Stockley, V. R., Wilkinson, A., Burman, O. H. P. 2020. How to handle your dragon: Does handling duration affect the behaviour of bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps)? Animals 10(11), 2116.
Reptiles are popular as pets and it is, therefore, important to understand how different aspects of housing and husbandry impact on their behaviour and welfare. One potential cause of stress in captive reptiles is interaction with humans; in particular, the effect of handling. However, little research on handling has been carried out with reptiles, particularly relating to the type of gentle handling likely to be experienced by pet animals. The aim of this study was therefore to determine whether the amount of time that bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps), a commonly kept pet species, experienced gentle handling induced no or differing levels of anxiety, as reflected in their subsequent behavioural response to novelty. We found that there appeared to be a mildly aversive effect of handling time on subsequent behavioural response to novelty. Longer durations of handling (5 min or 15 min) appeared to increase anxiety-related behaviour, with handled animals showing more frequent tongue flicking behaviour when they experienced a novel environment and reduced time spent in close proximity to a novel object. These results suggest that handling bearded dragons, even in a gentle way, may increase their anxiety. However, it is not yet known whether animals may habituate to handling for longer periods if provided with additional experience.