6 Things New Reptile Owners Should Know

Dogs and cats evolved alongside people; caring for them comes naturally. That’s not the case for reptiles. Here, owners can learn everything about caring for these scaly creatures.

May 30, 2024By Colt Dodd
things new reptile owners should know

Experienced reptile owners all say the same thing when approached by newbies: “Do your research.” After all, getting a lizard isn’t the same as getting a kitten. They need an exact recreation of their habitat in the wild––or else they won’t live very long. Reptiles also don’t show symptoms of certain ailments as clearly as mammals do.

So, are reptile lovers doomed to a life of watching their favorite critters from afar? Not exactly. Here, one can learn everything they need about adopting and maintaining a reptile.

1. Have Reasonable Expectations for a Reptilian Pet

bearded dragon pet reptile
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

While most reptiles enjoy being pets, some do not. This means that pet owners should have reasonable expectations for their new friends. For instance, bearded dragons are extremely friendly. They enjoy being handled and enriched by their owners.

Chameleons, on the other hand, get extremely stressed out when handled. They make this clear by wildly changing colors, turning green to red in seconds. To help future reptile parents choose the best friend for them, here’s a list of the friendliest reptilian pets:

  • Bearded dragons
  • Chinese water dragons
  • Leopard geckos
  • Corn snakes
  • Argentine black-and-white tegus

If someone’s looking for a reptile that’s purely ornamental, they should consider getting a ball python. These animals are fairly low-maintenance and don’t require a lot of interaction.

2. Reptiles Are Ectothermic Animals

bearded dragon light reptile
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Unlike mammals, reptiles can’t naturally regulate their body temperatures. They rely on external sources of heat to regulate their metabolic function and feel energized. So, they need gradient heat sources. This means that there are hot and cool parts of the enclosure.

Take an anole, for instance. These critters come from tropical climates, and their new home should reflect that. A pet owner should find a lamp that fits over the top of the tank, maybe with the main light in a corner. Then, when the anole needs energy, it’ll bask directly under the light. But, when it’s had enough, it has the option of hanging out in the shade.

A tank’s light and temperature requirements depend on the animal. PetSmart offers some resources where pet owners can learn about what temperatures suit their new companions.

3. Reptiles Need a Healthy, Well-Enriched Diet

reptile food mealworms grub
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

There really is truth to the adage, “You are what you eat.” That applies to reptiles, too. A healthy reptile eats healthy food. An unwell reptile will eat subpar meals––or not at all. Yet, as Reptiles Magazine notes, feeding a reptile a healthy diet is harder than it seems.

Reptiles mainly eat insects and rodents. These animals must be healthy (and, therefore, safe for consumption). For instance, no one should feed their bearded dragon rotting mealworms. Not only could this make the animal sick, but the mealworms themselves wouldn’t offer adequate nutrition.

Pet owners should learn how to take care of these critters before feeding them to their reptiles:

  • Mealworms
  • Roaches
  • Silkworms
  • Mice (baby mice are best)

4. Reptiles Can Live a Long Time

leopard gecko lizard reptile
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Even getting a middle-aged reptile is a years-long commitment. That’s because, on average, most reptiles easily pass the five-year mark. Merck Manual lists domestic reptiles’ ages from the shortest-living to the longest-living:

  • Old world chameleons (three to eight years)
  • Green anoles (four to eight years)
  • Bearded dragons (five to 10 years)
  • Green iguanas (five to 15 years)
  • Corn snakes (10 to 15 years)
  • King snakes (10 to 15 years)
  • Leopard geckos (20+ years)
  • Eastern box turtles (25 to 50 years)
  • Leopard tortoises (50+ years)

Potential pet owners should weigh whether they have the time available to care for a reptile that could easily outlive them. This consideration may prompt some new-time owners to adopt animals available on platforms like Craigslist. Here, they can adopt an elderly reptile and decide whether they could handle the time commitment of a younger animal.

5. Getting a New Pet Isn’t Cheap

terrarium green lizard reptile home
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Money Management International notes that reptile owners can expect to pay $350 to $1,300 a year on various expenses. That’s not factoring in the cost of purchasing the animal itself. When budgeting how much you want to spend on a reptile, you should add up the costs associated with:

  • A terrarium: Reptiles can grow as they age, meaning an owner could have to get a bigger tank every few months.
  • Lighting: Owners need two light bulbs: one bulb that generates heat and another that generates ultraviolet rays. These bulbs don’t last forever, meaning owners should get back-ups if one burns out.
  • A thermometer: Reptile owners need to know exactly how hot or cold their pets’ terrariums are.
  • Bedding: A reptile owner can’t just plop a lizard into a tank with no bedding. They need to line the terrarium’s bottom with moss, sand––whatever the reptile should expect to find in the wild.
  • Terrarium décor: Many reptiles enjoy hiding under logs or basking on stones. Even just a flat stone could offer hours of enrichment for a gecko or snake.

6. Reptiles Are Not Immune to Disease

ball python up close
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Whether you’re looking to care for a friendly leopard gecko or a weirder, lesser-known reptile, here’s one thing to know: pets can get sick. In fact, there are many common illnesses that affect reptiles––some of which can be transmitted to humans. For instance, you should always wash your hands after handling a reptile to avoid salmonella, an infection that can lead to gastrointestinal distress.

Other diseases reptiles can carry and/or suffer include:

  • Botulism
  • Poxvirus
  • Adenovirus
  • Metabolic bone disorders
  • Mites
  • Mouth rot (also known as “stomatitis”)
  • Ear infections (yes, reptiles have ears)

There’s No Such Thing as a Zero-Commitment Pet

reptile chameleon holding
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Bottom line: getting a reptile shouldn’t be a spur-of-the-moment experience. However, it doesn’t have to be a stressful one, either. By factoring in a reptile’s needs, expenses, and health, you can adopt the friend that’s right for you. Consider your lifestyle, time commitments, and budget when choosing to bring a new pet home, whether furry or scaly.

Colt Dodd
By Colt Dodd

Colt Dodd is a sighthound enthusiast with three years of freelance writing experience. He has an Italian greyhound/Shetland sheepdog mix named Homer. In his spare time, he enjoys going to dog parks and writing fiction.