Exotic and exciting pets are becoming more and more popular in recent years, as people look to open their homes to pets that are more unique than traditional dogs and cats.
Because of this more and more people are looking to become owners of lizards, and demand for popular species has skyrocket in the last decade or two.
However, some breeds can require extensive equipment and housing, costing thousands upon thousands of dollars, while others can be very sensitive and prone to illness or injury.
We’ve compiled a handy list of the top 5 types of pet lizards to keep as for beginner and experiences reptile owners alike.
What You Should Look For in a Pet Lizard
While the list below does include some of the most popular choices for low-maintenance pet lizards, you may already have a specific breed or sub species in mind.
But how can you decide whether you can handle your dream lizard? Below are a list of important factors that you should consider before making your decision.
- Lifespan – Can you commit to taking care of your pet for the duration of its life? Some pet lizards can live for over 20 years! A pet is a lifelong commitment, so be sure you’ll be able to care for your lizard through its full life expectancy.
- Set Up – What type of setup to they require? Can you afford to provide what they need?
- Ongoing care – What supplies do they need for their ongoing care, and does the equipment they need have large ongoing costs? For example, electricity to power lights can add up over time. Is the food they eat expensive or hard to source?
- Treatment – Is the breed you want hardy? Does it have inherent health conditions? Can you afford to treat these issues should they arise?
- Skills and Knowledge – Do you have the specific skills and knowledge required to correctly care for your chosen breed? For example, do you know how to handle your breed of choice correctly?
- Temperament – Are you looking for a pet you can enjoy watching, or do you want to be able to actively handle your pet? Does the breed you have in mind have a suitable temperament for either of these options?
- Time and Commitments – Does caring for your lizard of choice take a considerable amount of time? Do you have any pre-existing commitments that could impact your level of care?
- Safety – If you’re opting for a larger lizard and you have young children, or care for an individual in ill health, then you might need to consider their safety. Larger lizards can break bones with a whip of their tail, not to mention that they can have a nasty bite!
5 Beginner Friendly & Easy to Keep Pet Lizards
Listed below are some of the most highly recommended lizards for beginners or those looking for a lizard that is low maintenance.
While these all require relatively simple care and set-up, it is important to remember that any pet will constitute a considerable commitment, and before purchasing you should be 100% sure that you can meet your new pet’s needs throughout its entire lifespan.
You should undertake thorough research and consider your own specific circumstances and wants and needs before you make any type of purchase.
1) Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularius)
The Leopard Gecko is probably the number one most popular lizard kept as a pet in the United States, and with their charming little faces and bright happy eyes, it’s not hard to see why!
These small reptiles usually grow no larger than 7-10 inches, and come in a variety of pretty colorations.
One of the largests factors that make Leopard Geckos so beginner friendly is how little equipment they require.
A standard a 20 gallon tank will make the perfect home for your gecko.
Additional Reading: How to Set up a Leopard Gecko Habitat
Unlike a large proportion of lizards, Leopard Geckos are nocturnal, which means they sleep in the day and are active at night.
This means they do not require specific lighting such as for basking, which greatly reduces the level of complexity in regards to their setup, and minimizes their future costs in regards to electricity bills and expensive equipment.
The only specific consideration you need to make is regulating the heating in the room your gecko is housed.
Like all reptiles, Leopard Geckos are cold-blooded. This means that unlike humans and other mammals, who can warm or cool their own bodies, your gecko’s temperature is reflective of their external environment.
Therefore, when the room is cold, so is your gecko, and when the room is hot the gecko will be also.
Geckos are also very easy to feed. When juvenile and growing, they will require feeding every day. However, once they reach full maturity this can be changed to every other day.
In regards to feeding, an adult Leopard Gecko really is one of the most low maintenance, as they can go a few days without food perfectly safely or unaffected, meaning they are great for those leading busy lives.
In a similar vein, Leopard Geckos are also very hardy and seldom suffer with ailments or problems like other lizards might.
Leopard Geckos can reach and even exceed 20 years of age. While this does mean you are making a long-term commitment, it also does mean that you can form a strong bond with your Gecko over the years and have a real companionship.
In regards to being your companion, Leopard Geckos, unlike other species of gecko, make the perfect pet. Whereas other species of Gecko have sticky toe pads, which allow them to climb most surfaces, making escape attempts a more regular possibility,
Leopard Geckos do not have these, meaning they are at a much lower risk of escaping.
Leopard Geckos are different to other geckos as well because they are much slower and more relaxed in temperament, meaning they can be easily handled by beginners.
They are also quite characterful little creatures and will get in to all kinds of antics as they explore and play in their home, making them great to watch.
2) Bearded Dragon (Pogona Vitticeps)
Bearded Dragons are probably the second most popular lizard owned at home, and while they do take a little more maintenance and set up considerations than Leopard Geckos, Beardies, as they are affectionately known, make great and rewarding pets for those looking to own a larger lizard.
With a lifespan of around 8-10 years, with some well cared for Beardies living to around 15 years of age, Bearded Dragons are a commitment similar to owning a dog.
In terms of size, depending on both the care they received when growing, as well as gender, beardies can reach around 14-24 inches.
In regards to set up, an adult bearded dragon will require a minimum tank size of around 40 gallons.
Additional Reading: How to Set Up a Bearded Dragon Habitat
Unlike Leopard Geckos, Bearded Dragons are diurnal, meaning that like humans they are awake during the day, and asleep during the nighttime.
Because of this, they will require specialized lighting, such as UVB lamps, as well as a tank set up that gives both space for basking, as well as spaces to hide, cool off, and sleep.
As with all reptiles, they will also need a temperature-controlled environment, and will typically require heat lamps.
While without the correct care Bearded Dragons can be susceptible to health complaints and illnesses, so long as you follow the right care instructions and are aware of some of the signs and symptoms of common ailments, these issues can usually either be avoided, or dealt with quickly and easily.
The main struggle that first time Bearded Dragon owners might encounter is brumation. While some Bearded Dragons might never brumate, others may do it as often as yearly.
Put simply, brumation is a bearded dragon’s version of hibernation, which they use in the wild to survive the winter months.
This can be an anxious time for lizard-owning newbies, but there is a wealth of information and support available online, and your vet will be happy to help you if you suspect your bearded dragon may be entering brumation.
In terms of temperament, Beardies have one of the best of all lizards commonly kept as pets.
They are happy to be handled, and unlike many reptiles can actually show recognition and will seek out their owner if looked after properly.
3) Red Ackie (Varanus Acanthurus)
Lesser known than the two previous entries on this list, the Red Ackie is a charming looking lizard that is also known as the ‘ridge-tailed lizard’ or ‘spiny-tailed lizard’.
While the Ackie is of the monitor family, and most lizards in that family should be considered unfriendly to beginners due to their size and temperment, the Red Ackie is far smaller and with a much more desirable temperament, making it an ideal choice for beginners who really desire a monitor as a pet.
The Red Ackie is larger than the other lizards on this list, usually growing to between 16-26 inches.
Unlike other monitors whose enclosures can require the majority of a room, a Red Ackie needs a comparatively smaller tank of around 55 gallons in size.
They also require little specialist equipment, aside from the basic supplies that most pet lizards require such as controlled heating and UVB lighting.
Unlike other monitors, which can show elements of aggression and shouldn’t be handled, Red Ackies are pretty docile and don’t mind being handled, and their smaller size makes this quite easy for beginners.
Feeding is quite easy too, as adult Ackies only need feeding every other day, and aren’t too picky, enjoying insects and pinkies alike.
The main drawbacks of a Red Ackie is the lack of specific research books that beginners can use as reference.
However, more general books are available, as well as a plethora of more specified resources available online.
Ackies from a reliable breeder or reptile specialist can also be tricky to find currently, as the Ackie hasn’t yet achieved the mass-market love and popularity of the Leopard Gecko and Bearded Dragon.
With its stunning dragon-like appearance and the rising popularity of pet lizards in general, in the coming years or so, this is likely to change.
4) Crested Gecko (Rhacodactylus ciliatus)
The second gecko on our list, the Crested Gecko is becoming rapidly more popular in recent years.
More reptilian- or snake-looking than the Leopard Gecko, the Crested Gecko is typically golden in color and can have stripes or spots or a combination of both.
The striking look of these geckos often has them at the top of many beginners wishlists.
Crested Geckos are described as ‘arboreal’, which means they like to climb within their tank onto leaves and foliage.
They use their sticky toe pads to help them do this, and this can cause potential escape risks, meaning that owners need to ensure their tank is secure and escape-proof.
This of course can incur further costs to owners, but many find this worth it when it comes to watching their gecko climb around their environment.
While it was previously mentioned that geckos can be very fast and not suitable for handling, like the Leopard Gecko the Crested Gecko is quite slow and docile, meaning they can be easily handled without the worry of them escaping your grasp.
The only thing you need to be careful about when handling the Crested Gecko is that this breed is known to be more delicate and fragile than the robust Leopard Gecko.
They are also slightly larger than their Leopard counterparts at between 5-8 inches. They have a slightly shorter lifespan than the Leopard Gecko, however, reaching a top end of 15 years.
Also similar to the Leopard Gecko, the Crested Gecko is heralded as having some of the most simple care requirements of all lizards kept as pets.
They require no special lighting, and unlike almost all lizards, no special heating. In fact, they can actually become quite stressed if the temperature becomes too high.
Additional Reading: How to Set Up a Crested Gecko Habitat
Crested Geckos aren’t picky eaters either and can be fed a diet of pre-packaged fruit-based powders which are mixed with water, making feeding time hassle free.
However, some Crested Gecko owners do prefer to supplement their gecko’s diet with live insects in order to more closely imitate their natural diet in the wild.
Supplementation with insects could be particularly helpful when the gecko is juvenile and is using almost all of its energy for growth.
While Crested Geckos are fascinating to watch in their enclosure, they can be quite shy creatures, and will often choose to hide amongst the foliage of their tank.
They are also nocturnal, meaning that they sleep during the day and are awake at night, meaning they are likely to be inactive during daytime hours.
5) Argentine Black and White Tegu (Tupinambis merianae)
At between 3-4.5 feet, the Argentine Black and White Tegu is by far the largest species on our list, but is a great choice for those looking for something exotic and unique.
As the name might suggest, Argentine Black and White Tegus have gorgeous black and white markings which can vary from appearing as spots, to speckles, dapples, splotches, and stripes.
In very simplistic terms, the Argentine Black and White Tegu can be viewed as the reptilian equivalent of a small dog, living to around 15 years and up.
They are also very intelligent – in fact, one of the most intelligent of all lizards.
They even be taught basic tricks, and can recognise you as their owner as well as recognise their own name.
Tegus can even be taught to walk on a leash, and from young juveniles can be frequently handled. This is a great factor for beginner owners looking for a more active and hands-on reptile owning experience, as other lizards can be more reclusive and prefer minimal handling.
They are also very hardy lizards, meaning that handling does not need to be a worry.
In terms of housing, the Tegu will require a cage of around 4-6 foot by 2 foot, but may need to be even larger when dealing with adult males.
As with many lizards, they require UVB lighting and a temperature-controlled environment.
They also require a thick layer of substrate which they can use to burrow in. Finally, a must-have for Tegus is a spot to hide. The option that most owners choose is a long log for the Tegu to hide in.
This log is often lined with damp moss to aid with shedding and increase humidity.
When not interacting with you, it is likely that your Tegu will spend most of its time in this hiding place.
Tegus also have a great temperament and are naturally tame and docile creatures.
With the correct handling from a young age, they can form a strong bond with their owners and even show affection in their own way.
Tegus do require a varied diet, and while this can take some time to perfect, experimental meal times can also be a great bonding experience.
Most of the Tegu’s diet will be meat based, typically insects and pinkies, but they also enjoy fruits and vegetables too.
One very important thing to note about this information is that it pertains only to the Argentine Black and White Tegu, and not other Tegu subspecies such as the Columbian Black and White Tegu, as these lizards can be quite aggressive and much more complicated to correctly care for.
Common Types of Pet Lizards that Beginners Should AVOID
While as of yet, all the lizards mentioned on this list are great for beginners, we also wanted to give a brief mention to some of the breeds that first-time lizard owners should avoid, typically due to the specialist equipment, handling, or care they require.
- Iguanas – This may be a surprise entry as these lizards are both popular and affordable, but Iguanas are certainly not beginner friendly. This is down to how big these lizards can get, requiring a large enclosure of around half the size of an average bedroom if not bigger. Iguanas can also become quite aggressive if not handled correctly, and with a lifespan of around 20 years, they are also a very long-term commitment.
- Savannah Monitor – Savannah Monitors are also cheap to buy as babies, but like iguanas grow very large and require an extensively sized enclosure. They also grow to be very powerful lizards, with a whipping tail that can cause injury, even break bones, and have a strong bite as well. They also require intensive care, requiring lots of food, and cleanup, and can also do large amounts of property damage.
- Green Anole – While the Green Anole is inexpensive to purchase and only lives around 3-5 years, it requires specialised and expensive lighting and controlled environments. The Green Anole also becomes stressed easily when handled, and requires daily insect feeding.
- Chameleon – Chameleons only live for about 3-5 years, but can be easily afflicted with parasites or diseases. They are not suitable to be handled, as they can become easily stressed and injured, and also require an expensive set up.
- Monitors (in general) – Monitors are inexpensive to buy as babies, but will require a setup that can costs thousands of dollars, becoming larger and larger as they reach maturity. They also, in regards to lizards, have a fairly long life span, so certainly are a long-term commitment. They can be as intensive to care for as a dog, and will require large amounts of food.
The Best Pet is the Best Fit
If your chosen lizard isn’t on our above list, then it certainly doesn’t mean that the breed you’ve fell in love with isn’t good, or is flawed. It may simply be the perfect fit for you where it may not have been for others.
No matter the lovely lizard you choose, you’re sure to have a wonderful companion on your hands. From kooky and personable breeds such as a Bearded Dragon or Leopard Gecko, or beautiful to observe, such as the Crested Gecko or Red Ackie, or a loyal companion such as the Argentine Black and White Tegu, there are plenty of great options for beginners. If you follow the advice in this article, as well as under go your own thorough research, you’re sure to find the right fit for you.