Looking for the definition of a science term? You’ve come to the right spot. As I introduce new words in posts, I’ll add them here to the Science Mom Blog Glossary!

Get your scientific literacy on!


acids – substances that produce more hydrogen  (H+) ions when added to water, which deems them more “acidic”. Acids have a sour taste and can even dissolve other materials (we call that “corrosive”). They make up the lower part of the pH scale. Read more here.

amphibians – cold-blooded vertebrates, that have gills to breathe and live in water as larvae, before developing lungs to breathe air as they grow older. They have moist, slimy skin without scales, like frogs, toads, and salamanders. Read more here.

bases – substances that produce more hydroxide (OH-) when added to water, which deems them more “basic”. Bases can have a bitter taste and tend to be on the more slimy side. We also call bases “alkali” because they are “alkaline” (not acidic). They make up the higher end of the pH scale. Read more here.

chelonians – a term used to refer to all tortoises, turtles, and terrapins, because they’re all part of the taxonomic order Chelonia, which actually stems from the Greek word for tortoise. Read more here.

cold-blooded (also called ectothermicanimals – react to the temperature of their surroundings and can’t regulate their own body temperatures. Read more here.

condensation – when water vapor cools and turns back into a liquid. This is also part of the water cycle. Read more here.

ectothermic animals – see “cold-blooded animals”. Read more here.

evaporation – when water is heated and turns from its liquid form into the gas called water vapor. This is also part of the water cycle. See also: sublimation, transpiration. Read more here.

habitat – where a certain plant or animal naturally lives. Read more here.

Hermann’s tortoises – small tortoise species, popular as pets. They are named after French physician and naturalist, Johann Hermann. This species originated from the Mediterranean region in southern Europe, which is a fairly moderate habitat in terms of temperatures and moisture. Read more here.

herpetology – branch of biology/zoology that studies reptiles and amphibians. Read more here.
(Related: herper – a person who catches reptiles and amphibians in the wild as a hobby
herpetoculturist – a person who breeds and/or keeps reptiles and amphibians as a hobby or to sell them
herpetologist – a person who studies reptiles and amphibians)

pH scale – a scale which ranges from 0-14, with strong acids making up the lower part of the scale (0-4) and strong bases making up the higher part of the scale (10-14). In the middle of the pH scale is 7, which is “neutral” and is neither acidic or basic. Read more here.

precipitation – when condensed water falls back to the ground in the form of rain, hail, snow, or sleet. Read more here.

reptiles – cold-blooded vertebrates like snakes, lizards, crocodiles, and turtles. They usually have dry, scaly skin and breathe air. They also lay their soft-shelled eggs on land, instead of in the water. Read more here.

sublimation – when solid water (ice or snow) is heated and turns directly into water vapor. Read more here.

sulcata tortoises – the third largest tortoises in the world. The biggest is the galapagos tortoises, followed by the aldabra tortoise. Sulcata tortoises are also known as the African spurred tortoise because of the spurs on their thighs. They are naturally found in North Africa, along the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, down through the more arid countries (like Mali and Ethiopia) and along the coast of the Red Sea. Read more here.

terrapin – a hard-shelled, cold-blooded reptile that lives both on land and in water and usually lives along the banks or shores of a body of water. They’re often found in swampy areas. Read more here.

tortoise – a hard-shelled, cold-blooded reptile that lives on land and eats lots of different plants (weeds, grasses, shrubs, even cactus). Their feet are designed for life on land, so they’re short and stumpy. Read more here.

transpiration – water travels from the soil, through plant roots, and transpires (sweats) through the plants’ leaves to become water vapor. Read more here.

turtle – a hard-shelled, cold-blooded reptile that lives mostly in the water, although it can sometimes leave the water to bask in the sun. Turtle feet are different than tortoise feet – they’re usually webbed and better designed for swimming in water than for walking on land. Some turtles live in the ocean (like sea turtles), while others will live in fresh water. Read more here.

water cycle – the cycle that Earth’s water travels through as it moves from Earth’s surface up through the atmosphere and back down again. Read more here.