Becky works as a biological science technician in endangered species conservation, and has a passion for biology and wildlife conservation.
Which Reptiles Make the Best, Easiest Pets?
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!
The 6 Best Beginner Reptiles
Larger lizards, eat mixed diet of insects and veggies, needs hot temperatures
medium-sized, only eat live insects, needs warm temperatures
medium-sized, eats commercial crested gecko food and insects, comfortable at room temperature
small and skittish, shouldn't be handled, eats only live insects, needs warmer temperatures
very docile and is easily handled, very active, not picky about food
very docile and is easily handled, less active, sometimes quite picky about food
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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."
6. 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.
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!
Reasons Reptiles Make 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.
Reasons 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.
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.
Reptiles to Avoid (Because They Require Extra Care):
- Chinese water dragons
- caimans and alligators
- most of the pythons, especially large species
- 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. For more information, read Worst Pet Reptiles for Beginners.
More about Salmonella from the CDC
- Take Care with Pet Reptiles| Features | CDC
Healthy reptiles and amphibians can carry Salmonella and other germs that make people sick. But there’s good news! You can take steps to keep you and your family healthy around these pets.
Anna B. on June 10, 2020:
Thanks! This was really helpful! There are so many misconceptions about reptiles these days. I am getting a crested gecko in a few months, so I am doing all the research I possibly can!
Candypantsx on September 28, 2018:
Most reptiles don’t need fed daily? Apart from snakes every one on the list needs fed daily?
Rosalina on April 16, 2018:
I am going to buy another bearded dragon for my daughter! She already has a male one named Gonzolis! Oh kids! What a strange name!
Bret Colberg on June 21, 2017:
I'm glad I came across your site, really helped me make my decision.
skittlepower68 on June 12, 2017:
Loved your blog! I'm currently doing all my research before I purchase my leopard gecko.
Daniel Cruickshank on April 26, 2017:
I want a snake,
will a milk snake be a good choice?
6 Best Pet Reptiles for Beginners
Photo by: Flickr
Keeping reptiles for pets is not like keeping a pet dog or cat — whereas Fido and Fluffy are domestic animals whose ancestors were bred to live alongside us, even captive bred reptiles are still wild animals. Some require a level of care and skill befitting only experienced zookeepers, while others may thrive in the hands of dedicated beginners. The six reptiles examined here are all relatively easy to care for, and make fine pets for beginners.
1. Leopard Geckos (Eublepharis macularius)
Leopard geckos are relatively small lizards that grow to about 9 inches in length, including their long, cat-like tails. They readily eat crickets and other commonly available feeder insects, but they rarely eat non-moving commercial reptile foods. An adult leopard gecko can thrive in a 10-gallon aquarium, but a better idea is to set up a pair or trio in a 20-gallon aquarium. Leopard geckos are nocturnal, so they do not require the bright and expensive lights such as bearded dragons do. The only down side to leopard geckos is that they are not always comfortable with long handling sessions, even though they are very rarely aggressive.
2. Bearded Dragons (Pogona vitticeps)
Bearded dragons are one of the most fun popular pet lizard to handle. Their stoic and docile nature makes them a great fit for those seeking lots of “hands on” interaction. Bearded dragons are generally hardy lizards, but they do have a few drawbacks. They require powerful, full-spectrum lighting to thrive and they have voracious appetites, requiring fresh cut vegetables and live insects for food. Additionally, as they reach up to 18 inches or more in total length, bearded dragons need cages that are at least four feet long.
3. Corn Snake (Pantherophis guttatus)
Corn snakes have long been regarded as the perfect pet snake species. While hatchlings may be defensive, they outgrow this quickly, and become gentle, docile adults. Corn snakes will require supplemental heating and a suitably large, secure cage, but they do not require any special lighting. Like most pet snakes, corn snakes subsist on a diet of rodents, fed about once per week. Contrary to popular perception, most captive bred snakes will eagerly accept pre-killed mice. Usually such mice are sold frozen, but must be thawed before you offer them to your snake.
4. Crested Gecko (Rhacodactylus ciliatus)
Crested geckos are nearly perfect pet reptiles. Crested geckos are gentle, arboreal geckos that reach about 8 inches in length. Though not quite as calm as leopard geckos, crested geckos require no additional lighting and often thrive at room temperature. Additionally, crested geckos can live their entire lives eating prepared food, similar to baby food. Crested geckos are slightly more expensive than leopard geckos, but the benefits outweigh the additional expense for many pet owners.
5. Blue Tongue Skink (Tiliqua spp.)
Blue tongue skinks are peculiar looking lizards from Indonesia and Australia. Reaching up to 2 feet in length, these sluggish skinks are generally tame and gentle. These omnivorous lizards subsist on fare similar to that of bearded dragons, including vegetables and insects. However, you can supplement the diet of blue tongue skinks with a variety of commercial foods, to reduce the need for live insects. Blue tongue skinks are not very active animals, but they still require large cages.
6. Ball Python (Python regius)
Though a few pythons reach exceptionally large sizes, most do not. Ball pythons are a popular pet species, and only the largest individuals exceed 4 feet in total length. While it is always important to select captive bred pets, this is especially important for ball pythons. Wild caught individuals almost always perish in the hands of new keepers, while captive bred babies usually thrive. Ball pythons require supplemental heating and a suitably large cage, but they do not require special lighting. Like corn snakes, ball pythons will subsist almost entirely on pre-killed mice.
If you like us and the “normal” pet isn’t going to cut it and you’re looking for something a bit more exotic that requires less space and is small enough for an apartment, you’re in the right place!
First things first, when looking for an exotic pet, people say they are difficult to care for. But this is far from the truth.
For example, a pet corn snake only needs its water changing daily or two days max, and they eat once per week.
Once you have the thermostat and heating installed, change the bedding every 2 weeks or month your pet snake is happy.
Snakes do not need our attention all the time, though they tolerate being handled. For example, you could feed and water a snake for 6 months and not hold them at all, then decide I want to hold them 3 times the following week, your snake doesn’t mind.
A pet reptile (choosing the right one is important) can be the easiest pet you will every own.
We have included only reptiles which do not require a bigger cage than 3ft long, which is small.
This means in this list, there is a pet reptile that will suit every type of person.
Now, we have not included bearded dragons in the list and do not recommend as a small pet reptile.
Whilst they are small, their enclosure will need to be upgraded in size and the most common is 5ft long. So, while it is a small pet reptile, the space it may require should be known when your priority is the size.
When looking for a pet reptile, one thing often overlooked is how long they live for.
Dogs live on average 8 – 12 years old.
Snakes & lizards can range anywhere between 10 – 40 years old
Tortoises are even more extreme some living over 100 years old, likely surpassing your own life.
Always read everything you can about the specific reptile you would like as a pet as it could have some hidden dealbreakers you didn’t know of.
1. Corn Snake
The corn snake is by a country mile the best pet snake to own.
They are small, growing to only 3-4ft long on average.
Corn snakes have brilliant temperaments and great for households with children.
A super hardy snake if you’re a beginner and their care requirements are very easy.
2. Leopard Gecko
If you are edging to the side of lizards, leopard geckos are fantastic.
They require even smaller space, happily in a 2ft long enclosure and for the most part these pet lizards tolerate handling well.
The care for leopard geckos is very simple also, and their feeding is easy enough to pick up and get into the routine.
A brilliant pet lizard for anyone looking for their first pet reptile!
3. Russian Tortoise
Now onto the first tortoise, if you know how long they live for and you still are ready for your first pet tortoise, the Russian is defiantly the most highly recommended.
They do require some attention and fresh food to keep them healthy, but the size of these tortoises is perfect for people looking for the smallest, best pet tortoise.
The Nine Hallmarks of a Good Pet Lizard (or Any Other Type of Reptile)
Before we discuss the specific species that make good pets for beginners, it is important to identify the traits that usually make a given species easy to maintain.
In a perfect world, beginners would pick a lizard that exhibits as many of the following traits as possible.
1. Easy to Feed
Feeding most lizards is much different than feeding a pet dog, cat or hamster. Instead of a commercially manufactured kibble, you’ll need to feed the vast majority of pet reptiles “natural foods.” So, it is important that you select a lizard that can subsist on a food you can easily source.
Additionally, note that some lizards have very narrow dietary requirements. Gila monsters (Heloderma ssp.), for example, are egg-eating specialists. Many of the Australian monitor lizards specialize in eating other lizards. And some, such as the beautiful and bizarre caiman lizard (Dracaena guianensis) have special adaptations to facilitate their mollusk-eating lifestyle.
On the other hand, many of the best pet lizards will consume a variety of different foods. Anoles (Anolis ssp.), for example, will usually feed on just about anything wiggly that appears small enough to swallow. Such lizards are obviously much better suited for beginners.
Broadly speaking, lizards fall into one of three dietary categories. Some eat animals, some eat plants, and some eat both.
Those in the final category are almost always a bad idea for beginners. Balancing the nutritional needs of a completely herbivorous lizard is tricky at best, and it is a task that is typically beyond the capabilities of a first-time keeper. On the other hand, omnivorous lizards are easier to feed properly, and completely carnivorous (or insectivorous) are typically the easiest to feed of all.
Insectivorous lizards do, however, saddle the keeper with an additional challenge: You must not only maintain your lizards but, in many cases, their prey too. Nevertheless, keeping a tub full of crickets or mealworms isn’t as difficult for most newcomers as properly designing a vegetarian diet, so bug-eating lizards still make a better choice for beginners in most cases.
3. Tolerate Handling
Most new keepers are at least marginally interested in handling their pet from time to time. Accordingly, it is usually wise for novices to start with a lizard that is calm and tends to take human interaction in stride. This is not only good for the keeper it is also good for the kept.
Even if you don’t plan on handling your lizard for fun, you’ll usually find it necessary to put your hands on your pet from time to time. If nothing else, you’ll need to maintain his habitat and regularly inspect him for health problems or injuries.
Experienced keepers are often willing to endure any indignities their animals may exhibit, but beginners are usually not comfortable putting their hands on an angry lizard, who is willing to defend itself by biting, scratching or explosively voiding the contents of its cloaca.
4. Tolerate a Wide Range of Humidity Levels
There are a variety of environmental parameters fledgling keepers must learn to manage when keeping pet lizards, but humidity levels are often one of the most difficult.
This is most problematic for those keeping lizards that hail from damp environments. Most homes (even those in the southeast, thanks to indoor air-conditioning) are drier than your average rainforest. This means that keepers must go to great lengths to keep the semi-isolated air in their pet’s habitat suitably saturated.
This presents a host of challenges. You must not only get enough water into the habitat, but you’ll also have to get that water into the air inside the enclosure. But you’ll have to do so while still providing adequate ventilation. And because warm, damp enclosures are veritable Petri dishes, high-humidity habitats are more difficult to keep clean.
Given these factors, it is wise for new keepers to stick to lizards that can tolerate low (or at least varying) humidity levels.
5. Do Not Require Special Lighting
The sun not only pumps out visual light it also blasts the earth with a lot of light that we can’t see. These types of rays are invisible because they have longer or shorter wavelengths than the human eye can detect. But they exist, and it turns out, they play important roles in the physiology of many lizard species.
It’s a complicated issue that biologists are still working to fully understand, but some lizards rely on sunlight – specifically the light rays with wavelengths between 290 and 320 nanometers – to covert the Vitamin D in their diet to a form that their body can use (termed D3). When deprived of light rays in this range, these lizards often develop serious (and often irreversible) health problems, such as metabolic bone disease.
Typical light bulbs do not produce these necessary wavelengths of light, but you can purchase special lights for keeping reptiles that need these rays. You’ll also need to set the lights up in specific ways and replace them on a consistent schedule to ensure they work properly.
Fortunately, there are a variety of lizards that don’t appear to need this type of special lighting. Most of these lizards are either carnivorous or nocturnal, so you’ll note that several of the lizards recommended below meet one of these two criteria.
6. Desert Dwelling
In addition to humidity, new reptile keepers will need to manage the thermal environment of their pet’s enclosure. This isn’t as difficult as maintaining proper humidity levels, but it is still a challenge for many new keepers.
In practice, beginning keepers will often need a lot of time to learn how to keep the temperatures in their pet’s habitat within the desired range, while still providing a thermal gradient and the proper diel temperature variations.
So, it is generally wise for beginners to select a species that can tolerate a fairly wide range of temperatures. Because deserts and other arid habitats usually experience much greater temperature swings than forests and other damp habitats, desert-dwelling lizards are typically best-suited for beginners.
You’ll still need to provide these animals with a proper thermal environment, but by and large, they’re more forgiving of small errors than their forest-dwelling counterparts.
7. Readily Bred in Captivity
It the vast majority of cases, captive-bred lizards make better pets than those who were collected from the wild. Captive-bred individuals are more accustomed to the presence of people, and they’re less likely to have contracted pathogens or parasites than wild-caught lizards. Also, captive-bred individuals haven’t been removed from the wild.
So, given that beginning lizard keepers should always try to limit the challenges facing them, it is wise for novices to start with a species that is readily bred in captivity. This means you won’t have to look very hard to find captive-bred individuals, and it also means that the “formula” for maintaining the species is likely well-established.
Fortunately, there are a number of lizard species that are bred in large numbers, so this is rarely a difficult criterion to satisfy.
8. Reasonable Lifespan
Lifespan is an often-overlooked characteristic among prospective lizard keepers, as well as the more experienced keepers who advise these newcomers. Simply put, you’ll want a lizard that lives long enough to make your husbandry efforts worthwhile, as well as one that doesn’t live so long that you must incorporate him into your long-term plans.
Take, for example, carpet chameleons (Furcifer lateralis). They’re a beautiful and interesting species, but they typically only live for about 1 year – the species simply has a very high natural turnover rate in the wild. They only stick around long enough to hatch from their eggs, eat enough bugs to reach maturity, and then breed. Shortly after, they die off.
So, while some experienced keepers may find it rewarding to maintain a colony of these lizards across multiple generations, most beginners would be disappointed to go to the effort of setting up a proper habitat, figure out how to care for their lizard, only to have it die in a matter of months.
On the other hand, it is wise to avoid lizards that routinely live for excessively long lengths of time. A lizard that normally lives for 20 years may sound appealing in theory, but in practice, it’ll often cause considerable difficulties. In the real world, it can be difficult to imagine your life a mere five or ten years in the future – trying to envision your life two decades from now is rarely possible.
So, beginners are often best served by selecting a species with a 5- to 10-year lifespan in most cases.
9. Reasonable Size
Size is an important consideration for keepers of all experience levels, but it is an especially significant consideration for beginners. Very large and very small lizards both present challenges that may be difficult for beginners to overcome, so it is wise to stick to species that have an adult size that falls between about 8 and 18 inches.
Very small species can be difficult to handle without causing injury, and they are also difficult to feed in many cases. Further, small lizards are more vulnerable to temperature and humidity swings than larger animals are. They often overheat or become dehydrated much more quickly than medium or large lizards do.
At the other end of the spectrum, very large species are simply difficult to house and handle. Take the green iguana, for example. Once hailed as a great pet lizard for beginners, these lizards routinely reach 5 to 7 feet in length. This means they not only need very large accommodations, but they can also inflict moderately serious injuries on their keeper if they become frightened or irritable.
Reptiles as pets are a great option for a multitude of reasons. For owners who are looking for something relatively easy to care for, unique, or hypo-allergenic, reptiles are a great choice. However, each animal has a particular and important set of reptile care requirements and it's best to choose the requirements that work well for your lifestyle.
Reptiles are available in many shapes and sizes, and while some pets have higher care needs, others are fairly low-maintenance. Whether you're just getting started in reptile ownership or are a veteran reptile owner, these 12 reptiles make great pets.