Reptiles ruled the earth before the appearance of mammals, and their alien-like features and odd behavior continue to fascinate biologists and pet owners. Compared to other pets, reptiles generally require less space to live comfortably and cost less to feed. They’re more exotic than ordinary creatures, but some species need specialized care and are unsuitable for first-time owners.
We examined several species and found the best reptiles for beginners.
The 12 Best Reptiles for Beginners
1. Leopard Gecko
|Specific needs:||20-gallon tank, UVA and UVB light|
|Diet:||Crickets, wax worms, mealworms|
Some geckos are not fond of being handled, but the Leopard Gecko is one of the tamest lizards you can own. Compared to other reptiles, they take less time to adapt to a new environment. As ground dwellers, Leopards do not need a vertical tank with branches, but they require a small enclosure with a substrate so they can burrow. The substrate should be made of recycled paper or reptile carpet. Cedar and other wood substrates are too sharp on the lizard’s soft feet, and sand can cause digestive problems if it’s consumed. The ideal humidity level is 30% to 40%, and you can leave a shallow dish of drinking water in the tank to maintain humidity.
During the daytime, they need an 88°F basking area from an incandescent light, but you can use a UVB light/heater for nighttime heat. Leopards eat crickets, wax worms, and mealworms, and juvenile lizards need their insects tossed in a vitamin powder before eating. Adults only need the vitamin coating every other day. The lizard is more vocal than other geckos, and it will chirp and wag its tail when hungry. Housing more than one gecko together is not recommended for beginners; males cannot be in the same enclosure because they will attack each other.
2. Bearded Dragon
|Specific needs:||55-gallon tank, heat lamp|
|Diet:||Leafy greens, fruit, vegetables, waxworms, butterworms, pinky mice|
This Australian native is light tan with a spiky “beard” around its neck that inflates when it feels threatened, but owners are unlikely to see the aggressive side of the docile creature. They tolerate handling well, and most are calm while they perch on their owner’s shoulder. Although they make excellent pets for beginners, Bearded Dragons have specialized diets composed of fruit, vegetables, and insects. Juveniles need feedings three times a day, but adults can eat once daily. They only require 30% to 40% humidity, but as diurnal reptiles, they need at least 12 hours of sunlight and a heated basking area set at 90°F.
Because they have more durable frames than other lizards, children can handle them with supervision. The ideal enclosure for the Bearded Dragon is 55 gallons, and it should have rocks, branches, and substrate to keep it healthy and happy.
3. Corn Snake
|Specific needs:||Shallow 20-gallon tank, heat lamp|
A corn snake is a practical choice for beginners. The species rarely grow over 4 feet, only eats every two weeks, and adapts to handling without issues. However, if you’re squeamish about serving pre-killed rodents to the snake, it may not be the best pet for you. Corn snakes require low humidity levels, between 35% to 60%, and need the ambient temperature to be 80°F to 85°F. Their enclosure should be placed away from windows and drafts so that the temperature never drops below 75°F at night. A tight-fitting lid is vital because the species is known to escape if the top screen is loose.
Although they’re tolerant of handling, they need a hiding spot in their tanks to feel comfortable. Substrates made of paper or carpet are ideal, but you can add aspen shavings to the top layer to make feces removal easier. Cedar and pine can irritate the snake’s skin and should be avoided. Since the creature sometimes defecates in its drinking water, the water should be changed often to keep the reptile healthy.
4. Gargoyle Gecko
|Specific needs:||Vertical tank with plants, heat lamp|
|Diet:||Mealworms, crickets, roaches|
Although they’re one of the least expensive ($40 to $50) to own, Gargoyle geckos live up to 20 years. They love to climb, and the ideal enclosure is a reptile vivarium with live plants, soft, absorbent substrate, and hiding areas. Gargoyles are docile lizards that accept handling, and you’ll know if they’re stressed when you see it release its tail. Unlike other geckos, the Gargoyle’s tail grows back after a few months.
Incandescent light is all you need for the tank because they prefer temperatures under 85°F. Some Gargoyles can be picky about their meals, but most thrive on crickets, mealworms, and roaches. Misting the enclosure every day and using a hygrometer to keep humidity levels at 60% to 70% will simulate the lizard’s natural environment. Gargoyles are calm, but their sticky feet make them agile climbers. Supervision is essential when the reptile is out of the tank to prevent an escape.
5. Crested Gecko
|Specific needs:||20-gallon vertical terrarium|
|Diet:||Fruit, commercial food, crickets, waxworms|
With tiny barbs on its eyelids, the Crested gecko is also referred to as the eyelash gecko. They’re ideal for beginners because their care requirements are relatively simple, but they need higher humidity than other species. Their enclosure should register 60% to 70% humidity with twice daily misting with filtered water. A 20-gallon terrarium filled with branches, bark, live plants, and soft substrate will keep the lizard happy and comfortable. Crested geckos thrive on a diet of fresh fruit, insects, and commercial reptile food.
While they tolerate handling, they’re not as docile as the Gargoyle or Leopard gecko. They’re happy climbing around in their tank, and you may want to avoid handling them for long periods if they’re skittish. Crested geckos drop their tails if they become too stressed, and they will not grow back. They can also bite if they feel threatened, but the bite is not prominent and does not draw blood.
6. Rosy Boa
|Lifespan:||30 years or more|
|Specific needs:||10-gallon terrarium, Heat lamp|
|Diet:||Rodents, quail eggs, anoles|
If you’ve never owned a snake before, the Rosy boa is an excellent species for beginners. Females are slightly larger and longer than males, but most adults are less than 3 feet long. They’re slow-moving and accept handling, but they have been known to bite when they’re scared. However, the snake is generally calm if you handle them correctly and provide the right living conditions. They do not need high humidity (50%), but their enclosure should have a basking area between 90° to 95°F. A halogen light can simulate daytime lighting, and a low-wattage heat lamp can maintain heat. At night, the temperature can drop to 72°F.
Rosy boas thrive in an enclosure with a rocky substrate, branches, rocks, and desert grasses. Adults over 3 years old only need feeding every two weeks, and unlike other snakes, the Rosy is not picky about its diet. Although they’re great for amateurs, Rosy boas require a long commitment due to their 30-year lifespans.
7. Ball Python
|Lifespan:||30 years or more|
|Specific needs:||40-gallon tank with a tight lid, heat lamp, red nocturnal light|
|Diet:||Mice and rats|
Ball Pythons are much larger than Rosy Boas and require larger enclosures, but they have similar temperaments. They tolerate handling and are typically not aggressive. However, they should not be handled after feeding to prevent an accidental bite. Like the corn snake, the Ball python is clever at escaping. A 40-gallon tank with a tight-fitting lid is vital to keeping them in place. The ambient temperature should be around 80°F, and the tank should have a 90° to 95°F basking area under a heat lamp. UVB lights are recommended for daytime exposure, and the humidity should stay under 60%.
Female pythons can grow up to five feet long, but males average around three feet. They can live 30 or more years under the proper care. One of the few concerns of new reptile owners is the snake’s dormant period. They lose their appetites while in brumation and may only eat once a month. Although it’s normal behavior, some reptile parents become anxious when their pets refuse to eat.
8. Russian Tortoise
|Lifespan:||40 years or more|
|Specific needs:||2’ x 4’ enclosure, outdoor grazing breaks|
|Diet:||Grasses, weeds, flowers, vitamin D supplements|
The Russian tortoise is the only pet on our list that can be temporarily housed outdoors, and caring for the odd creature requires a 40-year commitment. Their rarity and lifespan prevent the tortoise from enjoying a top spot on our list, but they’re not difficult to care for. They can be handled, but most prefer to view humans from a distance. Russian tortoises are herbivores that do not require thawed mice or live insects to live long lives. They can eat grasses, flowers, and weeds, but they cannot digest animal protein or grains.
They usually grow eight inches long and need a large enclosure with a substrate for burrowing. Their indoor home requires 60% humidity and a basking zone from a heat lamp that maintains 90°F. Russian tortoises can live outdoors in warmer months as long as they have soil to burrow into to escape the heat. A fenced-in backyard is essential, and the fence posts must be sunk deep to prevent an escape. As long as you have a few decades, the Russian tortoise is a fun pet to own.
9. Pink Tongue Skink
|Specific needs:||30-gallon vertical terrarium or larger, heat lamp|
|Diet:||Crickets, fruit, canned cat food, mealworms, earthworms|
With its long body, expressive eyes, and stubby legs, the pink tongue skink is an attractive reptile with a docile personality. Compared to other lizards, they’re reasonably simple to keep. Pink tongues can be handled if you give them several days to adapt to their new environment, but if they’re stressed or frightened, they can bite. Infants should not hold the skink, but older children can handle them with close supervision from an adult. A tall enclosure that includes branches, rocks, hiding spots, and cypress mulch substrate is the perfect environment for the pink tongue.
The lizard’s home should have 70% to 80% humidity and have a warm spot at 80°F and a cool area at 75°F. Pink tongues are agile climbers that love to escape their tanks, and you have to ensure the lid is secured and does not have holes in the screen. Unlike some of their family, pink tongues are not picky eaters. They eat fruit, worms, crickets, and even cat food.
10. African Fire Skink
|Specific needs:||20-gallon vertical terrarium, heat lamp|
|Diet:||Crickets, mealworms, wax worms|
This gorgeous lizard has bright red scales and vibrant black and silver colors, and we think it’s one of the prettiest creatures on our list. Although they’re not as docile as some of the reptiles at the top of the list, African fires tolerate handling for short periods. The best habitat for the lizard is a tall terrarium with branches, rocks, hiding areas, and cypress mulch substrate. They need a UVA light and a heating source to keep the ambient temperature around 80° to 85°F. The basking area should be 93° to 96°F, and humidity levels should fall between 70% to 75%. Misting the tank twice a day and leaving a shallow water bowl will help maintain humidity.
African fire skinks enjoy a simple diet of mealworms, crickets, and wax worms dusted with calcium powder. You only have to feed them five to six insects every week. They move fast, and you have to be careful to keep an eye on them when they’re out of the tank.
11. Green Anole
|Specific needs:||10-gallon aquarium or reptile terrarium, heat lamp|
|Diet:||Crickets, mealworms, wax worms|
Also known as the American anole or Carolina anole, the green anole is a pet store favorite native to the Southeastern United States. Although they’re not true chameleons, anoles can change colors from green to brown. Males have a pink throat flap that they use to attract females, but indoor pets rarely display it. Because of their short lifespan, we placed the lizard near the end of our list, but they make great pets for children and amateur reptile owners. They eat crickets, mealworms, and wax worms and only require a small 10-gallon tank to stay happy.
The lizard needs a tank with a UVA/UVB light, heat source, and a substrate like peat moss to keep them healthy. The ambient temperature should stay near 80°F, and humidity should be 60% to 70%. It also needs a basking area that remains at 90°F. Once the anole feels comfortable in its home, you can handle the lizard easily. Some are tame enough to feed by hand, but their fragile bodies must be handled with care.
12. Green Iguana
|Specific needs:||Massive enclosure at least 12 feet long, UVA/UVB light, heat lamp|
|Diet:||Commercial reptile food, leafy greens, fruit|
Green iguanas make great pets with the proper living conditions and diet, but beginners should prepare their homes for the reptile’s growth spurt. Although infants are less than a foot long, adults can grow as big as seven feet when you include the tail. Since the reptile’s enclosure needs to be larger than most reptile housing, some owners convert small rooms or closets to iguana habitats. High heat and humidity are vital for the iguana’s health, and the enclosure should include a basking area at 95°F and humidity levels near 70%.
Unlike other reptiles, the iguana needs an 85°F ambient temperature to aid digestion. Temperature monitoring and enclosure size are the downsides to owning an iguana, but as herbivores, they’re simple to feed. They can eat commercial reptile pellets, fruit, and leafy greens. Adding a calcium supplement will help keep their bones strong.
Reptiles are not near the top of the list for the world’s most popular pets, but they’re fascinating creatures and some of the oldest four-legged organisms on the planet. Our list highlighted the best reptiles for beginners, but we recommend talking to reptile owners online and researching your favorite picks thoroughly to ensure the pet is ideal for your home. Keeping the temperature, humidity, and light levels balanced can be tricky at first, but with practice and helpful advice, caring for a lizard, snake, or tortoise is hassle-free and rewarding.
- Another interesting article on the topic: Amphibians vs Reptiles: What are the Differences? (with Pictures)
Featured Image Credit: akorolkova, Shutterstock