Reptiles are some of the most fascinating creatures on this planet. Usually scaly, long, and with slits for pupils, reptiles generally look quite menacing, and that only increases their awe factor. Though many people only seem interested in the reptiles of the past – the huge and intimidating dinosaurs – that does not at all mean today’s reptiles aren’t just as unique and exotic. And that is what this list will focus on; some of the strangest and most unique reptiles found in our world today.
Probably the one most of you are familiar with, Komodo Dragons are the largest species of lizard alive today (Fun Fact: Crocodiles are more closely related to birds and are not, in fact, lizards). Native to the islands of Indonesia, the Komodo Dragon can grow up to 3 meters in length (10 feet) and can weigh up to 70 kilograms (150lbs). Komodo Dragons are carnivorous and thanks to their size, can hunt down large prey. They usually feed on Timor Deer, but are also known to consume a large amount of decaying animal carcasses lying around.
In some cases, Komodo Dragons have also been observed attacking humans to feed. The one characteristic that really makes the Komodo Dragon stand out in the reptilian world is their group behavior when hunting down prey. Komodo Dragons usually lay low and wait for a potential victim to pass by near them before attacking. Furthermore, Komodo Dragons secret venom from their lower jaw once they clamp down on a victim, and have no trouble taking it down.
Madagascar Leaf-Nosed Snake
A curious little snake, this species, as the name suggests, is found in Madagascar. These snakes have a head that resembles the shape of a leaf, and are extremely adept at blending in with their surroundings. The Madagascar Leaf-Nosed Snake likes to hang and sway in the wind so passing victims mistake it for a vine. Though its bite is excruciatingly painful for humans, it is not fatal.
There is significant variation in looks between the sexes in this species, with males being brighter in color and having a longer snout. The females on the other hand, are usually mottled grey with a much flatter snout instead. The Madagascar Leaf-Nosed Snake is usually calm and does not bite unless provoked.
Saharan Horned Viper
The Saharan Horned Viper has many names, all relating to the devilish horns found on its head. This terrifying looking snake is found in Northern Africa and some parts of the Middle East. Though named after and popular for its horns, some hornless individuals are occasionally found among this species. Saharan Horned Vipers can be found in multiple colors, usually matching that of the soil from where they hail.
There are some significant differences between the males and females, especially regarding the head and eyes, both of which are larger in males. These snakes prefer colder climates, and when threatened, rub their scales together to produce a grating sound. For food, the Saharan Horned Vipers usually lay in wait, camouflaged, until a potential prey happens by. These vipers are highly venomous, and their bites can be fatal to humans if enough venom is secreted.
A rather frightening variant of crocodiles, Gharials are found in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, along freshwater river banks that have wide sandy banks. This species is unique for its long snout containing over a hundred teeth. Gharials can grow quite large, reaching sizes of 6 meters (20 feet), and use their long snout for a diet mostly made up of fish.
Gharials use the banks of rivers to bask and build nests, and usually mate during the Winters. This species used to inhabit all five major rivers of the Indian subcontinent, but has now been nearly driven to extinction. Though scary in their looks, Gharials do not attack humans unless they are threatened.
Chinese Softshell Turtles
In case you didn’t know and are a bit confused reading the name, yes, turtles are in fact classified as reptiles, not amphibians. With that cleared, the Chinese Softshell Turtle is a bit of an oddball. Usually, turtles are known for their hard shells. The Chinese Softshell Turtle on the other hand, has a leathery “shell”, flat feet, and a misshapen nose with large nostrils. If all that wasn’t weird enough, these turtles are famous for urinating from their mouth.
This species of turtle is also classified as ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUCN, as its habitats have been destroyed and it is hunted for food. Economically, it is considered the most important turtle in the world as millions of them are farmed for the food industry. Some of these turtles have journeyed to distant countries and started whole populations there that have slowly adapted and become different forms of Softshell Turtles. Chinese Softshell Turtles are found in fresh and brackish water and are carnivorous in nature.
These tiny lizards are extremely rare. They were first discovered in 1953, but then disappeared and were thought extinct. They were rediscovered in 2004, and their only known habitats are five small communities in the montane forests in the Chocó. These lizards mostly keep to tall trees and their communities are all relatively close by.
The characteristic proboscis is only found on the male lizards, and is used to court the females for mating. These lizards are tiny in size, ranging between 2-3 inches excluding their tails. Due to their extremely low numbers and limited localities, they have been classified as ‘Endangered’ by the IUCN.
Spider-Tailed Horned Viper
The second viper on this list is just as terrifying as the first. Endemic to Western Iran, this viper is famous for its tail which resembles a spider. The tail end is bulbous, with scales on each side that appear as spider legs. This snake preys by slowly moving around the end of its tail to lure in insectivorous birds before it strikes and kills them.
The Spider-Tailed Horned Viper is also a venomous snake and uses its venom to kill its prey while holding on to their struggling form. Using its body’s color, this snake can easily blend into the sand and rocks of Iran while displaying its tail, which allows it to remain close for the initial strike.
Mata Mata Turtle
Turtles are usually considered cute, and in the case of the Chinese Softshell mentioned above, rather ugly. The Mata Mata however, a freshwater turtle found in the Amazon and Orinoco basins, is not only bizarre, but also rather unnerving. With crude and ridged scales, its shell has a dragonish form, but that isn’t even its most unique aspect.
The Mata Mata turtle has a long thick neck like that of a viper, and a thin snout at the end that it raises above the surface of the water to breathe. Its jaws allow it to hold on to prey with a vicelike grip. It likes to lurk in the shadows and wait for a fish to swim close, at which it thrusts out its head and opens it mouth wide which sucks the fish in due to a low-pressure vacuum. As these turtles are unable to chew, they swallow their prey whole.
And that concludes our list of the most strange and unusual reptiles we have found in our world. They might not be as large or as ferocious as a Tyrannosaurus Rex, nor as tall or as docile as a Brachiosaurus, but they are still amazing in their own way. Being some of the oldest lifeforms around, there is little wonder as to why so many people make studying reptiles their life’s passion. Hundreds of millions of years have allowed these fascinating creatures to branch off in unique ways and develop all kinds of distinctive traits, and they are just as awesome as their giant prehistoric ancestors.