Pet Lizards For Beginners
Lizards are fascinating creatures and can make incredible pets! This reptile family is vast and diverse, but there are a few categories of lizards that are especially good for the beginner pet owner.
In this guide, we’ll cover the best lizards to keep as pets for beginners in full details, head to tail! Remember, just because an animal is cool, doesn’t mean it will make a good pet. So, take note of the details of each of the below lizards to determine which would be the best fit for you!
Take a step into the mythological with the ever-popular bearded dragon! These ancient relics don’t have wings or breathe fire, but they are incredible. They also happen to make excellent pets for beginners.
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Beardies are usually tan in color with a touch of yellow accents. Their “bearded” label hails from a mane of spiny projections along their pouched neck skin folds. When they frighten, they flatten their bodies while puffing out those skin folds to make themselves appear bigger to predators.
Spines continue down the lizard’s throat and flanks. The body is flat in build and the tail is nearly as long as the body itself. Males usually have larger heads and darker beards.
Bearded Dragons are very popular among pet owners for their wonderful temperament. They are typically very gentle, docile, and friendly. Just like a dog, they can recognize their owner’s voice!
Due to their great nature, bearded dragons make good pets for younger people too. Supervision is always recommended, of course. And don’t forget to wash your hands after handling! Reptiles can pass the salmonella bacteria to their handlers.
In the wild, bearded dragons reside in desert climates, subtropical woodlands, and the savannah. They originated from Australia, though they don’t surf or eat Vegemite. But they do enjoy the heat!
Take a clue from their origin and provide a desert-like habitat for these lizards in the way of a sand substrate, full-spectrum light with UVB, a hide box, and a water dish. Bearded dragons like to hide in the shrubbery, so also include rocks and low branches.
- Preferred temperature: 78-88 degrees
- Humidity: between 30-40%
- Heat source: Incandescent lights
- Light source: Natural sunlight is best!
As with most lizards, bearded dragons are omnivores. In the wild, they forage for insects, plants, and small animals. For pets, you can provide them with crickets, pinkies, worms, and raw veggies like chopped greens and squash.
Bearded dragons need ultraviolet light as cold-blooded creatures. If they do not receive adequate UVB, they won’t be able to digest their food and their bodies will begin to leech calcium from their bones. The best source of UVB is natural sunlight.
Consider having an outdoor enclosure for your bearded dragon to use on very warm and sunny days, to allow them to have access to sunlight. Place a hideaway in this enclosure to allow them some respite when they need it.
During the winter months, be sure to mist your bearded dragon a few times a week to encourage natural shedding.
Pros of Bearded Dragons:
- They are awake during the day, not the night
- Very well-tempered
- They make excellent pets
Cons of Bearded Dragons:
- Their bone densities can become unbalanced without proper UVB exposure
- Require a very specific omnivore diet
- Needs specific lighting
Another incredibly popular home pet is the crested gecko. Fondly referred to as “cresties”, these spunky lizards are small and friendly, come in a wide range of colorings, and have sticky little feet for climbing.
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These beauties have eyelashes! Ok, not exactly, but the ridges that surround their eyes are where they get the name “crested gecko” and why they are sometimes referred to as the “eyelash gecko.”
Aside from that commonality, crested geckos are available in a wide variety of colors and morphs. With those sticky little feet, they can scale walls and effortlessly jump with great agility.
Cresties are friendly little fellows that make low-maintenance pets, perfect for beginners. They are quite docile and have a pleasant demeanor, but can also be skittish and jumpy.
They are nocturnal and will be more active in the dark hours. During the daylight, they will be resting and hiding. Feeding should occur in the evening, to replicate the lizard’s natural rhythm.
With the homeland of Australia and Fiji, crested geckos have a tropical air about them.
Cresties love high humidity environments and thrive in temperatures that are bit a lower than the average reptile prefers. These little guys also love to climb, so be sure to include lots of natural structures for them to explore.
- Preferred temperature: 72-80 degrees
- Humidity: between 50-60% and spike to 80-90% several times a day while misting
- Heat source: a heating mat on the outside of a wall
- Light source: none
These omnivores enjoy a varied diet of mostly insects with some supplemental mashed fruit. You can find commercial gecko diet substances that are great to use to ensure your gecko is getting all she needs. Coat those crickets in a calcium/vitamin D3 powder supplement to keep your gecko healthy.
Crested geckos don’t require much in the way of special care, aside from ensuring that their habitat temperature and humidity remain ideal. There are a few health issues that commonly plague these geckos.
Be sure to observe your lizard regularly for redness around the mouth (mouth rot), coughing and drooling (respiratory infection), uneven shedding, or rashes (skin issues).
Pros of Crested Geckos:
- Do not need UVB light
- Easy to care for
- Simple diet
Cons of Crested Geckos:
- Requires high humidity
These easy to care for lizards are great for beginners! They are stout, yet dainty, and are incredibly hardy. Active during the day, you’ll enjoy some fun observation, especially during the morning and evening.
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As a member of the skink family, the sandfish features short legs and tail with a stout body. Their snouts are long and almost bill-like! Their small black eyes and prominent eyebrows make them look a little grumpy, yet they’re anything but!
The coloring of the sandfish is quite distinctive: white underbellies, grey heads, and contrasting gold and gray bands along their backs. There are other varieties of sandfish that feature slightly different coloring, like the Eastern Sandfish, which has a scaly-look to its back and dark spots along the flanks.
The sandfish got its name from the fascinating way it moves through the sand. They can travel through loose sand almost like a fish swims through the water and have the amazing ability to breathe when submerged completely in sand.
Sandfish are not the cuddliest of lizards. They are solitary and prefer to be left to their own devices to dig around in the sand. Picking up and handling your sandfish won’t be exactly enjoyable to them and can even cause stress.
Native to the northern countries of Africa, the sandfish thrives in a desert environment with, you guessed it, plenty of sand! They love to burrow and spend the majority of their time underground. For this reason, you’ll want to provide a large enclosure with at least 4” of sand at the bottom.
As diurnal desert-dwelling lizards, they’ll enjoy lots of light and a warm environment.
- Preferred temperature: 80-90 degrees in the cool side of the tank and a basking spot surface of 130-140 degrees.
- Humidity: Keep below 30%. Provide a water dish.
- Heat source: Heat lamp
- Light source: Fluorescent tube UVB lamp
Sandfish eat insects! You will feed them a mix of crickets, roaches, locusts, and mealworms. Adults will feed once every other day, while juveniles will want to eat once a day. The bugs you feed your lizard will need to be live because the sandfish locates its prey by using vibrations in the sand.
Sandfish need a wide range of temperature variance in their tank. They’ll require a cool side, around 80 degrees, and a hot side around 135 degrees. That’s right, they love the heat! Just what you’d expect of a lizard from Africa. Keep a thermometer on each side of your tank to monitor the temperatures.
Pros of Sandfish:
- Active during the day
- Don’t have humidity needs
Cons of Sandfish:
- Need high temperatures
- Requires a lot of sand substrate
- Does not tolerate regular handling, prefers to be left alone
The number one choice for beginners in the chameleon family is the panther chameleon. Their appearance is striking and they are easy to look after and care for. Plus, you’ll enjoy their amazing ability to shift colors!
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These gorgeous creatures can range in base color from vibrant blue to deep red. As with all chameleons, they harness the special ability to transform their color based on their emotions. Living mood rings, they are!
Panther chameleons are most active during the day and enjoy prowling around through limbs and branches. They are docile and slow-movers (besides their quick-as-lightning tongue!). Hermits at heart, they prefer to be left alone and are often territorial against other chameleons.
When frightened, they can flash their colors, heighten their bodies, and hiss. You won’t be able to hold your chameleon very much. They serve better as observation animals. If you do need to hold your pet, move very slowly to avoid stressing the animal.
Emerging from the wilds of Madagascar, the panther chameleon is accustomed to a warm and humid climate. They have very specific habitat needs and primarily reside in trees and bushes. You must replicate their natural environment to provide the best living situation for a captive chameleon.
Provide plenty of vertical space with lots of climbing structures like branches, plant foliage, vines, etc. Ensure that the tank is lush with vegetation, but not congested or cluttered.
- Preferred temperature: Average daytime temperature of 75 degrees with a basking spot near 88-85 degrees. Night temperature should be 70-75 degrees.
- Humidity: between 50-75%. Use live plants and regular misting
- Heat source: Basking light with a branch positioned near it. Ceramic heat emitter if needed to maintain night temperature.
- Light source: Simulate daylight with bright light
Chameleons catch their prey using their mega long and super sticky tongue. In the wild, they enjoy hunting insects and in the wild will also eat small birds and other reptiles. In captivity, you can rely on an insect-centered diet.
Gut-load the insects that you feed your chameleon for about 24 hours before mealtime and dust them with supplements. To provide water to your chameleon, you’re best to use misting and water drips, as opposed to a stagnant water dish.
You won’t be handling your panther chameleon daily, as they are solitary creatures. If they start to flash their colors in response to handling, they’re trying to tell you that they’ve had enough!
It’s very important to set up a proper habitat for your chameleon. They won’t be using ground space, so obtain a vertical tank and provide a lush and rich atmosphere.
Pros of Panther Chameleon:
- Incredible to observe
- Hardy and easy to care for
- Require a specific habitat
Cons of Panther Chameleon:
- Can be expensive to purchase
- Doesn’t tolerate much handling
African Fire Skink
These stunning lizards are flashy as a flame! In contrast to their fiery appearance, these lizards are tame and docile. A new lizard-owner looking for a beautiful pet will certainly enjoy the African Fire Skink!
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As the name would imply, these creatures range in color from bright red with black and white bands and have freckles of color throughout their bodies. Stout bodies and short legs are common features among skinks.
These lizards are rather shy, but when feeling secure and comfortable in their surroundings, will remain active in their tanks. They can tend to be reclusive, yet will tolerate handling to a degree. Overall, they are docile and make a great pet.
Found in the regions of Western Africa, Kenya, and Guinea, these skinks are accustomed to dense vegetation, forests, and woodland environments. They are mostly ground-dwelling but can climb when provided the opportunity.
It will be best to use a lizard-specific substrate to ensure proper material humidity. It must remain moist to provide the lizard with the ideal environment. Provide spots for your skink to burrow and hide via substrate mixes, foliage, and logs.
- Preferred temperature: cool end of the tank at 85 degrees and basking spot at 95 degrees. Night temperature around 70 degrees.
- Humidity: between 60-75%, mostly in the substrate itself. Mist twice per day.
- Heat source: light with UVA rays
- Light source: Dome lights and ceramic heat emitters.
Feed your skink live insects and the occasional pinky mouse. Their diets are quite simple and insect foods are easy to obtain. Adult lizards will eat every 3 days or so and only require around 4 insects each time. Be sure to dust insects with reptile supplement powder before feeding.
Fire skinks are easy to care for and do not require much special attention. Providing the proper substrate to ensure ideal humidity is about as fussy as it gets. As usual, observe your pet for signs of poor health and be sure to regularly clean its tank.
Pros of Fire Skinks:
- Very easy to care for
- Simple diet needs
- Stunning color
Cons of Fire Skinks:
- Can be very fast and wiggly when handled
These “leos” are quirky lizards that originate from the Middle East. They’re very adaptable and require little maintenance. Docile and friendly, they make wonderful pets for a beginner lizard-keeper.
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Paying homage to their natural habitats, leopard geckos feature coloring to blend into a desert-like environment. They are usually yellow-hued or white and have darker dots and splotches. Their tails are thick and chubby!
Unlike other geckos, leos do not have sticky pads on their toes for climbing. They won’t be able to scale walls or do much climbing. But, they’ll still enjoy hiding in logs or traverse low plants and foliage.
Leos are nocturnal and will be most active at night. This will be the best time to feed them and observe their activity. One cute behavior of theirs is similar to a dog…they wag their tails when they’re excited!
Also similar to dogs, these lizards also vocalize a lot! You’re Isley to hear a lot of chirping and squeaking when they’re exciting, like right before mealtime.
Leopard geckos reside on the ground at most times but do enjoy the occasional branch exploration. Provide some hideaway structures like half logs for resting and climbing.
Though these lizards are naturally desert-dwelling, sun substrate is not the best choice for them. Paper is a better option, absorbent, and easy to clean.
- Preferred temperature: 70-88 degrees
- Humidity: between 30-40%
- Heat source: under tank heating pad and an incandescent bulb for basking
- Light source: won’t need much, but provide an incandescent bulb to mimic natural sunlight
Eating primarily insects, your leopard gecko will thrive off of a diet of bugs! You can use crickets and wax worms and include mealworms and a pinky now and again. Young lizards will do best with a powder supplement at each feeding.
Leos live a long time! If you are ready to commit to having a pet lizard for over 20 years, they’ll be a good choice for you. However, if you aren’t sure you want to reside with a reptile that long, consider a lizard with a shorter lifespan.
Pros of Leopard Gecko:
- Very long lifespan
- Great temperament
- Easy to maintain
Cons of Leopard Gecko:
- Aren’t very quiet
These shockingly green lizards are members of the iguana family! They’re fast and furious, just like their coloring, and therefore make great watching entertainment in a tank.
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Green anoles are highlighter green, yet can change their color to brown or grey depending on their mood or temperature needs. Males of the species have a red skin flap on their throat, called a dewlap, that they puff out to attract a mate.
These funky lizards have some interesting behaviors. Like little hulks, they like to do pushups to show off. When they want to show you who’s boss, they’ll bob their heads, and puff out their dewlaps.
Males are so feisty, they’ll even attack their reflection. They’re very active lizards, making them great to study and observe. Not very keen on being handled, though they can become tamer, green anoles prefer to be left alone and may detach their tail when they’re stressed.
When found in nature, these lizards inhabit moist environments of swamps, forests, woodlands, and are commonly found in backyards. Though found in a wide variety of habitats, these lizards mostly reside in trees and can easily climb any surface, thanks to their special feet.
Stock their tanks with lots of plants for hiding, climbing, and basking. Though they won’t spend much time on the tank floor, use substrates like soil, peat moss, or orchid bark.
- Preferred temperature: day temperatures around 75-82 degrees with a basking temperature of 85-90 degrees and night temp should be higher than 65 degrees.
- Humidity: around 70% with daily misting and provide a water dish
- Heat source: Incandescent bulb
- Light source: White light and UVB light for 12-14 hours a day
Feed your green anole a diet of insects that have been gut-loaded for about 24 hours before feeding. A variety of insects will do well, make sure they are about half the size of your lizard’s head and have been dusted with a supplement as well.
Misting your tank regularly will provide enough moisture and dew to keep your lizard hydrated. The water dish in your tank will mostly serve for providing humidity, versus a water source for hydration.
Upkeep for green anoles is rather low-key, though their habitat needs to take some attention. Make sure that the humidity stays within an ideal range and there are plenty of plants to hide among. Observe your lizard for signs of common ailments like mouth rot or weight loss and dull coloring, which may represent illness.
Pros of Green Anoles:
- Simple dietary needs
- Very interesting to watch
Cons of Green Anoles:
- Require lots of humidity
- Are very fast and not great for regular handling
Remember Rescuers Down Under? Maybe you’re too young for that…either way, an ackie monitor took center stage as a friendly (though evil) lizard pet. It makes sense, as these dragon-like lizards are very mellow and make great companions!
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Ackie monitors are related to the Komodo dragon, and that is quite obvious from taking just one look! They are very unique and a bit intimidating, yet quite friendly and very popular among lizard owners.
Most ackie monitors are brown with light spotting and yellow or cream-hued splotches and stripes. Their tails are commonly longer than their bodies and have spinose scales, lending to their spiky appearance.
Ackie monitors are mostly docile and can be quite friendly. However, they are easy to startle and can build stress in certain environments. When upset, they may whip their tails and snap.
These are very curious creatures and have a high level of intelligence. They can take some time to warm up, but once comfortable they are content to be handled.
Hello, mate! These lizards come from Australia and are found in harsh wild environments. Ackie monitors get big! At a max size over 2 feet long, you’ll need a very sizable tank to house them. On top of that, these lizards love to burrow, so you’ll need to keep between 6-12 inches of substrate in their enclosures.
Use a sand-based substrate and add rocks, wood, hideaway spots, and plants. You’ll need to provide plenty of heat to replicate that Australian homeland of theirs.
- Preferred temperature: cool side of the tank at 80 degrees and basking temperature at 120 degrees. Night temperature should not be cooler than 65 degrees.
- Humidity: between 65-85%. Choose substrate that will promote this.
- Heat source: Basking lamp
- Light source: UVB lamp with light no more than 12 hours a day
These guys will eat just about anything that moves…or doesn’t move. As a pet, you can feed your ackie monitor foods like small rodents, roaches, worms, insects, and eggs. Use mostly insects and mealworms and keep rodent provisions to once or twice a month.
Ackie monitors have voracious appetites and are known to have trouble with obesity when in captivity. Don’t go overboard on the feeding and stick to several small meals every day or just 4-5 regular meals a week.
Pros of Ackie Monitors:
- Unique look
- Docile creatures
- Friendly nature
Cons of Ackie Monitors:
- Require large enclosures
- Prone to overeating
Blue Tongue Skink
This interesting little lizard hides a fun secret – its blue tongue! They are surprisingly social and very fun to have as a pet.
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Similar to all skinks, these lizards have sleek bodies that are a tad chubby and short little legs. We already know that their tongue is an unusual blue color, which greatly contrasts their rather average colored tan bodies.
These creatures are very tame and docile. Unlike other skittish pet lizards, blue tongue skinks seem to like being held! Yet similar to many other animals, if they are frightened they may bite, hiss, and stick out their blue tongues. If you notice these signs, your animal is stressed and best left alone.
With a natural habitat of deserts, grasslands, and forests, these lizards enjoy a varied environment with lots of areas to hide. Place a large water bowl on one side of the tank, to provide a bathing source and encourage humidity. Include lots of branches and plants for exploring.
- Preferred temperature: warm side of the tank around 85-90deg with basking area at 95 degrees, cool side at 75 degrees, and night temperature over 70 degrees.
- Humidity: 40-80% depending on the type of blue tongue skink
- Heat source: heating pad, heat lamp, ceramic heater for night.
- Light source: UVB light
Skinks will eat a large variety of foods, so aim to provide half plants and half meat. You can feed your skink common foods like raw green beans, squash, bananas, melons, and shredded greens. For meat items, use super worms and pinky mice.
The main health issue to be aware of for blue tongue skinks is a metabolic bone disease, which is caused by inadequate vitamin D. This can occur from a poor diet or not enough UVB light.
Pros of Blue Tongue Skinks:
- They make excellent beginner pets
- Are very friendly
- Eat a wide and varied diet
Cons of Blue Tongue Skinks:
- Food will take more prep work than a pure-insect diet
You are now well informed on some of the best lizards for beginner pet owners! Use the information above to decide which species is the best choice for you. Consider the amount of care you can provide, how much space you have, and how social you wish your pet to be. Above all, be prepared to have a fun animal companion for many years to come!