9 Worst Pet Reptiles for Beginners
Which Reptiles Are the Most Difficult to Keep as Pets
Reptiles are wonderful pets to have be a part of the family. However, some species are more difficult to care for than others, and some fail to thrive when kept in the common household.
Reptile rescues everywhere are completely full and countless more reptiles die every year simply because people don’t do research before choosing a pet reptile. Some of the most popular species in the pet trade are actually the worst for beginners, but cheap price tags and unknowledgeable sales clerks at pet stores lure people into the trap of having a pet that grows too big, takes too much time or money, or is dangerous and too aggressive.
Before choosing any type of pet, you must be willing to do hours and hours, week upon weeks of careful research. Don’t trust any one source for information because it could be wrong or outdated. Read books and multiple care articles from several different sources. Ask people who have experience with the species you’re interested in for stories, tips, etc. And remember to plan ahead… Reptiles live a long time and life circumstances can change suddenly. Are you truly committed to preparing your reptile’s food several times a week for the next 20 long years? Do you really see yourself being able to complete weekly water changes once a week for an aquatic turtle for the rest of your life? Be honest with yourself when choosing the correct pet.
Chameleons are unique, interesting reptiles that fascinate people. They can change color to blend in with their environment, have bizarre habits/behavior, and have an alien-like body shape. It’s easy to understand why folks looking to add their first reptile to the family would want a chameleon. However, these animals are not at all hardy. They need their habitat conditions (temperature, humidity, ventilation) to be perfectly correct or they will get sick and eventually wither away. They stress very easily and can actually die from stress alone, and they should never be handled. Chameleons should strictly be a look-don’t-touch pet. It’s important to note that keeping chameleons can be challenging even for experienced keepers, so beginner hobbyists should avoid them as their first reptile.
2. Chinese Water Dragon
Baby Chinese water dragons (CWDs) are unfortunately sold for a relatively cheap price in pet stores. As babies they resemble cute little green dragons and as adults they look like mini dinosaurs. Because CWDs are usually purchased as babies, a new hobbyist may not realize what they’re signing up for. Water dragons grow very quickly; by one year of age it will be a foot long and by two years of age it will be two or three feet long. Being an arboreal species, a full-grown adult requires a custom-built enclosure that is at least six feet tall and at least four feet wide, which is an endeavor requiring hundreds of dollars. Additionally, a growing lizard needs quite a bit of expensive food quite often, and an adult never loses its big, hearty appetite!
3. Tokay Gecko
Tokay geckos are widely available in pet stores for a cheap price. Their beautiful coloration makes them a desirable species by many hobbyists, especially if the prospective pet owner happens to be a NFL Broncos fan. But these little lizards are incredibly aggressive and speedy animals who won't hesitate to lunge towards you, deliver a nasty and powerful bite, and then zip past you and escape down the hallway. A new reptile keeper should get a crested gecko or leopard gecko instead as these two species have many gorgeous color varieties without the aggressiveness of the tokay.
Iguanas get huge and mean. A six-foot long iguana needs a cage that is twice-as-long (12 feet) as its body. Being semi-arboreal, they also need very tall enclosures. Their claws and powerful tails are perfectly equipped to cause you great injury whenever the lizard is feeling in a particularly feisty or aggressive mood. During breeding season they can get hormonal and become downright crazy. They also need extreme amounts of UVB in order to stay healthy and need to be fed a complicated diet of harder-to-find vegetables (more than just lettuce and kale). If you’re caring for an iguana properly, you’re spending thousands of dollars.
An iguana's bite is much worse than his bark. I cannot stress enough how important it is to socialize your iguana, spend time with him everyday and get to know his body language. Without this knowledge you have a danger in your house.
5. Caimans & Alligators
One would hope it’d be common sense to avoid getting a caiman or alligator as a pet, but it’s important to talk about why. Alligators grow to monstrous sizes and are dangerous and unpredictable. Caimans don’t grow to be quite as large as alligators, but they still get BIG and are still able to cause severe injury. Both alligators and caimans will require large pond-sized enclosures as adults, and the cost of feeding one of these reptiles would be enough to break some people’s bank accounts. Most pet alligators/caimans end up dying due to neglect or improper care, or they are destroyed or euthanized because they have no home to go to once they’ve grown too large. The only way to care for an alligator or caiman correctly is to, again, spend thousands of dollars.
No species of monitor lizard should be kept by a beginner reptile keeper. Do you really want a mini pet Tyrannosaurus rex running around your home when you don’t really know what you’re doing? I don’t think so. Savannah monitors, for example, can be bought at a pet store for $40-$50 as a baby, but within only a couple years it grows to be a five foot-long hissing, biting, tail-whipping carnivorous monster. Granted, if you spend massive amounts of time and energy raising it correctly, it may be tamer than that. But it’ll still be a huge, powerful lizard that can injure you with a simple flick of its tail. Risk of injury aside, these giant reptiles require a diet of tiny insects like crickets, and buying massive amounts of insects get expensive very quickly. Don't forget the money you'll need to spend building a massive, monumental enclosure! Or you'll need to pay to have someone build it for you.
Tree monitors are just as complicated. They still get big and they require perfect temperature and humidity. They’re not very hardy towards improper conditions and they’re also little hunger machines who will eat all your money.
7. Any Giant Snake Species
Pythons that get large, such as rock pythons, reticulated pythons, and Burmese pythons, should be avoided by all but the most experienced and financially-stable snake keepers. These species do not tame well and are usually still quite aggressive as adults. They require enclosures the size of an entire small room in your house and are incredibly expensive to feed. The owner must also always take care around these massive snakes because they can use their 22-foot-long, heavily-muscled bodies to kill people.
Turtles are very popular and sought-after pets. However, they are stubborn, hardy animals that do not reveal or show when they are unhealthy until it’s too late. For this and many other reasons, they are not good for beginners.
The #1 homeless and sick reptile out there is probably the red ear slider, a cheap and easily-obtainable aquatic turtle. When folks buy these turtles they don’t realize just how much poop turtles can produce. People are also surprised when their turtle outgrows its aquarium and needs an enclosure the size of a small pond.
Other care requirements are often very misunderstood as well. Turtles may attempt to eat the live fish you feed them but it’s not what they should be fed. And even though a turtle is an aquatic species, it still requires a land area where they can leave the water and bask under a heat lamp.
Box turtles are also incredibly misunderstood. The popular species found in the hobby include the ornate box turtle, eastern box turtle, and three-toed box turtle. All three species, unless they are labelled as captive-bred by a breeder, are wild-caught and the wild populations are suffering for it. Wild-caught individuals spend their first few years in captivity stressed, and the majority of them die in captivity due to improper care. A healthy box turtle is constantly active during the day and has a huge, healthy appetite. They are very difficult to maintain, and the best way to house them is in large outdoor turtle pens. Even though they are small animals, a single turtle requires a minimum enclosure size of about eight square feet. They need an incredibly varied diet but box turtles are notorious for going on hunger strikes and holding out until they are fed their favorite “dessert foods” like strawberries… this is not healthy for them and an experienced keeper will know how to properly regulate their turtle’s diet to prevent hunger strikes.
Tortoises present many of the same predicaments as turtles. They need to be provided with much more space than they are usually given, and even the smaller species found in the hobby, the Russian tortoise, requires a large enclosure called a “tortoise table” in order to thrive. Even desert species require access to humidity via deep substrate and burrows, and some species, such as the red foot tortoise, need a perfect mix of fruit, vegetable, and protein in their diet or they will begin to grow unhealthy shells (called “pyramiding”).
Sulcata tortoises (also called African spurred tortoises) are widely available as babies and are sold for very cheap prices. However, this fast-growing species requires an entire giant backyard as an adult, and they never actually stop growing (good luck getting that 300-pound tortoise to do what you want it to do). And say goodbye to that lovely backyard you’ll be keeping it in, because sulcatas dig massive burrows and tear up any landscaping or plants that get in their way. If they decide to dig under the fence, you'll have a giant escaped tortoise running through the streets!
Their diets are much more complicated than giving them some lettuce and hay, and when raised incorrectly, the resulting shell deformities are debilitating and completely irreversible. Also, these tortoises live for more than 100 years, so what will happen to it when you’re no longer able to care for it? There are not enough zoos, sanctuaries, or rescues to help the numerous homeless sulcatas out there. Please be responsible.
If I Want a Pet Reptile, Where Should I Start?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.