We say things like “lizard brain” to describe crocodiles and other dangerous reptiles. As in they can’t be trained or don’t have feelings. Is this actually the case? What about lizard brain in the context of turtles & tortoises?

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We say things like “lizard brain” to describe crocodiles and other dangerous reptiles. As in they can’t be trained or don’t have feelings. Is this actually the case? What about lizard brain in the context of turtles & tortoises?

In: Biology
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“Lizard brain” is a term that dates back to phrenology, which was a pseudoscience movement that thought you could determine intelligence and personality by measuring people’s heads. It doesn’t have any real meaning, at least not in being able to differentiate between lizard brains and mammal brains.

If you just search on youtube you’ll find plenty of videos from people who have trained pet reptiles. This includes alligators and crocodiles, which make surprisingly good pets if you can afford to properly care for them. Alligators in particular have roughly the same cognitive ability as a cat and behave very similarly to them when raised in captivity.

In terms of reptiles having feelings – reptiles typically don’t display emotional behaviors that people find familiar. IE, a dog will actively seek out humans to cuddle with them. Since humans also exhibit this behavior we associate dogs as having a humanlike emotional attachment to people.

Reptiles will cuddle, but don’t usually seek it out. Reptiles do form very close attachments to their owner, but the emotional behaviors they exhibit are sufficiently different from human emotional behavior that its hard to quantify whether they have the same emotional view of their owner as something like a dog would. They might, but that’s a matter of internal perception and while their external behaviors show clear signs of attachment they are fairly different from those of a human or dog.

But if your question is specifically about turtles – turtles are kind of their own thing. Turtles are *extremely* dumb, their intelligence is more comparable to insects in that they just kind of move towards food and eat it.

Only ever heard “lizard brain” in the context of humans tbh.

However, the question you’re asking here can still be answered. Firstly, “feelings” are irrelevant. It’s impossible to do objective study on animal emotions, so we can only look at their physical sensations, instincts, learning ability and responses.

We don’t know that much about reptile intelligence, because historically studies on it have usually put them through trials designed for mammals. Reptiles respond to stimuli differently to mammals (for example, they tend to freeze up in response to bad things, instead of running away), so tests designed for mammals don’t do a very good job of measuring the abilities of a reptile. It’s kind of like measuring a fish’s speed by putting it on a dog running track. Recent studies have indicated that reptiles are a lot smarter than we originally gave them credit for.

Reptiles can be trained to do tasks they think are in their own interests, like navigating a maze efficiently for the sake of finding a warm environment, but since they’ve evolved to really care a lot about conserving energy (since they lack internal heating) you can’t usually train them to do the silly tricks that you often see dogs trained to do. Reptiles can often seem even lazier than cats, but that’s just because they experience life much slower.