Section Summary

The amniotes are distinguished from amphibians by the presence of a terrestrially adapted egg protected by four extra-embryonic membranes. The amniotes include reptiles, birds, and mammals. The early amniotes diverged into two main lines soon after the first amniotes arose. The initial split was into synapsids (mammals) and sauropsids. Sauropsids can be further divided into anapsids and diapsids (crocodiles, dinosaurs, birds, and modern reptiles).

Reptiles are tetrapods that ancestrally had four limbs; however, a number of extant species have secondarily lost them or greatly reduced them over evolutionary time. For example, limbless reptiles (e.g., snakes) are classified as tetrapods, because they descended from ancestors with four limbs. One of the key adaptations that permitted reptiles to live on land was the development of scaly skin containing the protein keratin, which prevented water loss from the skin. Reptilia includes four living clades of nonavian organisms: Crocodilia (crocodiles and alligators), Sphenodontia (tuataras), Squamata (lizards and snakes), and Testudines (turtles). Currently, this classification is paraphyletic, leaving out the birds, which are now classified as avian reptiles in the class Reptilia.