Behavior consists of all an animal's reactions to messages received by the central nervous system from any of the several sensory systems of the body. Herpetologists have been most interested in behaviors that have clear functional significance, such as behaviors involved in obtaining food, avoiding danger, finding mates, thermoregulating, and moving between microniches at alternate times of the active season (e.g., migration from hibernacula to feeding grounds and vice versa, migration from feeding grounds to oviposition sites and vice versa, and moving between feeding grounds).

For many vertebrates, vision is the most vital of all the senses, followed generally by hearing. In most reptiles, however, chemical sensitivity is as vital as vision, or more so. As in other vertebrates, olfaction is mediated by the paired nasal organs, which open to the exterior through the nostrils. In reptiles, however, additional mediators of chemical sensitivity are the paired vomeronasal organs, the openings of which are at the anterior extremity of the roof of the mouth, close to the nasal organs. In general, the nasal organs are sensitive to airborne or volatile chemicals, whereas the vomero-nasal organs are sensitive to substrate-borne or nonvolatile chemicals. Hearing air vibrations varies in importance across reptilian taxa, although there is a general sensitivity to low-frequency vibrations propagated through the substrate. Touch and taste receptors exist in reptiles, and they play important roles in mediating certain behaviors, but considerable variation exists across species. Sensitivities to polarized light, infrared radiation, and geomagnetism are known to play significant roles in some taxa, but analysis of these sensory processes is in its infancy.

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