Exotic pet keeping is one of the best hobbies you can get into, although I am a little biased in that opinion. When I started there was little information available. You had to rely on ‘experts’ at pet shops and a small group of websites. There was little information about what the best beginner reptiles for kids or adults was.
When I first got into the hobby I thought a scorpion would be a great start. But I was about to find out that the best start was with reptiles. That is why when I went shopping for scorpions, I came back with two leopard geckos.
Over the years I’ve added to my collection and I’ve got a family. I can see how children interact with many of the animals in my collection and how they, in turn, interact and respond to young children, adults and other people. This gives me confidence to tell you my opinion on what the best beginner reptiles for kids or adults are.
How Do We Rate The Best Beginner Reptiles For Kids Or Adults?
There are five categories I’ll be using when rating the best beginner reptiles for kids or adults. These categories are:
Up-front Cost: How much the animal and equipment costs.
Availability: How available the animal is to acquire.
Care: How easy it is to care for the animal to allow it to thrive (not just survive).
Handleability: Is it a species you can handle?
Entertainment: Is it an enjoyable species to interact with.
Each of these will be given a rating that is out of 10. And I will also explain my reasons for giving that score.
I will also give the total score for each of the best beginner reptiles, next to their name. The higher the score, the better that reptile is for beginners.
So, without further waiting, what are my best beginner reptiles for kids or adults?
The Best Beginner Reptiles
Leopard Gecko (44/50)
The adorable little leopard gecko is the mainstay of the reptile keeping world. Most hobbyists have had, or have, at least one in their collection. And there is little wonder why, their personalities are excellent for young and old alike.
Up-front Cost: 8/10
The cost of leopard Geckos can be varied. From pet shops you can expect to pay about £40-£50 for a normal/wild type. However, going direct to a breeder can be a much more affordable way to buy a leopard gecko with some costing just £20. My male Super Mack Snow Leo cost just £30 and he is a high end morph.
The equipment can be reasonable. You could probably spend about £100 to £200 on your set up per leopard gecko. The most expensive item you will probably find is the thermostat but that is also one of the most essential items to buy.
To be honest, and in my opinion, there are too many leopard geckos available on the market. This is encouraging people who aren’t prepared to look after them properly from buying them. Many end up in rescue centres or dying prematurely.
That being said, the number on the market does allow you time to be patient without the fear of losing out. If one doesn’t look in good health, don’t buy it. There will be other leopard geckos for sale soon from other great breeders. If you’re unsure about a breeder, ask on forums on sites like Facebook.
Leopard geckos are fairly easy to care for. There are some problems with them, such as the need to feed live insect food that some people might find hard to do and their heat needs. You are also best using UV lights inside their enclosure. I’ve found this has made them act more naturally because it gives them a better day/night cycle.
Generally speaking as well, leopard geckos are rather forgiving should mistakes be made in their care. Get to know your leopard gecko so you can quickly spot any health concerns and rectify their care or seek advice. Just be sure that you’re giving them calcium supplements on a regular basis to avoid Metabolic Bone Disease.
Most leopard geckos are a pleasure to handle and will regularly interact with their owners. Felicity, our female, doesn’t like to be handled. She squirms but she is the exception. Of the four I’ve owned, she is the only one that doesn’t like to be held. But that doesn’t mean that she is grumpy. In fact, she is the only leopard gecko that will come out of hiding to greet me when I enter the reptile room.
Leopard geckos are great fun and in my honest opinion, a must have in any collection. They will interact with you and entertain you for hours. We love watching them hunt, sleep and explore.
Bearded Dragons (38/50)
Bearded Dragons are another route that some people take to enter the reptile hobby keeping world. However, while I have one, Irwina, I don’t think they are a great beginner reptile. However, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, they can be very rewarding.
Up-front Cost: 6/10
Bearded dragons can cost a lot. There was a time when there were a lot of breeders, but this meant that the price of them hit the floor. Some shops were giving them away with setups. However, all that has changed and bearded dragons can be in short supply. So you can expect that the cost will be somewhere between £70-80.
In addition, their equipment is often more expensive. They need at least a four foot vivarium, plus lots of heating and lighting gear plus lots of decorations. Bearded dragons also eat a lot. So be prepared to buy in lots of food, or breed it yourself.
As previously mentioned, there are supply issues with bearded dragons. Sometimes you can find them everywhere and then at other times you can’t find a single one across a county. A lot of breeders have backed out of bearded dragons.
While care is not as challenging as some of the other species you can keep, they aren’t an easy species by any means. They require UV light, good food, good health care, lots of time and to be honest more food than a hungry teenager. Plus they can be very picky about food, care and even their enclosure. Our Irwina gets annoyed whenever there is a change in the room and it takes ages for her to get used to new furniture (and it has to be in the right place)!
For all its woes, the bearded dragon is the best animal to handle. When young they can be flighty, but overnight, they will suddenly become a lap dog. You might even be able to walk around the house with yours. It’s one of the few virtues of this reptile. Irwina likes to pretend she is a brooch.
If it wasn’t for handleability and entertainment, this reptile would not be on our list. It is entertaining. We think bearded dragons are born to be clowns or entertainers. And they do seem to enjoy interacting with their owners, which is a big bonus.
Crested Gecko: (36/50)
The crested gecko is a great looking species that has come to hobby as a curiosity. It was once thought to be extinct until the species was rediscovered after a storm on New Caledonia. Now it is a species you will often find for sale.
Up-front Cost: 9/10
The animal itself can cost you anywhere from about £35 to £70, depending on morph and the breeder/pet shop. This isn’t too expensive. And the equipment is generally good as well. Crested Geckos don’t need lighting or much heat, so costs there are cheaper than some other products. However, they do need humidity, so you might was to invest in a misting system or a waterfall.
These reptiles can be found in pet shops, private breeders and expos across the country and the world. The number of morphs for them is growing and you should be able to find one quickly and easily.
They are fairly easy to keep. However, there are two parts which are challenging, keeping them humid, without doing too much, and ensuring they’re eating a good diet. There are options for both of these: for feeding I feed a mix of insects and pureed fruit. It has helped our little one grow, but there are also complete mixes that can be bought.
This is not for the novice keeper. Their tails can drop easily and they won’t grow back. Plus, in a well planted terrarium, the crested gecko can sometimes be hard to find for handling.
As long as you don’t mind waiting until nightfall and watching the crested gecko run around on its own cause, the crested gecko can seem very boring. Ours sleeps all day only to run around at night. I’ve found that adding live insects into the enclosure every so often improves activity with hunting behaviour.
Russian Tortoise (23/50)
The Russian Tortoise is by far one of the easiest tortoises to care for. There are some that claim you don’t need to hibernate them. They also grow to a moderate size and therefore don’t need a whole garden dedicated to them. We will be looking at just this tortoise compared to others.
Up-front Cost: 4/10
Lets be honest, the cost of a tortoise is high, so is the equipment. Even for a moderately sized tortoise, you should have an enclosure that is at least one metre by one metre. This is hard to get, though there are some runs available. In addition, if you plan to keep your tortoise outside, you will need to invest in escape-proof housing for it to live in. The cost of the animal itself is also high. We’ve seen prices from £100 to £200.
For indoor tortoises, you need heat sources, substrate and other equipment to keep them healthy.
Russian tortoises are fairly easy to find, when it is breeding season, but outside of that it is nearly impossible to find them. They are often bought because people think they are great pet that needs little attention. However, as we’ll see in a second, their care is much more intensive than you think.
Care of a Russian tortoise is challenging at best. Most are stubborn creatures who will only eat certain foods because they ‘want’ those. Not because they have the right nutrients in them, Littlefoot, our tortoise will often leave healthy food and pick out his favourites.
Being particular with their food can also be costly, for example if your tortoise will only eat from living salad trays, or, for example, Littlefoot having a penchant for a particular brand of bagged lettuce. Without the right supplements, tortoises can also suffer from numerous health concerns, including pyramiding. Finally, there is a significant concern with hibernation and that while they are asleep, they still need some good care.
Tortoises get stressed very quickly. Some will hate handling experiences. This is why they are normally only considered an observation species.
For all the negatives that we’ve mentioned, the Russian tortoise is great to watch. Just watching them wandering around the enclosure can be very entertaining. The way they eat can also be fun and they will often accept food from your hand.
Royal Python (36/50)
The Royal Python, otherwise known as a ball python, is one of the mainstays of the snake keeping world. There are several reasons for this, most of which we’ll cover below. However, one awesome reason why they are kept often in captivity is their ease to breed and the different variations (morphs) that they can produce.
Up-front Cost: 10/10
The cost of the Royal python snake and equipment can vary considerably. You could buy everything you need, and re-use from around the home, for less than £100. Or you could go really out there and spend more than £10,000. The amount you invest is up to you. Just remember that a Royal Python can live for 40 years.
You could go online now and find hundreds of available Royal Pythons available right now. And most reptile pet shops also sell Royal Pythons, though chain stores are often limited to ‘wild type’. However, there are lots of great breeders around the country which can offer you numerous morphs, whatever you prefer.
Care is probably one of the areas where I think snakes fall down on. While they are fairly low maintenance if their enclosure is designed well, getting it there can be a headache. Ball pythons need particular heat, humidity, space, hiding spaces and even entertainment in their enclosure. Once you’ve got that, their care is simple. Also, feeding is really easy with feeds needed every one or two weeks, depending on age, size and general health of the snake.
If you’ve got confidence, handling a ball python can be very easy. They are often docile, slow moving and just curious. Unlike other species of snakes, they won’t move fast. However, if you’re not confident, or you have a rare defensive snake, then you can sometimes find yourself on the receiving end of a ‘tag’.
Royal Pythons are known as pet rocks for a reason. They are often hiding, and when out, are very sedate. That being said, I enjoy the feeding process and the handling. So there are times when you’re going to have great fun with them. Especially during handling sessions, but then handling sessions should be kept to about three times a week at most. When not at this time, you might find that your snake isn’t doing much.
Kenyan Sand Boa (36/50)
The Kenyan Sand Boa is the first snake I tend to recommend to beginners. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, they are a smaller snake, males weigh only 80-100 grams. They are also docile and not fast as other snakes. Kenyan sand boas are also less flexible than other snakes, due in part to their burying nature. This often means that they find it harder to escape through tight spots.
Up-front Cost: 8/10
The cost of a Kenyan Sand Boa and equipment can vary considerably. You could buy everything you need, and re-use from around the home, for about £100 to £150. This would be using a RUB setup, something that we highly recommend. The snake would be between £50 to £80 for a normal. A morph can cost somewhere above £100. If you want a vivarium setup, then you can expect to see equipment costs go as high as £200-£300.
They aren’t universally available. But that doesn’t mean they are impossible to find. There are some very well established breeders that tend to always have at least one or two available. Though if you’re looking for a morph, these are harder to find, and therefore, more costly.
Kenyan sand boas are easier to care for than other snakes, which is why they are one of the best beginner reptiles, let alone snakes. Their humidity and heating is easy to provide with just the simplest of equipment. Their feeding is also simple.
When in the hand, Kenyan Sand Boas are great, friendly snakes that don’t mind the occasion handle. I’ve found that large groups can scare them, but instead of biting they tend to want to hide. The challenge is finding them. They are a burying species, so when you find them, you might need to dig around for them and this is where you can often be bitten as they mistake you for food or a predator.
I love my Kenyan Sand Boa, Wally. But I have to admit, if you want a display snake, this is not the snake for you. They are often buried in substrate. I only see Wally on the surface the day before a scheduled feed or during the breeding season when he’s looking for a girlfriend. That being said, handling and feeding times are great.
Final Word: What Are The Best Beginner Reptiles For Kids And Adults?
Above we’ve covered some of the candidates for the best beginner reptiles for kids and adults. Which one you choose is up to you, but hopefully the list will help you make an informed decision. For those looking for a quick review, the list in order of suitability is:
- Leopard Gecko (44/50) – In my opinion, this tops the list for the best beginner reptiles for kids, adults or anyone. It is available everywhere, inexpensive and easy-to-care for. At the same time, it is easy to handle. A great choice if you’ve never owned a reptile before.
- Bearded Dragons (38/50) – Needs a little more care, but at the same time can be a rewarding experience.
- Kenyan Sand Boa (37/50) – Those looking into snakes should consider this snake as a starter species. It is smaller and more exciting than other snakes.
- Royal Python (36/50) – Another excellent way to enter the reptile keeping world, the Royal Python is a great choice for a new member of any family.
- Crested Gecko (35/50) – A harder species of gecko to keep, but worthwhile for anyone looking for a gecko that doesn’t require an excessive amount of heat.
- Russian Tortoise (23/50) – Often stated as one of the best beginner reptiles, tortoises aren’t a great step into the reptile world. Personally, this shouldn’t be on the list, but if I didn’t talk about its pros and cons, then you wouldn’t be able to make an informed decision.