What Do Organisms Feel Like When Are Touched?

This topic may be a bit out there, but it came to mind when I was attempting to identify a toad/frog. I remember when I started college in Illinois, I once encountered a fellow student caressing a Common Garter Snake. At least, I think it was a Common Garter Snake, since the snake was about the same thickness as my thumbs. This student was afraid of snakes, and to get rid of the fear, he was attempting to get close-and-personal with them. I was amazed when I looked at the snake; it seemed so calm and nonchalant, despite being in the hands of a potential “predator”.

At first, I was hesitant. I wondered if I could hold it, and the other student graciously gave it to me (I do not know it the snake was male or female). I remember how smooth and slippery the Common Garter Snake felt in my hand. I also as careful as possible; the last thing I wanted to do was accidently harm myself or the Common Garter Snake. After “petting” the head of the Common Garter Snake a few times, I gave it back to the other student, who then put it back on top of the bush where it was presumably found.

To be clear, I am not saying people should touch all organisms. I am just curious as to what some of them feel like when they are touched, if at all.


I used to volunteer at a nature reserve when I was younger, and I took care of 3 owls, 4 turtles, and 3 snakes. I don’t remember all the species. One of the snakes was a week-old Western Hognose, and it was a lot of fun having him slither around and across my hand. The snakes all kind of felt the same, although there was a Black Rat Snake that was about 80 pounds, and its scales were very rough, probably from its former life. The owl’s feet were also “scaled,” and as they shifted around it was interesting to see the skin on the talons moving to support the weight. The turtles felt like turtles. I don’t know how to describe them lol.

Edit: After seeing everyone else’s replies mine feels kind of superficial haha


I was once able to pet a captive dolphin at Sea World, and the skin and underlying flesh felt the same way that a peeled hardboiled egg feels.


Most mollusks feel slimy to some degree or another. But Florida fighting conchs, when they are alive and you pick them up, they have a strong, hard, claw-like operculum that they can use to hop along on sand like a pole vaulter, and they are perfectly happy to use that claw-like operculum and their strong muscles to force their way out of your hand. And usually when they try, I do usually drop them – they are strong.


Penguins feel very oily.


Please note: most of my knowledge comes from being a taxidermy student and from finding freshly dead animals, but some is from being able to handle rescued or wild critters (the latter were all promptly returned to their environment after taking a few pictures). You can see a few of this in my observations.

-Penguins are very oily and slippery. I believe the one I handled was a magallanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) but im not sure since it was quite a few years ago. 5/10 since he tried to bite me even tho I saved him from an angry dog

-Wild boar (Sus scrofa) hair is very rough and bristly, almost like petting a wire brush. 3/10 due to lack of fluffiness

-European hare (Lepus europaeus) is incredibly soft and fluffy, except for their feet which feel a lot rougher to the touch. 8/10 because they are invasive where I live and are really hard to catch

-White eared opossum (Didelphis albiventris) is also surprisingly soft, although not as much as a hare. The (very young) babies aren’t as soft since they have shorter snd more “slippery” like hair. Their tails are scaly but their hand pads are very soft and cute. The babies would sleep on my hand and use their prehensile little tails to grab onto my fingers. 9/10 an unforgettable experience

-Skunks (Conepatus sp.) are so incredibly soft and cuddly that you can almost forget how stinky they can get when they are scared. They are still kinda stinky even when they aren’t tho. Still, they’re softer than a kitten. 10/10 would pet again

-Pampean cavy (Cavia aperea) are soft but not as much as a regular guinea pig is. They are also very skittish and get stressed easily. 6/10 not worth the effort imo

-Darwin’s Ringed Worm Lizard (Amphisbaena darwini) are a bit slippery but their scales are so smooth you almost can’t feel them. 7/10 an awesome and fairly rare reptile that would bite into my glove

-Argentine tegu (Salvator merianae) aren’t smooth but their scales aren’t coarse either. The snout is pretty smooth tho. 7/10 cause of their great skin patterns

Im probably forgetting quite a few, but this were the animals I could recall how they felt to the touch!


I rescued a dolphin a few years back and the skin texture was odd, that hard-boiled egg feel, mixed with a little bit of grittiness.


The hands of langurs (a type of monkey) and gibbons both feel a bit like bicycle tires.

I’ve had squirrel monkeys and marmosets climbing on me. Very soft fur and little grabby hands that alternate between a fluttering gentleness and pinching.

Giant anteater fur is kind of wiry in feel, but not harsh. Their tongues are weird, kind of like a combination of a sticky noodle and a thin hose full of water that’s flailing about. Their saliva is really sticky for a few minutes, then dries up like it never existed.

Jaguar fur is both shorter and less soft than you’d expect. Gotta be careful though as they’ll take a swing at you just as play and they are massively powerful animals.

Ocelot fur is softish, but not as dense as you’d expect. They have strong muscles under the fur too. Like with the jaguars you’ve got to be careful as they’ll also take a swing at you and have sharp claws.

Hummingbirds, sunbirds, and other small birds like that are so light and soft they hardly seem to be there and almost quiver with energy.


I have felt many types of fish in my experiences as an angler. Most fish such as common freshwater and saltwater game/baitfish are slimy but there’s an almost meaty smoothness to them. Catfish, rays, and some other saltwater species such as leatherjackets are slimy and silky smooth, almost impossible to hold. Sharks feel just like sandpaper, to the point of them chafing skin if they writhe too hard (their back ends need careful attention too)

Every snake I’ve caught is dry and smooth, sometimes with the slightest amount of stickiness. Lizards are like snakes but never sticky, with the exception of skinks which are slippery.

I’ve had the pleasure of holding a few songbirds and it is absolutely exhilarating. They feel so warm and fragile in your hand, like a clump of hot dryer lint. It feels as though one wrong move and they’d get crushed. I’m always super careful when the situation arises, using the proper methods so they don’t injure themselves.


Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) leaves are one of my favorite, the leaves are so soft and covered in tiny hairs, reminiscent of the feeling of velvet. On the grosser side of things, because these leaves are so soft and abundant here in the pacific northwest, they have earned the name “natures toilet paper” or sometimes “cowboy toilet paper”.


I used to work at a children’s nature center doing both animal care and introducing children to local common animals, as well as summer camps, after school programs, and natural science classes.

Gopher snakes, king snakes and mountain king snakes have scales with a glossy coating so they are really smooth when you stroke with the direction of the scales. The lower scutes (scales on the under side) are even nicer to feel. The scales feel surprisingly nice: smooth and slightly pliant — they are lovely. We had rattlesnakes, but obviously did not handle them - they were very old and had not shed much in their dotage, so they looked like they would be much rougher to the touch. We called one of the rattlesnakes “Sweetface” because the inside of its mouth was the prettiest shade of pink when it yawned.

Newts feel cool, only faintly damp (unless you pull them from the water) and slightly rough skinned. They are not at all slimey. They do not usually resist being held at all, so they don’t wriggle - really mellow animals.

Banana slugs - they are damp and slimey, generally not too wriggly. If you pick them up, be sure to protect ~them~ from the salts on your skin by using a sturdy leaf to hold them. If you do get the slime on your hands, washing with soap it just makes it harder to remove (use an abrasive).

Madagascar hissing cockroaches are hard and bumpy skinned. They are also mellow, but may initially protest handling by forcing air out of their sphericles, making a hissing noise (perhaps trying to imitate a more dangerous animal).

Crayfish are quite hard skinned with a slightly rough texture on the exoskeleton. Don’t try to pick them up by the claws, just with fingers on top of their back. The claw pinch would hurt, even cut.

Toads are cool and damp with slightly bumpy skin on their backs. They feel just slight squishy. Our frogs were usually wetter, coming from water, so they were more wet slippery without the bumps on their back. Again, firm but slightly squishy.

Chinchillas have the very softest fur you could ever imagine. They are light-boned and weigh almost nothing for their size. If they feel upset, they let a small cloud of fur go, which can be tickley if inhaled.

Alligator lizards are dry and (like snakes) somewhat smooth if you stroke in the direction of the scales. But, they are a bit more textured than snakes. Their claws can be slightly prickly.

Bearded dragons are the “Laboradors of the lizard world”. They are somewhat heavy for their size with very textured skin, but surprisingly sociable. Their poo is amazingly stinky, tho, and ours always seemed to use their big water containers as a toilet. One evening at a donor’s party my job was to walk around with one of the beardies for guests to stroke or pet. He soon fell asleep from the warmth of my arm. Dang, that was adorable!

Tarantulas (e.g., Mexican red-knee or Roses) were quite mellow. Their feet are a tiniest bit rough on your hand. But, after handling them over time, many of us developed a sensitivity from handling them that caused itchy red bumps on the hands due to their urticating hairs. You do not want rub one of those urticating hairs into your eyes. Once, I had one try to bite me after its 3rd class in a row. It’s fangs did not even break past the top layer of skin. Poor little one needed a break, so he was excused from the next class.

I never held a live shark, but the preserved shark skin we had was AMAZING! The denticles (skin teeth) were sweetly smooth if you stroked it in the direction away from the head, but truly like sandpaper if you stroked the other direction.

Box turtles and tortoises do feel a bit like a lump of rock when you pick them up, be ready to balance the load - they need a bit of balancing as you hold them. I guess they shift their center of gravity a bit. California desert tortoise have more ridged and textured scutes (scale-like coverings on their bony carapace) than box-turtles, which have smoother scutes. The scutes, on the undersides are smoother of course. Their skin (on the legs and head) tends to be well textured.

Opposums are heavy for their size, and generally not very wriggly. Their big teeth may look a bit scary, but they are mostly pretty mellow when you pick them up (I was trained to lift them by their exceptionally strong tails).

Our little brain-damaged screech owl mainly felt like a delight on the glove. “Scout”* weighted almost nothing, but would captivate you with his eyes (he would sometimes go to sleep spontaneously during a program due to his brain damage). I never got trained on the bigger birds we had (larger owls, Cooper’s hawk, red tail hawk), so I cannot speak to how they felt. We were discouraged from petting the birds or letting others pet them during classes or walk about.


Interesting on the penguins- kororā don’t feel at all like this. When dry they feel almost scaly in how harsh their feathers are and when just emerged from the sea it feels like a waterproof jacket in the rain, with the water sliding right off. Since I’ve only handled them extensively and hoiho minimally, wondering if people who’ve handled other species have other experiences.


Kangaroos that are acclimatized to be being hand-fed and touched in zoo exhibits still use their front limbs to try and pull your hand in their direction, but avoid grasping with their formidable claws - possibly they learn that causing discomfort results in the treat being taken away. It actually feels like tiny human hands.

I’ve dragged a few possum carcasses off the road and can attest that even when freshly dead, their fur feels very loosely attached. Though soft and woolly to the touch, it comes off in great clumps when you try to pick them up.

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Snakes, they are very dry and smooth.

Budgies are very fluffy and, because they have feathers, feathery.

Humans are either soft or smooth on the skin, and usually have fine hair on it, giving it a “velvety” texture. Human scalp hair can be rough or luscious.

Butterflies and moths have hook-like feet and very soft and fluffy wings, made of scales.


Nestling passerines (specifically swallows, bluebirds, and sparrows, though I’d guess most are the same) have rubbery-feeling skin and very soft downy fluff, and prickly little claws. They feel very delicate.

Starlings have sharp claws (at least the captive ones I’ve worked with, they may wear their claws down more in the wild).

I’ve had pigeons land on me a lot but they generally won’t let me pet them. They also bite!

These big moths are fuzzy and their feet feel sort of adhesive on your skin, as do the feet of butterflies. I like picking up big lepidopterans that are torpid on chilly days, and watching them warm up from my body heat. Sometimes when they’re warming up, you can feel a bit of vibration as they shiver and buzz their wings.


Love the new details you all have shared.

If I knew a blind person I would read these to them. I gave a tour to a blind couple at our museum, which is decidedly not set up for such things. Luckily we have many Museum-to-school boxes with things to handle. The object that stopped them in their tracks was a chunk of Mammoth bone. It was part of something like a leg with a longish rounded outside and then a mesh of bone full of holes on the inside which was a rough texture. The age is what got them the most, I think.

I’ve held plenty of animals but the ones that stand out were in Kenya. We went to the elephant orphanage. The babies were so cute, but covered in sticky red soil (probably a lot of clay) so that anyone that petted one was coated too. They have tough looking skin but mostly I remember the stiff bristles that stuck up from their hides. Luckily there was also a washing station.

Then we went to the giraffe sanctuary where they give you large pellets (think rabbit food but larger) to feed them. They have the longest slimiest purple tongues! They eat acacia which has long (3" or so) spines so their tongues have the ability to heal quickly, because of that saliva.

Another comment on toads–I picked up a large one–dry to the touch, soft and bumpy too, but then it filled itself up with air like a balloon. I was holding it from the back under its arms. Next, it let loose with a lot of pee, which luckily missed me. I am amazed I did not drop it, then I let it go.

Snakes I’ve held are quite smooth and satiny. We have Rubber boas that give off a bad smell to get you to let go of them. Most snakes I’ve met try to bite.

Sea anemones feel grabby, like they are velcroing onto your fingers. Probably not a thing to try unless you know you have one that isn’t toxic.

I must try feeling thimbleberry. Lambs ears are the most velvety plants with soft silky hairs about an 1/8" long.

Petting Bumble bees – the fluffy yellow males are the easiest to learn to ID, and since they cannot sting are the best to practice on. Most will let you pet them, or stick up their middle leg (think middle finger–it’s not a happy wave, it’s a back off signal), or else just fly away. They are very soft. Always pet them front to back, the way the hairs lie.

I went to a Hawkwatch event and was selected to hold a juvenile Red-tail hawk. You have to stick a finger between their legs and then wrap your other fingers around the outside of both legs. I held him a respectable distance away in case he tried to bite. Mostly I was mesmerized so all I remember is that he was a very solid fellow.


The body coat of a lion (Panthera leo) feels exactly like that of a smooth-coated, short-haired dog (say Chihuahua, Rhodesian Ridgeback, Staffordshire Bull Terrier or Dalmatian).


I had a chance to touch a Nepenthes pitcher once. It reminded me of a fresh pea pod.


All the snakes I’ve ever handled felt warm and dry, smoother than you would think, and muscular. Pleasant to the touch. One summer years ago on my block here in Manhattan, I interacted with a 12-foot python (owned by someone in my neighborhood) and it ended up wrapping itself entirely around me in coils. It felt very nice, like a big hug that could shift emphasis from one coil to the next.


Snakeheads and some some catfishes mostly Asian Stinging Catfish(It’s sting is very painful) are slippery and slimy, the scales of Anabas testudineus is sharp when we go backwards. Some scales of Dawkinsia will be removed and stick to our hands(due to water) when it is handled. The scales of Kerala Mud Snake was slippery and slimy.