Do snakes bond with their care givers?

09 August 2016

Question

Do reptiles show recognition or bonding to caregivers? What about amphibians? Is the preference of a particular caregiver something unique to mammals, or is it related to intelligence level rather than type of animal? If a snake had a blond, 5'4, and slender caregiver named Anna, would the snake show preference unilaterally for humans of a similar profile and build? Or would they specifically identify and show preference for Anna?

Answer

We put this to Eleanor Drinkwater, from the University of Cambridge...

Eleanor - Well, the cool thing about this is no-one's ever done any studies on this at all. So, I called up one of my friends called Dr Miller, who's currently in Honduras taming baby jaguars (as one does), and what his view was. First of all snakes tend to have a terrible sense of eyesight so they wouldn't be able to tell that Anna was blonde and beautiful. However, they do have this amazing sense of taste. So they kind of stick their tongues out and taste whatever particles are floating around the place, so it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that they could tell Anna from Jacob, or Jason, or whoever else is hanging around the place.

However, the really interesting thing though is with a few wonderful exceptions, including iguanas, most reptiles tend to be pretty a-social. They're not like dogs that are pack animals and they want to hang out together, whereas snakes don't really care. So the thing is there's probably no pressure for the snake to form a bond with Anna because there's not real kind of bonding with snakes in the wild.

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