Reptiles have a reputation for being, well, cold-blooded. Unlike many mammals and birds, these animals aren’t known for the parental care they give to their offspring. Many reptiles are so hands-off that once they lay their eggs, they never return to their nest again.
However, there are some reptiles that care not only for their eggs but also for their young after they’ve hatched.
So, what are some examples of reptiles that raise their young?
While uncommon for most reptiles, King cobras, pythons, and skinks are great examples of reptile parents that protect their eggs after they’ve been laid. Some species of skinks like the Cunningham’s and Prehensile-Tailed Skinks will actually take care of their young after they’ve hatched, as well as the crocodiles, alligators, and the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes.
This article will go into detail about how each of these reptiles cares for their young, but first, we’ll discuss the difference between reptiles that give live birth and reptiles that lay eggs.
Ovoviviparous Reptiles Versus Oviparous Reptiles
Reptiles have very interesting reproductive strategies overall. Not only does their parental care looks different from mammals, but the actual act of giving birth looks very different.
Many reptiles are oviparous which means that they lay eggs. This technique is most common among reptiles. Often, reptiles will lay their eggs and leave them to hatch all on their own. This makes them a little different from birds who sit on their nests and then take care of their babies.
The other way in which reptiles have babies is a combination of egg laying and live birth. This is called ovoviviparity. Ovoviviparous animals have eggs that hatch while they are still inside their bodies. In this situation, the reptile babies can reabsorb the yolk sacs and grow a little bit larger while they’re inside their mother’s womb.
As you can imagine, ovoviviparous animals are more likely to provide parental care than oviparous animals.
If you’re curious about which reptiles lay eggs, and which reptiles give live birth, check out our article all about it here.
What Reptiles Show Parental Care?
We mentioned above that not all reptiles stay to incubate or protect their eggs, so any reptiles that do hang around their eggs are technically taking care of their young. But, even this isn’t truly considered as raising offspring. There are however a few reptiles, as we will discuss later, that do stay around and raise their young.
5 Reptiles That Stay With Their Eggs
Reptiles that stay to protect their eggs are uncommon in this group of animals. Unlike humans who may stay with their children, for the majority of their lives, reptiles are quick to leave and let their young be independent.
Reptiles that stay with their eggs do play a part in raising their young because they not only protect the eggs but also keep them warm and incubated.
Here are some of the reptiles that we consider to raise their young by the act of protecting their eggs.
1. King Cobras
King cobras are unusual reptiles that take steps to raise their young. Although king cobras don’t stay with their young after they’ve hatched, they put a great deal of effort into their eggs and nest.
A female king cobra will dig out a hole in a mound of sticks and dirt. In this cave, she’ll lay her clutch of 20 to 40 eggs. Shockingly, these snakes will stay with their eggs for about 2 – 3 months until they hatch. During this time, the mother will rise up and challenge any approaching prey, and predators to protect her eggs.
Upon hatching, the female quickly leaves the nest. It’s speculated that this is a survival trait to ensure that the hungry mother does not eat one of her own. Even though it might not seem like a lot, this is a lot of effort that goes into raising the young, for a reptile.
Pythons are special in the snake world because all members of this group of snakes incubate their eggs. Pythons are notorious for curling their bodies around their clutches of eggs. This not only provides the eggs with warmth but also gives them a layer of protection from the outside world. Pythons have been known to quail so tightly around their ass that you can’t even see the clutch beneath.
During breeding time, female, pythons, become dehydrated and emaciated, because of the time spent on the eggs. Some may leave for a short period of time during the day. It’s usually only to bask so that they can get warmer and keep their eggs toasty during the evenings.
In the video above, you can see why we consider brooding to be at least part of the behavior of raising the young for reptiles. The python is extremely protective of her eggs and clearly is caring for them.
In general, all species of skinks are brooders. Some even go on to truly raise and care for their young. All skinks stay near their nests to incubate them. They provide ambient heat and ensure that their eggs will survive hatching.
These legless lizards are reptiles that are very comfortable underground. Oftentimes, their eggs will be laid underground and they will stay with them hidden until they’ve hatched safely.
4. Asian Forest Tortoise
The Asian forest tortoise is the only herptile on our list of reptiles that raise their young. Most tortoises and turtles lay their eggs and leave the scene forever. Asian forest tortoises start raising their young before they even lay their eggs.
Weeks in advance, a female forest tortoise will collect leaves and debris to create the perfect nest. After the eggs are laid, the female stays nearby and defends them from predators. She’ll do this by pushing predators away with her scoots, or even biting at them. All the while, she is also piling the nest with more and more debris, and leaves to act as cover and camouflage.
Once the eggs hatch, the Asian forest tortoise mom disappears.
5. Oudri’s Fan-Footed Gecko
Oudri’s fan-footed gecko has an interesting technique and raising its young. These geckos will lay their eggs in communal nesting sites. Females have been shown to be more likely to lay their eggs in areas where other fresh eggs were just laid.
Both males and females of this gecko species provide protection and incubation for eggs. In lab-raised individuals, there is a higher survival rate for geckos that are in the presence of an adult than geckos that grow up alone. This may have to do with the male and female attendance of the eggs before hatching.
4 Reptiles That Raise Their Young
Finally, we’ve made it to the rare reptiles that truly raise their young. Even most of these reptiles, don’t stay with their young for a long period. However, these reptiles stay with their young after they’ve hatched, or after they’ve been born for a period of time.
1. Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes
Rattlesnakes are one of the most unlikely reptiles that raise their young. These snakes provide protection and care for up to two weeks of their juveniles’ lives. They’ll usually stay together until the first shed cycle is completed.
It’s believed that mother rattlesnakes provide warmth and act as a guardian for their small babies. It’s so important for rattlesnakes to guard their young because the smell of birth might attract predators. All adult rattlesnakes have almost no predators, the babies are nearly defenseless when they’re born.
Crocodiles and alligators are probably the best examples of reptiles that raise their young. Although these prehistoric animals don’t have the best reputation for being loving, they’re definitely the best parents in the reptile world.
Crocodiles and alligators are very attentive to their nests. They pay attention to them, and stay close by to protect them from predators. This is why it’s always important to know what an alligator nest looks like if you’re in an area around these reptiles. Other alligators and crocodiles can be vicious when protecting their eggs.
As their eggs begin to hatch, mothers also return to the nest and may help with the hatching process. After that mothers will keep their babies nearby for up to a year to help raise them to sturdy juveniles.
Mother crocodiles and alligators will carry babies in their mouths are on their backs while traveling. This is because young crocodilians are very susceptible to predators. Without an adult raising them, they may not make it far.
Unfortunately, if a baby doesn’t seem to be doing well during this time or their mother is hungry, the parents may cannibalize their own young.
3. Prehensile-Tailed Skinks
Prehensile-tailed skinks are one of the rare reptiles that give birth to live young. These lizards have a similar birthing style to many mammals. As opposed to loads of juveniles, they only birth 1 to 2 per litter.
Gestation takes a while, about 7 to 8 months. Because of the long gestation time, babies are pretty big when they’re born. They are usually about 1/3 of the size of the parents.
What’s shocking about baby skinks is that they might stay in their family groups forever, or at least until they find a new group to move onto.
Another surprising thing that these lizards do is that both the male and female will protect the young from predators. And, if a young skink doesn’t find a new family group in about a year they’re always welcome to stay in the same social circle that they were born into.
Skinks might be one of the most hands-on reptiles that raise their young.
4. Cunningham’s Skinks
In a study, it was observed that Cunningham’s skinks raise their young. Cunningham’s skinks, have a complicated social life and are usually monogamous creatures. They are also able to identify blood relatives in groups of other skinks.
As far as raising their young goes, mothers will aggressively protect their young. There are examples of adults of the species clearly intervening when a predator was trying to attack a baby.
Hopefully, we’ve satisfied your curiosity about all of the reptiles that raise their young. Most reptiles don’t spare a care for their young. However, there are a few species of reptiles that incubate and protect their eggs.
Remarkably, there are also species of reptiles that take care of their young after they’ve hatched. With further study, it’s possible that we might find even more reptiles that raise their young than we ever imagined.