles during their lifetimes. Juvenile snakes are simply small versions of adult snakes. They only mature and grow bigger with time – and become sexually active at some point in their lives, depending on the species. On that note, they use their lungs for breathing from the moment they are born or hatched, unlike amphibians.
3. Skin Texture
Another reason why snakes are not amphibians is the texture of their skin. Snakes have rough, thick, scaly skin that they shed periodically. The skin enables them to survive hot and dry climates since snakes tend to spend a lot of time in desert areas.
Amphibians, on the other hand, have skin with a very smooth texture. Moreover, their skins are thin and delicate. In fact, their skin is so thin that the animals can actually breathe through them. This porous quality of amphibian skin makes them sensitive to toxins found in the environment, especially in water.
Amphibians need water in their habitat, which is not the case for snakes. Amphibians spend almost half their lives exclusively in water. And even when they outlive that stage, water is still an integral part of their survival.
Elsewhere, snakes get into the water if and when they feel like it. They do not need to spend any part of their lives in it. Although some snakes live near water and some live in it, that does not make them amphibians. They can survive optimally on dry land for the eternity of their lives.
Even so, the topic of habitats is a grey area between reptiles and amphibians. This is because some reptiles such as turtles and crocodiles live in water, just like most amphibians. In the same way, toads live on land, just like most reptiles. So, it can get a little confusing if you don’t know how to differentiate the two classes of animals.
What Are the Similarities Between Reptiles and Amphibians?
Reptiles and amphibians are similar in more than a few ways, which is why people tend to confuse the two classes. For one, some of the members of both groups look so similar, such as geckos and salamanders. You should note that the former is a reptile while the latter is an amphibian, but that might be difficult to deduce to an inexperienced eye.
Also, both groups share similar habitats – water and land. Some reptiles such as crocodiles, alligators, and turtles live in water, home to most amphibians, especially the young ones. Some snakes, such as the Northern water snakes, also live in water.
Moreover, both reptiles and amphibians can be found in all continents of the world, save for Antarctica. Still, it is important to mention that only reptiles live in oceans and seas as amphibians prefer freshwater.
Additionally, both reptiles and amphibians are classified under the Subphylum Vertebrata, which consists of animals that have a backbone and an internal skeletal system. On top of that, they are both cold-blooded, or more scientifically speaking, ectothermic. Thus, their body temperature depends on their environment: if it is hot, they will be hot.
Similarly, if the weather is cold, these animals tend to be cold. During winter, when it is extremely cold, both classes survive by going into hibernation, which is a state of prolonged sleep until it thaws out.
Overall Differences Between Reptiles and Amphibians
Amphibians spend their larval stage in water and their adulthood on land. Thus, they live dual lives as half of it is aquatic, and the other half terrestrial. Reptiles, on the other hand, are terrestrial from the day they are born. However, some of them, like crocodiles and turtles, can live in water.
Amphibians have smooth, thin, and porous skin that constantly requires moisture. You will notice that amphibians tend to appear shiny, and it’s because of the moisturized skin. Elsewhere, reptiles have rough, thick, and scaly skins that retain moisture.
Amphibians have a more complex life cycle compared to reptiles. Since they lay eggs in water, the life cycle of amphibians begins in water, where they are completely adapted to being aquatic animals. On top of having tails to aid in movement in the water, juvenile amphibians also have gills with which to breathe. As they grow older, they become adapted to living on the land- that is, they grow legs and lungs.
Reptiles do not have a complex life cycle. Their lives begin as eggs, incubated internally or externally, depending on whether the species is oviparous or viviparous. When they hatch, the young ones are already adapted to the environment they will exist in for the rest of their lives- water or terrestrial.
Snakes are not amphibians. Instead, they belong to the class Reptilia, which is characterized by animals with dermal scales and a tail. Other reptiles include crocodiles, turtles, and lizards. On the other hand, amphibians consist of smooth, porous skin animals, such as frogs, newts, and salamanders.
While there are many differences between the structure and anatomy of reptiles and amphibians, the two classes share some similarities. One of the major similarities between the two classes is that they tend to share habitats as both live in both land and water. Nevertheless, a snake spending time in water does not make it an amphibian.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.