Choosing a pet reptile? Authorities say captive-bred species are always the best choice. Reptile species bred in captivity are already acclimated to living in temperature-regulated enclosures, and they are accustomed to human handling and feeding. It is also wise to research every type of reptile you are considering as a pet -- some species are far easier to care for than others; some stay small in size well into adulthood while others require more space as they grow.
Meet the Geckos
According to author and reptile specialist, Russ Case, leopard and crested geckos are two of the most popular lizard species kept as pet reptiles. Geckos live comfortably in 10- to 20-gallon enclosures, with temperatures regulated at about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They will eat commercial gecko food. As adults, geckos reach manageable lengths of 6 to 9 inches and can live up to 20 years in captivity if cared for properly. One drawback of having a gecko as a pet is that the creature is nocturnal, so he's active when you're in bed.
Dr. Margaret A. Wissman feels bearded dragons, also known as "beardies," are among the best pet reptiles, as they are a laid-back and docile lizard species. Bearded dragons are a species of lizard that pet owners can handle on a regular basis, but they should live in larger terrariums -- 75 to 120 gallons -- so they have plenty of room to move around. Equip the enclosure with basking and UVB lights. The average basking temperature beardies like is around 110 degrees; the enclosure should remain warm overall. A bearded dragon eats a great deal more than most reptiles. His diet consists of insects, small mice and leafy greens.
While the skink, a native Australian lizard, may not automatically come to mind when you're listing reptiles you'll consider for a pet, Reptile Knowledge writer Brandon Cornett states the skink is one of the most docile and tame of all lizards. One of the skink's unique features is his vibrant blue tongue. Skinks live up to 20 years; as adults, they grow 18 to 24 inches long. Terrarium temperatures should be around 80 degrees. Since skinks are from an arid area of the world, they love to bask in temperatures of about 100 degrees. Skinks eat various foods including chicken and turkey meats, insects, fruits and vegetables. Like bearded dragons, skinks are diurnal lizards, meaning they are active during the day.
Snakes -- Colubrids and Constrictors
Having snakes for pets is not everyone's cup of tea, but a few snake species are easier to care for and maintain than others. Colubrid snakes, which include the kingsnake, milk snake, corn snake, rat snake and gopher snake, are gentle and calm. They remain small enough as adults, between 3 and 5 feet, that they can live in 20-gallon enclosures. If you prefer a constrictor-type snake, reptile expert Cornett recommends going with a ball python, which reaches around 5 feet as an adult. The ball python is the smallest of the constrictors and also the most docile, but requires a larger enclosure of about 40 to 50 gallons. The average temperature required for these snakes is about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, along with a variable room humidity if you live in colder climates. If you are squeamish about feeding your snake live mice, you need not worry. The majority of captive-bred snakes will eat frozen mice.
Turtles and Tortoises
Turtles and tortoises are common pet reptiles, but they require more time and maintenance than other reptile species, because their enclosures have both water and land. They can live 50-plus years in captivity. Popular pet turtle species include red-eared sliders, painted turtles, common musk turtles and box turtles. Red-eared sliders and painted turtles grow to 12 inches as adults; box turtles and stinkpots to 6. They require watertight enclosures. Turtles need UVB light, a heating source and possibly a water heater. Captive turtles eat aquatic turtle pellets, crickets, mealworms, earthworms, raw fish, and lettuce, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers and beets. Two common pet tortoise species are Russians and leopards. Russians grow up to 12 inches long; leopard tortoises are 10 to 24 inches in adulthood. Tortoises should have large indoor enclosures, or in warm climates larger outdoor enclosures. Tortoises need a water bowl, a hide box, a basking light, a UVB light and numerous vegetables and leafy greens to fulfill their required high-fiber and calcium-rich diet. Tortoises may indulge in fruits including apples, tomatoes, melons, bananas and mangoes.