Herp Queries: Use Good Judgment With Children And Reptiles

It’s necessary for kids to learn such things “gently” in order to dodge more serious ones that will surely come along later in life.


Question: Why do I never see warnings about big turtles (except as possible carriers of Salmonella)? They can bite or injure by stepping on you with their huge feet. Big land turtles can be especially dangerous when they try to bite the feet and toes of children. The biggest ones might also crush a child’s foot if stepped on. You should warn everyone of this potential danger, along with the hazards of giant constricting snakes and alligators as pets. It’s our job to protect children from these kinds of things.

Jacqueline Podolsky, Syracuse, NY

tortoise and child

bill love

My 6-year-old granddaughter wisely kept an eye on what she was doing while feeding an adult sulcata tortoise a pad of spineless cactus. I supervised her closely while snapping this photo, of course.

Answer:  I will agree with the possibility of injury via all the things you listed. Nearly every animal on the planet is capable of causing injury if a young child isn’t monitored closely in their presence. But I draw the line at making it an issue of major concern like it’s yet another looming threat over which to live in constant dread.

Kids are going to accumulate their share of nicks and bruises growing up, and some are going to come via domestic animals and pets that live around us. Goats tug at hair in petting zoos, calves and hogs step on feet at state fairs, rabbits nip fingers stuck into cages. Small injuries and scares are part of life, and they are actually important in imparting life’s lessons.

As herp keepers, we usually recognize the special ways our favorite animals can misbehave. We know that even a corn snake or ball python rarely bites. But we also calculate the risk of handing one to a small child with the knowledge that the worst that can happen if one does bite is a row of tiny pinpricks that merely break the skin in a very minor way. Such a mini trauma will pass harmlessly in the scheme of life and impart a valuable life lesson. It’s necessary for kids to learn such things “gently” in order to dodge more serious ones that will surely come along later in life.

Bill Love photographs herps in nature, writes and lectures. He assists his wife, Kathy, with her business, CornUtopia, and via his company, Blue Chameleon Ventures, leads nature tours to view herps in Madagascar.

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