Historically, anthropocentric biases stymied scientists’ ability to study

the phenomenon of friendship among animals.

My childhood pet garter snake, ZigZag or Ziggy for short, seemed friendlyenough for a reptile. She didn’t bite me. I considered her a friend, but Idon’t know if the feeling was mutual. However, maybe she could have madefriends with another of her own kind ( Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) ,according to the results of a study published in Behavioral Ecology andSociobiology.

Scientists observed eastern garter snakes actively seeking social interactionand preferring to remain with larger groups in an experiment at WilfridLaurier University in Ontario, Canada. The reptiles didn’t randomly mix witheach other either. They chose to repeatedly associate with specific individualsnakes or groups, even after the researchers shuffled their locations twicedaily.

Although these snakes buddied up under laboratory conditions, wild gartersnakes too may form social links, though the researchers could only speculateon that or its implications for conservation and wildlife management. Gartersnakes’ ability and impulse to form social bonds may benefit the reptiles byhelping to conserve warmth and watch out for predators, but is thatfriendship? The study’s authors discussed the difficulties of typifyingreptile behavior as friendship in National Geographic.

Historically, anthropocentric biases stymied scientists’ ability to study thephenomenon of friendship among animals. As researchers break free from dogmas,they find empirical evidence for similarities among humans and other species.Words like friend can now be applied to Homo and Thamnophis. We often wrapit in sentimental, rather than scientific, language, but protecting andsupporting each other is what human friends do too. Likewise, pets, our animalfriends, provide the same biological boosts by helping, comforting andguarding us.

Humanization trend in reptile pet ownership

Reptiles lack an essential characteristic to be fur babies. Nevertheless, petowners do consider their cold-blooded pets with warmth. In a survey byPackaged Facts, 85% of “other pet” owners, a catch-all category that includedreptile owners, considered their pets to family members, according topromotional materials for the report “Reptile Products: U.S. Pet Market Trendsand Opportunities.”

“The ‘reptiles as family’ trend further suggests new opportunities forpremiumization along the lines of supplies ever more reminiscent of what areptile would experience in the wild,” Packaged Facts analysts wrote.

Packaged Facts analysts noted that reptile pets’ take up less space in a homeand therefore meet younger and urban pet owners demands for smaller pets. Foodand other expenses for pets tend to be lower than those of dogs, cats andother warm-blooded pets. Economic considerations now have urgency asunprecedented unemployment weakens already ailing communities.

“Pandemic notwithstanding, the reptile business may therefore be poised forgrowth, both because of the heightened levels of comfort and affection petowners are finding in their pets due to social distancing and being homebound, and because children—who during the stay-at-home period need more thanever to be entertained—are a key factor to the household ownership ofreptiles,” wrote Packaged Facts analysts.

Humanization of reptile pets stands as another step towards understanding thesimilarities among all living things. Reptile pets teach people whatscientists observe as well: animals differ from humans in degree not type.While we humanize our cold-blooded pets, perhaps we could benefit fromreptile-izing ourselves. As the pandemic continues, our pet turtles may have afew lessons for us.

Source: Tim Wall – Petfood Industry

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