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.