Which Lizard Is The Best For A Beginner?
There are a lot of reptiles to choose from.
Lizards can make seriously great pets, but it’s a good idea to do your research on the best lizards for beginners before adopting one.
Some lizard species require more care and attention than others, so you’ll want to know that ahead of time. Lizards can also live for a long time (the average life span is 10 to 30 years), so picking one who matches your lifestyle and the level of care you can give him is very important.
There are a few things to look out for when choosing a pet lizard to join your family:
- Size — Small lizards, in general, can live in a smaller habitat. If you are pressed for space, this might be something to consider. However, the lizard shouldn’t be so small that he’s too delicate to handle (especially if you have children at home — they should always have adult supervision when handling your new pet).
- Personality — There are several types of lizards who are fun to watch and interact with, making them a perfect fit for a first-time lizard parent.
- Easy to handle — You’ll have to handle your new BFF occasionally, whether he’s out for a little meet and greet with the family or when his tank needs cleaning. Many beginner lizards won't mind regular handling and won't typically bite.
- Bugs and worms — Simply put, you’ve got to be OK with handling bugs and worms of all sorts and feeding them to your lizard. Yes, lizards love leafy greens and those are an important part of their diets, but so are mealworms, crickets, earthworms … you get the idea.
We spoke with Dr. Lara Backus, an exotic-pet veterinarian with Bethel Park Animal Clinic, and Dr. Alisa Rassin, medical director at Exotic Animal Hospital of Philadelphia, for more insight on pet lizard requirements and recommendations for best beginner lizards.
Pet lizards: the 4 best lizards for beginners
“As for a good beginner reptile, I recommend crested geckos,” Dr. Backus told The Dodo.
Male and female crested geckos are typically fully grown at 4 to 4 1/2 inches long. With proper care, they can live for 15 to 20 years. They are best housed in large, plastic terrariums or standard reptile tanks with a screen top (10 to 20 gallons depending on their size). Note: If you decide to get more than one, males housed together may fight. A male and female or females together is a better option.
“Not only do they come in a lot of interesting colors, but they're very easy to feed,” Dr. Backus said. “They do very well on the commercial crested gecko food that is available and can be very friendly if they're handled properly. I also find them very cute.”
Leopard geckos are known for being easygoing lizards, and they don’t require a huge habitat if you’re pressed for space. Their unique colors range from tannish-yellow to patterned black and brown polka dots. They prefer rocks and small logs, and as for food, leopard geckos are insectivorous — they only eat insects.
“Leopard geckos are very popular pets due to their small size and outgoing personalities,” Dr. Backus said. “However, they still need careful monitoring of their cage temperature and nutritional requirements.”
One other thing to note: Leopard geckos are nocturnal.
“They’re usually active during the night, while bearded dragons are active during the day,” Dr. Rassin told The Dodo. “This means that the UVB exposure needs to be available during the daytime for bearded dragons and only during dusk/dawn for leopard geckos.”
African fat-tailed gecko
Commonly known as AFTs, the African fat-tailed gecko is similar to leopard geckos in terms of size and build. However, as their name implies, their tails are much thicker. AFTs are brown and tan in color and have bands across their bodies instead of spots. They do need a decent amount of floor space to run around, so keep that in mind in terms of space. Their dietary requirements are fairly simple and include lots of bugs.
While, yes, AFTs like to be handled and can bond with their caregivers, this takes time.
“These lizards are similar to leopard geckos but tend to be more shy and in general need a lot of patience and work to become tame for handling,” Dr. Backus said.
Bearded dragons, aka “beardies,” are a popular breed with first-time lizard parents. Their temperament is calm and peaceful, and they’re known for being intelligent and affectionate. That being said, they do require a significant amount of care and supervision. Larger than a gecko, bearded dragons usually grow to 16–24 inches once fully grown.
“An adult bearded dragon needs at least a 50-gallon tank to live in, and his diet, lighting and temperature needs are very specific,” Dr. Backus said.
Bearded dragons are omnivores and will eat a variety of insects and vegetables. As they get older, they’ll eat more veggies and less insects. They also require very specific temperatures in their habitat and UVB light exposure. It’s best to check with your exotic-pet veterinarian for exact recommendations, as the temperature and humidity of his habitat are important to his health and well being.
Regardless of what type of lizard you bring home, Dr. Rassin warned, “Your lizard should not be housed on wood chip or sand bedding as they may accidentally ingest it and become impacted. Wood chip bedding has been associated with respiratory illnesses in reptiles.”
Good luck on your quest for the best beginner lizard! No matter what lizard you adopt, a visit to see a veterinarian for a wellness exam within two weeks of bringing your new pet home is recommended.
“That way, they can be examined for any signs of illness and the vet can talk to owners about proper care and set a wellness plan in place,” Dr. Backus said.
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