9 Low-Maintenance Reptiles for Kids
So your kid is ready for a first pet? Before you impulse-buy that fluffy hamster or guinea pig, consider getting a reptile. Scaly things that slither tend to get a bad rap, but in many ways, they make ideal, low-maintenance pets.
Reptiles are cold-blooded, so they have much slower metabolisms than their mammalian counterparts. Because of this, they don’t eat as often and don’t make nearly as much of a mess in their enclosures. That makes caring for them a breeze!
Before you say no, check out these best low-maintenance reptiles for kids.
Ball pythons have arguably the cutest faces of any pet snake around. They’re known as the puppies of the reptile world. They’re docile, easy to handle and far more likely to curl into a ball and hide than to strike at you — hence the name “ball python.” Ball pythons need a warm, moderately humid enclosure, and they should be fed a rodent once every seven to 14 days, depending on their age and size.
Adults reach between 3 and 5 feet in length, with males being on the smaller end of the spectrum. As far as snakes go, ball pythons are plump. Their thick bodies make them a little more resilient to rough handling than a smaller snake would be. While kids should always be supervised while handling pets, this snake's hardiness is a big plus.
As long as they’re kept in the right conditions, they’re extremely low maintenance. They do occasionally stop eating, which worries new keepers, but they usually resume eating when they’re ready. They also come in hundreds of different color and pattern morphs!
Corn snakes, much like ball pythons, come in plenty of gorgeous morphs. They’re also notoriously hard to kill. They have a great appetite, and they’re native to North America, so it’s a little easier to get their enclosure to match their heat and humidity needs. They usually reach around 5 feet in length, but they’re much thinner than ball pythons.
They’re much more active during handling, so if you want a snake that’s more of an activity to hold, corn snakes are the way to go. They also can be kept in a 30- to 40-gallon enclosure for life, so they don’t take up too much space.
California king snakes are another popular reptile choice for beginners for all the same reasons as a corn snake. They’re very hardy and easy to keep and can live under very similar conditions. The main differences between the two are appearance and personality. Corn snakes come in more color morphs, but both snakes have more than enough variety to keep things interesting. King snakes, however, tend to have more attitude. They’re somewhat more likely to bite, but with frequent handling, most become easy to hold.
It all comes down to which snake you like the look of better and how concerned you are about the occasional strike. For either snake, bites are nothing to worry about. Their teeth are tiny, so bites typically feel no worse than a quick pinprick.
Bearded dragons are possibly the most popular pet lizard of all time. They’re like the lapdog of reptiles. They’re easy-going, not particularly skittish and easy to handle, even for school-aged children. For a reptile, they have plenty of personality. They’ve been known to nap on top of their owners, and they don’t seem to mind being taken on excursions — as long as it’s not too cold out, of course! As adults, they average about 18 inches in length, big enough to be easy to hold, but small enough to be kept in a moderately sized enclosure.
They need live insects for food on a daily basis, so they’re a bit more work than a snake. They also need calcium supplements to keep them in tip-top shape.
Russian tortoises are the most popular pet tortoise for a reason. Unlike many species, they remain a manageable size; usually, they max out at 8 to 10 inches in length. As with most reptiles, females tend to get a little larger than males. They’re great eaters and love to burrow, which makes them lots of fun to watch. They’re much less picky about temperature than snakes and lizards, so they’re easy to keep inside without much heating equipment. They don’t hibernate in winter, so tortoise owners get to enjoy their company all year round!
They primarily eat greens, which is much more appealing for new reptile keepers than feeding frozen or thawed rodents. That said, they’re happiest when they’re not handled a lot. If you don’t mind having a pet to watch rather than hold, the Russian tortoise is a great choice.
If you’ve ever seen a turtle in an outdoor pond, odds are high that it was a red-eared slider. Red-eared sliders (named for the red stripe on the side of their face) are a popular species of aquatic turtle. Because they live mostly in the water, they’re lots of fun to watch — similar to fish but a whole lot cooler. They need special basking lamps and spots to layout and soak, replicating their natural environment.
Keepers feed them a combination of pre-made pellets and fresh vegetables. Super easy, right? They don’t like to be held though, so don’t get a red-eared slider if you want a handleable, low-maintenance reptile.
Onward to geckos! Leopard geckos are small, low-maintenance reptiles that are as cute as can be. They don’t have the same sticky fingers and toes that most geckos have, so they can’t climb all over the place. Instead, they stick to the ground, climbing right-side-up on terrarium decor. They’re used to living in the semi-arid desert, so they don’t need much humidity in comparison to, say, a ball python. One big plus of the leopard gecko is that you can keep more than one in a single enclosure — just make sure that only one is male to avoid fighting.
Geckos don’t mind being handled, but warm them up to it slowly. If handled too frequently, they might get stressed and drop their tails!
Similar in care requirements to the leopard gecko, the crested gecko makes another great, low-maintenance reptile for kids. In nature, they dwell in trees, so some keepers consider them more fun to watch than leopard geckos. They only grow to be about 8-inches long, so nothing too intimidating. Like leopard geckos, only one male should be kept in a group.
They, too, can lose their tails if they get stressed out. It’s very common and nothing to worry about, but if you prefer your pet with a tail, it’s best to keep a single crested gecko.
Blue Tongue Skink
Native to Australia, blue tongue skinks are one of the coolest lizards you can own. They grow up to 2-feet long, but they make far better pets than the infamous green iguana. They’re thick-bodied with sturdy, short limbs; cute, triangular heads; and signature blue tongues.
They have similar care requirements to geckos and bearded dragons, but they’ll eat almost anything — and they should! They’re omnivores, so they thrive when fed a variety of small rodents, insects and plants. They may be a little shy at first, but once you’ve earned their trust, they’re easy to hold.
Choosing the Best Low-Maintenance Reptile
It’s impossible to give a definitive ranking on reptiles for kids because the right pet for one family might be a nightmare for another! Do your research, and don’t buy an animal without prior preparation. Make sure you know exactly what your pet of choice needs, and get all necessary supplies and enclosures ahead of time.
When you’ve narrowed down your options, read up even more! Always try to buy a captive bred reptile to make sure your new pet is healthy and tame. Many reptiles live for years (decades, even!), so be aware of the average life expectancy of a pet reptile, temperament and housing requirements. That way, your first reptile experience will be a good one.