Herpetophobia: symptoms, causes and treatment

Reptiles and amphibians. Along with insects, they are usually among the things that cause people the most discomfort. Given the danger of some of these animals, it makes some sense that there is some fear of them, being somewhat adaptive. And it is obvious that a collision with a poisonous snake or a crocodile can be very dangerous or even fatal.

But in some people, this fear is exaggerated and is a real phobia of most reptiles and amphibians which can limit their functioning: we are talking about those who suffer an anxiety disorder known as herpetophobia.

    definition of herpetophobia

    Herpetophobia is defined as phobia or panic towards most reptiles and some amphibians. We are dealing with one of the most common specific phobias in the world, being in fact the second most common phobia related to animals, after arachnophobia.

    People who suffer from this phobia usually experience severe anxiety in the presence of reptiles and amphibians, which can be accompanied by physiological symptoms such as tremors, hyperactivation, excessive sweating, tachycardia, and hyperventilation. Exposure to these beings can lead to an anxiety attack in which there is pain associated with heart attacks, depersonalization, or the belief that you are going to die or go mad, among other symptoms. In some cases, temporary paralysis may even occur due to overactivation of the nervous system. In addition to fear, it is not uncommon for people with this phobia to be repelled or repelled by reptiles and amphibians as well.

    Fear is not only aroused by the presence of these animals themselves, but also by situations or places where they may appear or by elements announcing their presence. For example, finding snakeskin can cause people with this phobia to have a panic attack. It also often causes some discomfort the perception of undulating movements similar to those performed by snakes and other reptiles. While this is much less common, some people may also be afraid of products that are derivative or reminded of them, such as fluffy-looking clothing or accessories that simulate the skin of a crocodile or snake.

    Interestingly, fear can be more or less selective: snakes, crocodiles, and toads are usually some of the scariest. However, other species generally do not trigger fear, such as turtles. As for amphibians such as toads and frogs, the problem can be seen that they look somewhat like reptiles, besides knowing that many species are poisonous.

      Herpetophobia and ophidiophobia: are they the same?

      Herpetophobia has often been associated with the fear of snakes, given the phobia of these beings as such. In this sense, it is often used as a synonym for ophidophobia. But to equate one with the other is wrong, because there is no complete overlap between the two concepts.

      Herpetophobia is, as we have already said, fear of reptiles and some amphibians in general. While this includes snakes (also some of the most panicked creatures in people with herpetophobia), it also includes other creatures such as crocodiles, lizards, iguanas, frogs, and toads (both last amphibians). This is why ofidiophobia and herpetophobia, although closely related, cannot be considered synonyms. Rather, one could say that herpetophobia would include ofidiophobia, the latter being much more specific.

      Why does this appear?

      The cause of this phobia is not fully known, but as with spiders and other creatures, one possible explanation is that fear of reptiles is a product of our ancestors’ inheritance, a fear reaction to these beings being an advantage. . react quickly by running away from them.

      This possible legacy would be triggered by conditioning and lifelong learning: knowing about people who have died after being bitten by snakes, poisoned after touching certain types of frogs or eaten by crocodiles, or being eaten by crocodiles. suffer some kind of attack by one of these. creatures, eases fear towards them. Also, some of its features, such as a crocodile’s high tooth count or the easy sight of a snake’s fangs, can in themselves be disturbing.

      Culture also plays a role in acquiring this panic: traditionally, in the West, reptiles were considered dangerous creatures and has been endowed with abilities and linked with evil, intrigue, pain and suffering. Even if we look at legends and children’s tales, we often find that the obstacle or danger to be overcome is a dragon or some kind of reptile. Even in religion: in Genesis, the serpent is the representation of the evil which tempts Eve to try the forbidden apple. All of this makes the sight of this type of animal in the West something that arouses a sense of danger in many of us.

      On the contrary, in the East, they often see us as protectors and benevolent. For example, tradition says that Buddha was protected by a naga (giant demigod in the form of a serpent), and the image of eastern dragons is that of wise and generally benevolent and powerful beings. This contributes to the fact that the level of panic caused by these beings, although existing from the end and in the head are dangerous beings, is lower.


      Specific phobias, such as herpetophobia, they receive treatment from the field of psychology. It is also one of the easiest types of disorders to treat and in which there are usually fewer relapses.

      Although it may be more or less difficult for the patient, the most applied therapy in these cases is exposure therapy. Generally applied gradually, the patient will be exposed to stimuli generating anxiety without the latter performing avoidance behaviors until the anxiety generated by them decreases.

      The issue of graduation is an important one, as too abrupt and ill-conceived exposure can actually raise awareness among patients and make their fear more pronounced. Thus, a hierarchy is established between the patient and the therapist in which the first will command different stimuli that cause anxiety (related to their fear of reptiles) and after that will proceed to the exposure from a point to be negotiated between the professional and the client.

      We must also ask ourselves where the fear comes from: is the fear really that of the animals themselves, of poisoning, of death or other aspects ?. Discuss what the figure of reptiles means to the patient, why he considers there to be fear, and also assess the meaning and significance that this fear may have for the patient is another aspect to work on.

      In this particular phobia, it is common for there to be somewhat distorted beliefs about the danger of most of these beings or the likelihood of finding them. Cognitive restructuring is in these cases very useful for developing an alternative view. However, simple information is not enough: it is also necessary to work on the subject through the emotions that the subject in question triggers in the subject.

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