Lizards make great pets. The problem is these fascinating reptiles are not all made equal. While some are easy to care for, others need more expertise and experience.
The good news is, there are several great options for first-time owners. But before we dive into which lizards make the best pets for beginners, let’s take a look at what qualities and characteristics you should look for …
What To Look For When Choosing A Pet Lizard?
When you’re looking to buy your first lizard, there are some telltale signs that the species you’re buying is a good choice.
Size is one of the first things you want to take into consideration when picking a pet lizard. Lizards can range from just over ½ an inch to 10 feet, though not all of them should be kept as pets.
Smaller lizards generally need smaller living spaces. This means their initial setup and ongoing costs will be lower. That being said, first-time owners probably don’t want a lizard that’s too small, as they’ll require more delicate handling.
Larger lizards are easier to handle but need bigger setups. That means increased costs and more maintenance.
You also need to think about how much space you have. Iguanas need a habitat that is at least 4 feet x 6 feet x 6 feet. Most people can’t provide this amount of space. Housing a leopard gecko is much easier as its habitat could easily sit on a dresser.
2. Time Commitment
Another thing you want to consider is how much time you can dedicate to caring for and spending time with your lizard. Some lizards are very sociable and need to interact with their owners regularly.
You also want to factor in the lizard’s lifespan. Some lizards have a lifespan of only a few years, while others can live upwards of 20 years.
That means you don’t just want to think about your current availability. You also want to consider whether your time commitments will change in the years to come. It’s an unfortunate reality, but many people commit to lizards and then have to give them up years later when they no longer have time or space for them.
3. Health & Build
When looking at different lizards, first-time owners should look for species that are less prone to injury and illness.
While you always want to do your research and make sure you’re prepared before owning a pet, mistakes happen. Hardier lizards will be more tolerant of accidental hiccups in their care routine while you’re learning. They also tend to be less prone to getting hurt and easier to handle.
That leads us to our next point …
4. Ease of Handling
All pet lizards have to be handled when their tanks are being cleaned. Others require additional handling to bond and exercise.
The best lizards for beginners won’t mind handling them. They’ll also display displeasure without biting, making it easier and safer for you to tell when you may be doing something wrong.
Most people invest in a pet lizard for entertainment and companionship. The problem is, not all lizards will show the level of activity you’re looking for.
While no lizard will spend its day juggling and doing back flips, many will develop wonderful and entertaining personalities with proper care.
A good beginner lizard will be entertaining to watch and fun to interact with.
Generally, the easier a lizard species is to find, the more information there is about it. That means it will be easy to learn about the pet and get help when you need it.
If you can’t easily find information on your lizard of choice, you may want to reconsider.
It’s also important to remember that some pets have become popular even though they aren’t suitable for everyone. This can lead to pets that are improperly cared for or released into the wild where they can’t survive.
While something like a chameleon can be found in nearly every pet store, they aren’t ideal for everyone. When in doubt, ask lots of questions and make sure the lizard you buy is the right fit for you and your family.
Now that you know what to look for in a pet lizard, let’s look at the 5 best lizards for beginners …
5 Best Pet Lizards For Beginners
If you’re a beginner looking for a pet lizard, here are 5 species you should look into:
1. Leopard Gecko
Ask any lizard expert and chances are that leopard geckos (also known as leos) will top their list for beginners.
The leopard gecko gets its name from the black and brown spots that cover its body. Fully grown, they’re 7 to 10 inches long so they don’t need as much space to thrive and are easy to handle.
Leos are slower than other geckos and don’t have sticky pads on their feet. This means they’re less likely to escape their home or scamper away when out of their habitat.
PRO TIP: Leopard geckos will drop their tails when scared. This means that their tail will fall right off their body. The tail will eventually grow back but it’s best to avoid having it happen in the first place.
These ground-dwelling lizards require a long tank, instead of a tall one. Native to arid deserts, leos also need a heat source, such as a heat lamp or under-tank heater. They don’t need special lighting, though a UVB bulb can help with calcium absorption.
Their diet is also very simple. Leopard geckos eat crickets and the occasional treat, such as wax worms and other live insects.
Like many lizards, leos are nocturnal, which means they’re most active between dusk and dawn. Generally, they spend their days in a shelter sleeping but will become more active during the day with regular interactions.
When it comes to their personality, leopard geckos are very docile and friendly. Living up to 25 years, leopard geckos tend to get more relaxed with age.
2. Bearded Dragon
Bearded dragons, commonly called beardies, are also great beginner pets. They get their name from the “beard” of spikes under their chin that puffs up when they’re upset or stressed.
Most bearded dragons will grow to be around 18 to 24 inches, though half of this is usually tail. Because of their size, they require a larger living space that is long, dry, and hot.
While their habitat should be kept at an ideal temperature and humidity, beardies are more tolerant to fluctuations than other lizards. They also require a UVB bulb to be sure they get the right amount of D3 to help them absorb calcium.
Unlike leos, bearded dragons are diurnal, which means they’re most active during the day. While awake, they enjoy climbing up on rocks and branches to bask. Some even like to be walked outside on a leash on warm days.
While personality will vary from one beardie to the next, most tend to be calm and friendly. They're more social than other lizards and thrive with regular interaction.
Bearded dragon diets tend to be more complicated. They live off of insects, vegetables and the occasional fruit. Babies and juveniles eat mostly insects. As they age, they’ll begin to eat more greens. As adults, their diet is made up of 20% protein (insects) and 80% greens.
Maintaining a balanced diet for bearded dragons is critical. If they don’t get enough calcium and phosphorus, they may develop metabolic bone disease or other diseases that can reduce their 10 to 15-year lifespan.
3. Blue Tongued Skink
Native to Australia and Indonesia, the blue tongued skink (BTS) gets its name from its brightly coloured tongue. In the wild, their blue tongues disorient predators so they have time to escape.
Blue tongued skinks have a docile temperament and are very sociable. They rarely exhibit defensive behaviors. When they are scared they’re more likely to hiss, poop, jump or stick out their tongue than bite.
BTS can grow to be 20+ inches and weigh up to 4 pounds. Their heavy bodies make them sluggish and easy to handle.
When in their homes, they like to dig and burrow. This means they need a large, deep tank with lots of substrate. They’re not good climbers so they don’t need branches or high rocks but they should have a few hiding places.
Blue tongued skinks are diurnal. While people have raised them without UVB bulbs, they’re highly recommended for proper growth and improved health.
Like bearded dragons, blue tongued skinks have a more complicated diet. Babies and juveniles eat mostly insects and the occasional frozen thawed rodent. As they age, you’ll want to introduce more greens. As adults, their diet is 70 to 80% greens and 20 to 30% protein from insects.
4. Crested Gecko
Crested geckos get their name from their distinctive spine. They’re also nicknamed eyelash geckos thanks to the long fringes that surround their eyes.
Once believed to be extinct, domesticated crested geckos are thriving and widely available. They most often come in brown or cream but there are many different morphs available.
Crested geckos are a popular climbing species, which means they need a tall habitat with lots of vertical space. Unlike leos, beardies, and BTS, they need more humidity and lots of décor or plants to explore.
Because they’re nocturnal, crested geckos don’t need any special lighting. They can also thrive at room temperature, which means heating devices are rarely needed.
While crested geckos do eat live insects, flower nectar and fruit, they can be fed commercially produced food. This means maintaining a healthy diet is much less involved than other lizards.
Crested geckos grow to be about 8” long and live 15 to 20 years. Because of their small size, you must be careful handling them. When you first begin interacting with your crested gecko, it may be a bit skittish. With time and patience, they usually become more comfortable and begin to enjoy the time together.
Like leopard geckos, crested geckos will drop their tails when frightened but they do not regrow them.
Uromastyx, also known as spiny tail lizards or dabb lizards, are a type of agama lizard from Africa, the Middle East and India. They’re newer to the pet trade so care information can vary widely, depending on who you ask. They can also be more expensive.
Unlike other lizards on this list, uromastyx are herbivores. That means there’s no need to handle insects and other animal proteins. Uromastyx thrive on vegetables and fruit.
Uromastyx are intelligent, friendly, and take well to handling over time. Some keepers prefer to buy older uromastyx that have already been tamed and enjoy handling.
Like bearded dragons and BTS, uromastyx are active during the day. While awake, they like to dig and explore so they need a large deep tank. They also enjoy climbing so branches, rocks and lizard safe décor are an excellent idea.
Maintaining proper humidity is a must as uromastyx are at a higher risk for respiratory disease. They also require high temperatures but this is easy to achieve with the correct bulbs.
Uromastyx live 15 to 25 years with proper care. Depending on the type of uromastyx you buy, they can grow to be 10 to 36 inches in length, with most being 10 to 18 inches.
Choosing The Best Pet Lizard For Beginners
Lizards make great pets but even “easy” lizards have special requirements and need proper care.
For beginners, leopard geckos are generally seen as the best choice. They’re docile, easy to handle, require minimal space and lighting, and have easy feeding requirements.
If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, bearded dragons, blue tongued skinks, and crested geckos are great choices for responsible owners.
Uromastyx are more challenging but are suitable for beginners with lots of time to make sure their needs are met.
No matter which lizard you choose, don’t jump in unprepared. Take the time to research their needs, ask questions and ensure you can provide a comfortable home, a good diet, and proper care.