If your child is ready for a pet, reptiles have that cool factor they will love, but don't require as much input from you. They're low-maintenance, don't require walks or playtime, and can be handled with care by small children. As long as you set up their enclosure the right way and make sure they get what they need, maintenance is minimal. One of the best things about reptiles is that many don't need a lot of space, and some types can live in a small aquarium. However, there are some considerations to keep in mind when choosing which type of reptile your child should keep.
As with any live animal - do your research before jumping in head first. You are still going to have to spend time and money taking care of your new pet and making sure your little one understands proper handling safety. Once you are confident you can meet a reptile's care requirements, it's time to think about what species your child will fall in love with.
1. Bearded Dragon
Unlike many other lizards, bearded dragons are sociable, gentle, and interactive. They enjoy human company and some beardies will even follow you around the house. They like to be handled, but they do not like to be held for long periods of time in most cases.
- Beardies are sociable. If your kids want a pet they can handle regularly, this could be the reptile for you.
- They need space. Their enclosure should be at least four times their body length, though larger enclosures are almost always better, if you have the space.
- They need full-spectrum light. Provide a full-spectrum lamp that produces ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B light, and include a basking lamp so your kid's lizard can bask to relax and warm up.
- Feeding is easy. Beardies eat crickets and dubia roaches as staples, and supplement with other insects, mealworms, fruits and vegetables, and vitamin/calcium supplements.
2. Leopard Gecko
Leopard geckos are easy to care for, inexpensive, and come in many colors. They're also very popular as pets because they don't grow very large. On average, they're about 6 inches long.
- They don't need a full-spectrum lamp. Leopard geckos get most of their vitamin D3 from their diet, but they do need a basking lamp to regulate their body temperature.
- They are less active during the day. Because leopard geckos are crepuscular - meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk - your child won't see them of their hide much during the day.
- Leopard geckos need gentle handling. These geckos have more delicate skin, so you need to be careful and supervise all handling.
- Feeding a leopard gecko is easy. They do well on gut-loaded crickets, small dubia roaches, and mealworms with appropriate supplementation.
Leopard geckos require a shallow water dish that is filled and cleaned regularly.
3. Crested Gecko
Crested geckos are small lizards that are popular as pets. They get their name from the crests on their heads that look like horns. Cresteds are available in many colors and patterns. The Crested Gecko is a good choice for kids because they are very easy to care and don't require a lot of space.
- They're easy to keep. Cresteds don't require a lot of attention, provided that their enclosure is set up properly and they are fed regularly. A 20-gallon aquarium or enclosure is suitable for an adult crested gecko.
- Pay attention to temperature and humidity. Cresteds do require temperatures between 78 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit and higher humidity levels, around 50 to 70 percent, and plenty of places to hide.
- Crested geckos are easy to feed. They can eat prepared foods, live insects such as crickets dusted with a nutritional supplement containing calcium and vitamin D3, and some fruits.
- Make sure they have water. Cresteds also need a small, shallow water bowl to drink from on a regular basis, but other than that, they are very low maintenance!
4. Green Anole
Green anoles are one of the most popular pet reptiles for a reason. They are easy to care for because they don't require large enclosures or special lighting. They're attractive and easy to keep.
- Make sure they have full-spectrum light and a basking lamp. Green anoles are basking lizards, and require a full-spectrum UV light source designed for use in reptile enclosures.
- Feed them live feeder insects and mist them daily. They eat a mix of live insects supplemented with appropriate nutrient additives, and most don't need a water dish. Instead, mist their enclosure in the morning.
- Give them vertical space to move around. Green anoles are climbers and live in trees in the wild, so make sure they have vertical space to explore. The biggest challenge with green anoles is keeping them from escaping their enclosures and running around the house.
- Supervise all handling. Green anoles do OK with handling, as long as children are trained well. Also, they may bite, although their bite strength is relatively low compared to other lizards.
5. Veiled Chameleon
As a reptile pet, the veiled chameleon is one of the easiest to care for. They're an especially good choice for responsible kids because they're easy to handle and easy to feed.
- They get big. Juveniles start out smaller. Adults are larger, however, with males reaching 2 feet in length, and females reaching around 18 inches, so a large vertical enclosure at least 4 feet tall by 2 feet wide is a requirement.
- They're a solitary species. It's best to keep veileds individually to prevent fighting.
- They need a tall, screened enclosure. They do best in a screen setup to promote airflow, and they require full-spectrum UV lighting and a basking light to provide a heat source.
- They are delicate. Veiled chameleons are very fragile animals that don't do well with rough handling. They can easily get sick or injured if not taken care of properly.
6. Blue-tongued Skink
Blue-tongued skinks are relatively easy to care for, although adults can reach up to 2 feet in length. They come in a wide variety of colors and patterns, and most skinks are not aggressive. Some species will hiss when disturbed or handled, but most pose little danger to their owners.
- Go big on their enclosure. Adults need an enclosure at least 36 inches long and 18 inches wide, and a 30-gallon glass aquarium suits these skinks fine.
- They need full-spectrum lighting. Blue-tongued skinks require UV lighting and appropriate temperature regulation.
- They do well when kept alone. Blue-tongued skinks are best kept individually, so plan on getting only one.
- Teach your kids proper handling. Although blue-tongued skinks may be wary of being handled at first, they can grow into friendly and enjoyable pets for children who want to learn more about reptiles.
7. Corn Snake
These snakes make great beginner species because they're easy to keep. Corn snakes do well in captivity, which makes them ideal for kids.
- They don't need full-spectrum lighting. As long as you keep their enclosure clean and provide them with a heat source, you should have no problems raising your corn snake.
- They start out shy, but learn to tolerate handling. If properly socialized, corn snakes deal with being handled well. Hatchlings are naturally shy and defensive, but over time, they will grow accustomed to being picked up.
- Don't expect to see them all the time. Corn snakes like to hide. They prefer to curl up in their hiding spot, and don't bask during the day.
- Corn snakes get big. They typically reach 4 to 5 feet long as adults, and require at least a 20-gallon glass aquarium at minimum, though a larger enclosure is better.
Understand that corn snakes need live feeder rodents. They require appropriately sized mice or rats, so if feeding live pinky mice to your corn snake is a deal breaker, consider another pet.
8. California Kingsnake
The kingsnake is a beautiful snake that can be a great pet for children. They are a great choice for kids and do not require a lot of space. If you have a small apartment or condo, the kingsnake is a good fit because it does not require a lot of room to roam about. Kingsnakes are also docile by nature, so they won't attack unless provoked.
- They are large, but not too large. Most California kingsnakes reach 3 to 4 feet in length, though some may grow as large as 6 feet. Adults need some room to move, so a larger 40-gallon aquarium is typically adequate, though more space is always better.
- They can eat other snakes. Be warned: California kingsnakes will eat other kingsnakes, so don't plan on housing snakes together. Be ready to offer live feeder rodents on a regular basis.
- Kingsnake do not need UV supplementation. They need a heat source and temperature gradient, but do not require UV lighting.
- It takes time for them to be comfortable with handling. They eventually take to handling, but careful preparation is required to achieve this.
9. Red-eared Slider Turtle
Red-eared slider turtles are popular pets among children because of their small size, ease of care, and hardiness. They come in a variety of colors, including red, yellow, and orange. They also have distinctive markings on their shells that include red "ear" spots on either side of the head. They can be kept together, but they require more space if you have multiple turtles.
- Sliders need water. They are natural swimmers who love water and will do well in ponds or aquariums with filtration and adequate lighting for basking and UV exposure.
- Plan for a big tank. Adults only reach 12-inches in length, but they require adequate space to swim. Typically, you need to provide 10 gallons of volume per inch of the turtle's shell length. A 12-inch adult needs a 120-gallon aquarium, at minimum.
- It is best not to handle them much. Red-eared sliders may nip if handled. Typically, minimal handling is best. However, older children can gently handle these turtles safely if they take proper precautions.
- They're easy to feed. Red-eared sliders eat commercially prepared pellet turtle food, and leafy greens, freeze-dried shrimp, superworms, crickets, and even minnows and pinky mice, on occasion.
Tips for Choosing a Reptile for Kids
Reptiles can thrive without the same level of care a dog or cat requires. However, you still need to pay attention to their special care requirements.
- Reptiles make great first pets because they don't need as much attention as many other pet species.
- Be ready to purchase a suitably sized enclosure, appropriate hides and decor, and a full-spectrum light and basking lamp, depending on the species.
- Children should always have adult supervision when handling reptiles - if they are handled incorrectly, some reptiles may bite.
- Teach your kids to wash their hands after handling their pets. All reptiles and amphibians may carry salmonella, but with proper hygiene and handling, the risk is minimal.
- Choose reptiles that are calm and easygoing if you have multiple children who will be handling them regularly.
- Smaller reptiles have less chance of biting and scratching, and they're easier to hold and care for.
- Some reptiles grow very large. For example, Iguanas start out small, but can grow up to 6 feet long. Make sure you know what you are getting.
Consider Your Family
Before bringing home any animal, it's important to consider whether your family is ready for the responsibility of caring for it. Take some time to evaluate your lifestyle and see if there are any obstacles that might stand in the way of providing a safe environment for your new pet. Is your child afraid of snakes or lizards? How much time do you have available each day to spend caring for your new friend? If you have any doubts regarding purchasing a pet reptile for your child, take some time to research and determine which reptile is best for your family.