Tag Archives: Reptiles as pets

Reptile Emotions

Reptile Emotions

When thinking of reptiles, the image that comes to the minds of most people can vary from a garter snake slithering through the grass to lizards of Jurassic proportions roaming the earth. The idea of bonding with such creatures may seem creepy, or even impossible, yet some people insist that their reptiles know them and enjoy being with them. Can reptiles feel or portray emotions?

Generally, reptiles do demonstrate basic emotions. According to Dr. Sharman Hoppes, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, the main two are fear and aggression, but they may also demonstrate pleasure when stroked or when offered food.

“A snake that is feeling aggressive may warn you with a hiss,” states Dr. Hoppes. “This can occur when you are forcing your attention on the snake, and if you persist, they may strike out. Typically snakes hiss or coil when they are feeling hostile, but most pet snakes are not aggressive animals unless threatened.”

A reptile that is feeling fear may simply try to get away, but it can also exhibit actions similar to aggression. For this reason, it is a good idea to keep handling sessions with a new reptile to a minimum until it gets used to you. Otherwise, you may scare it into striking at you, a perceived threat. It is better to have a good session without upsetting the animal that lasts two minutes than a longer session trying to force a reptile to accept you.

Corn SnakeA more controversial emotion in reptiles is the concept of pleasure, or even love.  Many feel that they have not developed this emotion, as it does not naturally benefit them. However, most reptiles do seem to recognize people who frequently handle and feed them.

“I don’t know if it is love,” says Dr. Hoppes, “but lizards and tortoises appear to like some people more than others. They also seem to show the most emotions, as many lizards do appear to show pleasure when being stroked.”

Another interesting fact is that while many reptiles lay their eggs and then leave their young to fend for themselves, some, such as prehensile-tailed skinks, form family groups and protect their young. Female alligators also stay with their young and will guard them for up to six months, teaching them survival skills and vocalizing with them through a series of grunts. Whether this is due to a survival instinct or concern for their individual offspring is unknown.

1-photo 3 (3)When it comes to interactions with humans, some reptiles do seem to enjoy their company. A tortoise that enjoys being petted might stick its neck out or close it eyes and become still and calm during the interaction. The same is true of lizards.

“Some reptiles do appear to enjoy human contact,” adds Dr. Hoppes, “especially when food is offered. Many will respond to feeding times, coming to certain people they associate with food. And certainly most iguanas prefer certain people over others.”

Iguanas have individual personalities that can vary from tranquil and laid-back to aggressive and dominating. The latter can be very difficult to live with and care for. The more calm iguanas, however, tend to bond with their person but may only endure handling by that individual. It is the rare iguana who is social with strangers.

Many reptile owners believe that their personal reptiles do recognize the good intentions they have towards them. Others deem that their cold-blooded dependents only tolerate them when they have to and would prefer to be left alone. By careful observation and handling of your reptiles, you can determine which are more social and which may not be quite so impressed with having a human as a best friend.


Reposted from the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University Pet Talk web site on August 18, 2011.  Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at http://tamunews.tamu.edu.

HSUS Position on Keeping Reptiles

The article below is HSUS’s written, published opinion that no reptiles should be kept as pets and is from the HSUS web site.

September 25, 2009

Live Reptile Trade
The reptile trade puts human health, the environment, and the animals at risk
The Humane Society of the United States

The recent explosion in the popularity of pet reptiles—the number topped 13 million in 2009, according to the American Pet Products Association—is bad news for people, reptiles, and the environment.

Hazardous pets

People who buy reptiles as pets get more than they bargained for. Virtually all reptiles (even healthy ones) carry Salmonella bacteria. This doesn’t cause a problem for the animals, but for humans, it can be deadly. In humans, salmonellosis causes diarrhea, vomiting, and fever, and may develop into invasive illnesses such as meningitis and sepsis. Children and the elderly are especially at risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 74,000 people each year get salmonellosis from reptiles and amphibians, which means 6% of Salmonellacases in the United States can be linked to these animals.

For the sake of human health, the CDC recommends that reptiles be kept out of households that include children and people with compromised immune systems, and that children and immunocompromised people avoid all contact with reptiles and items the animals have touched. Direct contact with a reptile is not necessary to become sick; Salmonella bacteria can live for days on surfaces.

Because of the health risk, it is illegal to sell small turtles (those with a shell length of less than 4 inches) as pets in the United States. The CDC reports that this ban prevents an additional 100,000 cases of salmonellosis among children each year.

Reptiles pose a threat beyond disease transmission. Snakes and lizards, often sold as hatchlings, can reach six feet or more—posing a physical threat to humans and companion animals. Even small turtles can outgrow their tanks, and their welcome.

A hazardous trade

While many pet reptiles are bred in captivity, many are still taken from the wild or born of wild-caught parents. Each year nearly 2 million live reptiles are imported into the United States, and about 9 million are exported. This poorly regulated trade leaves behind depleted wild populations and damaged habitats. Brute force or gasoline may be used to rouse reptiles from their burrows.

Harsh capture techniques, compounded by poor shipping methods and inadequate care, kill many reptiles before they reach the pet store or dealer. An estimated 90 percent of wild-caught reptiles die in their first year of captivity because of physical trauma prior to purchase or because their owners cannot meet their complex dietary and habitat needs.

Marketed as low-maintenance pets, reptiles are often taken home by families who become overwhelmed by the level of care required. Some reptiles will be abandoned to the wild, where many of them will die from starvation, exposure, or predation. Those who survive often compete with native wildlife for food and habitat, damaging the balance of the ecosystem. Others will be relinquished to shelters, which are not usually equipped to handle these unique animals and which have few options for placing them.

For public health, conservation, and humane reasons, The HSUS recommends that the general public forgo pet reptiles. Wild animals are best left in the wild where they belong.