best reptile pets for kids

Best Reptile Pets for Kids [best reptile pets to handle]

The best reptile to choose as a child’s pet will be easy to care for and easy to house. They shouldn’t require too much time, space, or oversight. They SHOULD, however, welcome being handled, and have features that will attract and hold your child’s attention.

Having a reptile as a pet can be a lot of fun, but it is also a challenge to have exotic pets in your home.

Types of Pet Reptiles
Types of Pet Reptiles

That being said, how do you choose the best reptile for your child? What options are there, and what makes these unique pets a good choice or a poor choice for a kid?

Types of Pet Reptiles

There are three main categories for reptile pets:

  • Lizards
  • Snakes
  • Turtles/Tortoises

Each category has its good points and bad points. Each category has its top contenders for the spot of ‘Best Pet for Children’ and its top contender for ‘Not Recommended’.

Be Aware: Between equipment and time required, even low maintenance reptiles are a fairly big commitment. One that both you and your child should be ready for.

Choosing a Reptile Pet

All reptile pets have their quirks, so it’s important to thoroughly research any prospective pets on your list.

Here are some categories you might find helpful to look into when searching for the right reptile for you and your child:

Choosing a Reptile Pet
Choosing a Reptile Pet
  • Habitat size: What size enclosure do they need and where would it go? 
    • The most common habitat is a glass tank, but just any tank won’t do. It needs to be big enough for your pet to move around, eat, sleep, and generally enjoy life.
    • For something small, this could be a simple 10 gallon tank, they type you could find at Wal Mart.
    • For something like a tortoise or a big lizard or snake, a larger tank is required, up to and including the size of a walk-in closet. Or bigger.
  • Habitat Type: What are their environmental needs?
    • Many reptiles have specific care requirements. Certain temperatures. Certain levels of humidity.
    • Some require a habitat with live plants to hide in or munch.
    • Some require a place where they can burrow into the ground.
    • Some do well with wide open spaces. Others need plenty of hiding places.
  • Tolerance: Does the reptile of choice like being handled? Does it deal well with people, or other animals?
    • Lots of reptiles, like chameleons, don’t like physical contact. If you want a ‘friendly’ pet, these aren’t good choices.
    • Others like contact, but only in certain situations. Snakes, for example, don’t like being handled during a shedding period, or just after eating.
  • Dietary Requirements: What do they eat? Can their food fit your budget? Are you comfortable with the reptile’s dietary requirements?
    • It’s not uncommon for reptiles to have a varied diet. Some eat commercial reptile food.
    • Most snakes eat mice. A lot of them will take frozen mice, but some insist on live prey.
    • Most omnivorous reptiles need a certain amount of live insects in their diet. Everything from flies to live crickets and mealworms.
  • Size: How big will this animal get? Could it outgrow the space you can offer it?
    • Many reptiles, especially the most popular pet lizards, are pretty small. Some of them, like the monitor lizards, can grow longer than a man is tall.
    • Even a ‘smaller’ snake is usually a few feet. Larger snakes can be upwards of 20 feet. And need the space to go with it.
    • Baby tortoises and turtles can be palm-sized. However, some of them grow to be a foot across and weigh 100 pounds or more as adults.
  • Durability: Can it weather a few mistakes as your child learns to handle it’s care?
    • When you’ve got a new family pet, it’s not uncommon for mistakes to be made. New routines and responsibilities take time.
    • It’s important to have a reptile that can handle these minor hiccups while you learn how to give it exactly what it needs.
  • Personality: Even-tempered or touchy? Will it hold your child’s interest?
    • Like any other animal, reptiles have their own personality. Your best bet is one that matches somewhat with your kid, and tends toward the friendly and active side.
    • Reptiles with a reputation for skittish behavior aren’t always the best fit.
    • Neither are reptiles with a reputation for aggression, or dangerous characteristics.

Pet Reptile Habitat

Pet Reptile Habitat
Pet Reptile Habitat

Before you can figure out the best reptile, you need to sort out the basics. After all, part of picking the best pet for your child is picking one that is manageable by youngsters.

Different reptiles might need different things, but they all have some things in common. Here’s the basic equipment you need to provide the proper care for your reptile:

Pet Reptile Equipment

  • Terrarium

    Generally a large enclosure where your reptile can rest, play, eat and sleep. It should meet size requirements, with a top that is both secure and air permeable.

    Usually, these are some form of glass tank.
  • Substrate

    The material for the floor. Materials can vary from cheap to expensive, from torn newspaper and paper towel rolls, to fake grass and copious plants, a jungle in miniature.

    But it has to include places for your pet to be comfortable, including hiding spots, and climbing areas if needed.
  • Water Dish

    Diets for reptiles can vary, but one thing remains constant. Water is a must-have.

    Clean drinking water is important, but so is a place to play, relax, and sometimes, a good soaking spot.
  • Thermometer

    Most reptiles have certain temperature requirements. A good thermometer is needed to make sure your pet is comfortable.

    Each breed of reptile has it’s own range of preferred temperatures, some as low as 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and some as high as 100+ degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Hydrometer

    As with temperatures, many reptiles enjoy a certain level of humidity. Too much or too little can make for sick or cranky critters.

    A hydrometer is the best way to make sure your reptile is in its happy zone.
  • Heat Source

    Whether your reptile of choice likes it desert-hot or a more moderate climate, the fact remains that it often needs a temperature boost.

    According to experts, many reptiles actually like a temperature gradient, with warm and cool spots. This is why smaller heat pads or heat lamps are recommended.

    Whatever your choice, a ‘hot spot’ for basking in is VERY important.
Pet Reptile Terrarium Hot Spot
Pet Reptile Terrarium Hot Spot

Pet Reptile General Necessities

Equipment isn’t the only thing you need.  Other necessities include:

  • Space
  • Food
  • Time

The amount of each of these you’ll need is different for each reptile. Food can range from fruits and veggies to live crickets and dead mice.

Some pets are time intensive. Some need massive amounts of space. Others, not so much. Identifying these factors will help you determine the best choice of reptile for you.

Which Reptiles Make the Best Pets?

A good place to start looking for the best pet reptile is to consider the most popular options. Here are some that are generally listed as the most popular reptiles to own:

  • Bearded Dragon

    According to Reptiles Magazine, this lizard is the current favorite among reptile owners worldwide.

    The space requirements can be daunting for some. Still, this large lizard is fairly docile and enjoys contact.
  • Corn Snake

    It’s Nature and ReptileKnowledge both list this as the best snake for any reptile owner, beginner or expert. It comes in many colors, is fairly tame and is low maintenance.

    A Corn Snake is a smaller breed of snake. 
  • Leopard Gecko

    ReptileRoommate calls this the winner of popular pets. Leopard geckos are colorful, friendly, and durable.

    They don’t take much space. Unlike many of their cousins, they’re less likely to stage an escape via climbing the walls.

    They’re also known to be vocal, a good choice if you want a reptile pet you can ‘talk’ with.
  • Green Anole

    Many pet stores would label this the most popular reptile pet. It’s active and quick. However, it’s also very skittish, and tends to escape.

    This is part of the reason that experts tend to disagree about its popularity.
  • Ball Python

    Many sources cite this as a popular pet, but opinions are divided. The ball python is colorful and docile, but experts say it can be finicky about its food.

    Small changes in habitat can put it off eating. So it’s place in the popularity contest of reptiles tends to waver a bit.

Ball Python as a Pet

No doubt some kids are attracted to snakes and a Ball Python is one that some say is a good pet. Just remember to teach them well and to be careful.

Ball Python as a Pet
Ball Python as a Pet

There are other popular pet reptiles, such as turtles, iguanas, and chameleons. However, these pets can be challenging to handle, putting them lower on the overall list.

These more popular pets have the benefit of being some of the easiest reptile pets to own and care for.

Best Lizards for Kids

Here is a list of the most popular, easy to take care of pet lizards. 

Leopard Gecko

ReptileRoomate has this as the top contender among all reptiles for best with kids, especially younger children.

Among experts worldwide, they’re considered the best pets among the different gecko species.

  • They’re small: Less than a foot long full grown
  • Hardy: Tolerant of beginner mistakes, according to experts
  • Dietary and climate requirements are not extreme.
  • Can be housed in an inexpensive box if needed.
  • Not prone to escaping.

Bearded Dragon

Experts worldwide agree this is a fantastic pet for beginners. 

  • Large habitat, but simple environment
  • Hot and dry climate: easier to maintain
  • Omnivorous
  • Adaptable
  • Active in daylight: Easier to manage schedule
  • Like being handled.


ReptileKnowledge has this lizard as one of its top contenders for easy maintenance. Here’s why:

  • Simple climate care: Hot and dry
  • Small size: Full grown can sit in your hand
  • Purely herbivores: Good if you don’t like handling bugs and such.

It’s not currently one of the most popular pets out there, but the Uromastyx has been gaining notice for its docile personality and easy care requirements.

What is a Uromastyx?

A Uromastyx is a lizard that has a very spiny-looking tail. It originates from the Middle East and Africa.

What is a Uromastyx
What is a Uromastyx?

Best Pet Snakes For Kids

Suppose your kid wants a snake? In that case, here are some popular pet snakes.

Corn Snake

Most experts agree that the corn snake is the best option for kids. They’re colorful. They’re docile. And care is relatively simple.

  • Hot spot for basking/thermo-regulating
  • Clean water
  • Mouse every few days: Frozen is acceptable if live bothers you.
  • Monthly deep clean of habitat
  • Space and time for shedding

Ball Python

The ball python is considered number two on the list of popular and easy snakes. Like corn snakes, they’re small, colorful, and fairly docile. Plus, they have simple habitat requirements.

  • Habitat with appropriate substrate
  • Hot zones and cool zones
  • A mouse every 4-10 days
  • Plenty of clean water
  • Light misting to increase humidity

Warning: Ball pythons can be touchy about their environments. They are also known for being finicky eaters. A child might find this difficult to handle.

Differences Between Tortoises and Turtles

Turtles. Tortoises. What’s the difference? There’s at least one major difference if you’re thinking about owning one as a pet.

Turtles are semi-aquatic. They like water. In many cases, they need regular access to a pool or other form of water as a resting place.

Tortoises tend to be more land-based. Many tortoises can live in a terrarium with the same basic requirements as other reptiles.

A word of warning: When choosing a tortoise or turtle for your child, double-check the size of the adults. Some species can grow quite large. 

Turtles and tortoises have the highest long-term commitment. Some of these have life spans equal to or greater than humans.

Best Turtles for Kids

If you’re looking for a turtle for your kid, here are some recommendations by AllTurtles.

Eastern Box Turtle

Considered by some to be the most popular of pet turtles. Also, they are some of the easiest to care for.

  • Land turtles: No large water habitat necessary
  • Small size: Less than a foot across when full grown
  • Omnivorous: Leafy greens and occasional insects

The Painted Turtle

They will need a water-based habitat. Other than that, they’re reported to be pretty easy to care for.

  • Small sized
  • Will eat plain commercial turtle food
  • Will also eat leafy greens and insects, if that works for you

False Map Turtle

These turtles get a bit bigger than the others but are still pretty small. One warning though: Females are much larger than males, so be sure you know which one you have.

  • Aquatic habitat is needed
  • Commercial turtle food is fine
  • So is the typical mix of leafy greens and bugs

Red Eared Slider

Opinions are divided about Red-Eared Sliders and their suitability as a pet, especially for new owners. They’re small and social, and fairly active.

This makes them one of the more popular pet turtle breeds. However, maintaining their habitat can be a challenge.

  • Aquatic habitat is needed.
  • Special lighting is needed
  • Varied diet includes small fish and small animals or words for protein
  • High quality water filter is essential for habitat health

A Word of Warning: Some turtles carry salmonella bacteria on their skin. For that reason, you need to keep careful track of their health.

Also, be careful how you handle them, and be sure to wash your hands after playing with your turtle.

Best Tortoises For Kids

With tortoises, you don’t have to worry about the aquatic habitat features needed by turtles. Still, they come with their own challenges, including a fondness for the outdoors.

Many of them also require large enclosures to really feel comfortable. However, here are some easy ones to start with:

Russian Tortoise

This tortoise comes recommended by ReptileRoommate as the best option for a beginner.

  • Small size
  • Active and very sociable
  • Purely herbivore: No bugs!

Hermann’s Tortoise

This tortoise is recommended by many experts for several reasons. 

  • Small size
  • Highly social
  • Vegetarian
  • Can live purely indoors, as long as it has a place to burrow

Greek Tortoise

These tortoises are considered some of the best if you have limited space or outdoor access.

  • Small size: Usually 8 inches or less
  • Diet: Leafy greens with occasional apple or pear
  • More indoor oriented.

What are the Most Friendly Lizards?

Bearded Dragon

According to experts, this lizard loves to be handled. It thrives on attention. It’s also fairly active during the day.

Leopard Gecko

Reptile owners and experts worldwide call this one of the most social and docile lizards around.

These lizards not only like being handled, they’re also very vocal.

Crested Gecko

Another friendly and vocal lizard.

These lizards always appear to be ‘smiling’. Experts say they’re as personable as their appearance suggests. 

What are the Most Eye-Catching Lizards?

Crested Geckos

  • They’re most well known for their ‘smile’. They’re also known as ‘eyelash’ geckos.
  • They come in a variety of colors and patterns, known as ‘morphs’.

Leopard Gecko

  • Their beautiful patterns are reminiscent of the cat they share a name with.
  • They’re active more at dusk and dawn, but curious and fun to watch!

African Fire Skink

  • Named for their bright red scales. 
  • They also tend toward black, white and sliver coloring.
  • Known as one of the more striking examples of lizards, and not overly demanding.

What Are the Most Friendly Snakes?

Snakes don’t have quite the personality range of lizards. However, some are more docile than others.

Below is a list of snakes that are reported to be on the more docile end of the spectrum

  • Ball Python
  • Corn Snake
  • California King Snake
  • Western Hog-Nose Snake

What Are the Most Eye-Catching Snakes?

Ball Python

  • They come in a variety of colors.
  • Like lizards, this breed of snakes has a huge number of ‘morphs’ or patterns they can display.
  • Experts say you can probably find any pattern and color combo you want on a ball python.

Corn Snake

  • These snakes come in a number of ‘morphs’.
  • Their popularity as pets and widespread breeding has resulted in an amazing array of color and pattern choices.
  • They’re also among the smaller and more slender snakes, and thus easier to handle.

California King Snakes

  • Mostly display a stripe pattern.
  • Color combinations are almost endless. 
  • Commonly seen with vibrant red and black bands

Green Smooth Snake

  • A good choice if you want a snake with one vibrant, bright color

What Reptile Pets Are Budget-Friendly?

There’s a good chance you’re shopping on a budget for your child’s reptile friend. If cost is a concern, here are some of the more budget-friendly reptiles:

  • Green anoles

    Small size and short lifespan make them one of the cheapest options on the market.
  • Uromastyx

    Small and easy to care for. Most of the expense will be in the initial setup.
  • Leopard Gecko

    Small and easy to care for.
  • Crested Gecko

    Small, easy to care for.
  • Corn Snakes

    Low maintenance requirements.
  • Ball Pythons

    Low maintenance requirements. Attention to detail is important though

Are Pythons Good Pets for Children?

As highlighted above, some pythons are a good fit. Like the ball python.

However, many can be a poor choice due to one factor: Size. Reticulated pythons, in particular, are considered too big to be safe for kids.

Are Chameleons Good Pets for Kids?

Chameleons are cool, no question. But they aren’t recommended as pets for kids. Here’s why:

  • High maintenance: They’re picky about their habitats
  • Shorter lifespans
  • According to many experts, they don’t really like to be handled.

Less Common Beginner Friendly Reptiles

Say you’re looking for something relatively easy to care for, but a little more exotic. Here are some other beginner-friendly reptiles that don’t get as much notice:

  • Blue Tongued Skink

    Blue Tongue Skinks need a high-temperature basking spot and multiple hiding places.

    However, they’ll eat mostly greens, and protein needs can be met with things like canned dog food.
  • Gold Dusted Gecko

    They’re small. They’re pretty. They also need high humidity and live plants for an optimum environment. They really like to play among leaves and tree branches.
  • Jeweled Lacarta

    This is a slightly larger reptile. They don’t climb, but they will need plenty of room to burrow.

    They’re rare enough you may have trouble finding one to purchase, or a vet who knows how to handle them.
  • Chuckwalla

    Related to the iguana, but smaller. They’re friendlier than regular iguanas and purely vegetarian. The downside: Hard to find, and expensive to purchase.

Reptiles to Avoid Getting For Kids

You’ve got an idea of what some good choices are in terms of budget and care. But are there any definite bad choices? Aside from venomous snakes, there are a few.

  • Iguanas

    Lots of people love them. However, most experts agree they tend to be aggressive. And large.
  • Boa Constrictors

    They look cool, but they’re huge. The size makes them unsafe for a child. Plus, the feeding requirements can get pretty expensive.
  • Monitor Lizards

    This includes the Komodo dragon. Again, it’s a size issue. They also have questionable tempers, and a tail that can do some serious damage. Definitely not ideal for kids.
  • Tokay Geckos

    Some experts include this on the ‘not for kids’ list because they have a reputation for being aggressive.

Best Reptile Pets for Kids

According to many experts, your best choices for kids are going to be a Leopard Gecko, a Corn Snake, or a Ball Python.

That being said, don’t hesitate to look at other options! The most important thing is to make sure you have the right pet for YOU and YOUR KIDS.

As you and your child grow and learn more about reptile pets, you may find yourself wanting to expand your interests. And there are a lot of interesting reptiles out there to look into.

There is a whole list of ‘dragon’ lizards, such as the Chinese water dragon and the central bearded dragon, if those strike your fancy.

Chinese water dragons, in particular, are said to be striking animals.

The key is to make sure you and your child are ready to provide the care and equipment they need. 

And most of all: Be sure you and your child are willing to commit the TIME. Reptiles are generally a long-term commitment.

The pet you get your child today may well follow them to college and beyond.

Related Questions

What if your kid Really wants a boa constrictor?

Some experts say that adolescents should be able to handle the larger snakes, but definitely no one under 12-13. After that, it’s up to you.

What Are the Best Options if you decide to get a Chameleon?

If your heart is set on a chameleon, experts agree that your best choices are the Veiled Chameleon or the Panther Chameleon.

Are There any Recommended Iguana Species?

While not recommended for beginners, experts say the Green Iguana and the Rhino Iguana are some of the more docile lizards in this category.

Their temperaments are child-friendly, but their care requirements might not be.

Can You Keep Multiple Pets of One Species Together?

It depends on the species, and how much space you can afford to give them. In general, be cautious about having multiple animals in one enclosure, and consult an expert.


There is no doubt that reptiles can make great pets for kids if you take the time to choose the right one. Keep in mind that reptiles are probably not a choice if you have small children.

Best Reptile Pets for Kids

Similar Posts