Reptiles have a bad reputation. Over the centuries, myths ranging from slightly incorrect to outlandishly ridiculous have emerged. Although modern reptile research and the recent popularity of the exotic pet hobby has proven these myths false several times over, they continue to damage reptile conservation efforts and contribute to animal abuse.
Myth: Any snake can grow 30′ long.
Fact: Just like humans, snakes’ adult size is influenced by their genetics. A human with 5′ parents doesn’t grow to be 7′, and snakes who generally grow 4′ long can’t get 10′ long.
Myth: Reptiles only grow as large as their cage allows.
Fact: Again, reptiles’ size is influenced by their genetics, not by their environment. Iguanas kept in a 10-gallon tank will grow to the same size (4′-6′ long) as an iguana with its own bedroom. Conversely, a green anole kept in a 100-gallon tank will stay the same size as an anole in a 10-gallon tank.
Myth: Snakes of any size can and will kill humans.
Fact: Snakes kill to eat, not for sport (unlike some humans), and they can’t eat humans. Furthermore, this myth refers to constrictor-type snakes, and not all snakes constrict their prey. Relatively few constricting species get large enough to potentially harm humans, and death by this means is rare, usually due to the human using poor husbandry or handling technique. I repeat, snakes don’t eat humans—no matter what your mother/grandfather/friend of a friend/local newspaper insists to the contrary.
Myth: Snakes measure potential prey items.
Fact: Snakes are ambush predators (meaning that they don’t plan their meals), and they definitely aren’t smart enough to do the math required to measure objects. There’s a very popular story going around about some girl whose snake stopped eating when she started letting it sleep with her, and then the vet said it was “measuring” her and planning to devour her. This story is 100% fiction and a ridiculous MYTH.
Myth: Reptiles make good pets for boys, but not girls.
Fact: Reptiles are suitable pets for both boys and girls! Boys may seem to take more interest in reptiles as children, but that is because girls are conditioned by society to like things that are traditionally cute, fluffy, frilly, pink, etc. At least half of the reptile people I know are women, and they love their reptiles just as much or more than their male counterparts.
Myth: Reptiles make good pets for young children.
Fact: Reptiles are very high-maintenance. If you’re looking for an easy pet to teach your child responsibility, a reptile isn’t it. Actually, no animal is. Encourage them to practice on a stuffed animal or other toy first. Reptiles are exotic animals with very specific husbandry requirements to keep them healthy, and they are only suitable for people with the means and willingness to research and accommodate those needs.
Myth: Komodo dragons aren’t venomous.
Fact: Actually, they are. This one has gone back and forth, but recent research has revealed venom glands in Komodo dragons’ gums, secreting venom into their saliva. They kill their prey with said venom—not toxic bacteria.
Myth: Snakes only need to eat 1x-2x yearly.
Fact: Snakes should be fed every 1-3 weeks, depending on age, meal size, and species. Although they sometimes go long periods of time in the wild between meals, this is not ideal. Just like humans, smaller, frequent meals are healthier than large, rare meals.
Myth: Snakes are evil.
Fact: Snakes are just animals, neither inherently good nor evil. Rumors that snakes are demons or that they are manifestations of the devil are religious superstition and no more. In fact, if I were to call any animal evil, it would be humans.
Myth: Snakes don’t have bones.
Fact: Snakes are vertebrates. “Vertebrate” means that they have a spine, and that means they have bones. Most of those bones are vertebrae and ribs, with approximately 400-800 rib bones!
Myth: Snakes can live “ethically” on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Fact: Snakes are obligate carnivores. As in, they need the nutrients from eating whole animals in order to live. Vegetarian and vegan alternatives will put them on a path of dying slowly and painfully due to severe malnutrition. And for the record, corn snakes don’t eat corn and milk snakes don’t drink milk.
Myth: Turtles and tortoises can’t feel their shell.
Fact: Turtles and tortoises can feel their shells very well! Just because your head is hard doesn’t mean you can’t feel it; the same goes for turtles and tortoises. Practices such as drilling a hole in the shell to install a leash or handle, or even knocking on the shell, is extremely painful for the animal.
Myth: Reptiles need friends and playtime to be happy.
Fact: Reptiles love being alone. As long as they have a clean terrarium, fresh water, the right food, and enough space to exercise, they are happy. They don’t need roommates (this actually makes them unhappy) or daily playtime. Anyone who says otherwise is just making excuses.
Myth: All snakes are venomous.
Fact: Only 17-20% of known snake species are venomous. Although 20% may seem like a large number, this includes species like the western hognose and garter snake, whose venom is harmless to humans. All snakes available in the pet trade are either nonvenomous or harmless.
Myth: Reptiles bite.
Fact: Most reptiles prefer to flee and/or hide as a defense mechanism against threats. If fleeing is not an option, they will make threat displays such as gaping, making themselves appear larger, or charging.
Myth: Reptiles don’t bite.
Fact: Reptiles have mouths, which means that they can bite. If sufficiently threatened, reptiles will bite humans as a means of telling us to “back off!” It all boils down to respecting their personal space. Humans can bite, too—it’s just not socially acceptable.
Myth: Snakes are just lizards without legs.
Fact: Snake and lizard physiology are very different. It’s true that snakes evolved from a lizard-like creature that had legs, and they are also biologically classified as lizards (in the same way birds are technically classified as reptiles). However, snakes are more than just lizards without legs; they have different digestive mechanisms, different musculature, and other physiological distinctions. Learn more in this comparison between snakes and legless lizards.
Myth: Snakes chase people.
Fact: Snakes run away from people. To snakes, we are titanic potential predators. They think we’re going to eat them, and naturally, they’d rather stay alive. So they do move in the presence of humans, but it’s toward their den or hidey-hole. Usually when people claim they were chased by a snake, they’re just mad because a snake startled them.
Myth: Releasing a pet reptile into the “wild” is a humane way to get rid of it.
Fact: It’s actually very inhumane; reptiles are classified as exotic animals because they have been removed from their native environment. When a human decides they don’t want their pet anymore and dumps it in the wild, that does not guarantee the animal a “happily ever after.” In fact, you’ve just doomed that reptile to a slow, painful death. Of course, in areas like Florida, reptiles do live and thrive. But there they become an invasive species, upsetting the balance of nature in that area, which isn’t humane or responsible.
Myth: Chameleons change color to blend with their surroundings.
Fact: Chameleons change color to communicate. Certain colors or patterns may mean that they’re cold, not feeling well, to tell an intruder to get out of its territory, or even to signal that they’re pregnant. They don’t, however, change color to blend with their surroundings. (The only exception to this is the dwarf chameleon, which will match its background to avoid potential predators.)
Myth: Calci-sand is a good source of calcium.
Fact: Calci-sand belongs in the trash. This and other similar products (vita-sand, repti-sand, etc) claim to be “fortified” with calcium and other vitamins that easily dissolve if ingested, making them the “healthiest” substrate for reptiles. This is absolute nonsense. Calci-sand is well documented as causing impaction (read: not dissolving) in reptiles, causing many unnecessary deaths. Because it impacts reptiles, they don’t get the benefit of those added vitamins and minerals, and lose the ability to digest their real food.
Myth: Reptiles always give you salmonella.
Fact: The chicken you ate for dinner last night is more likely to poison you. Reptiles can give humans salmonella, but only in very rare cases. With frequent hand washing, good husbandry, and regular tank cleaning, reptiles are extremely unlikely to give their humans salmonella. For a more in-depth discussion on reptiles and salmonella, read this blog post.
Source: BriannaTheStrange on Tumblr (SnakeSneakers)
What other reptile myths make your skin crawl? Add them in the comments below!
Don’t forget to subscribe to ReptiFiles’ mailing list for more great posts!