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Best Pet Reptiles for Beginners

Crested geckos are popular pet reptiles.
Crested geckos are popular pet reptiles.

When provided with proper care, reptiles make wonderful and intriguing pets. These unique animals are very different from mammals and birds and can't compare to any other pet experience! Another plus: their enclosure requirements often mean you’re bringing a tiny piece of nature into your home. Who wouldn't enjoy having a tiny rainforest or desert habitat right in their own home?

Most reptiles don’t require much space. They also don’t need to be fed every single day, and they don’t need you to spend time loving and coddling them. They’re pretty easy to care for and usually the hardest part is getting the initial set up of your reptile’s habitat perfect. Getting everything exactly right may take weeks of careful tweaking but it’ll be worth it!

One of the perks of pet reptiles is having a tiny piece of rainforest, desert, or other habitat in your home.
One of the perks of pet reptiles is having a tiny piece of rainforest, desert, or other habitat in your home. | Source

Reasons Reptiles are Good Pets

  • The most popular species kept as pets don't require much space.
  • Reptiles don't need to be fed every day.
  • They don't require you to spend time loving and coddling them.
  • The hardest part is initially setting up a proper enclosure. Once you've done it correctly, continued care and maintenance is generally quite easy.

Source

Why Not to Choose a Pet Reptile

  • Reptiles have long lifespans. These animals are NOT throw-away pets (no animals are) and they are not the right pet for people who get bored easily.
  • The initial purchase of a correct enclosure and supplies could be hundreds of dollars, even though the animal itself may only cost $10-50 from a store, breeder, or rescue.
  • Salmonella is a risk, especially to young children who do not yet understand good hygiene and safety practices. ANY reptile can carry and harbor salmonella, even an animal you've owned for years and never had any issues with.
  • Many reptiles must be fed live insect food. If you're uncomfortable with the routine purchase and handling of bugs, many reptile species are not be the right pet for you.
  • Routinely purchasing one of the most important supplies in reptile husbandry is expensive. UVB bulbs are an absolute necessity for most species and a single bulb usually costs well over $20.

That all being said, let’s take a look at the best beginner reptiles!

Bearded dragons are the largest, and one of the easiest, pet lizards.
Bearded dragons are the largest, and one of the easiest, pet lizards.

Bearded Dragon

  • Habitat Type: desert
  • Life Expectancy: average is about 10 years
  • Adult Size: 20 inches long
  • Minimum Enclosure Size: 50 gallon tank for one adult

This lizard is literally one of the best reptiles for beginners! Even experienced keepers agree bearded dragons are an enjoyable and incredibly rewarding species to have in the family. The only potential drawback is they do grow to be pretty large, but they are incredibly docile and their large size actually makes them very easy to handle. Another pro: this species is active during the day and will actually be awake when you’re awake. And because they’re from the desert, you will not have to worry about maintaining humidity levels (which can be quite challenging for tropical species).

Bearded dragons eat a mixed diet of vegetables and insects, which means you won’t have to visit the pet store to buy live food nearly as often as would be required for a species that eats live food exclusively. As long as you provide proper temperature, substrate, and a few hiding places, the enclosure does not have to be very fancy either.

A healthy leopard gecko has a chubby tail. This is where they store extra fat as an energy reserve.
A healthy leopard gecko has a chubby tail. This is where they store extra fat as an energy reserve.

Leopard Gecko

  • Habitat Type: desert
  • Life Expectancy: 10-20 years
  • Adult Size: eight inches long
  • Minimum Enclosure Size: 20 gallon tank for one adult

Leopard geckos are an incredibly popular medium-sized, nocturnal lizard. Their cute little faces are hard to resist and this species is available in all sorts of color and pattern varieties (called morphs). Their docile and generally calm nature means they are easy-to-handle and are a great pet for kids who have learned to be calm and gentle around animals. Being nocturnal, they generally hide during the day and aren’t very active unless you're in the midst of feeding or interacting with them. Like bearded dragons, the enclosure doesn’t need to be fancy. A potential con: leopard geckos only eat live insect food. If you're uncomfortable around bugs, these lizards may not be the right pet for you.

Source

Crested Gecko

  • Habitat Type: Tropical
  • Life Expectancy: 15-20 years
  • Adult Size: eight inches long
  • Minimum Enclosure Size: 20 gallon tank for one adult

Crested geckos are a popular, docile lizard that have cute little crests above their eyes. Not only are they available in many color varieties (morphs), but they are widely loved because of the beautiful enclosures one can build for them.

These critters do fine when kept at room temperature, making them one of the few reptile species which don't require supplemental heating. While they enjoy an occasional treat of live insects as food, crested geckos do fine on a diet of gecko-specific formula (sold as a powder that you must mix with water). Fruit can be offered as treats.

Anoles are small, skittish, very active lizards with fun personalities.
Anoles are small, skittish, very active lizards with fun personalities.

Green Anole

  • Habitat Type: tropical
  • Life Expectancy: 5-10 years
  • Adult Size: nine inches long (includes a very lengthy tail)
  • Minimum Enclosure Size: 10 gallon tank for one to two adults

Green anoles are small, skittish, but very active and fun little lizards. Even though they’re about nine inches long when full grown, they are actually much smaller than leopard and crested geckos. Because of their skittish, jumpy nature, they are more of a look-don’t-touch reptile and handling them is not advisable because they are prone to escape. These bright green lizards are quite entertaining to watch and observe though!

They require a diet of live insects and because they are smaller reptiles with faster metabolisms, they need to be fed more often. This is a tropical species so maintaining a higher humidity will be a concern if you live in a dry climate.

Corn snakes come in all sorts of colors and patterns (called morphs).
Corn snakes come in all sorts of colors and patterns (called morphs).

Corn Snake

  • Habitat Type: temperate
  • Life Expectancy: 15-20 years
  • Adult Size: four feet long
  • Minimum Enclosure Size: 20 gallon tank for one adult (though a bit bigger is better)

Corn snakes are the most popular pet snake due to their easy care and outgoing, calm nature. There are tons of color varieties (morphs) available, including snakes which are entirely black, spotted, striped, orange, red, or even pink.

Unlike most reptiles, snakes do not require supplemental uvb lighting and calcium supplements. They should be fed pre-killed frozen mice once a week, and this food can be conveniently purchased at a pet store or online. (The frozen mouse must be thawed and brought to at least room temperature before feeding to a snake.) Unlike other snakes, corn snakes are not picky eaters and they hardly ever refuse food.

Another pro: supplies such as substrate/bedding are very cheap.

When compared to the other popular pet snake, the ball python, corn snakes are active and lively, whereas ball pythons are a bit "lazier."

albino ball python
albino ball python | Source

Ball Python

  • Habitat Type: tropical
  • Life Expectancy: 30 or more years
  • Adult Size: 3-5 feet long
  • Minimum Enclosure Size: 40 gallon tank for one adult

Ball pythons are docile, less-active snakes that will contentedly sit around their owner's arm once they're used to being handled.

Sometimes this species can be a bit tricky when it comes to food: they may go on a hunger strike when being fed pre-killed frozen mice. But once they get used to the routine, feeding time shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Most ball pythons are nice and docile but occasionally there will be an individual with a feisty personality that may strike out and attempt to bite. It’s a good idea to visit with the snake at the pet store or with the breeder before purchasing it. However, with a little time and patience even a feisty snake can become accustomed to you. One last thing to note: this species does better when kept in smaller enclosures as a baby and given slightly bigger and bigger cages as it grows.

Summary of Best Beginner Reptiles

Species
Notes
Bearded Dragon
Larger lizards, eat mixed diet of insects and veggies, needs hot temperatures
Leopard Gecko
medium-sized, only eat live insects, needs warm temperatures
Crested Gecko
medium-sized, eats commercial crested gecko food and insects, comfortable at room temperature
Green Anole
small and skittish, shouldn't be handled, eats only live insects, needs warmer temperatures
Corn Snake
very docile and is easily handled, very active, not picky about food
Ball Python
very docile and is easily handled, less active, sometimes quite picky about food

Do Your Research!

This list has barely provided a glimpse into the basics of caring for these reptiles. You’ll need to do some additional in-depth research before you’re able to provide the perfect life for each of these species!

The green tree python is a beautiful but aggressive species and it should only be kept by experienced reptile keepers.
The green tree python is a beautiful but aggressive species and it should only be kept by experienced reptile keepers.

In addition, while there are a few other species beginners could comfortably start with as their first reptile pet, there are some species that should be avoided unless you have experience caring for reptiles and are fully prepared. These include:

  • chameleons
  • Chinese water dragons
  • iguanas
  • caimans and alligators
  • most of the pythons, especially large species
  • constrictors
  • monitors
  • turtles and tortoises

There are always special cases. For example, many people really, really want a tortoise or a turtle as a pet. As long as the prospective pet owner does extensive research and really knows what they’re getting into, it can happen. The most crucial element is research and commitment to providing for all of the animal's needs.

Do you already have one of these reptile pets?

  • Yes - Crested Gecko
  • Yes - Green Anole
  • Yes - Corn Snake
  • Yes - Ball Python
  • Yes - Several of them!
  • No
  • Not yet
  • Yes - Leopard Gecko
  • Yes - Bearded Dragon
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Feedback

I appreciate you taking the time to read my article, and I would absolutely love to hear from you! Do you have any fun stories to share about your pets? Are there any articles you'd like to see in the future? Please leave a comment or contact me. And if you have a moment, browse through my other articles.

Read: Worst Pet Reptiles for Beginners

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