Living reptiles are classified in four orders. The turtles, order Chelonia, have a protective bony shell, usually covered with horny plates. They are mostly aquatic in habits although some (see tortoise) are adapted to land. They are the oldest living reptiles, having existed nearly unchanged since the Triassic period. Members of the order Crocodilia, which includes alligators, caimans, crocodiles, and gavials, are large, carnivorous reptiles of tropical and subtropical swamps and rivers. They constitute the only remaining order of the great reptilian subclass Archosauria, or ruling reptiles, which includes the extinct dinosaurs. The order Squamata includes the lizards (suborder Sauria) and snakes (suborder Serpentes). Nearly all members of this large and successful modern order are terrestrial. The order Rhynchocephalia has a single living member, the tuatara, a lizardlike reptile of New Zealand.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.