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Reptiles for Beginners

Good Choices for Inexperienced Owners

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Leopard Geckos

Leopard Geckos

Lianne McLeod
Reptiles can make excellent pets, but sometimes inexperienced owners are overwhelmed when the realize how expensive and difficult some reptiles are to care for. Unfortunately, many owners go home from pet stores with incomplete and even incorrect information on proper care of their reptiles so end up surprised and unprepared when they find out what it really takes to care for their pets, in both time and cost. Unmet expectations and poor advice about care can result in a bad experience for the owner and can ultimately be fatal for the reptile.

Some reptiles are poor choices for beginners, often due to diet or environmental needs or an unwieldy adult size. However, there are some readily available reptiles that are good for beginners. These animals are relatively low maintenance, compared to other reptiles, but they still need a significant investment in proper equipment up front. As always, do thorough research before deciding on one of these pets and get your enclosure set up before bringing home your new pet. I recommend new owners read about "Salmonella and Reptiles" to become aware of the risks and preventing infections, and also "Reptile Light and Heat" to get an overview of the possible methods of meeting the environmental needs of reptile pets. Here are my recommendations for reptiles for beginners:

Lizards:
Unfortunately, one of the most common lizards found in pet stores, the iguana, is not a great choice for beginners, largely due to their size and tendency to become aggressive at maturity, as well as their specific diet and environmental needs. Many lizards have very specific requirements when it comes to heat, humidity, light (especially special bulbs that emit UVA and UVB light), and diet. However, a couple of lizards stand out for their suitability for beginners and availability.

  • Leopard Geckos
    This is considered by many to be the ideal lizard for beginners. They are relatively small and easy to care for. A 15-20 gallon tank is large enough and since they are nocturnal, they do not need specialized (UVA/UVB) lighting. They are insectivores and should be fed a variety of insects. They are also quite docile and easy to handle. Care of Leopard Geckos
  • Bearded Dragons
    These are probably the most challenging of reptiles listed listed here, mostly due tot he equipment needed to keep them. This Australia native reaches a size of 18-24 inches so needs a good sized tank (40 gallon for an adult). They are desert dwellers so a relatively high temperature needs to be maintained, and exposure to UVA and UVB light is a necessity (the bulbs are relatively expensive). Owners of these lizards can expect to spend a fair amount of money on the proper enclosure. However, these lizards are entertaining and easily tamed. They need a diet that is a combination of insects and a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit. Care of Bearded Dragons

Snakes:
The biggest obstacle for many owners is the diet needs of snakes. For most commonly kept snakes, owners must be willing to feed whole prey such as mice or rats (prekilled is preferred). However, snakes have the advantage of often only needing to be fed once a week or less so can easily be left on their own for a few days without a pet sitter. They also have no requirement for UVA/UVB lights.

  • Corn Snakes
    These beautiful snakes are docile and easy to care for. They reach an adult size of 3-5 feet or so, and can be expected to live 10 years or more. Corn snakes are excellent escape artists and need an enclosure with a tight fitting lid, though! Care of Corn Snakes
  • Ball Pythons
    A small constricting snake (adults reach 3-5 feet) that is usually quite docile and easy to care for. They do have a reputation for refusing to feed, so potential owners should be persistent in finding a healthy captive bred ball python (you may even want to ask for a feeding demonstration to ensure the snake will readily take killed mice). Ball Pythons can be expected to live a long life (20-30 years). Care of Ball Pythons

A Note About Turtles
Fortunately, the idea of marketing turtles (particularly red eared sliders) as wonderful pets for kids seems to have fallen from favor. Aquatic turtles get to be quite large and messy, and turn out to be pretty boring to children. It can be very challenging to meet the housing and environmental needs of most turtles (aquatic turtles, box turtles, and tortoises). Deciding to get a turtle requires a great deal of preparation and commitment.

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