Reptile Intelligence

Reptiles are far more intelligent than some people realize. Despite the common perception that they’re sedentary and unmotivated, reptiles exhibit a wide range of problem-solving abilities that are comparable to mammals or birds.


For example, monitor lizards can solve mazes and recognize their keepers in captivity. They also have an ability to adapt their behaviour to changing circumstances, which is a sign of intelligence.


Move over elephants, giant tortoises may be the kings of the animal kingdom when it comes to intelligence. According to a study from Okinawa University of Science and Technology, these reptiles have surprisingly superior memory capabilities. Historically, they’ve been unfairly stereotyped as “stupid.” Charles Darwin himself noted that Galapagos tortoises often traveled great distances between locations where they typically ate, slept and mud-bathed, requiring a high level of intellect to remember those routes back and forth. In fact, explorers even documented that the reptiles could be trained to stay in one location aboard ships.

In an experiment with Red-Footed Tortoises, scientists discovered that these cold-blooded creatures can take cues from other reptiles in the same environment to learn new tasks. When researchers shone a laser pointer at a screen to attract the attention of one tortoise named Moses, she looked up and then copied the actions of other tortoises behind the screen. They called the ability “gaze-following.” This is the first time that gaze-following has been observed in a reptile.

Researchers used a conditioning method to train the tortoises, using food as rewards for correct responses. In the first task, the animals were taught to bite a colored ball positioned on the end of a stick. Afterward, they were tested. Scientists found that most of the tortoises recalled their training after 95 days and even after 9 years! The tortoises performed better in the second task, which required them to choose between two colors. They were able to recall this discrimination test at a much faster rate than in the first.


A new study has shown that lizards, including green anoles (Anolis evermanni), may be more intelligent than many people believe. In a test designed to evaluate their ability to find food hidden under plastic lids the lizards did better than birds, including crows, and they were able to remember how to solve the problem from day to day.

The lizards were presented with two wells; one contained a worm under a cap and the other had no food. The lizards that grew in warm nests learned to open the cap more quickly than those that grew in cold ones, and they were able to recall their success from day to day, even when the worm was moved to the other well and the lizards had to try again.

Researchers were surprised to discover that the anoles also remembered how to open the correct lid, despite being changed from bright to dull colors and having different lids added or removed. The anoles, named Plato and Socrates, picked at the correct cap every time. The scientists believe that the anoles remembered the association between the color and the lid, not that it was a specific shape or size of the cap.

Green anoles have several other characteristics that show their intelligence, such as spatial memory and the ability to recognize individuals. They are skilled climbers and can quickly adapt to their environment, making them adept at escaping predators or pursuing prey. They are masters of camouflage and use their ability to change color to blend in with their surroundings. They can even voluntarily shed their tails, a behavioral defense mechanism that diverts the attention of predators.


Despite being the most commonly depicted reptile in the media, alligators are not as dumb as they may appear. They have a remarkable capacity for memory, can adapt to novel situations, and exhibit sophisticated social behaviors. They are one of the most devoted parents in the reptile world, staying with their hatchlings for years to protect them from predators and other alligators.

They also have the ability to communicate with one another in various ways, adjusting their behavior based on what they are hearing and seeing. They can use their ears to tell what direction the wind is blowing, and they can track the location of fish by hearing sounds produced as they swim underwater.

In the wild, they can recall where food is located and adjust their hunting habits accordingly. They can learn about ocean currents and the timing of migratory patterns, too. In captivity, they have been seen using tools and engaging in complex play with one another.

The medulla oblongata and limbic system in an alligator’s brain “program” them to show dominance in mating or territorial situations, so they can survive. While this may seem aggressive, it is not because they are angry or ill-tempered. They are only expressing the natural instincts that have been wired into their brains. Because of this, it is highly risky to approach alligators in the wild or in captivity unless you are a trained professional with a permit to do so.

Snapping Turtles

These turtles, a member of the Chelydridae family, can live in a wide range of environments from dry areas to marshes and watery locations. This ability to adapt is thought to be a result of their high level of intelligence.

They are omnivores that eat both plant and animal matter. Aquatic vegetation makes up a third of their diet. They also eat fish, frogs, reptiles, birds and mammals. In addition, snapping turtles are active scavengers and will clean up dead animals.

Their long necks enable them to swallow fish whole and they often impale their prey with the tips of their jaws. Occasionally, they may use their claws to crush bones. They are also known to eat carrion.

Snapping turtles have very large brains compared to their body size. They can learn and remember many things, but they tend to store only the information that is important for survival. They have been shown to solve mazes as quickly as laboratory rat in experiments, and they can recall the location of a food container when it is placed in front of them.

When they are approached by a human, snapping turtles move quietly away or hide in mud or grass. If they feel threatened, their long necks shoot out with a lightning speed and their jaws close to deliver a bite. They also produce an odorous substance from organs located on the underside of their plastron when they feel threatened.