University of FloridaSolutions for Your Life

Download PDF
Publication #WEC312

Buyers' Guide to Pet Reptiles1

Steve A. Johnson, Monica E. McGarrity, and Dustin Smith2

This fact sheet will provide you with some basic information about reptiles and their care, in order to help you choose an appropriate reptile pet that will suit your lifestyle. This fact sheet is also available in a condensed, printable brochure format—http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/UW/UW35700.

Important Considerations

When choosing a pet reptile, there are a few important questions you should consider:

  • How long will this animal live?

  • How large will this animal grow?

  • How much will it cost to feed and care for this animal?

  • What are the long-term requirements for this animal?

  • Where did this animal come from?

  • Will this animal be a safe pet for my household?

Basic Reptile Care

Before you choose to keep a reptile as a pet, you should be sure you are prepared to provide your new pet with the appropriate environment and care that it needs. All reptiles share the following basic requirements:

  • Adequate space and ventilation

  • Clean, safe substrate (i.e., bedding) and clean water

  • Quality, ultraviolet (UV) lighting (not needed for snakes)

  • Vitamin and mineral supplements

In addition to the basic requirements common to all reptiles that are listed above, each of the following groups of reptiles has its own unique requirements:

Snakes

  • Secure lid latches/clips are needed to prevent snakes from escaping.

  • Appropriate environment—each snake species has its own requirements.  Most of the species recommended in this fact sheet can be kept at room temperature, but their enclosures should provide cooler and warmer spots.

  • Adequate humidity is also important for some snake species.

  • Dietary requirements vary depending on the snake species, but most can be fed thawed, pre-killed rodents.

Lizards

  • Basking areas or perches (with heat/UV source) are needed for some lizard species.

  • Dietary requirements vary greatly among lizard species, depending on whether they are herbivores, omnivores, insectivores, or carnivores.  It is important to offer a wide variety of food.

Tortoises and Turtles

  • Adequate space and shelter are essential for tortoise enclosures.

  • Aquatic turtles need clean water.

  • Appropriate environment is critical for tortoises and turtles; pay close attention to temperature and humidity to prevent respiratory infections and other illnesses!

  • Dietary and UV lighting needs of tortoises and turtles should not be underestimated. Tortoises require a variety of fresh, nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, not just lettuce!

Choosing a Reptile Pet

Some reptile species are more likely to be good choices to keep as pets.

Figure 1. 

Cornsnakes usually make good snake pets


Credit:

Patrick Lynch, South Florida Water Management District


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Snakes—Cornsnakes, ratsnakes, milksnakes, and kingsnakes are usually good species to keep as pets. These snakes are readily available through local breeders or pet shops and are usually captive bred. In addition, they generally have a good temperament and basic care requirements.

Figure 2. 

Ball pythons are one of the best species of pythons to keep as a pet.


Credit:

The Wikimedia Project


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Among pythons, the ball python is one of the best species to keep as a pet (especially for beginners) because of its smaller size and minimal caging requirements. This species of python is very popular and readily available in a variety of color patterns. However, you should know that these snakes can live for 20–30 years.

Figure 3. 

Leopard geckos usually make good lizard pets.


Credit:

The Wikimedia Project


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Lizards—Leopard geckos, bearded dragons, and blue-tongued skinks are usually good species to keep as pets. These lizards are available through local breeders or pet shops and are all small to medium-sized species with good temperaments and basic care requirements. Leopard geckos are especially easy to care for because, unlike other lizards, they do not require UV lights.

Figure 4. 

Red-footed tortoises are one of the best turtle species to keep as pets.


Credit:

Trisha Shears, The Wikimedia Project


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Tortoises and other turtles—Red-footed and yellow-footed tortoises are two of the better species to keep as pets. These tortoises are readily available at pet stores, have great temperaments, and remain relatively small. However, all tortoises require a large enclosure and need quality UV lighting and a nutritious diet including a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. You should also be aware that these tortoises can live for 25–60 years.

CAUTION! Other reptile species may be poor choices for pets.

Figure 5. 

Burmese pythons usually make poor snake pets, and are one of the large constrictor species that are subject to legal restrictions in Florida.


Credit:

Patrick Lynch, South Florida Water Management District


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Snakes—Burmese, reticulated, and African pythons, as well as anacondas are some of the species that usually make very poor choices to keep as pets (especially for beginners). Although they are readily available in most areas and are often inexpensive, these snakes can grow to over 20 feet long and can be dangerous. Many states will soon restrict or prohibit keeping these species as pets. In Florida, possession of most large pythons and anacondas is already restricted, and many species may no longer legally be sold as pets (see Additional Tips below for more information).

Figure 6. 

Nile monitor lizards usually make extremely poor pets, and are subject to legal restrictions in Florida.


Credit:

Atamari, The Wikimedia Project


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Lizards—Most monitor lizards make poor pets. Monitor lizards are often readily available but some species can be dangerous to handle when fully grown. They also have extensive care requirements and need very large enclosures with quality UV lighting/exposure. In Florida, possession of Nile monitor lizards is restricted, and this species may no longer legally be sold as pets (see Additional Tips below for more information).

Figure 7. 

Green iguanas usually make very poor pets.


Credit:

Ianaré Sévi, The Wikimedia Project


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Green iguanas are another lizard species that usually make very poor pets. Green iguanas are readily available and are inexpensive but grow quite large and may become aggressive and difficult to handle as adults—as a result, finding new homes for unwanted iguanas is nearly impossible. They are prone to health problems if not fed a nutritious, varied diet, and they require large enclosures with UV lighting.

Figure 8. 

African spurred tortoises, also known as spur-thigh or Sulcata tortoises, are usually a poor choice to keep as pets


Credit:

Melissa Mitchell, The Wikimedia Project


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Tortoises and other turtles—African spurred tortoises, also known as spur-thigh or Sulcata tortoises, are one of the tortoise species that are usually a poor choice to keep as pets. This species of tortoise is widely available at small sizes, but can grow to weigh over 200 pounds! Most tortoises do not make good pets for beginners, because they are very long-lived and many need large enclosures with carefully regulated heat and humidity.

Figure 9. 

Red-eared slider turtles usually make very poor pets, and are subject to legal restrictions in Florida.


Credit:

Luis García, The Wikimedia Project


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Slider turtles and softshell turtles are among the aquatic turtle species that usually make very poor pets. These aquatic turtles require large enclosures with filtered water (or frequent water changes) and UV lighting. Many states, including Florida restrict or prohibit the sale and possession of red-eared slider turtles (see Additional Tips below for more information), which are considered an invasive species outside of the Mississippi River basin; however, this species is sometimes sold illegally.

Additional Tips

Make sure your pet reptile is captive born and bred.

Ask the breeder or pet shop questions about where and how the animal was bred. Taking the time to learn about your pet's origins will ensure that your pet was not removed from a wild population (also ask if eggs were collected from the wild), and will help to ensure that your pet will not have a lot of parasites in or on its body.

Learn your local captive wildlife laws!

Many states have laws dealing with wild and captive (native and non-native) reptiles. These laws range from space and permit requirements to prohibited species—some states don’t even allow reptiles to be kept as pets! Find your local wildlife agency and learn more about your local laws regarding captive wildlife—see http://www.fws.gov/offices/statelinks.html for a list of agencies. If you live in Florida, visit http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/conditional-prohibited-species/conditional/ for a list of restricted species and links to information about these restrictions.

Remember—it is NEVER legal to release non-native wildlife!

Learn more about options for unwanted pet reptiles by reading "Options for Unwanted Exotic Pets," available online at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/uw353.

Learn more about care of your pet reptile from these online resources:

Melissa Kaplan’s Herp Care Collection – www.anapsid.org

American Veterinary Medical Association – www.avma.org

World Chelonian Trust – http://chelonia.org

Footnotes

1.

This document is WEC312, of the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida/IFAS. Visit the University of Florida's EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu. First published August 2011. The "Buyers' Guide to Pet Reptiles" was initially developed by the 2010 Invasive Animal Task Team of the Southeast Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (www.separc.org).

2.

Steve A. Johnson, associate professor and Extension specialist, Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida/IFAS, 110 Newins-Ziegler Hall, PO Box 110430, Gainesville, FL 32611; Monica E. McGarrity, biological scientist, Gulf Coast Research and Education Center, University of Florida/IFAS, Plant City Center, 1200 North Park Road, Plant City, FL 33563; and Dustin Smith, assistant curator, ectotherms, Zoo Miami / Miami-Dade Park and Recreation Department, 12400 SW 152nd Street, Miami, FL 33177.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.