Have you ever looked into an animal’s eyes and saw love? If you’re a pet owner, you’re probably nodding right now. but what about the phrase “crocodile tears”? Are they really sad about something? Can they feel dispair?
Do reptiles have emotions past their basic needs? Are they able to feel affection or endearment for their owners or caregivers, for instance?
People visiting Alligator Attraction often tell us how our animals look happy and are smiling at them. But are they really? In this article, we’ll explore reptile emotions or the possibility of such.
What Are Reptile Emotions?
When we talk about the question of reptiles and emotions most of us probably think about love or caring. But that’s not what we’re asking. There are actually a lot more emotions than those two. If the question is whether reptiles exhibit emotions and you’re looking at the full range of emotions, it’s easy to see some version of them in all reptiles.
The most common emotions seen in reptiles are fear and aggression. These are basic emotions that contribute to the fight or flight response. Fight or flight is how all animals process a perceived threat. They will either act aggressively and fight when they’re scared or they will run away or take flight.
A snake that is showing aggression may hiss, coil, or shake its tail. Some smaller reptiles will puff up or take a wider stance to make themselves look larger than they are. A reptile that is exhibiting fear will run, swim, or burrow away.
But what about the warm emotions like feeling love or expressing pleasure?
This becomes more difficult to prove. After all, we can’t even prove it among the human species. While we can feel love, it’s difficult to prove love. And it’s also difficult for humans to even be certain about love.
But that’s a completely different blog post.
So in order to assess whether reptiles feel love and pleasure we have to first establish how we would measure that. Obviously, they’re not sending their loved ones Valentine’s Day cards on February 14th!
Instead, we have to look at more subtle ways to assess whether they feel love or pleasure. You might recognize love or pleasure in a reptile in the following ways:
Familiarity with a Handler
For reptiles in captivity, one of the ways we might track whether they feel love or pleasure is by noting their familiarity with their caregiver. A reptile may approach a caregiver who often holds or strokes them. They may lean into that person or crawl up their arm. They generally will show trust for them and limit their aggressive behavior. We see this often in our reptiles, especially when it comes to food. These animals recognize who feeds them the most often and they anxiously await that person.
Remaining in Place
How does your dog or cat act when they are enjoying your touch? They might snuggle up to you, lean into you, and likely will rub against your hand to get you to continue should you stop. Reptiles tend to exhibit these same actions. A turtle may keep his head out of his shell around certain caregivers and close his eyes while being touched. A lizard may stretch out while being touched. While you may argue this is not love, they would likely not remain in the spot if they weren’t enjoying it.
Similar to familiarity with a handler, bonding shows a preference for an individual caregiver. This type of bonding may allow the handler to interact with the reptile in a way that the animal does not tolerate from others. For instance, one animal will let a caregiver hold them but will turn aggressive if someone else tries to do the same.
It is also possible to see a reptile exhibit aggression to another animal that tries to interact with the handler. Is that jealousy or just a way of trying to monopolize the food source? It’s difficult to say.
Now it’s your turn…
|What Do You Think?
Do reptiles have emotions beyond fear and aggression? How do you know?