Reptiles

For some, the mere thought of owning a reptile scares them. So, why are they so popular among families? The answer, of course, is that they’re smart, loyal, and relatively low maintenance, and that’s a combination that most parents can appreciate.

Aren’t reptiles carnivorous animals with tiny heads and huge teeth? Some are, but still most of these are not overly aggressive, and even less so with socialization. If you’re a fan of these smiling toothy beasts, then you’ve probably been thinking about getting a pet reptile. So, what are the benefits of having a pet reptile? For starters, many require virtually no upkeep, are very low cost to own, make for wonderful pets for kids and teens, and can help children learn about the world around them. Today there are more than 6,000 species of reptiles around the world, and dozens of different species as family pets.

Pet reptiles are very popular today because they look different from so many other pets people have! Many of them are easy to care for. Most can be socialized with human contact so that they don’t bite you when you touch them. They come in different colors and sizes so it’s easier to find one that suits your personality.

a close up of a reptiles eye
a bearded dragon standing on a rock

Bearded Dragons

Bearded dragons are gems. If you don’t know what you’re getting into, you might just think these are big, ugly lizards that eat their young. But they’re not, they’re beautiful and fascinating animals that are fiercely loyal to their owners. They have personalities, they’re energetic, and they’re fascinating. 

The real reason bearded dragons are amazing is that they’re great first pets for young families. Sure, you can have a few other pets in your house before you get a bearded dragon (such as a hamster, guinea pig, rabbit, or gerbil), but if you go with the bearded dragon route, you’re set for life.

Bearded dragons are arguably one of the best pets ever. They are cute, fun, and the perfect size for a home. They are not only tough, but they also make wonderful pets for children. They are great with the whole family, and kids will love seeing their pet up close. They are also easy to care for. Many families have happy bearded dragon experiences.

Chameleon

Talk about a reptilian surprise! Chameleons are one of nature’s great mysteries when it comes to pets. If you ask most people, they will tell you that these little guys are dinky little lizards—but that couldn’t be further from the truth! A chameleon is one of the most colorful, unique, and intelligent reptiles around.

Many people are interested in Chameleons as pets, but often they are told by others that they are not easy to care for, and that they will bite. But, if they are given the right environment, these little animals are friendly, and make a great companion for the whole family.

Chameleons are one of the most striking of the reptiles—and one of the most popular pets. If you have a Chameleon as a pet, you can have a pet that is fun to watch, fascinating to examine and fun to handle. They have long been an animal of mystery, art and legend, so that they have become a regular part of our culture. They have always been considered as amazing pets because of their unique looks. Because of all of this, Chameleons are one of the most popular pet reptiles.

a Chameleon walking with a beautiful color pattern
a Russian tortois eating fruit

Russian Tortoises

Admit it, you’ve always had a little thing for turtles. Maybe you find their slow pace of life and hardy nature intriguing or maybe you just get scared by their chunky front shoulders. Either way, you’re probably envious of their “beautiful shell” and desire to hold one of these little guys. What you may not know, though, is that if you’ve got love for Russian tortoises, you’ll soon discover that they are available as pets.

Russian tortoises are among the few animals that have been around for over 100 million years, and yet they still haven’t changed much. They’re hardy, stubborn, and take a long time to mature. Unlike dogs, cats, or horses, they don’t require grooming, and they don’t require exercise. They don’t shed, and they don’t have to be bathed. And yet, they’re still a popular pet.

In the past few years, the Russian tortoise has gained in popularity in the US. This is thanks to its low maintenance, pretty color variety, compact size and great longevity. Now that these tortoises are gaining popularity, the question is: are they the best choice for your family?

Green Iguana

The Green Iguana is a relatively new addition to the family pet community. With the rise of exotic pets and its popularity, the Green Iguana has become a popular pet choice. The Green Iguana is a larger, somewhat difficult to care for reptile that is relatively low maintenance.

The Green Iguana does best with families that have older children and are more interested in watching the animal than handling them. At their adult length they’re a handful even for adults. If you have a nice backyard with a lot of space, lots of sunshine, and years of reptile experience these could be a good pet for you.

This should not be the first reptile your family owns. They are a pet for families with years of reptile experience. They are great lizards, but for most they will be too much.

a Green Iguana standing on a leaf
a Caiman Lizard eating an insect

Caiman Lizard

With the growing interest in exotic pets, especially reptiles, there are more Caiman Lizards available for adoption. Caiman Lizards are known to be difficult to handle, and difficult to care for. If you get past that, they are very pleasant to have around. The biggest obstacle for most families to own them is the upfront cost of ownership. They require a fairly large enclosure to be happy lizards. As you can guess this is something that you are likely going to be building yourself because there aren’t any Caiman Lizard enclosures on Amazon.

If cost isn’t going to scare you away there are a few other things that might. Don’t get us wrong, these can be great pets, but one of the biggest problems people have is they don’t fully understand what they’re getting into with Caiman Lizards before they get one and take it home.

Finding food for them that they will eat can be one of your biggest challenges. Some Caiman Lizards will only eat snails. Finding a reliable supply of these can be challenging, and making sure they’re free from any diseases or parasites. The last thing you’ll want to do is buy some poor quality food for your lizard and have them get sick or die.

Green Basilisk

If you want a pet that is as fascinating as a lizard, but with a friendlier face than a snake, a Green Basilisk (Basiliscus plumifrons) is the perfect pet for you! They can be a great family pet. Basilisks are generally docile and will not bite unless provoked, and they are not venomous. They are easy to take care of and won’t get too big, so they make a great pet even with small homes.

If you’re looking for a lizard that’s a bit more exciting than the average pet rock, you may want to consider the Green Basilisk. Although they’re not as well-known as other family pets, the Green Basilisk is a unique lizard that will make a wonderful addition to your home.

Green Basilisk is the smallest species of basilisk lizard in the world, but it still has a few things going for it that might make it the perfect pet for your family. First, for a small animal, it has a relatively long life expectancy. Second, this lizard is generally pretty easy to care for, as long as it has a warm environment (around 85 degrees). Third, as we’ve already mentioned, they’re not aggressive.

a Green Basilisk resting in its enclosure
a Red Eared Slider enjoying some sun in the grass

Red Eared Slider Turtle

The Red Eared Slider Turtle is one of the most popular pet turtles around. They can have many different colors, are easy to care for and inexpensive to purchase, and it makes a great addition to the family. They are relatively small, making them a good choice for families with smaller children. As with most turtles, they are best kept in a large tank, because they can get a little aggressive if kept in a small enclosure.

Slider turtles are one of the best pets ever, and one of the most fun! They’re cute, cuddly, and easy to find at pet stores, and they have a low maintenance life-style. Sliders are very social animals: they often seek out the company of other turtles and easily get along with other pets.

Maybe you’ve seen videos of them online? They’re a little shy of human contact if they’re wild like the ones in most videos. But even wild they will still come up and take food out of your hand if you are calm and patient enough. They really enjoy eating finger sized fish or little bits of melon like watermelon. If you have enough space for these little guys then they could be a great addition to your family.

African Sulcata Tortoise

Let’s face it, most people don’t have the patience to deal with a pet tortoise. They’re messy, they’re slow, and if you’re not careful they can kill your dog or cat. They’re also delicate and dangerous. So, what’s a busy professional to do? Well, there’s no better candidate than the African Sulcata Tortoise. These gentle giants are hardy and docile, and they can live for more than 50 years if given the proper care.

African Sulcata Tortoises (also known as a sulcata tortoise) are a species of tortoise found in semi-arid grasslands, scrub, and savannah in northern Africa. They are highly adaptable and can live in a wide range of habitats, from dry desert to wet grasslands. But if you want them for a family pet you’ll need space for them to move.

While the African Sulcata Tortoises can be great pets, most families don’t realize how much space they need to house them. They grow to almost 3 feet long, so a small 10’x10’ pen just isn’t going to cut it. They don’t need too much else after you get their home set up, so if you have the space for them they can be great for your family!

a African Sulcata Tortoise moving around in its enclosure
a Savannah Monitor standing on orange rocks

Savannah Monitor

Normally the format we use for a pet introduction is why blank is a great family pet. For Savannah Monitors we need to deviate from that, because for most families they are not great pets. The sad reality is that most families that will get a Savannah Monitor will give it up at some point in the first few years of its life. 

These pets are not good with kids, they don’t like being handled and they really don’t care what you want, they have their own plans. We strongly encourage people interested in this animal to read this article, and then watch some YouTube videos on how they are with their owners. We cannot stress this enough that this is NOT a reptile you should consider unless you have a lot of experience with reptiles and fully understand what you are getting into.

The reality is that 99% of the people who will read this article will not be ready for this animal as a pet. We want to provide you with all the information we can on all of the pet options you have, but we also want to be fully honest. We want your pets to be just as happy as you are, and most people will be just as unhappy as your Monitor is after a few months or a year. There are a lot better reptiles that you can bring home to your family, and we hope for your and their sake that you pick them and not a Savannah Monitor.

African Fire Skink

A pet Fire Skink will not only add flair to your home, but will also make a valuable companion for your kids. Skinks are easy to care for and are known for their intelligence. They are active, social, and curious, and even though they are small, they don’t bite. They also make great pets because they are clean and quiet, and don’t require a lot of attention, which makes them suitable for people who don’t like high maintenance pets.

Africa is home to many colorful species of Skink, but few are as striking as the African Fire Skink. There are several different subspecies, but the most common are the African Fire Skinks. This species is one of four closely related species that are found across the continent, and the only species that is from the tropical rainforests of western Africa.

For those who don’t know, the African Fire Skink is a lizard that spends its time basking on plants and rocks. They are known as a great pet as the animals seem to be great with children as they are super friendly and endearing.

an african fire skink on a rock
Character Traits of Reptiles
Reptile Species  Size Character Traits Cost Lifespan
Russian Tortoises 4 – 8 inches Social pets that can recognize their owners. Russian Tortoises are very territorial and should be housed alone. $80 – $200 Up to 50 years 
Chameleon 9 – 24 inches Very territorial and like to stay alone. Chameleons tend to be protective of their living area and don’t like being handled. $30 – $300 3 – 10 years
Bearded Dragons 16 – 24 inches Bearded Dragons are docile and sociable. They enjoy human handling but are territorial with other lizards.  $30 – $100 6 – 12 years
Red Eared Slider Turtle 8 – 16 inches Active and friendly pets. Red Eared Slider Turtles are calm and enjoy human handling. $20 – $30 15 – 20 years
African Sulcata Tortoise 24 – 30 inches Mostly active during dusk and dawn. They spend most of their time grazing or borrowing and don’t like being handled.  $50 – $200 50 – 70 years
Green Basilisk 21 – 25 inches Basilisks are active and adventurous. They don’t like being handled and it is easy for them to get irritated. $20– $100 8 – 10 years
Caiman Lizard 2 – 5 feet  Neither solitary nor very social. Caiman Lizards are intelligent and can be trained to be handled. $350 – $1500 8 – 12 years
Green Iguana 4 – 6 feet  Active during the day and rest at night. They are calm but excessive handling can stress them. $20– $200 15 – 20 years
Cost of Keeping Reptiles

The cost of owning and taking care of a reptile can range from $150 to $2000 a year. Reptiles come in all sorts of sizes and their needs vary greatly. The cost of keeping different species will vary based on the type of enclosure they need and their care needs.

Here is a table showing the cost of things a reptile needs: 

Item Cost
Reptile $20 – $1500
Cage $30 – $1200 depending on size and indoor or outdoor setup
Light + UVB Bulb $20 – $70 yearly
Reptile Heaters $5 – $25
Water Filters $70
Feeding bowls $15 – $45
Decorations (Basking rocks, branches, timers, surge protectors, etc.) $50 – $100
Bedding $9 – $30 monthly
Food $5 – $45 monthly
Veterinary charges $35 to $125 yearly
General Information

Reptiles are some of the most interesting and popular pets in American homes. They can be as little as a few inches long or as long as a few feet. Caring for reptiles takes a lot more effort and equipment than what it takes to care for dogs, cats or rodents. 

Reptiles have a unique type of skin that is dry and covered with scales or bony plates. The hard and dry skin protects them from the hot environments they come from. Their skin is also good at retaining water in the dryer environments. Reptiles are cold-blooded animals and depend on their surroundings to keep themselves warm.

Most reptiles need large and spacious enclosures. Their enclosures need to have lighting, heating and humidifying equipment to help them regulate their body temperatures. Green Iguanas are one of the largest lizard species and are up to 5 feet long. They will need a large and outdoor living enclosure. On the other extreme are reptiles like Geckos who are tiny and only get to about 8 inches long. Their small size allows them to be kept in an indoor aquarium or another small cage.

The cost of buying a reptile can range from $15 to $1500 and setting up their enclosure can be expensive and complex. Their enclosure can cost anywhere between $30 dollars for a tiny reptile to a few thousand dollars for the largest reptile. There are additional expenses that you should plan for like veterinary, food and maintenance expenses. All these expenses can add up making them a relatively expensive pet to own. Still the idea of owning an exotic pet like a reptile, makes some people willing to spend the time, money and effort. 

Most reptiles need a lot of attention and should only be owned by experienced reptile owners. There are a few reptiles that are easy to keep that will give you the experience you’ll need to own the more difficult ones. We recommend getting your feet wet with one of these reptiles first.

What is the Ideal Habitat for Reptiles?

Type and Size of Enclosure

Their habitat needs are very different from that of dogs or rodents. While some reptiles can be housed indoors, others will need a large outdoor enclosure. We have individual articles that detail the needs of reptiles so you can find out what they need before you get them.

The design of the outdoor enclosures can also vary greatly depending on the reptile. Tortoises can be kept in an outdoor fenced area but lizards should be kept in an area covered from all sides, including the top. This is very important to stop the lizards from climbing and escaping the cage. 

Some like Russian Tortoises like to burrow. If kept outside the fence should be buried in the ground. Depending on how much they like digging you may need something several feet below ground to keep them contained. There are a number of different things you can use as a barrier from concrete or wood, or even a store bought fence. 

Smaller reptiles can be kept indoors inside a glass or plastic tank. The enclosure should have a tight lid and should be secured on all sides to keep them from escaping. 

Habitat Requirements 

The substrate will depend upon the type of enclosure. For outdoor housed reptiles a mix of sand and dirt are a good choice. The substrate should be thick and allow the reptile to move around. Avoid using soft substrate like sand for Green Iguanas as they can eat it. Ceramic tiles or river stones are better choices for them. 

For indoor cages a variety of substrates like reptile carpet, coconut fiber or reptile bark are inexpensive. The substrate should be replaced once every month to keep your reptile’s environment clean. 

Temperature

Reptiles need both warm and cold areas because it helps them regulate their body temperature. Depending upon the temperature where you live, you may have to add a heating source to their cage. Reptiles like to bask under a heat lamp to get warm. Inside their cage they’ll need a warm and a cold area with a basking spot somewhere in the warm area.

Lights need to be added and should be paired with a timer to replicate a normal day and night cycle. While outdoor reptiles will not need a separate UVB lighting source, indoor reptiles will need one. The UVB lighting bulbs should be replaced every 7 to 8 months to make sure they maintain their effectiveness.

If your reptile is in an outdoor enclosure and the climate matches your reptile’s needs, separate heating or lighting equipment may not be needed. The outdoor area must have a covered area to protect the reptile from sunlight. Contrary to what some people believe it is possible for reptiles to get too much sun!

Decorations

Some reptiles like to climb and having branches or other things to climb on inside their enclosures is important. The branches should be strong enough to withstand the weight of your reptiles.

For reptiles in indoor enclosures, plants can be added to the enclosure. The plants should be non-toxic because some reptiles may eat them.

Additional Habitat Requirements

Some reptiles like the Red Eared Slider Turtles are semi-aquatic reptiles. They need access to both land and water. There are many ways that this can be done. We cover a few different things that can be done in the article we have specifically about the Red Eared Slider.

Food

The food preferences of reptiles vary based on the species. Some like Russian Tortoises, African Sulcata Tortoises and Green Iguanas are strict herbivores that need to be fed a vegetarian diet. Feeding them is inexpensive as you can give them vegetables like sweet potato, bell pepper, whole green beans, leafy greens and others. If you keep your reptiles outside, they may also enjoy eating the vegetables or plants growing in your garden. 

Omnivore reptiles will eat pinky mice, insects, worms or cockroaches. We recommended feeding them food that has been bought from a pet store. Avoid feeding them wild-caught prey because they may carry diseases that can infect your pets. We have articles about a wide range of reptiles that will list the types of foods they need. 

How to feed younger reptiles?

Younger reptiles should be fed smaller pieces of food. For reptiles who are vegetarian, finely chop the vegetables before feeding them. The amount of food should be increased as your reptiles start growing. Younger reptiles should be fed 2-3 times and older reptiles once a day.

Fruits and Supplements 

Most reptiles will need calcium and vitamin supplements in their diet. These can be added to their diet every other day. Fruits can also be fed to some reptiles 2 to 3 times a week. Avoid giving fruits to African Sulcata Tortoise as it can cause kidney problems in them.

Remove uneaten food from the cage after an hour or the reptiles could overeat. The uneaten food can also make the enclosure smell if it starts rotting.

General Reptile Care

Managing their Climate

Keeping the climate conditions in the recommended range is very important to keep your reptiles healthy and happy. How you do this will depend on the type of enclosure – indoor or outdoor, your climate and the reptile you have.

Humidity is an important factor for reptile care. Some reptiles may need frequent misting to keep the humidity of their enclosure high enough for them. There are a number of ways to do this, with a spray bottle misting their enclosure being the cheapest and easiest.

The humidity should be increased when your reptile is going to shed because higher humidity helps them shed their skin. Most reptiles shed in patches and not all at once like snakes. It’s important to any old skin when you find it in their enclosure to keep it clean.

Most reptiles like to soak themselves and a water bowl should be kept inside their enclosure to let them soak themselves. The water bowl should be large enough for your reptile to soak their entire body. It’s important that your reptile’s water bowl be cleaned and refilled everyday. The clean water adds to the humidity and gives them fresh water to drink as well as soaking their skin.

Cleaning the Substrate 

Reptiles generally poop on the substrate but they can sometimes also poop while soaking themselves in their water bowl. The poop should be removed from the cage any time you see it. To make sure your pets home is as clean as possible, thoroughly disinfect their enclosure once a month. Always wash your hands anytime you interact with your reptile or their cage. The fecal matter of reptiles can contain bacteria that can cause diseases in humans.

Attention Requirements of Reptiles

Reptiles are one of the longest living pets you can have. Depending upon the species they can live anywhere from 20 to 70 years. When deciding on getting a reptile, factor in the average lifespan of the species because some can live as long as you. Many owners don’t realize this and eventually end up giving their reptiles to a rescue. 

Most reptiles don’t need a lot of human attention but they are high maintenance pets.

Aggressiveness in Reptiles

Aggressiveness in reptiles can vary a lot by species. While some can enjoy the company of their owners, others like Chameleons are solitary and like to live alone. Chameleons don’t like being handled and can bite if they feel threatened. 

What to consider before selecting a reptile pet?

When getting a reptile you should learn about the behavior of species you are interested in. If you want a social reptile that likes to be handled then Bearded Dragons could be a good choice. They will rarely attack or bite you. This makes them a great pet for families with kids. Some lizards, especially Green Iguanas are known to use their tails to attack. If they feel threatened or stressed they will use their tail to attack you. They can move their tails very fast and cause a lot of pain very quickly.

Are all reptiles territorial?

Most reptiles do show some amount of territorial behavior. The aggressiveness can be more in some and less in others. Housing two males and a female together will usually cause the males to become aggressive with each other. The males will fight or try to mate with the female and this can be stressful for the female. One way to avoid this is by keeping them in a large enclosure with barriers in between.

Some reptiles need time to adapt to their new home. When introduced to their new home they may rest for most of the day and not move around. Give them time to get used to their new enclosure. They will become active once they feel comfortable with their new home. 

Are reptiles good for beginner pet owners?

Reptiles are generally kept as pets by experienced pet owners. Some reptiles can be very aggressive and hit their owner with their tail if they are not handled properly. There are a few reptile species that are generally non-aggressive and can be owned by less experienced pet owners. Finding out about the behavior of different reptiles will help you decide which reptile can be best for your family.

Basic Facts about Reptiles

Reptiles are four-legged animals with more than 11,000 species and over 2,100 subspecies found around the world. This is far larger than the amount of bird or mammal species. Reptiles are also known to be some of the longest-living pets with some tortoises living 70 to 80 years! Owning a reptile could mean having a pet that can live as long as you! 

Reptiles have dry skin because they do not have sweat glands. The scales or bony plates on their skin are made from keratin, a substance that gives strength to their scales. 

Some reptiles have unique defense mechanisms. Some will hiss, others can camouflage themselves or a few may shed their tail when they feel threatened. 

Most reptiles reproduce by laying eggs. Depending upon the species, the reptiles can lay anywhere between 2 to 100 eggs. We recommend keeping males and females separate, especially if they have not been spayed or neutered.

Lizards use their tongue to smell. While they do have nostrils, lizards only use them to breathe. They will stick out their tongue and pick up the scent in the air. They flick their tongue to help get more air over it to help them look for food. 

Reptiles are known to carry Salmonella bacteria in their gastrointestinal tracts. A reptile owner can get infected with the bacteria that could get diarrhea or a fever. Washing your hands before and after handling your reptiles or cleaning their cage is recommended. This should prevent you from getting infected with the bacteria.

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