Choosing the Right Reptile
Reptile fans may favor different critters, but they all agree on one thing: Do your homework before bringing any animal home. Pros and parents alike know that while children are often mesmerized by a creature’s coolness, that fascination can fade. That cute little lizard that looks like a baby dinosaur right now can outgrow its habitat and appeal. You have to be willing and able to take care of the animal for the long haul — which, in the case of some tortoises, that can be a human lifetime. If you’ve decided a reptile is the right pet for you, here are five types that are recommended for beginners:
Bearded dragons: These creatures get raves for their calm disposition and willingness to be held. Another perk is that they are awake during the day, so owners can enjoy watching them. They eat a mixed diet of vegetables, fruits and insects, generally live between 8–15 years and can grow to about 20 inches. Unless they are kept outdoors, bearded dragons need the right amount of UVB fluorescent lighting to prevent bone disease. So be sure to purchase the proper tank light before taking your bearded dragon home!
Corn snakes: If you want an animal that has a great temperament, is fun to watch and handle and extremely simple to care for, a corn snake might be the right reptile for you. These colorful snakes can live 15–20 years and grow to four feet or longer. But if you don’t like mice, you probably shouldn’t get a snake for a pet, since all snakes need to be fed rodents, although most will eat (thawed) frozen mice that have been previously euthanized.
Leopard geckos: These small lizards are known for their gentle demeanor and for being able to vocalize and wash their own eyeballs with their tongues! They come in a variety of colors and patterns, can grow up to eight inches and live 10–20 years. Because they’re nocturnal, they will spend the day sleeping, which might frustrate some owners. Also, they eat live insects and need proper lighting and temperature. Keep in mind that dogs or cats might see them as prey.
Blue-tongued skinks: These lizards can live 10–20 years and can grow to two feet in length. They’re easy to care for and handle, and, incredibly enough, they eat dog food! One drawback to these great reptiles is that they can be very expensive to purchase. But they’re well worth the investment!
Russian tortoises: These small, hardy tortoises love to burrow and are not aquatic, although they do need water for drinking. They’re typically 6–7 inches long and can live for 30+ years! They thrive on grasses and weeds — even the spring mix from the grocery store! Like the bearded dragon, Russian tortoises require UVB lighting when indoors. Pros recommend captive-bred tortoises as pets.