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Fort Lauderdale Conference Reveals An Emerging Medicinal Role for Reptiles

Audrey Armitage
One of Heather Moye's bearded dragons for sale at Repticon. The reptiles cost about $60 each.

Hundreds of snakes, lizards, turtles and more drew an eager crowd of all ages to Repticon, a traveling reptile trade-industry demonstration in Fort Lauderdale this past Saturday.   

Seasoned reptile breeders helped attendees find new pets and shared surprising insights about the animals.

Although reptiles are known for being cold-blooded, Repticon vendors said some can form incredibly warm relationships with people when used therapeutically. “Children with autism tend to do very well with bearded dragons because they are very forgiving, and they can create quite a bond that’s very beneficial for a child,” explained breeder Heather Moye.

Bearded dragons are known for their friendly behavior and docile demeanor and require relatively low-maintenance care. Repticon vendors said these traits make bearded dragons the top choice for child-friendly reptiles. “They’re like the puppy of the reptile world,” added Moye, which is why some owners have found their lizards well-suited for therapy.

Credit Audrey Armitage
Shannon Hernandez shows a customer how to hold a bearded dragon.

  Currently dogs and in some cases miniature horses are the only officially recognized service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the breeders and experts at Repticon described increasing use of reptiles in individualized therapy. “A therapeutic animal is any animal that makes a connection, provides comfort and helps steer the person in a different direction,” said  reptile breeder Scott Wisneski.

Otto Hernandez, a bearded dragon breeder, recently sold one of the lizards to a family with a child with learning disabilities. According to Hernandez, the family’s therapeutic use of the animal has been “an incredible success.” The child “is just a wealth of knowledge on bearded dragons now, said Hernandez. “He’s become really good at taking care of [the lizard], and it’s very helpful for the child as well.”

In addition to use with children, many vendors noted that some adult customers also found lizards and snakes helpful as part of their therapies for depression and anxiety. While more research remains to be done regarding therapeutic use of reptiles, Repticon’s experts shared unanimous optimism for this growing trend.

Credit Audrey Armitage
Repticon attendees look at breeder Scott Wisneski's pythons.