How Do Reptiles Move? (Locomotion & Movement in Reptiles)

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In this post, we will learn about how do reptiles move.

We’ll learn about how they use their muscles and body appendages to perform movement and locomotion all by themselves to go from place to place.

Reptiles have 2 pairs of limbs i.e. forelimbs and hindlimbs for movement and locomotion.

In reptiles like snakes, they don’t have any type of limbs so, they use their strong muscles and scales to move/crawl from place to place.

Reptiles are smoothly and rapidly able to run, crawl, climb, jump, glide, or even swim. Reptiles like the snakes, lizards are well-seen to speedily move over sand, land, rocks, trees, etc.

Turtles can’t move rapidly over land but are smooth swimmers in the water.

Those reptiles with limbs are highly evolved in such a way that they are able to make its proper use in their type of habitat.


Snakes without any king of limbs can crawl very fast with the use of their scales and they have developed these over the course of evolution.

Well, it’s very clear that there’s a huge diversity in the type of movement and locomotion in reptiles.

Reptiles were evolved from Amphibians so often you will find various matching movements between reptiles and amphibians.

Well! Let’s know more about it. So, keep reading…

How Do Reptiles Move? Let’s Know About The Locomotion & Movement in Reptiles

1. Running Movement

The running movement is seen in lizards, crocodiles, etc. because they have forelimbs with digits that help them run with ease. The smaller the animal the better and swiftly they can run.

Most crocodiles can achieve speeds of around 12 to 14 kph for short periods, which is somewhat slower than a fit human can run.

Dangerous lizards like the Komodo dragon can run with a maximum speed of about 12 mph.

In running movement, the reptile (ex: lizard) moves its limbs diagonally as it moves ahead. This means that the lizard can move its right forelimb and the left hindlimb ahead at the same time.

In running movement, lizards are able to run quadrupedally in diagonal fashion i.e. by moving the left forelimb with the right hindlimb, and the right forelimb with the left hindlimb respectively.

In every single step, the right forelimb and left hindlimb remain stationary on the ground while the left forelimb and right hindlimbs move forward. In such a way with each and every step, it moves forward.

During this movement, the lizard can balance its body due to the presence of its long tail that balances the center of mass of the lizard.

Running is usually smooth and rapid. It is powered partly by the leg muscles and partly by the back muscles.

The leg muscles are the primary muscles in this type of movement. These are striated in nature and consume enough energy than any other muscles used in their movement.

2. Gliding Movement

Gliding movement is another type of movement that is rarely seen as it is common only in a few species.

Lizards belonging to Genus Draco are among the most remarkable and successful clades of gliding vertebrates.

Draco lizards are well-known for their “display structures” and ability to glide long distances using their wing-like, patagial membranes supported by elongated thoracic ribs to generate lift forces.

Gliding movement is a type of powered flight aerial locomotion that is used by Draco to jump and sail easily through the air to reach from one place to another within short distances. Draco lizards can leap a hundred feet between trees.

In doing so first the lizards with the help of the striated muscles of its hindlimbs move a little backward to initiate its jump. Then as it jumps in the air towards its target, it stretches its forelimbs and as a result the flaps of skin supported by extensions of their ribs open as wings.

This mechanism helps it to glide. These flaps of skin (wings) are spread while the lizard is gliding.

Between their ribs and forelimbs are folds of skin that rest flat against the body when not in use, but act as wings when unfurled, allowing the Draco to catch the wind and glide.

These are spread while the lizard is gliding; but folded like fans, against the sides of the body, while it is climbing a tree.

3. Crawling Movement

Crawling type of movement is usually seen in snakes because they don’t have any type of limbs to walk or run.

In the crawling type of movement, the snake can usually move its body forward with the help of its strong muscles and scales.

The snake’s muscles when gets combined with its loose, flexible, and squishy belly skin comfortably enables it to move forward without bending its spine.

Three types of crawling movement/locomotion styles are seen in snakes. These are Serpentine locomotion, Sidewinding locomotion, and Concertina locomotion.

In Serpentine locomotion, the snake passes waves of bending in backward direction along its body. The body is thrown into a series of sinuous curves as the snake moves forward.

Serpentine locomotion is useful if the snake is crawling its way between stones, tussocks of grass, and other obstacles. This will prevent the snake from sliding sideways and move forward swiftly.

In Sidewinding locomotion, the snake moves across a surface by bending its body into a curvy S-shape and passing those curves down its body. In every step, the snake will change its direction parallel to its present line of movement.

Serpentine locomotion is useful if the snake is crawling its way through the sand or on any smooth or slippery surfaces.

In Concertina locomotion, the snake tends to fold its back part of the body like an elastic that helps the front part of the snake to move forward.

In Concertina locomotion, at any moment, short sections of the body are folded, tightly jammed against the sides of the crevice. The anterior fold of each group opens, pushing the parts of the body in front of it forwards. At the same time, new folds are added to the back of the group, drawing more posterior parts of the body forward.

Concertina locomotion is useful for the snakes in crawling through tunnels or narrow passages and also in climbing.

4. Swimming Movement

Swimming is a type of aquatic locomotion that is very common in reptiles like crocodiles, turtles, etc.

Water Snakes can also swim like eels inside the water with ease. Land snakes can only swim with their snouts above the water.

Crocodiles swim by undulating their bodies and with the help of the limbs to direct the movement.

Turtles have legs modified as flippers and swim by flapping them much as a flying bird flaps its wings.

The body of the crocodile is buoyant in nature. Webbing is present between the toes of their limbs that help them use these as rudders and paddles to swim. Their tail is used to accelerate very quickly and push the body and give it a push during swimming.

Snakes can swim in the water by undulating from side to side that start from their head and continue down their body. During swimming, they move their body in lateral, wave-like movements roughly in an S-pattern.

Turtles utilize all four of their legs, extending them to propel themselves through the water. Turtles have webbed feet, and they use them to paddle swiftly and smoothly in the water.

5. Climbing Movement

Climbing movement is usually common in tree lizards, chameleons, snakes that are able to climb the trees or any verticle surface.

The most common adaptations for climbing include the use of footpads. Pads on the feet consist of wide plates or scales under the fingers and toes that have various microscopic hooks to cling and hold the surface while climbing.

Tree lizards or Chameleons have a kind of vacuum suction in their limbs that helps them hold to the surface. Moreover, they have a large number of very tiny hairs on the pads of their feet called setae that help them hold and climb.

In lizards, small hairs are also placed below their feet and digits. They simply employ a rotating motion to attach and detach their feet from the surface.

Geckos have strongly adhesive feet with microscopic hairs that enable them to climb smooth vertical walls. They adhere by means of van der Waals forces (forces of intermolecular attraction) that depend on very close contact with the substrate.

Snakes use the Concertina locomotion type of movement to climb. While climbing the snake folds its posterior part of the body that generates proper grip on to the surface that also pushes the anterior part of the body forward thus helping it to climb upwards or downwards.

6. Jumping Movement

There are some species of lizards and snakes that can jump and glide. Their body is a type of aerodynamic in nature that helps them in jumping.

They do jump and the next can flatten their bodies by undulating motions in mid-air and glide through the treetops, up to 300 feet at a time.

It is seen that lizards use tail movements to achieve the jumping motion. This depends on the Principle of Conservation of Angular Momentum

This principle states that the rotation of the lizard’s tail or the diver’s limbs in one direction, makes the body rotate in the opposite direction.

Arboreal lizards may jump between flexible branches. The hind limbs of these lizards are elastic enough to help lift the lizard high up in the air so that it can glide to its target every easily. Example: Draco

Some amazingly, snakes of the genus Chrysopelea, can flatten its body and perform high amplitude lateral undulations. This can help them jump up high and start gliding towards its target. Example: Chrysopelea ornata

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