Reptile Intelligence

Reptiles are often seen as “living rocks” but they are far more intelligent than many people realise. They are also capable of emotion and cognition, despite the fact that they are not widely studied in this area.


The tropical Anolis lizard can count and even adapt learned abilities to changed circumstances, according to scientists. In captivity, zookeepers have reported that komodo dragons recognize their owners on sight.


Researchers are proving that tortoises and turtles are much smarter than previously thought. They are able to create memories and even understand emotions, such as fear and contentment. These reptiles have also been shown to be able to communicate with each other by looking at each other, and they can learn from watching others perform tasks.

Previously, when scientists conducted cognitive studies on reptiles, the cold-blooded animals performed poorly. This was due to the fact that most studies were done in cool temperatures, which left the reptiles feeling sluggish. Wilkinson and her colleagues were determined to change this. They set up a maze for her red-footed tortoise, Moses.

The first two tasks were simple: The tortoises were taught to bite a colored ball positioned on the end of a stick. Afterward, the scientists waited three months and then tested the tortoises again. Immediately, they remembered the first two tasks without being reminded, and five of the six tortoises re-learned which color to bite much faster than it took them to initially train, indicating that they had retained residual memory.


Iguanas use a variety of body language and visual signals to communicate. They bob their heads, twitch their tails and display their dewlap. They can display fear, anger and stress as well as affection. They have even been known to imitate snake sounds to ward off predators.

These herbivorous lizards are also very intelligent. They can recognize their owners and exhibit a significant amount of problem-solving skills. Iguanas are also known to recognize other iguanas and can distinguish family members.

Limbic regions midway between the so-called primitive brain and the new large cortex were once believed to be responsible for advanced social behavior. However, the latest brain research has shown that these areas are not essential for social intelligence.

Green iguanas are one of the smartest reptiles, and they can even recognize their owners. They can also be trained to associate their names with food. This helps them feel safe and happy in their environment. They are also known to squint their eyes, indicating that they are stressed. They can even detach their tails if threatened.


Despite their fearsome reputation, snakes are quite intelligent. Openings in front of their eyes sense the heat given off by warm-blooded prey and bones in their lower jaws pick up vibrations from scurrying rodents. They also have forked tongues, which they flick in different directions to smell their surroundings and identify potential danger or food. They can climb trees and swim through water, and have been shown to recognize their regular handlers in captivity.

Reptiles with long lifespans tend to have great memories, as is evidenced by the ability of Galapagos tortoises to recall being trained to distinguish two different colors even 9 years later. Pet lizard species like iguanas and anoles are also very smart. They can learn to use their environment to solve problems and adapt their behavior when presented with new challenges – a key indicator of intelligence. They are also capable of feeling emotions and anxiety, although these aspects of sentience are not a major area of focus in the reptile-oriented scientific literature.

Monitor Lizards

While some believe that intelligence is something that only mammals possess, reptiles can be incredibly intelligent as well. Monitor Lizards are a great example of this. These lizards are found throughout Africa, Asia, and Oceania and some of them (such as the Nile Monitor) even incubate their eggs. They use their sharp claws to dig into a termite mound, which the hard-working termites then close to provide a secure temperature-controlled nest for the lizard eggs.

When it comes to hunting, monitor lizards are no slouches either. They can hunt for hours at a time, covering home ranges of up to 10 square miles. They often cover ground and water in their search for prey, using their long tongues to sense movement and scents.

These lizards are also smart in captivity, being able to recognize their keepers and owners. They can also learn to target objects, such as treats, which they can use to distract themselves while undergoing health monitoring or treatment.


The term chelonian is used by scientists to describe any reptile of the order Testudines, which includes tortoises and turtles. It’s also the name of a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation and study of these creatures.

A red-footed tortoise named Moses recently passed a maze test that proved just how smart these creatures really are. Anna Wilkinson, a comparative psychologist at the University of Lincoln in England, gave Moses a maze that featured eight spokes radiating out from a central platform. Her task was to visit each arm and snatch a strawberry without returning to one she’d already visited.

These kinds of tests can prove that tortoises are more intelligent than they’re given credit for, which is important considering how challenging their natural environment can be. For instance, these creatures spend the bulk of their lives in dense tropical rainforests. If they weren’t able to use their highly developed sense of problem solving and navigation to overcome the obstacles presented by their surroundings, survival would be impossible for them.

Phil Bevan’s depiction of a Chelonian on the cover of Prelude to The Highest Science was based on saddleback Galapagos tortoises. His design was later modified by Tony Masero for the cover of Zamper and Lee Sullivan for The Last Word. The latter illustrations feature spiked arms and a more pointed skull.