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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
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.
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
"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.
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
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.
ABOUT PET TALK
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& Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be
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