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Why do reptiles need to sun themselves before they can be active?

Reptiles have to sun themselves to get warm before they can be active. Why is this, considering that fish that live in cold seas like the North Sea can be active whilst cold?
Anthony J W Haigh from Cambridgeshire (Age: 55+)

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2 Responses

  1. Reptiles unlike mammals are not capable of producing heat as such other than as a byproduct of movement. They tend to go for long periods of time without food and as such don not have the “fuel” to produce heat. By absorbing solar radiation they can gain the energy required.
    Fish tend to be moving most of the time and thus generate heat as a by product of moving.

    In short reptiles are polikiotherms – they keep their body temperature at more or less the sdame as the surrounding environment.

  2. I think the answer to this is that (most) reptiles are adapted to warm conditions and the fish you mention are adapted to cold conditions. All cold-blooded animals (an outdated term scientists prefer ectothermic which means they get heat from outside their body) regulate their temperature using their behaviour; they move to warmer or cooler areas, when they need to heat up or cool down. So a tropical lizard will bask in the sun to heat up and hide in the shade to cool down. Fish do the same thing, they move to higher or lower parts of the sea where it is warmer or cooler respectively.
    Clearly not all reptiles need to bask in extreme heat in order to be active, otherwise we wouldn’t have snakes and amphibians in the UK. Our reptiles are adapted to colder British climates than their tropical cousins, but they will still need to move to warmer or cooler areas to regulate their temperature.

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