What is herpetophobia and how can it be overcome?

The fear of reptiles and some amphibians is, to some extent, adaptive. However, when this fear is exaggerated, the consequences can be severe.

Last update: September 27, 2021

Arachnids, reptiles and amphibians are usually the animals that most cause discomfort in people, especially because of the threat they pose. However, in some people this fear can be irrational and exaggerated, which is a phobia. Herpetophobia is the disproportionate fear of reptiles and some amphibians.

Of this group of animals, the most disliked are snakes, lizards, frogs, and toads. In this article we will focus on this disorder and tell you how it can be overcome.

How common is reptile phobia?

Specific phobias are a relatively common anxiety disorder. Many people are even likely to experience one at some stage in their life. In these cases, can be developed to practically any object.

As for the phobic disorders linked to animals, arachnophobia (fear of spiders) and herpetophobia turn out to be the most common. And it is that, in adaptive terms, it is quite logical to fear certain animals that represent some danger.

What is the cause of herpetophobia?

The causes of herpetophobia are diverse. Among them, the following stand out.

A traumatic experience

A bad experience with a reptile or amphibian it can cause people to associate the animal with feelings of fear or pain. For example, someone who has been bitten by a snake may develop a fear of them.

Even the traumatic experience could have been an encounter with a lizard or a snake, without the matter posing a danger to the integrity of the person. But that's how he perceived it and it was etched in his memory.

If we have ever been attacked by an animal, there is a possibility that we will develop fear of it in the future.


We may learn to fear specific things especially in early ages. For example, if one of our parents is very afraid of lizards, we too can learn to fear them.

For its part, cultural background also influences a person's perception of reptiles and amphibians. Snakes are often present in mythology, folklore, and religious texts around the world.

For example, one study investigated attitudes towards reptile and amphibian conservation in Portugal. There it was discovered that negative impressions or folklore involving these animals predicted attitudes of persecution and anti-conservation of the same.


Genetics can also contribute to the development of specific phobias. The children of people who suffer from an anxiety disorder are more likely to develop them.

For its part, the fear of reptiles is also a product of the inheritance of our ancestors. Those who reacted with fear to these animals had an adaptive advantage to avoid any harm by fleeing.

How is herpetophobia expressed?

The main symptom of herpetophobia is intense fear or overwhelming anxiety at the feared object. In this case, reptiles or amphibians.

These feelings are often out of proportion to the actual threat. Additionally, the person usually experiences the following:

  • Tachycardia.
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Chest tightness.
  • Sickness.

Someone with herpetophobia can manifest these symptoms in the following situations:

  • When thinking of a reptile or amphibian.
  • When you speak or hear other people speak about reptiles or amphibians.
  • When viewing a photo or video about feared animals.

For their part, someone with herpetophobia will do everything possible to avoid coming into contact with the dreaded reptiles and amphibians. This can potentially lead to significant disruption to your life and daily activities.

When to seek professional help?

A good indicator of when to seek help for fear of reptiles and amphibians is when it begins to significantly disrupt life. The danger here is no longer about how poisonous a snake can be or the fatal wounds caused by a crocodile, but the anxiety symptoms themselves.

It may seem that this fear is not that important because we do not come across reptiles or amphibians every day. But if even a bag or shoes that mimic crocodile skin cause anxiety, the conditioning is evident. Therefore, it is time to seek treatment.

When fear is so intense that it paralyzes daily activities, then professional help must be sought.

Available treatments

The most effective treatment for specific phobias is psychological therapy. Fortunately, herpetophobia is one of the phobic disorders that it is better treated and in which there are usually fewer relapses.

Among the most effective psychological treatments are the following:

  • Exposure therapy: consists of the slow and progressive exposure to the dreaded reptiles and amphibians. For example, the patient is asked to think of reptiles in the first session, with the goal of actually holding a reptile in later sessions. Various relaxation techniques are also taught to cope with anxiety.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)– Often used in conjunction with exposure therapy, the goal of CBT is to help identify and reshape negative thought patterns and emotions that contribute to fear.

Overcoming herpetophobia

If you suffer from herpetophobia, acquiring the following habits can help you overcome it. Of course, do not forget that psychological treatment should be the main alternative:

  • Try different ways to reduce stress, like yoga and meditation.
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine, as they can fuel feelings of anxiety.
  • Maintain healthy lifestyles, such as a well-balanced diet, regular exercise, and a good night's rest.

Feel free to talk to others about how you feel. Joining a support group can help you connect with people who are also experiencing a specific phobia.