What Not to Say to Reptile People

Reptile keepers are people too! And we’re just like you—only we tend to prefer scales over fur. But don’t think that we can’t relate. For example, I consider myself a “dog person,” and I was the weird horse girl in middle school.

We are a different breed, though, and I get that. If you’re not in the reptile keeping culture, making conversation with us can feel awkward. You may even feel like you’re under attack. There are a LOT of reptile myths out there, which lead to misinformation. And if you’re like most people outside the hobby, you have been victim to at least of few of them.

So to prevent awkward conversations all around, here’s a quick guide to the do’s and don’ts of conversing with reptile keepers. And keep in mind: I love and respect you all, whether your animal of choice is a dog, fish, bird, etc.

Things NOT to Say

“You’re weird.”

This phrase has better-known, shorter versions: “Ew” and “Ugh”. How would you feel if I made those comments about your pet of choice? It’s simply poor manners. But I do find it hilarious when people expect to see me cuddling a puppy or kitten, and there’s actually a lizard hanging out on my lap. Or chest. Or head. The reactions are priceless.

“How can you love and care for something that gives nothing in return?”

Granted, snakes don’t really have the brain capacity for emotion. And lizards are very simplistic. But they know who feeds and cares for them, and that creates an undeniable bond of trust. Besides, it’s like caring for an infant — how can you love and care for something that does nothing but eat, sleep, and poop? Big plus: reptiles don’t cry. 🙂

Bearded dragon snuggling with reptile keeper

“Dogs and cats are so high-maintenance. It must be nice only having reptiles; they eat only once a month, right?”

Hahaha — please. Dogs and cats have ready-made kibble for feeding, good vets are easy to find, and they can produce their own body heat. Being a reptile keeper means

  • preparing food from scratch
  • feeding regularly according to species (anywhere from daily to every 2 weeks)
  • a high electric bill
  • a higher heating bill
  • finding an exotics vet somewhere in the vicinity who actually knows more than you do

…Just to name a few. That being said, reptiles do tend to be smaller, and have vastly lower needs for interaction with humans.  This is how reptile collections are possible.

“You have snakes? What are you going to do when you have kids?”

Keep them. Naturally. You plan to keep your dog, don’t you? Have you SEEN the teeth on those things???

Comparison of dog and cat skulls

House cat (left) and dog (right) teeth and jaws are designed for crushing and tearing. Dogs in particular are known to do significant damage to humans.

Madagascar boa skull

By contrast, snake teeth are designed for simply grabbing prey and holding on.

“You know it’s going to eat you/your child/your dog/your cat when it’s older, right?”

Snakes’ jaws are not infinitely expandable, nor are their stomachs. If they eat something too big, they literally explode. So unless I’m raising an anaconda with giant genes or a cloned Titanoboa, I’m not worried. As for burmese pythons and reticulated pythons, just keep them well fed, supervise them around small children, and keep smaller hairy pets out of the way.

“What will you do when it gets 30′ long?”

You’re kidding, right? Only giant retics and prehistoric snakes get anywhere near that size. Believe it or not, each species of snake has a size limit, and most of them are under 10′. For example, my 12-year-old Dumeril’s boa will never get longer than 5.5′ long.

Dumeril's boa exploring its reptile keeper's desk

“Aren’t snakes slimy?”

You’re thinking amphibians, people — frogs, salamanders, newts. One of the requirements of being a reptile is being dry to the touch. Snakes only look slimy, but they’re actually very smooth and generally a little cold. It’s like leather.

“Turtles are amphibians, right?”

  • Do turtles have scales? Yes
  • Do turtles have gills? No

Well, that rules out amphibians (skin) and fish (gills), so they must be reptiles! And while we’re on the topic, remember that turtles live in the water and tortoises live on land. There is a difference, and they shouldn’t be mixed up.

“Is that an iguana?”

This is by far the most common question I get when I’m out with the beardies. Even my coworkers call them iguanas, even though I gave a presentation on reptile keeping a couple months ago. The fact of the matter is that iguanas are among the best-known lizards, and it’s people’s best guess. So let’s clear something up. Iguanas

  • are green/red/blue
  • have a spiky crest along their spine
  • are large

If you mistake a Chinese water dragon for one, well, I can’t blame you there.

blue, green, and red iguanas

THESE are iguanas.

“Well if it dies you can just get another.”

Is that your attitude toward the family dog/cat? Animals are animals, and a reptile’s life is just as valuable as your dog’s.

“Aren’t you worried about salmonella?”

Not really; all I do is wash my hands regularly — I’m probably healthier now than I was before. Domestic reptiles only get salmonella if they’ve been contaminated; otherwise they’re scot-free. In fact, raw chicken and cookie dough have a higher concentration of salmonella bacteria. When was the last time you ate raw cookie dough/cake batter/brownie batter? Have you disinfected your kitchen with bleach lately?

Things You Should  Say to Reptile Keepers:

  • “Hey Mariah, FYI it’s starting to smell a little like reptile again.” Oops, the air freshener must have run out. Thanks for reminding me to change that.
  • “I could never have a reptile, but it’s really cool that you like them!” Thanks! It’s really cool that you have a dog/cat/rabbit/hamster/fish/baby.
  • “I don’t know much about reptiles. What is it like?” Do you want the long version or short?
  • “Can I hold him/her?”  Of course! Let me show you how to do it properly, and then we’ll make sure you wash your hands.
  • “What would you recommend as a starter reptile?” Ooooh, excellent question. How much time do you have?
  • “Are the things they say about snakes true?” Well, let me tell you. 🙂





  1. I have just one thing to add: If you have friends who love snakes, please stop telling them stories about the snake that you or your uncle/brother/cousin/grandpa killed. We don’t want to hear about it. Thanks!

  2. Thanks Andy! So sorry to hear about your beardie. Many pet store bearded dragons come from “bedroom breeders,” people who breed reptiles without knowing what they’re doing. The result is babies with severe genetic defects or poor hatchling care that dooms them from the moment they hatch. It’s very sad and I’m sorry you had to go through that. But I admire your courage and determination to be with that little baby until the end. There needs to be more reptile keepers like you.

  3. You wrote a great article! About the point “Well, if it dies you can just get another one”. Of course you can! You don’t need permission for that, right? But the thing is, I got two beardies recently. One of them was very small, and started having problems, stopped eating, started vomiting and having trouble to breath. We don’t have even one reptile’s vet here where we live (East London, SA). I read all I could find on how to help my beardie, how to improve the conditions, how to get her to survive the bad phase. When I had nothing else to do, I phoned the petshop and asked if they knew how to help. They offered to exchange the sick one for another. I said no, because my son had choosen that little one and that was the one I wanted to care for. My husband says that it was a very stupid decision. A few days later she died, and I cried like a child. Actually I am doing it now (Again!). But the thing is, I totally agree with you. I could have exchanged her, but I didn’t want to. I would not exchange my kids or dogs if they get sick. I can buy a new one, of course I can! But that was the one I loved first. She was my responsability. The other one is fine, growing beautifully. I just wish she could be doing the same.