So you've decided it's time to add a reptile to your household. But there are so many options to choose from, how can you know what species makes the best beginner reptile?
Reptile Species to Avoid
Several very common, inexpensive species look like good first choices, but are actually the worst beginner reptiles you could select. Green iguanas can get up to 6 feet long and get extremely aggressive after puberty. These guys have a very powerful tail whip, worse bite, and very special dietary needs. Most of them do not survive their first year in captivity.
Also avoid tiny baby red-eared sliders. Not only do they carry a high risk of salmonella, but they need need at least a 4 foot aquarium with heaters, UV lamp, heat lamp, and powerful filters as dinner plate sized adults.. Sulcata tortoises start out tiny and cute. But they get to be over 100 pounds, live easily 70 years, and need a securely fenced yard after about 5 years.
Chameleons became very popular after "Tangled" and "Rango", but they are a very sensitive species with advanced care needs, an expensive habitat, and absolutely hate to be picked up.
Best Lizards for Beginners
If you want a lizard, the best beginner reptiles are bearded dragons, leopard geckos, and crested geckos.
Bearded dragons are the friendliest and have the best personalities. They also have the most complicated care of the 3. They need a large tank with high heat and UV, and need to be fed at least once daily with fresh greens and live insects.
Leopard geckos tolerate handling fairly well, and are easier to care for. They need some heat, but no UV, do well in a small tank, and eat only bugs.
Crested geckos are the easiest of the lot, they eat a commercial product called Crested Gecko Diet, a fruit powder you mix with water into a paste. They don't need heat, UV, or live bugs.
Best Turtles for Beginners
If you want a turtle or tortoise, a Russian tortoise is your best choice. They stay fairly small -- 8 inches is average for an adult male, and 10 for a female. They can live indoors in a tub (with heat and UV) or outside in a fenced pen. These tortoises are completely vegetarian and just eat fruits, vegetables, hay, grasses, and seeds. Box turtles are also a good species, but they need some crickets, roaches, or earthworms added to their diet a couple times a week.
Best Snakes for Beginners
Corn snakes and ball pythons make the best choices as far as snakes go. Corn snakes are the most active to watch in their cages, and the easiest to feed. Nearly all corns will eat live or mice every week. But they are a very active snake that likes to crawl around and explore everywhere -- not a good choice for small children or those who want a "buddy" to sit with them while they do homework or watch TV. Ball pythons are much calmer, and will happily sit curled around your arm or neck or hang out in your lap for hours. This means they sit in the same place in their tank all the time, too.
Ball pythons are a little more difficult to feed. Not all ball pythons will ever learn to take frozen rodents and you may have to always give them live rats or mice. It is also very common for them to refuse food for several weeks or even months, which can be scary for a beginner reptile keeper.
You can't go wrong choosing a bearded dragon, leopard gecko, crested gecko, Russian tortoise, box turtle, corn snake, or ball python. They will all make fantastic additions to any family wanting a scaly pet.