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Pet Reptiles - A Buyer's Guide

Updated on June 12, 2012
Albino Corn Snake
Albino Corn Snake | Source
Sinaloan Milk Snake
Sinaloan Milk Snake | Source
Bearded Dragon
Bearded Dragon | Source

So your son or daughter came home and announced that they want a reptile. Trust me this is more likely to happen now than ever. The reptile community, as they call themselves, is growing faster than ever. Over 11 million households maintain reptilian pets now. In fact, you probably know someone that has a snake or a lizard and you don’t even know it. It’s quickly becoming the norm.

So what do you do? You don’t want to squelch your child’s desire to experience something new. After all maintaining reptiles can be a great learning experience, but you know nothing about them. You may even be intimidated by these scaly, but not slimy, fellows. The answer is simple………research.

Read everything you can about snakes and lizards. Call a few breeders and ask lots of questions. A responsible reptile breeder will provide you with a wealth of information concerning the species they work with. They will also direct you to the species that is right for you. I know what you’re thinking. People breed these things? Yes they do. By the hundreds of thousands each year. It’s a 2 billion dollar industry in the US. In fact, the US is the largest producer of captive born reptiles in the world. There is no better country to be in if you want a pet reptile.

Requirements to Consider

Ok you’ve looked into what is required to maintain snakes and lizards. You’ve talked with several breeders and it’s time to make some decisions. Here are some things to consider.


Reptiles can take very little space or a lot of space. It all depends on the species. This something you should consider while you research each species.

Caging Costs

A large enclosure for a Boa Constrictor can cost $500 while a cage for a Leopard Gecko may cost $45. This is a major factor to consider.

Food Requirements

Mom do you want to make trips to the pet store to buy live mice/rats to feed your snake or would you rather keep frozen rodents in your freezer? For the snake lover this is a question you must answer. Would it be easier to buy live insects, salad fixings, or canned diet. If so, you may want to consider lizard or tortoise species. Personally I’d rather have mice in a freezer than noisy crickets in a tub, but that’s just me.


Most species enjoy having fresh water daily. That said, there are a few species that don’t tolerate water well. Most of these aren’t beginner species and you probably won’t find them in your local pet emporium. It’s always good to ask just in case.


Some reptiles like Ball Pythons require a heat source. This isn’t hard to set up, but it is a consideration. Other species like Crested Geckos like it cool and will actually stress when the get hot. Again researching the species you are interested will be an asset to you while deciding whether you like it hot or not.


For most snakes and nocturnal species UVB is not an issue, but some species like Bearded Dragons need UVB lighting. If it is a necessity the local pet store will have the bulbs you need. They will also have basking bulbs for species such as Bearded Dragons and Uromastyx that to bask to properly digest their food.


From experience I can tell you that insect eaters are high maintenance. They need to fed and cleaned several times a day. Snakes are much easier in this regard. You feed them once a week, give them fresh water daily, and clean as needed.

Some Reptile Species to Consider

Here are a few reptile species to take serious look at. These are great for the novice herp lover and make wonder pets.

Pet Snakes

Corn Snakes - These guys are pretty easy to work with. You feed them once a week. They require a warm spot of 79-84 degree F or they can be located in a warm room. They are friendly and seldom bite. There are bred in a huge array of colors and patterns and are readily available. Mice are their food of choice.

Ball Pythons – Once thought to be a junk species these guys have taken over the reptile world. You can purchase them from $15 to $100,000 depending on the morph and who is selling it. They do require a 90 +- warm spot and the like to eat small to medium rats. Ball Pythons often to on food strikes, which are usually nothing to worry about.

King Snakes and Milk Snakes – There are several species of King and Milk Snakes that are ideal for the beginner. They have been bred for color and pattern, but not to the extent that the Corn Snake has. They require the same habitat as the Corn Snake, but they enjoy an 84 degree hot spot.

Pet Lizards

Bearded Dragons – These are one of my favorites. They are easy to handle, personable, and will eat just about anything. I’ve always fed mine a variety of greens, veggies, and insects such as crickets, cockroaches, and superworms. These guys are the poodle of the reptile world. There is a ton of information out there about these guys. I suggest buying one breeder direct.

Leopard Geckos -These guys make great pet lizards also. A 15 or 20 gallon tank with a lid, an under the tank heater, vita sand, a mealworm dish, a water dish, and away you go. It doesn’t get much easier than that. They also come in a wide variety of colors and pattern morphs. Always keep a damp hide for you Leo Gexs so that they shed properly.

Crested Geckos - This is probably the easiest lizard to maintain. You need a screen cage, some plastic plants, a food dish, a water dish and a mist bottle. Some say that they benefit from UVB lighting other argue that they don’t. For food they can be maintained on a powdered diet, though they enjoy an occasional cricket they are not a dietary requirement.

Parting Thoughts

This not by any means a comprehensive guide to any of these reptiles, but I do hope that it gives you some insight into reptile ownership. Reptile ownership can be very rewarding and educational so don’t count them out. Do your research and who knows a pet reptile may be your next investment.

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      Dennis L. Page 5 years ago from New York/Pennsylvania border

      Well, with your background I understand the infatuation with snakes. I, on the other hand, am like the old song, "I don't like spiders and snakes." I admit as much as I loathe snakes, it is the spiders, no matter what size, that send me over the edge.