Reptiles as pets?
Geckos, and dragons, and snakes! Oh my!
To novice keepers and first-time herpetologists, scales may seem more intimidating than fur or feathers, but many species of reptiles make fantastic pets, even for complete beginners. This article covers some of the best animals for those just beginning their journey into reptile ownership: no prior experience necessary!
For anyone considering getting a gecko instead of a kitten,
this article is a must-read!
Reptiles – Know Before You Buy
The most important thing to do before bringing a new reptile home with you is to thoroughly research the species you are interested in. Unfortunately, the vast majority of reptiles kept as pets do not last in their home longer than a year. They either die due to mistreatment or must be rehomed because the owner was not prepared for the commitment that keeping an exotic animal entails.
Be a responsible pet owner by researching what acceptable reptile species for beginners are (this article goes over a few of the best ones!), their needs in terms of food, tank size, lighting, heat, and socialization, their lifespan, and the approximate cost of upkeep. In many respects, owning a reptile is easier than owning a mammal—no daily walks, loud barking, or smelly litter box. That being said, it is vital to prepare for your animal’s unique needs.
You will also want to research a reputable breeder from which to buy your reptile.
Reptiles kept as pets should always be bred in captivity. Taking animals from the wild to live in captivity is cruel and destructive to natural ecosystems. It can also result in a number of behavioral problems in your pet. Thorough research will also prevent you from falling into the trap of impulse-buying.
A baby animal looks tiny and cute at a reptile expo or on the Internet. But will you be prepared for when it outgrows its enclosure and becomes bigger than you might be comfortable handling?
Reptiles – Best Pets For Beginners
Leopard geckos are one of the most popular reptiles kept as pets for good reason: they have friendly, easy-going personalities and are relatively low maintenance and low cost.
These lizards are native to the deserts of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and India. But now they have found their way into the homes and hearts of many around the world. They are small in size, growing to between 7 and 10 inches in length as adults. They take their name from their striking patterning, dark yellow with black spots that resemble a leopard print!
These are docile, easy-going lizards who are happy to be handled by their owners.
Leopard geckos are insectivores. They consume a variety of crickets, waxworms, and mealworms that can be found at any pet store.
Adult leopard geckos only need to be fed about three times a week. However, they should receive a calcium/vitamin D3 supplement with their food about once a week. This can easily be done by coating the crickets in supplement powder.
Leopard geckos, like all animals, should always have access to fresh, clean water.
Enclosure, lighting, and heat
Leopard geckos only need a 20-gallon tank to be comfortable. Up to 3 geckos can live together in one tank, as long as there is only one male. Their small enclosure needs make them the perfect size for seniors who might live in a small apartment and don’t have much space to allocate to an animal.
Additionally, the tank can be placed on a table or desk. This is a plus for anyone with mobility or joint issues who might struggle to bend down to change a litter box on the ground.
Leopard geckos are nocturnal and therefore do not require as much UV/UVB light as their diurnal cousins. A little goes a long way but is still essential for the prevention of metabolic bone disease.
As cold-blooded animals, they need an external heat source to regulate their body temperature. You should provide a warmer area of the enclosure for basking, and a cooler spot for them to go to adjust their temperature.
These lizards are also relatively inexpensive, and once the upfront costs of the gecko, tank, and supplies are taken care of, the long-term costs are very low.
Even those brand new to reptile keeping will find the leopard gecko easy to care for!
Like the leopard gecko, bearded dragons are also growing in popularity as pets—even celebrity author and model Chrissy Teigen is finding out what joys owning a bearded dragon can bring.
Bearded dragons are so named for their “beards,” that is, loose skin around their necks, which they puff up when they feel threatened or excited.
According to reptile expert Johnathan David from EverythingReptiles.com “beardies” (as they are affectionately known) have become popular pets for three main reasons:
- They are bred widely across the US, so it is easy to find a reputable breeder.
- They are docile and adaptable to captivity.
- Dragons are diurnal lizards, meaning they are active during the daytime.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about caring for one of these magnificent reptiles!
Adult bearded dragons should be fed a diet of crickets and leafy green vegetables, about 2-3 times per week.
In terms of greens, you can feed your dragon a variety of vegetables, including dandelions, romaine lettuce, beet tops, carrot tops, and zucchini. Experiment to see what they like best! Babies and juveniles will eat more frequently than their adult counterparts—at least once per day.
Like captive leopard geckos, bearded dragons will also need a calcium and vitamin D3 supplement.
Beardies prefer not to drink from a deep water source. Thus, their water bowl should be shallow and should be freshened on a daily basis.
Enclosure, lighting, and heat
Bearded dragons require a tank of at least 50 gallons and up to 120 gallons. In general, bigger is better—a tank that is too small has a higher risk of overheating.
They are diurnal—that is, active during the daytime—and require 12 hours of daylight.
Their enclosure should have both a UVB light and an infrared light for basking. Set them up so that there are distinct warm and cool areas of the tank. Many owners like to take their beardies outside to experience natural daylight! This can be a great activity for kids as well.
If you choose to let your bearded dragon visit the outdoors, keep a close eye on them to make sure they are not overheating. If you see them “smiling” with their mouth open, this is a sign that they are getting too hot and are trying to cool themself down. Give them some shade, a cool surface to lie on, or bring them back indoors.
Easy-going, friendly, and docile, bearded dragons make great family pets for first-time reptile owners!
Perhaps you’re thinking you’d like a legless friend instead of a lizard—look no further than the beginner-friendly corn snake!
With their friendly personalities, simple feeding requirements, and lifespans of 15-20 years in captivity, these animals make great “starter snakes” for anyone wanting to get started in snake-keeping.
Corn snakes, also known as red rat snakes, are usually reddish-orange in color. They grow to between 3 and 5 feet long.
Captive corn snakes thrive on a diet of pre-killed, thawed rats and mice. Adults only need to be fed once every week to ten days, so long as the prey is appropriately sized.
One of the reasons corn snakes are great for beginners is because they are docile and rarely bite. That being said, you can further reduce the risk of bites by making sure that your hands are clean and don’t smell like snake food when you are handling your pet.
You should provide your corn snake with constant access to fresh water in a heavy, shallow bowl.
Enclosure, lighting, and heat
At a minimum, an adult corn snake requires a 20-gallon tank. They are excellent climbers, and would do best with vertical space to engage this skill! However, they are also talented escape artists, so your enclosure must have a secure lid that they won’t be able to nudge open with their nose.
Additionally, these snakes like to burrow and hide. You should provide a loose substrate for burrowing. Also make sure there are a number of hiding spots, such as small cardboard boxes or pieces of bark.
Corn snakes do best with an overhead heat lamp, with an ambient temperature of 80-85° Fahrenheit. They should have a slightly warmer basking area (up to 88°) and a slightly cooler temperature at night (no lower than 75°).
Other Pet-Related Content:
Raising Chickens for Health and Happiness
Scientific Reasons Why Keeping Fish Helps Prevent Loneliness
The bottom line on reptiles as pets
Virtually anyone can own a pet reptile, even if you have no experience! Leopard geckos, bearded dragons, and corn snakes are some of the best species for beginners.
Whenever you are considering buying a new pet (mammal or reptile) make sure you do all of your research and preparation beforehand.
Do you own one of these three species? Let us know in the comments below!
Johnathan David leads the editorial team at Everything Reptiles as our Editor in Chief. He brings decades worth of publishing experience
A reptile hobbyist since childhood, he has years' of experience in herpetoculture and has cared for Geckos (2 Gargoyles), Skinks (Blue Tongue) and a Frog (Poison dart).
A trusted member of the industry, his work being featured by major publications (e.g. PetMD).
The writer of this piece obviously did a five-minute Google search on the care of the reptiles they’re recommending and came back with some bad and outdated information. Leopard geckos should always be kept alone. They are not social animals. They are very territorial and can injure each other. Even if they don’t fight, there is usually a more dominant animal that gets more of the food than others. Males should not be kept with females except to breed, and then they should only be put together for a few days at a time. Otherwise the male’s constant advances will wear the female out and having to produce eggs constantly with no rest will deplete her calcium stores, making her vulnerable to illness. I cannot stress this enough — anyone who claims you can keep more than one gecko together over an extended period of time is just trying to sell more geckos. Pet stores often have some of the WORST information when it comes to care and husbandry.
Thank you for your feedback. To your point, we should have been more clear in the article: male leopard geckos should not be housed together. Females can be kept together with a male, but when you have more than one male sharing the same tank, they will get territorial, as you say. Of course, if you don’t want your leopard geckos to breed, you also should not keep a male and female together.
My kids are thinking that they are ready to have a pet, and are trying to decide what one would be best. As you mentioned, the leopard gecko my be a good place to start as they stay small and are easy to take care of. I will have to keep this in mind as we get closer to choosing one.
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