Not everyone’s favorite animals, reptiles are, mostly, very useful to us – eating pests such as invertebrates, rats, mice even each other. Only very few are dangerous, in Lebanon only a few species of snakes (see snakes). They are however fascinating! Unlike the amphibians they have tough scaled skin and lay eggs with waterproof shells, so they have colonized many different habitats. They are cold blooded (their body temperature does not remain constant) so they regulate their temperature by using the sun – to warm up, and go into the shade when it is too hot. This is a very efficient life style and is estimated that a reptile needs only 10% of the energy provided by its food that the same sized mammal would need. This gives them a huge advantage when it comes to life in impoverished environments such as deserts. However, they do not so well in cold climates as they can not get their body temperatures high enough. In Lebanon, with its abundant sun, they thrive.
A few Lebanese reptiles are dangerous to humans such as this Viper (Viper lebetina) above left, however they are more scared of people than we are of them and so mostly slither away unnoticed if people are around. The Turkish Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) above right on the other hand often lives with us, eating flies, mosquitoes and other pests– a welcome house guest!
All reptiles should be left unharmed. They are important members of the eco system, fulfilling vital functions – they eat smaller (often pest species) and are themselves food for larger animals such as the Short toed eagle (See Birds of Prey). You are much more likely to be bitten by a snake if you try to kill it than if you just leave it alone. The vast majority of snakes that are killed are totally harmless. Indeed the larger (and therefore more easily seen) snakes such as the Large Whip Snake, (Coluber jugularis) despite being feared, are harmless and are important predators of rats and other rodent pests (see Snakes).
This Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) shows the characteristic skin of the group – tough waterproof scales. This, together with the reptile egg has enabled the group to colonize environments as diverse as the sea to deserts.
Three of the major groups of reptiles are represented in Lebanon; the Lizards, the Snakes and the Turtles. They can be found in habitats from the center of Beirut to the mountain tops, farm land, wetlands and deserts. (see Habitats).
Follow the links to find out about some of the Lebanese species in each group: