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REPTILES (Lat. Reptilia, creeping thi...

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Originally appearing in Volume V23, Page 137 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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REPTILES (Lat. Reptilia, creeping things, from reptilis; ref ere, to creep; Gr. Ep7rety, whence the term " herpetology," for the science dealing with them). In the days before Linnaeus, writers comprised the animals which popularly are known as tortoises and turtles, crocodiles, lizards and snakes, frogs and toads, newts and salamanders, under the name of oviparous quadrupeds or four-limbed animals which lay eggs. Linnaeus, desirous of giving expression to the extraordinary fact that many of these animals pass part of their life in the water and part on land,' substituted the name of Amphibia for the ancient term. Subsequent French naturalists (Lyonnet2 and Brisson3) considered that the creeping mode of locomotion was a more general characteristic of the class than their amphibious habits, and consequently proposed the scarcely more appropriate name of Reptiles. As naturalists gradually comprehended the wide gap existing between frogs, toads, &c., on the one hand, and the other oviparous quadrupeds on the other, they either adopted the name of Batrachia for the former and that of Amphibia for the latter, or they restricted the term Amphibia to Batrachians, calling the remainder of these creatures reptiles. Thus the term Amphibia, as used by various authors, may apply (I) to all the various animals mentioned, or (2) to Batrachians only (see BATRACIIIA). The term Reptiles. (Reptilia) is used (I) by some for all the animals mentioned above, and (2) by others, as in the present article, for the same assemblage of animals after the exclusion of Batrachians. Equally varying are the limits of the term Saurians, which occurs so frequently in every scientific treatise on this subject. At first it comprised living crocodiles and lizards only, with which a number of fossil forms were gradually associated. As the characters and affinities of the latter became better known, some of them were withdrawn from the Saurians, and at present it is best to abandon the term altogether. I. HISTORY OF HERPETOLOGY Certain kinds of reptiles are mentioned in the earliest written records or have found a place among the fragments of the oldest relics of human art. Such evidences, however, form no part of a succinct review of the literature of the subject such as it is proposed to give here. We distinguish in it six periods: (1) the Aristotelian; (2) the Linnaean (formation of a class Amphibia, in which reptiles and Batrachians are mixed); (3) the period of the elimination of Batrachians as one of the reptilian orders (Brongniart); (4) that of the separation of reptiles and Batrachians as distinct subclasses; (5) that of the recognition of a class Reptilia as part of the Sauropsida (Huxley); (6) that of the discovery of fossil skeletons sufficiently well preserved to reveal, in its general outlines, the past history of the class. 1. The Aristotelian Period.—Aristotle was the first to deal with the reptiles known to him as members of a distinct portion Aristotle. of the animal kingdom, and to point out the character- istics by which they resemble each other and differ from other vertebrate and invertebrate animals. The plan of his ' " Polymorpha in his amphibiis natura duplicem vitam plerisque concessit." 2 Theologie des insectes de Lesser (Paris, 1745), i. 91, note 5. a Regne animal divise en neuf classes (Paris, 1756).work, however, was rather that of a comparative treatise of the anatomical and physiological characters of animals than their systematic arrangement and definition, and his ideas about the various groups of reptiles are not distinctly expressed, but must be gleaned from the terms which he employs. Moreover, he paid less attention to the study of reptiles than to that of other classes. This is probably due to the limited number of kinds he could be acquainted with, to which only very few extra-European forms, like the crocodile, were added from other sources. But while we find in some respects a most remarkable accuracy of knowledge, there is sufficient evidence that he neglected everyday opportunities of information. Thus, he has not a single word about the 'metamorphoses of Batrachians, which he treats of in connexion with reptiles. Aristotle makes a clear distinction between the scute or scale of a reptile, which he describes as 4otis, and that of a fish, which he designates as Xesris. He mentions reptiles (I) as oviparous quadrupeds with scutes, viz. Saurians and Chelonians; (2) as oviparous apodals, viz. Snakes; (3) as oviparous quadrupeds without scutes, viz. Batrachians. He considered the first and second of these three groups as much more nearly related to each other than to the third. Accurate statements and descriptions are sadly mixed with errors and stories of, to our eyes, the most absurd and fabulous kind. The most complete accounts are those of the crocodile (chiefly borrowed from Herodotus) and of the chameleon, which Aristotle evidently knew from personal observation, and had dissected himself. The other lizards mentioned by him are the common lizards (oabpa), the common seps (XaXKis or "iyvis) and the gecko (& rKa\af3iarr7s or KopSGAos). Of snakes (of which he generally speaks as 6cbcs) he knew the vipers (ix s or EXLSva), the common snake (iibpos), and the blindworm (rv4 XIv77s &ins), which he regards as a snake; he further mentions the Egyptian cobra and dragons (Sp&Kwv) —North-African serpents of fabulous size. Of Chelonians he describes in a perfectly recognizable manner land tortoises (XeXc,vn), freshwater turtles (Eµbs) and marine turtles (Xe) c.'vn 7) &A an-La). Passing over eighteen centuries, we find the knowledge of reptiles to have remained as stationary as other branches of natural history, perhaps even more so. The reptile fauna of Europe was not extensive enough to attract the energy of a Belon or Rondelet; popular prejudice and the difficulty of preserving these animals deterred from their study; nor was man sufficiently educated not to give implicit credence to the fabulous tales of reptiles in the 15th and 16th centuries. The art of healing, however, was developing into a science based upon rational principles, and consequently not only those reptiles which formed part of the materia media; but also the venomous snakes became objects of study to the physician, though the majority of the writers were ignorant of the structure of the venom-apparatus, and of the distinction between non-venomous and venomous snakes. Nothing can show more clearly the small advance made by herpetology in this long post-Aristotelian period than a glance at the celebrated work, De Diferentiis Animalium wotton. Libri decem (Paris, 1552), by Edward Wotton (1492 1555)• Wotton treats of the reptiles which he designates as Quadrupedes oviparae et Serpentes in the sixth book of his work. They form the second division of the Quadrupedes quae sanguinem habent, and are subdivided in the following " genera ": Crocodilus et scincus (cap. cv.) ; Testudinum genera (cvi.) ; Ran-arum genera (cvii.); Lacertae (cviii.); Salamandra et seps quadrupes (cix.); Stellio (cx.); Chamaeleo (cxi.); Serpentes (cxii.), a general account, the following being different kinds of serpents: Hydrus et alii quidam serpentes aquatiles (cxiii.); Serpentes terrestres et primo aspidum genera (cxiv.) ; Vipera, dipsas, cerastes, et hammodytes (cxv.) ; Haemorrhus, sepedon, seps, cenchris, et cenchrites (cxvi.) ; Basiliscus et alii quidam serpentes quorum venenum remedio caret (exvii.) ; Draco, amphisbaena, et alii quidam serpentes quorum morsus minus afert periculi (cxviii.). Wotton's work might with propriety be termed " Aristoteles redivivus." The plan is the same, and the observations of the Greek naturalist are faithfully, sometimes literally, reproduced. It is surprising that even the reptiles of his native country were most imperfectly known .to the author. With the enlargement of geographical knowledge that of reptiles was also advanced, as is sufficiently apparent from the Johnston. large encyclopaedic works of Gesner, Aldrovandi and Johnston. The last-named author especially, who published the various portions of his Natural History in the middle of the 17th century, was able to embody in his compilations notices of numerous reptiles observed by Francisco Hernandez in Mexico and by Marcgrave and Piso in Brazil. As the author had no definite idea of the Ray-Linnaean term " species," it is not possible to give the exact number of reptiles mentioned in his work. But it may be estimated at about fifty, not including some marine fishes and fabulous creatures. He figures (or rather reproduces the figures of) about forty—some species being represented by several figures. 2. Linnaean Period: Formation of a Class Amphibia.— Within the century which succeeded these compilatory works Precur- (1650—175o) fall the labours which prepared the way sors of for and exerted the greatest influence on Ray and Linnaeus. Linnaeus. Although original researches in the field of herpetology were limited in extent and in number, the authors had freed themselves from the purely literary or scholastic tendency. Men were no longer satisfied with reproducing and commenting on the writings of their predecessors; the pen was superseded by the eye, the microscope and the knife, and statements were tested by experiment. This spirit of the age manifested itself, so far as the reptiles are concerned, in Chara's and Redi's admirable observations on the viper, in Major's and Vallisnieri's detailed accounts of the anatomy of the chameleon, in the researches of Jacobaeus into the metamorphoses of the Batrachians and the structure of lizards, in Dufay's history of the development of the salamander (for Batrachians are invariably associated with reptiles proper); in Tyson's description of the anatomy of the rattle-snake, &c. The natural history collections formed by institutions and wealthy individuals now contained not merely skins of crocodiles or serpents stuffed and transformed into a shape to correspond with the fabulous descriptions of the ancient dragons, but, with the discovery of alcohol as a means of preserving animals, reptiles entire or dissected were exhibited for study; and no opportunity was lost of obtaining them from travellers or residents in foreign countries. Fossils also were now acknowledged to be remains of animals which had lived before the Flood, and some of them were recognized as those of reptiles. The contributions to a positive knowledge of the animal kingdom became so numerous as to render the need of a methodical arrangement of the abundance of new facts more and more pressing. Of the two principal systematic attempts made in this period the first ranks as one of the most remarkable steps of the progress of natural history, whilst the second can only be designated as a signal failure, which ought to have been a warning to .all those who in after years classified animals in what is called an, " artificial system." As the latter attempt, originating with Klein (1685-1759), did not exercise any further influence on herpetology, it will be sufficient to have merely Ray. mentioned it. John Ray (1628-1705) had recognized the necessity of introducing exact definitions for the several categories into which the animals had to be divided, and he maintained that these categories ought to be characterized by the structure of animals, and that all zoological knowledge had to start from the " species " as its basis. His definition of reptiles as " animalia sanguinea pulmone respirantia cor unico tantum ventriculo instructum habentia ovipara " fixed the class in a manner which was adopted by the naturalists of the succeeding hundred and fifty years. Nevertheless, Ray was not a herpetologist; his knowledge of reptiles is chiefly derived from the researches of others, from whose accounts, however, everything not based upon reliable demonstration is critically excluded. He begins with a chapter treating of frogs (Rana, with two species), toads (Bufo, with one species) and 23tortoises' (Tesludo, with fourteen species). The second group comprises the Lacertae, twenty-five in number, and includes the salamander and newts; and the third the Serpentes, nine species, among which the limbless lizards are enumerated. Except in so far as he made known and briefly characterized a number of reptiles, our knowledge of this class was not advanced by Linnaeus. That he associated in the Linnaeus. 12th edition cartilaginous and other fishes with the reptiles under the name of Amphibia Nantes was the result of some misunderstanding of an observation by Garden, and is not to be taken as a premonitory token of the recent discoveries of the relation between Batrachians and fishes. Linnaeus places reptiles, which he calls Amphibia, as the third class of the animal kingdom; he divides the genera thus:
End of Article: REPTILES (Lat. Reptilia, creeping things, from reptilis; ref ere, to creep; Gr. Ep7rety, whence the term " herpetology," for the science dealing with them)
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