What Do Organisms Feel Like When Are Touched?

Grass snake is smooth and dry. Slowworm is even smoother - like silk. Young elephant has many very stiff hairs - almost like thin wire. Coipu has smooth and stiff outer hair - kind of slippery feeling when touched. Similar, but rougher is wild boar. Fever tree trunk - powdery when you move hand over it. Octopus - like very soft rubber.


For a while, I volunteered at a bird preserve and got to help rehabilitate some pretty cool birds, but by far the most memorable was an Osprey that swallowed a fish with a hook in its mouth. It was with us at the preserve for only a few weeks, but man, that thing destroyed its roost. Ospreys are surprisingly greasy and they shed fluff everywhere. For such a magnificent bird, they are really unclean. See you out there!


I see the penguins you mention are all found in Australia and New Zealand. The temperature of the argentine sea is usually quite low (although magellanic penguins migrate from the Patagonia to south of Brazil, where the waters are warmer) so perhaps the average water temperature has something to do with how their feathers interact with the water? Would love to know if there is any research done on this topic!


I’ve handled frogs and snakes in the wild too. Snakes I find very pleasing to the touch, surprisingly smoother than one would imagine. I’ve also touched dolphins and sharks in an aquarium before, the former very slippery and smooth, and the latter having a pleasant sandpapery texture.


Land planarians feel like you sneezed into your hand during hay fever season


Large snakes(my reference being Eastern Indigo, Drymarchon couperi, feels like pure power and muscle. Very smooth, but tough skin. It’s hard to describe the texture, because there isn’t really much to compare it to other than other snakes.

Cats are either soft, fluffy, or wirey, but occasionally feel like cactus spines when they’re annoyed at you.

Narrow-mouth toads feel like a weird squishy, but tough rotten cherry tomato.

Oh! and wild skunk fur feels like silk compared to many other similar sized wild animals, like raccoons and opossums. At least from my memory anyway.


Handled a likely tired dragonfly once. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/59680115

Feels as scaly as it looks, with each scale being very smooth. I could also clearly feel its claws as it was sitting on me.

I didn’t touch the wings much, as I didn’t want to injure it, but it occasionally flapped them, causing them to hit my hand. Not sure about the texture, but there was a noticible amount of strength in these movents. Like a surprising amount, but at the same time it makes sense for an animal like this to be that strong.
And from that up close, the wings of a large dragonfly sounds just like sheets of paper flapping around.


:grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:that seems to be a very common tactic for toads. When doing animal presentations for kids, I always hoped the toad would pee during the introduction before I went around to share the toad up close with the children.

One, it was guaranteed to get a BIG laugh!

Two, then it was less likely to pee on the kids (though I often carried a wash cloth under it if it had not peed yet).

Three, it was a talking point about different animal defenses.


A small (~2 foot long) alligator feels like an off-road vehicle tire wrapped around pure muscle.


But how do animals feel when they are touched?


Excellent question.

It varies, obviously. I would say that there is something innate in some animals that enjoys touch ~if~ they are not in a scary situation.

The animals in the nature centers I worked at were considered as animal ambassadors. They had the very important role of helping kids understand that animals are real beings who behave differently than humans. Broadening kids’ perspective about animals through direct, gentle encounters is really important if we want to avoid raising kids who regard other species as just so much animated “cardboard”, without feelings or “emotions”.

Our nature center animals were captive, well cared for, and acclimated to being handled. Most were phlegmatic by nature. Many had been injured and were non-releaseable.

I rarely saw our critters react in very negative ways as we prepped them for programs. The stress they may have felt during educational programs was perhaps way less than the stress they likely would have felt living wild as prey or predator.

I do not really condone grabbing wild animals, even insects, and handling them when out in their own environment. (Well, admitting it is hard for me to resist the “kiss” of a sea anemone once or twice a year).


to echo @teellbee, we don’t really know, but we can try to interpret animals’ reactions. some studies do let us see electrochmical responses in the brain, etc., but that’s not the same as understanding what it feels like, ie., empathy.

I’d advise that people use caution when trying to interpret animals’ signals. Many species are fantastic communicators and will clearly display their emotions, mood, and intents… but we are not usually the “intended” audience and we can easily mis-interpret signals or miss them entirely.
Although, there is little to mis-interpret in the snarl of a wolf, or the loafing of a pet cat.


I once touched a Giant Pacific Octopus in captivity. The suckers, well, suck…picture putting a plastic suction cup on yourself and then detaching it. The rest of the octopus’s skin is soft and bumpy/wrinkly, like a hairless cat. One that’s wet or slimy from being an undersea mollusk.

It was years ago so I’m probably not being as detailed as I’d like but it was definitely a cool experience and octopuses have been among my favorite animals for a long time.


Anemones feel cool- tonnes of little hooks ‘sticking’ to your skin.
Snakes are generally very smooth and muscular- I really encourage those who have a fear of snakes to try holding a tame one or something, because it is really worth the experience. as I said, most are smooth and feel very strong, except for this incredible species. It feels like velvet, and as light as a feather. I have never had one even look like biting me, even when in defensive position. Sadly, they are endangered, due to land clearing and introduced predators.
Goannas, large dragons and large skinks feel rough and strong, with sharp claws that pierce your skin. Goanna skin feels like sandpaper.
Seagulls and pelicans hurt when they peck you- (no way!)
Bats are soft and feel fragile
Octopi are muscular and their suckers feel really weird, and moray eels feel slippery and extremely strong. Wobbegong sharks are rough.
These are just the animals that feel different to most others. I could go on and on…


Isn’t it interesting that a lot more comments here have described animals rather than plants or fungi. One thing that really stands out to me is how sharp spruce is compared to fir. And the Nerf-like feel of a ripe avocado or mango, compared with the firmness of a ripe apple. The way that some seeds that stick to you, like beggar-ticks, hardly feel like anything, but others, like sandspur, are extremely painful. The way a balsa tree, when you push against it, feels so insubstantial for its size.

I just generally enjoy the different textures of tree barks and seed pods.


I have visited the stingray tank at the Tennessee Aquarium a few times and I noticed the Cownose Rays seem to actively seek contact. They do seem to enjoy being touched.


most of us have eaten or otherwise touched lots of fruit and veggies. it’s a bit difficult to come up with a plant-related touch experience that seems truly novel…

immature prickly-pear fruit have spines that are hard to see, very fine – but when you pull your hand away, they are like having tiny shards of glass in your skin, and they are tricky to remove too.
In general, if a desert plant looks “fuzzy”, those are probably spines and you don’t want to touch it.

Tribulus terrestris is called “caltrops plant” for good reason. I’ve stepped on its unfriendly fruit many times, with and without shoes, and it is so sharp you don’t even notice them entering the sole of your shoes… or foot. but once they’re there, it feels like a larger glass splinter. they’re tough to pull out with bare hands, though they are close to two cm, because they have many prickles all of which will stick into your skin if you even brush them.

Some sandmats have papery-feeling leaves. They feel as though they’re hardly there. Others have thicker, almost succulent leaves which have a pleasant smooth feel, like
rubber boots.

Many Oxalis species are edible, and it feels like you’re eating lemon-flavoured celery leaves. Their often being invasive make them extra tasty.

Many sedges’ leaves are pliant, tough, and variously smooth or rough.

I like the feel of many plants in the cypress family. The leaves especially are like a mat of slightly giving plastic, scaly but also smooth.

The leaves of many palms are tough, fibrous, and surprisingly sharp.

I’ve held various snails and slugs. They are sticky, but not very slimy, and the large ones are surprisingly strong.

Many medium-sized insects such as bees and drone flies feel like they’re sticking to your skin by their feet. you can feel the claws, but it’s not painful at all.

Holding a live clam in its shell basically feels like holding a rock.


Every single exposed part of the Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninhamii) is prickly/rough and can poke or lacerate you.

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Something that surprised me when I tried picking up a moon jellyfish is how solid it was. They look like they should be very soft and fragile when they’re in the water, but their flesh is a lot more thick and rubbery than I expected. Less like jello and more like a slimy rubber toy. This was probably in part because the jellyfish contracted into a ball when I picked it up.

By comparison, sea walnut comb jellies are just as soft as they look and basically fall apart if you pick them up.

Regal horned lizards look really spiky and like their scales would hurt when you pick them up, but the one I picked up felt like any other lizard, probably because the skin under the spines is somewhat loose when the lizard isn’t defensively flattened out so the spines shift instead of poking you.

Something interesting about toads (or american toads at least) is that they just kind of feel like damp leather when they’re wet, but when they’ve had a chance to dry out somewhat the skin on their back feels kind of sandpapery thanks to the slightly prickly texture of the warts.

Live sand dollars have an interesting velvety yet slightly coarse texture and you can feel the hundreds of little spines moving.

Giant Scolopendra centipedes (I’ve handled a few) look like they’re armored, but they actually have a relatively soft, thin exoskeleton with flexible membranes between the segments that give them a surprisingly squishy texture that allows them to extend and contract like a worm and squeeze between your fingers.

The deal with dragonflies is that their wings feel crispy and brittle, but they’re actually rather strong and resilient and will quickly go back to normal after being bent or folded.


This is one thing I love about Botany: it is such a touchy-feely discipline. At least old-school botanists use texture to help identify plants, and even have a lot of fancy terminology to describe the texture: ‘’Chartaceous’’=papery texture, ‘’Hirsuite’’ = course or stiff hairs, ‘’Hispid’’=rigid or bristly hairs, ‘’Pilose’’= long, soft hairs, etc. Plus there are rarely any ethical issues with touching a plant !
Go Plants ! Down with plant blindness and the textural equivalent thereof !