Turtles that breathe through their genitals and miniature human-sized chameleons are among the endangered weird and wonderful reptiles according to the latest rankings by the NGO’s EDGE of Existence conservation program of ZSL (Zoological Society of London).

Regarding the launch, Rikki Gumbs, coordinator of EDGE Reptiles, said: “Reptiles are often given the short end of the stick in terms of conservation, compared with the tastes of birds and mammals. However, the EDGE Reptile List highlights just how unique, vulnerable and amazing these creatures are. From the world’s largest sea turtles to a species of blind snake found only in Madagascar, the diversity of EDGE Reptiles is breathtaking.” 

First established in 2007, they published the EDGE Lists for Amphibians, Birds, Corals, and Mammals. 

The spotlight has now turned to reptiles, resulting in a top 100 conservation priority list for a class of animals, including turtles, crocodilians, snakes, and lizards. 

Each species receives an EDGE score, which combines extinction risk with how isolated (or unusual) the species is, providing a quick guide to its evolutionary uniqueness and conservation status.

Now, it’s time for you to see how some of the most amazing reptiles on earth live and what their current state of conservation is like.

1. Nano Chameleon – Chameleon that fits on your Fingertip

Nano Chameleon - Chameleon that fits on your Fingertip
Smallest reptile on Earth | Image Credit: The Irish Times

Description

Scientific NameBrookesia nana
Discovered ByFrank Glaw
Discovered Year2021
Edge FactorSize of sunflower seed
Edge ScoreNot Yet Given
HabitatMadagascar
Conservation StatusEndangered
Current PopulationFound only 2, understudy
Threatened byHabitat loss, Deforestation

Scientists discovered a tiny new chameleon species in a stretch of rainforest in northern Madagascar. 

Called a nano-chameleon, the animal is practically the size of a sunflower seed that fits on your fingertip and maybe the smallest reptile on the planet.

Officially known as Brookesia nana or for the abbreviation B. nana, the new species is so small that it is believed to survive on a diet of mites and springtails, which hunt in the litter.

Finding such a small reptile raises interesting questions about the lower limit on vertebrate body size. It also highlights Madagascar’s surprising and extremely endangered biodiversity. 

Scientists suspect that the chameleon will soon be listed as a critically endangered species. Like other chameleons, this little reptile has a protractile tongue that it uses to catch prey. 

The creatures have found effective space in their native habitat, hunting during the day on the rainforest floor and taking refuge in the safety of blades of grass at night.

If a larger predator approaches at night, the swing of the grass stalk alerts the chameleon of danger, and the animal flees into the vegetation. 

So far, scientists have studied just two individuals of the species: a male and a female caught in 2012 during an expedition to the cold, rainy mountain range known as the Sorata massif.

Unfortunately, the future of the tiny chameleon is murky. The mountainous forest where the lizards are found is already severely degraded.

With its small size and threats to its habitat, the new chameleon species has a high chance of being classified as critically endangered by the conservation group International Union for the Conservation of Nature

2. Madagascar Big-Headed Turtle – Turtle with Unretracted Neck

Madagascar Big-Headed Turtle
Madagascar big-headed turtle perched on a rock | Image Credit – Evening Standard

Description

Scientific NameErymnochelys madagascariensis
Edge FactorThe head-on the neck is not fully retracted and goes sideways inside the carapace
Edge Score7.36
HabitatMadagascar
Conservation StatusCritically Endangered
Current Population10,000
Threatened ByAgriculture, Hunting, Habitat Loss

Turtles and tortoises are one of the oldest living reptile species that appeared about 250 million years ago. In addition, the Madagascar big-headed turtle is one of the rarest turtles in the world.

The Madagascar big-headed turtle has a hard dark brown shell in the form of a low dome that protects the soft parts of the body. The head is relatively large, brown, with yellow lateral sides. 

The size of the turtle is around 50 cm. It has an interesting feature: the head on the neck is not fully retracted and goes sideways inside the carapace, and not straight and backward, like in other species of turtles. 

The Madagascar big-headed turtle is found only on the island of Madagascar. It extends from the western lowland rivers of Madagascar: from Mangoky in the south to the Sambirano region in the north. 

It has been experiencing a severe decline in numbers estimated at 80% over the past 75 years (three generations). The decline is projected to continue at the same rate in the future. 

It is facing threats to its numbers due to the development of land for agricultural crops. Clearing forests for agriculture and timber production is destroying Madagascar’s pristine natural environment and causing severe soil erosion.

Subsequent silting of rivers and lakes has a negative impact, changing the habitat of the Madagascar big-headed turtle beyond recognition.

3. Central American River Turtle – Turtle with Leathery Shell

Central American River Turtle
Central American river turtle | Image credit – Jacksonville Zoo

Description

Scientific NameDermatemys mawii
Edge FactorLeathery Shell
Edge Score7.15
HabitatMexico, Guatemala, and Belize
Conservation StatusCritically Endangered
Current Population4081
Threatened byHunting 

As the only living representative of the Dermatemydidae family, the Central American river turtle is one of the most extraordinary animals and one of the oldest turtle species in existence. No wonder these turtles are known as ‘living fossils.

The Central American river turtle can reach 65 centimeters in its adult form. Its head is small compared to its elongated body. 

It has a characteristic, elongated, and pointed snout, on which two large nostrils stand out. Its skin has a dark gray color.

These animals have a smooth, flat, broad hoof, consistent with their body shape. The underside of the hull is usually white and clear, with no linear pattern.

While the hind legs are flat and robust, the front legs are webbed and adapted to aquatic environments. It causes this sea turtle to release itself in the water freely.

It rarely leaves this medium, even to breathe. The turtle’s movement is highly limited by its webbed feet on land. The Central American river turtle lives in large rivers and several freshwater areas, where vegetation is abundant. 

We can find it in areas of Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras. However, it is in Mexico – mainly in the state of Tabasco – that its population is highest.

Unfortunately, the biggest threat to this species is humans. For many years, this species was hunted due to its high value in the gastronomy of the regions where it is found. 

Its capture is easy since the Central American river turtle is docile and not aggressive.

4. Madagascar Blind Snake – Snake like Worms

Madagascar Blind Snake
Madagascar Blind Snake | Image Credit – Australian Museum

Description

Scientific NameXenotyphlops grandidieri
Edge FactorLike worms
Edge Score7
HabitatMadagascar
Conservation StatusCritically Endangered
Current Population15 species
Threatened byHabitat Loss and Climate Change

The blind snakes or worms that abound today in Madagascar are descended from species that inhabited some areas of Gondwana, the great block of land that occupied most of the southern hemisphere after the division of the first and only continent, Pangea.

It is the conclusion of a study published by the journal Biology Letters, whose objective was to solve the mystery about the origin of this variety of snakes, one of the few species that inhabited Madagascar when that territory separated from India 94 million years ago and they still survive today.

Blind snakes are not very attractive; they go unnoticed and are often mistaken for worms. 

They have reduced vision, so they are known as blind, and they feed on insects such as termites or ants. 

As there are no known fossils of blind snakes, it has been difficult to reconstruct their evolution and understand how they spread from one continent to another.

Madagascar’s great isolation has allowed many unique endemic animals to evolve, including this family of blind snakes, lemurs, and other rare animals. 

However, both the animals and plants of Madagascar are in danger due to the loss of their habitat. 

5. Chinese Alligator – Alligator which spends 6-7 months in Hibernation

Chinese Alligator
Chinese Alligator | Image Credit – CGTN

Description

Scientific NameAlligator sinensis
Edge FactorSmall in sizeSpends 6-7 months in hibernationBony shields on upper eyelids 
Edge Score6.87
HabitatChina
Conservation StatusCritically Endangered
Current Population92-114
Threatened byHunting 

As the name implies, the main range of this crocodile is located in China. The Chinese alligator is found on the plains of the Yangtze, Zhianggou, Zhejiang, Anhua. 

The most famous population lives in a relatively small territory of the national park in Anhui province, with minimal populations in Jianguo and Zhejiang provinces.

The Chinese alligator inhabits mainly stagnant water bodies (lakes, ponds, swamps), less often settling in slowly flowing rivers. 

But it does not like heights and never lives in water bodies above 100 m above sea level. 

In connection with the relatively harsh living conditions, this species of crocodiles has developed a rather original adaptation. 

To wait out the unfavorable seasons of the year, it spends most of the time (6-7 months) in hibernation. 

In order not to freeze in their sleep, Chinese alligators dig huge underground burrows (up to 5 m deep) with a complex system of communicating chambers.

The Chinese alligator is a relatively small crocodile, its length rarely exceeds 2 m, and its average weight is 20 kg (rarely reaches 40 kg). 

The general background of the body is slate-black, on which the crossing canary-colored stripes stand out. 

The Chinese alligator has peculiar bony shields on the upper eyelids that protect the eyes from damage. 

Because of these shields, the crocodile differs from a related species such as Mississippi, or the pike alligator (A. mississippiensis), which does not have such protection. 

The end of the muzzle of the Chinese alligator is slightly upturned; the teeth are potent and strong. 

The Chinese alligator is not dangerous to humans. It is a very cautious animal; people sometimes do not even suspect that an alligator lives next door to them.

The catastrophic decline in the number of reptiles occurs solely through man’s fault. 

Alligator organs are widely used in traditional Chinese medicine, and their skin is costly on the black market. 

If the Chinese alligators were not exterminated physically, they would get along well next to people.

6. Chinese Crocodile Lizard – Lizard Like Crocodile

Chinese Crocodile Lizard
Chinese Crocodile Lizard | Image Credit – National Zoo

Description

Scientific NameShinisaurus crocodilurus
Edge FactorTail like crocodile
Edge Score6.73
HabitatChina and Vietnam
Conservation StatusEndangered
Current PopulationLess than 1000
Threatened byHabitat Loss, Electro-Fishing and Pet Trade

The Chinese lizard crocodile, known as the “giant panda of China’s reptiles,” is a species native to the south of the country and Vietnam.

The species has been classified as an “endangered species” on the Red List of the IUCN, suffering a very high risk of extinction.

It is a 42 cm long lizard with semi-aquatic habits; it stands out for its muscular and long tail, similar to that of crocodiles, which gives it its common name. Its bony scales that run along the back are also very characteristic. 

Behind the eyes, they have pointed scales. Its coloration can vary greatly from one population to another, highlighting the white, gray, brown, cream, red, and orange colors. 

They tend to have striped patterns (especially around the eyes and mouth, which are unique to each individual) and ocelli (especially on the sides in some populations). It feeds on small animals such as snails, worms, or tadpoles. 

Loss of habitat due to deforestation is why the population of Chinese crocodile lizards is declining. 

In Vietnam, the area where a subspecies was discovered in 2003 is now in danger from logging and coal mining activities. 

In southern China, electro-fishing, a method that uses electricity to stun the catch, and fish poisoning affect younger crocodile lizards, which these practices can directly kill.

Crocodile lizards make docile and cute pets, which is why many of them are illegally captured from the wild to sell them in the international exotic pet trade market.

7. Roti Island Snake Necked Turtle – Turtle with Snake Neck

Roti Island Snake Necked Turtle
Roti Island snake Necked Turtle | Image Credit – Dreams Time

Description

Scientific NameChelodina mccordi
Edge FactorNeck like Snake
Edge Score6.61
HabitatIndonesia
Conservation StatusCritically Endangered
Current PopulationUnknown
Threatened byPet trade, Habitat Loss

The elongated neck, covered with what seems to be snakeskin with small tubercles, can confuse this turtle with a snake, which happens quite often. 

Especially when it sits in ambush somewhere in a swamp, fresh river, or lake, on a rice plantation, some subspecies can also lie in a slightly salted reservoir. 

The snake-necked turtle hides behind stones, logs, sometimes burying itself in the mud. 

So it merges with the local landscape in anticipation of insects, worms, frogs, crustaceans. The animal also hunts for recently hatched turtles.

It is carnivorous and feeds on fish, small amphibians, mammals, and mollusks. 

It hunts on the lookout by propelling her head forward. It grabs her prey with a deep breath and exhales the water. 

It is a turtle whose activity is entirely nocturnal; however, it can be seen during the day out of the water during the rainy season, which comes in November. 

It is an endemic species of a small Indonesian island, the island of Roti. Without being threatened by natural predators, the species is on the verge of extinction. 

Unfortunately, in Indonesia, it is still the victim of legal uncertainty. Indeed, Indonesian law protects the “Chelodina novaeguineae” at the national level, but not the snake neck turtle. 

Thus the management of the species falls under the neck of the local fisheries service, which sets the quotas without having the hindsight or the skills necessary to do so.

Although some forests on the island of Roti have protection that reduces the risk of tree felling, these are not areas where enough Snake-necked Turtles are found. There is, therefore, no area where its habitat is protected at the moment.

Several safeguard solutions are being considered for the species. It is, in particular, a question of creating a reproduction zone in semi-freedom, but we can’t hope for lasting results if the catches to feed the pet trade do not cease.

The decrease in the wetlands area where it lives is an important factor in decreasing population. 

However, the excessive capture of these animals makes them one of the world’s most endangered species of turtles. 

The Roti Long-necked Turtle is illegally sold in the exotic species market, fueling the international trafficking of species.

Currently categorized as a Critically Endangered species by the IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, its survival depends on immediate conservation measures and urgent intervention by parks and zoos. 

Keeping these animals out of their natural habitat and breeding them will allow, in the future, their successful reintroduction into Nature in their original habitat.

8. Pig nosed Turtle – a turtle with the snout of a pig

Pig nosed Turtle
Pig Nosed Turtle | Image Credit – Kidadl

Description

Scientific NameCarettochelys insculpta
Discovered ByJosh Lively
Discovered Year1970
Edge FactorNose like Pig’s snout
Edge score6.40
HabitatAustralia, New Guinea
Conservation StatusEndangered
Current Population3000
Threatened ByHunting and Wild Bulls

This turtle species is native to New Guinea and Australia. It is the only freshwater turtle with flipper-like legs, like marine species. 

Most unusual, however, is the creature’s nose, which resembles a pig’s snout.

Such an organ can act as a tube, allowing it to breathe without rising out of the water. 

Also, the snout is very sensitive to fluctuations in water, allowing prey to be found in turbid conditions. 

Turtles prefer shallow water bodies. Their weight can reach 20 kilograms, and the length of the shell is up to 60 centimeters. These turtles live up to 50-100 years. 

These are alert turtles that often hide in the roots of trees, thickets of plants, and under fallen trees. 

The pig-nosed turtle is omnivorous but prefers to feed on plants (fruits of mangroves). They also feed on leaves and flowers, mollusks, insect larvae, and crustaceans.

These turtles are aggressive, especially towards other species of turtles. They are quite curious and often explore the environment that surrounds them.

The color of these turtles ranges from gray to brown, the back is colored in shades of yellow, and the belly is almost white. Males turtles can be distinguished from females by the size of their tails.

Currently, the population of the pig-nosed turtle in nature is sharply declining. 

One of the causes of its disappearance is hunting turtles by local tribes for their meat and eggs. 

The second reason is wild bulls that use the same water that this species lives in. Bulls also trample nests and vegetation that turtles feed on. 

But it is the last representative of an ancient species that lived on Earth 140 million years ago. 

It’s a good thing that Australia and Indonesia have recently taken measures to protect such an amazing species.

9. Chinese Soft Shell Turtle – a turtle without Shell

Chinese Soft Shell Turtle
Chinses soft shell | Image Credit – iNaturalist

Description

Scientific NamePelodiscus sinensis
Edge FactorNo Shell
Edge Score6.39
HabitatChina, Spain, Brazil, Hawaii, Guam, Japan, and several other Asian countries. 
Conservation StatusVulnerable
Current PopulationPopulation declining
Threatened ByHabitat Loss, Pollution, and Poaching

The Chinese softshell boasts the absence of a shell as such. Instead, it has globular, leathery growths on its back. 

These turtles reach a length of just over 30 centimeters and feed on various prey. 

One of their distinguishing features is urination through the mouth. This process occurs when the turtle is immersed in water. 

Thus, it controls the amount of fluid in the body and prevents the accumulation of large amounts of salt, which is important for marine inhabitants.

It is endemic to China and is also found in many other countries, namely Spain, Brazil, Hawaii, Guam, Japan, and several other Asian countries. 

They are currently bred in large numbers for feeding on over 1400 farms across Asia. 

It is considered a vulnerable species in the wild due to habitat loss, pollution, and poaching for food markets. 

Chinese softshell turtles live in fresh, brackish water. In China, these turtles are found in slow-flowing rivers, lakes, ponds, canals, and streams, and in Hawaii, they are found in swamps and drainage ditches.

They have an extremely elongated neck and a snorkel-shaped muzzle, which allows them to stay submerged and still breathe, keeping their nostrils out of the water. 

They are animals predominantly with carnivorous habits, feeding fish, crustaceans, amphibians, and mollusks. In Europe, this turtle is a popular pet. 

In captivity, this species eats canned and fresh fish, canned food for dogs, raw meat, rats, frogs, and chicken; they do not usually like turtle food. They can cause a painful bite if provoked.

10. Mary River Turtle – a turtle with green hair 

Mary River Turtle
Mary River Turtle | Image CreditCultura Colective

Description

Scientific NameElusor macrurus
Discovered Year1994
Edge FactorGreen hair on its head
Edge Score5.91
HabitatQueensland, Australia
Conservation StatusEndangered
Current Population10,000
Threatened byPet Trade

One of the unique external features of the Mary River Turtle is its tuft of green hair. It is nothing more than algae growing above the shell. 

Sometimes this turtle looks like a punk; it has a long tail and antennae under the lower jaw. 

It is one the fastest swimmers among the representatives of its class in the region and can breathe underwater only through the cloaca for up to three days. 

The turtle is endemic to the Mary River in Queensland, Australia. Notably, it was kept as a pet in Australia for over 20 years before being formally described as a new species.

This characteristic species of freshwater turtle was only described by scientists in 1994. It was discovered in the Mary River deep in the Brisbane region. 

It is likely the largest freshwater turtle, which is intriguing since herpetologists have not noticed it for a long time.

The Mary River turtle remained the only representative of the oldest genus that once lived in Australia; today, it is one of the unique turtles in the world in several ways.

Scientists in Australia have been trying to get real steps from their government to save the Mary River turtles since 2001. 

In the absence of government funding, conservation experts finally admitted to journalists interested in them that they were offering the population to buy tortoise-shaped chocolates and were receiving help from abroad – from an Arab prince and one of the scientific societies in Stockholm. 

According to estimates, about 40 thousand dollars a year will be enough for successful conservation programs for the Mary River turtles – protecting their habitats and parallel scientific research of the species.

Conclusion

These reptiles may cause mixed reactions in us; however, they are a strong connection between humanity and ancient dinosaurs. They are incredibly strong, dangerous, and cute while existing as the best example of animal adaptation to the environment. 

Comparison Table Of Edge Reptiles

RankReptileEdge FactorEdge ScoreHabitatConservation StatusThreatened By
1Nano ChameleonSize of Sunflower SeedNewly FoundMadagascarEndangeredHabitat Loss
2Madagascar Big-Headed TurtleUnretracted Head7.36MadagascarCritically EndangeredAgriculture
Hunting
Habitat Loss
3Central American River TurtleLeathery Shell7.15MexicoGuatemalaBelizeCritically EndangeredHunting
4Madagascar Blind SnakeLike Worms7MadagascarCritically EndangeredHabitat LossClimate Change
5Chinese Alligator6-7 months in Hibernation6.87ChinaCritically EndangeredHunting
6Chinese Crocodile LizardTaillike crocodile6.73China and VietnamEndangeredHabitat LossElectro-FishingPet Trade
7Roti Island Snake Necked TurtleNeck like snake6.61IndonesiaCritically EndangeredPet trade, Habitat Loss
8Pig Nosed TurtleNose like a pig snout6.40Australia, New GuineaEndangeredHunting Wild Bulls
9Chinese Soft Shell TurtleNo Shell6.39Brazil, Hawaii, China, JapanVulnerableHabitat Loss Pollution Poaching
10Mary River TurtleGreen Hair on Head5.91AustraliaEndangeredPet Trade

Ankur Pradhan holds a bachelor’s degree in education and health and three years of content writing experience. Addicted to online creative writing, she puts some of what she feels inside her stormy heart on paper. She loves nature, so she is trying to motivate people to switch to alternative energy sources through her articles.