Guest Post by Johnathan David
Sometimes the thought of owning a cat or dog can be a little daunting to those who are new to being a pet parent, especially those with allergies. Baby steps with a small animal, such as a lizard, is a great way for those with busier schedules who would really like to have a pet to take care of. Not only that, but these five types of lizards are also great for children who want to learn the basics of animal husbandry and easy enough for parents to care for when the child is away at school.
Life span: 5–10 years
Length: 5–8 inches
UVA/UVB light: optional
Best qualities: calm, curious
Reptile fanciers find this lizard one of the easiest to care for of all the beginner lizards in the pet store. They are curious animals that love to climb around all sorts of surfaces with their sticky toe pads and have a relatively high tolerance for handling once a bond has been established. If they feel threatened, the crested gecko will drop their tail but it won’t grow back like many other lizards.
They do not require a UVB/UVA light bulb to maintain normal body functions nor a very high level of humidity, however, it should never drop below 50 percent. An enclosure that is taller than it is long is best because of their climbing abilities. You can enhance their playground with several branches and ledges. Crested geckos can live in pairs; however, having two males together increases the risk of both of them becoming territorial and hurting each other.
Life span: 4–10 years
UVA/UVB light: required
Best qualities: hardy, calm
This lizard is the classic go-to for those who want to start with a sociable, larger reptile. They are able to be handed and some are known to seek out their caretaker for gentle pets along with their head and back. They are a reptile that prefers to have a territory to themselves so one beardie per cage is required to avoid any injuries and stress.
As omnivores, they need a diet that is high in a variety of leafy greens, vegetables, and insects. Their living requirements are on the larger side because of their length, needing a glass enclosure that is a minimum of 36 square feet with rocks and branches for them to climb on. You do not have to worry about not being able to hang out with your beardie as they are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day time.
Life span: 6–10 years
Length: 7–10 inches
UVA/UVB light: optional
Best qualities: inquisitive, expressive
These smaller lizards are most at home in dry, desert-like environments where they can roam across the sand and bask on rocks. They are curious and vocal about their needs, sometimes nipping at others to get their point across.
Leopard geckos are able to live together up to three in a minimum 20-gallon tank; however, it is best to have only one male or all females to avoid fighting. Because they are nocturnal, they don’t need a UVB or UVA light bulb like other reptiles to stay healthy. A space where they can bask in a warm light and cool off is enough for them to stay happy in their enclosures. These geckos have the ability to drop their thick tail to escape from any perceived or real threats, so avoid handling them until you have formed a bond with them after a week or so.
Life span: 4–8 years
Length: 8 inches, head to tail tip
Best qualities: small, independent
You might have seen one of these guys in your backyard while you were gardening, as they are native to the warmer, southern areas of North America. They have the amazing talent to change their color from a bright emerald to a muddy brown in response to temperature, stress, and to camouflage themselves. While they can live in small groups together, each group should only have one male because they can be territorial over their foliage-heavy home.
Only needing a couple of crickets or mealworms every other day and a semi-tropical environment that can be achieved through misting their cage every day, these little guys are quite easy to take care of for the beginner lizard parent. Be careful when handling them, as they can become easily stressed and drop their tail. Minimal handling is best until you’ve established trust and a bond with your anole so they can perch on your hand or shoulder.
Life span: 15–20 years
Length: 18–24 inches
UVA/UVB light: recommended
Best qualities: large, gentle
The largest of beginner lizards, the Blue Tongue Skink is a wonderful ground dwelling reptile that is happy to bask in the sun as much as they like to burrow under leafy debris. Their bright blue tongue is as striking as their scale colors, along with how comically large their head is compared to the rest of their body.
This reptile has a gentle demeanor and can tolerate long sessions of handling once a friendship has formed between caretaker and lizard. Their enclosures have to be longer than they are tall with plenty of spaces they can curl up under to cool off or hide. They are omnivores that enjoy a variety of vegetables with a large side of small insects.
Johnathan David is a herpetologist with a decade's worth of experience caring for exotic pets since graduating with a degree in animal welfare. A reptile lover from childhood, he has years of experience in herpetoculture and has cared personally for geckos and skinks.