What is Herpetophobia? (A Comprehensive Guide)

What is Herpetophobia?

Herpetophobia is an intense fear of reptiles, predominantly of lizards and snakes.

Herpetophobia is considered an evolutionary phobia that may have developed over a period of time.

People have always been afraid of one animal or the other, therefore, this fear would have concentrated on reptiles as well, evolving over time. Another evolutionary phobia is Arachnophobia, a fear of spiders. 

Herpetophobia is a highly personalized phobia because the intensity of fear and symptoms may vary from person to person.

The word Herpetophobia originates from the Greek word “Herp” meaning snake or reptile and “Phobos” which stands for God of Fear.

It may exist with a fear of snakes, called Ophidiophobia.

In Herpetophobia people are afraid of lizards, that are found in homes and gardens and also other reptiles. 

They are not just afraid of the harm that the reptiles may cause, but also mere sight of them or even harmless lizards will throw them into a frenzy.

The fear is also concerned with the slimy texture of the reptiles and can be paired with tactile hypersensitivity.

It can also stem out of disgust at the sight of their skin and scales.

This phobia is very strong when it occurs and can dilapidate the movements of the sufferer.

In Herpetophobia the person restricts all movements that he thinks can lead him to an encounter with a lizard or a creepy reptile.

Even watching them on TV or in pictures can set off the symptoms of a panic attack.

Herpetophobia is a specific phobia, which consists of fear or loathing to reptiles.

Most common are lizards and snakes, and similar vertebrates as amphibians.

It is one of the most diffused animal phobias, very similar and related to ophidiophobia.

Causes of Herpetophobia

Like all phobias Herpetophobia may be caused due to genetic and familial reasons.

If a mental illness or anxiety disorder runs in the family chances are that a phobia will persist. 

Fright of animals has been evolutionary in nature.

Our ancestors may have encountered reptiles and such creatures in the past.

Their bites or attacks had left many dead as it goes in history.

Therefore, the avoidance of these creatures in the past has developed a collective consciousness as proposed by Carl Jung. 

This fear has been handed down over the centuries and taken the form of intense fear. This fear emanates from the ‘survival instinct’.

Every person wants to safeguard his existence. To do so they avoid threatening situations.

Thus, the development of specific phobias takes place.

Children learn the behavior, especially fears that are displayed by their parents and significant others to an extent that it becomes a part of their norm.

This is commonly found in being afraid of animals and reptiles or birds. the person really cannot recall the actual cause of his fear.

All he remembers is just being afraid.

It also happens that due to an accident or a traumatic event concerning lizards or reptiles the person develops a phobia.

It could have been that a lizard had fallen on his head or on his things and the frantic movement that followed was enough to scare him. 

Snakes are associated with poison and death.

Therefore, seeing snakes on TV or encountering them somehow in the outdoors can be very traumatic because an already negative schema has been made of them.

The slimy and wet crawling sensation is quite enough to get people into a nervous frenzy.

If a loved one has died or been seriously injured due to a reptile or snake accident then chances are that the person who has a predisposition in the body, can develop Herpetophobia.

Symptoms of Herpetophobia

Herpetophobia is a specific and intense fear of reptiles. It can be irrational in some cases or very real in some, greatly affecting the quality of life.

The symptoms of Herpetophobia are displayed vehemently and resemble those of a full-blown panic attack.

  • Intense Fear in the vicinity of a reptile.
  • Difficulty in inhabiting those places that have reptiles.
  • Overreacting, such as screaming crying, shaking or hyperventilating, if you unexpectedly encounter the reptile of your fear
  • refusing to go outside in fear of an encounter with reptiles
  • Rapid heartbeat (Tachycardia)
  • Breathlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Trembling 
  • Dry mouth
  • Hyperventilation 
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Ringing sound in ears
  • Irritability
  • Anger
  • Confusion
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of fainting
  • Withdrawn
  • Mood swings
  • Fear of dying
  • Feeling of helplessness
  • Feeling of hopelessness

Treatments of Herpetophobia

Androphobia can be treated through different treatments.

These include Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy (Systematic Desensitization), Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction MBSR) and forms of meditation.

Let’s take a look at these forms of treatments.

1) Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

In CBT the therapist helps the client to alter his thoughts so that a desirable behavior can be achieved.

This therapy is effective, because if the thoughts or cognitions alter then there will be a lasting impact on behavior.

This therapy is goal oriented and short termed. Our thoughts determine how we act or react to certain stimuli and situations. 

The goal of therapy is the application of the learnt strategies to everyday life.

The duration of treatment is short and the effects are long lasting.

In cases of Herpetophobia CBT will include Stress Inoculation Therapy.

Stress Inoculation Therapy

Stress inoculation therapy is used to treat people suffering from Herpetophobia and displaying intense fear, anxiety as well as avoiding specific behaviors. 

Stress inoculation therapy has three parts:

1. Education – the victim is explained that fear is a normal response after exposure to the feared stimulus. It also educates about cues that may trigger fear. 

2. Skill building – People suffering from Herpetophobia are taught to control their reactions physically and psychologically.

For example, techniques like thought stopping, mental rehearsal and guided self-talk.

3. Application – victims apply their new tact to engage.

They are also educated to avoid self-criticism and manage avoidance behavior as well as reward themselves for their progress. 

2) Systematic Desensitization (Exposure)

This is one of the most common therapy used in treating phobias and an effective way to desensitize the patient. 

In this therapy the client with phobia is exposed to the phobic situation or stimulus gradually with varying durations of time.

Every time the ‘exposure’ of the feared stimulus is increased.

In Herpetophobia, the client is repeatedly exposed to memories of the traumatic event.

The client is asked to imagine the actual event of the trauma and also to recall the places that look the same as the actual place where the trauma occurred.

This therapy alleviates the stress.

The therapist takes the client through these situations via two methods:

a)     In vitro – where the feared stimulus is made to imagine

b)    In vivo – where the client actually sees the feared reptile in reality

The exposure to the phobic stimulus is of varying durations, where the client exercises relaxation techniques and can revert to a previous non-threatening situation any time.

3. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

 MBSR involves being aware of one’s own thoughts, feelings and reducing the interference from around the environment.

We do not pay attention to how we process the various stimuli that affect us.

We do not process the way our bodies feel and respond, there is no focus on our thoughts and how these thoughts are influencing our emotions. 

In MBSR, the client is ‘woken up’ to actually experience the various senses. ‘Focus’ is the keyword!


Yoga includes a holistic approach and treats the mind, body, emotions and energetic systems as a whole.

In phobias, the practices of asana, hatha yoga, meditation and work to balance the nervous system and the endocrines, brings emotional and mental calm.

4. Meditation

The client is taught to pay attention to his breathing – inhalation and exhalation.

For meditation to be effective during treatment, the mind is cleared off all the clutter of random thoughts.

The mind and body are made to be ‘in sync’ with each other, so that the feared stimulus does not invoke a negative thought.

The client will meditate during the exposure to lizards or snakes and with practice either in imagery first will be able to relieve himself of the symptoms.  

5. Self-Help Groups

Self Help groups are an effective type of therapy, in which the client does not find himself as a lone sufferer.

These groups are comprised of individuals who are afflicted with the Herpetophobia.

They come together to share their thoughts, experiences and their coping strategies.

This also helps in developing a ‘sense of I am not the only one’ suffering.

Thus, the chances of self-improvement and catering to own anxieties for alleviations becomes effective.

6. Changing Lifestyle

Breaking down the tedium of the daily, helps break down anxiety as well. 

• Take up jogging or go for daily walks:

Developing a walk routine can damper the way our negative thoughts control our behavior.

• Indulging in an exercise regime:

Vigorous exercise like aerobics has proved to reduce or alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety.

Exercise helps the mind to cope with stress and stressful situations better.

This is what the American Psychological Association has to say about inducting exercise to eliminate stress or phobias.

• Altering eating and drinking habits:

Cutting down on fatty foods and caffeine can improve self-image, that in turn leads to a raised self-esteem.

This finally diminishes the symptoms of stress to a bare minimum.

With high intake of caffeine, the body resembles a ‘fight or flight’ response, thus giving way to anxiety.

7.         Psychiatric Medication 

There a number of medicines that the Psychiatrist can prescribe if the symptoms of Herpetophobia

1. Anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs)

These are the ones that rid the patients from symptoms of anxiety and panic. The medicines include Xanax, Klonopin and others.

These should only be taken after the consultation with the doctor and shouldn’t be initiated or discontinued as per personal discretion.

2. Anti-depressants 

These medicines are not only used to treat depression, but also to alleviate the symptoms of Androphobia as well as other phobias.

Medicines alone might not be as effective, but if used in conjunction with therapies then the results will be better. 

8.       Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

This kind of therapy is used to regulate the emotions.

A technique called “half-smiling” is used where the client is asked to lift the corners of his mouth when the feared thought comes to his mind.

Apart from this the mind is to be trained to refrain from thinking about the painful stimulus.

Coping Ahead is another technique in DBT that requires the client to sit quietly and think of the feared situation and strategize what he will do.

This type of phobia is extremely common among the general population and an intense fear, not bordering to phobia, goes untreated mostly. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

What causes Herpetophobia?

Herpetophobia might have been caused by a common fear of reptiles that have been there since generations ago.

If our ancestors feared animals or retiles due to their venom then this fear is evolutionary.

How do I get over my fear of lizards?

You can try meditation and mindfulness to distract yourself from thinking about lizards.

What is the fear of reptiles called?

Herpetophobia is a fear of reptiles.

What happens if we see lizards mating?

According to the Old wives’ tales, if you see lizards mating then you may meet an old friend.

What are lizards scared of?

It is said that garlic and onion irritate the lizards and they do not enter that place till the odor stays.