Hands Off? How to Handle a Reptilian Pet

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If holding or handling a lizard is important to you, a bearded dragon is your best choice. These lizards, though omnivorous when young, are vegetarians, dining quite happily on mixed vegetables and greens. There is nothing they enjoy more than basking under a 105-degree Fahrenheit spotlight. Once “beardeds” become accustomed to being handled, they seem to enjoy resting across a person’s warm chest, atop a warm leg or on a warm arm. (The term “warm” may play a pivotal role in this enjoyment.)

To accustom a bearded to handling, scoop it up in your hands, with one hand under the front legs and the other under the hind legs and place it on a warm surface, like your chest. Do not let go if there is any chance that the lizard could fall off.

Other lizard species are to be handled as little as possible. Some smaller types, like the day geckos, have skin so fragile that it will tear if they are restrained. (From the day gecko’s viewpoint, it’s probably better to lose some skin than be eaten, although a day gecko with torn skin is a disquieting sight.)

Handling Snakes

How snakes are handled will depend upon the kind of snake and its individual temperament. Some snakes can be lifted by hand from the outset with no display of temper at all. Some may be irascible when first encountered but will quiet as they become used to routines. Others may bite persistently and be so unpleasant that they must be moved with a snakehook or a clampstick.

Traditionally snakes have been placed in three categories: harmless (non-venomous), rear-fanged (mildly-venomous) and front-fanged (venomous). While these designations may seem definitive, they can, in fact, be very misleading. It is now known that among the so-called harmless snakes are some species that produce toxic saliva. Human fatalities have been attributed, for example, to bites from some relatives of the garter and water snakes. Additionally, many non-venomous species are powerful constrictors. A few of these are large enough to be life-threatening to humans.

Among the ranks of the “mildly-venomous” rear-fanged snakes, there are also a few species that have caused human fatalities. The bites of others have caused massive swelling and tissue destruction. The venomous species — vipers, cobra allies, and sea snakes — are aptly designated and a bite should be assiduously avoided.

With all of this potential for danger, how does one go about handling a captive snake? Simply put, the answer is carefully. Since snakes usually advertise their intent with a display of body language (coiling, flattening, drawing back into an “S” to facilitate a strike), it will behoove you to learn their habits, their silent language (as a species and as an individual) and to tailor your methods of approach and handling safely.

Unlike many other reptiles and amphibians that resist owner familiarity, many snakes can be safely and frequently handled if this is done gently. If you are new to the snake-keeping hobby, discuss the habits of the species you are keeping with other hobbyists and with employees in the dealerships that offer them. Read as much as you can about the species that most interest you.

Handling Amphibians

The first question to ask yourself when handling your amphibian is “Is

this action necessary?” Amphibians, with their permeable skin, are much more sensitive to touch than the scaly-skinned reptiles.

The skin affords little protection against dessication (drying) or against heat. The amphibian’s thin skin absorbs oxygen from the atmosphere, but the skin can also absorb anything else that it comes into contact with. If you have perfume, insecticide, hand lotion, or even soap residue on your hands and you handle an amphibian, the frog or salamander will absorb whatever is on your skin, perhaps with fatal results.

There is also the temperature differential to consider. Compared to the ambient temperature of a salamander or frog, your hands are hot. The heat from your clean hands (and the stress of being handled) can actually cause the death of a tiny frog or toad. But there are several ways to handle your amphibian with a minimum of emotional and physical stress.


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