You’ve decided that you’d love to adopt a pet lizard. They make brilliant pets and are the most common form of reptile in the UK. This is likely due, in part, to other reptiles such as snakes and frogs possibly being a bit nerve-wracking for many.
If this is your first time owning a lizard and you’re not sure where to start, then don’t worry. We’ll talk you through a list of the best breeds for beginners.
Before we get started, it’s important to consider a few things when buying a lizard. These reptiles can live up to twenty years, so it is a commitment if you’re buying one from a young age. Lizards also require certain temperature and humidity conditions, or their health and wellbeing could suffer.
No two lizard breeds are the same, either. Some burrow, some climb, some can be handled better than others. There are breeds that are active during the day, and others at night. Some breeds simply do what they want, having been kept as pets for generations.
While they are such a diverse group of animals, there are some breeds that are generally better for beginners than others.
The essentials of lizard ownership
Every breed has different requirements, but the general essentials are below:
- All lizards will need to be kept in a suitable housing setup. These are called vivariums.
- Because the correct temperature and humidity are vital, you will need equipment such as heaters, thermometers and hygrometers and humidifiers. These require electricity and are an investment.
- Their diets depend on their breed, but some require animal protein in the form of insects. In some cases, the insect will have to be alive, so you also need to care for these separately.
The best lizards for beginners
1. Leopard Geckos
Leopard geckos are popular and have a big following. They are ground-dwelling lizards, naturally from Asia, so setting up their habitat is relatively easy. Leopard geckos love to rest under ornaments during the day, such as bark decoration and are quite slow movers.
They are crepuscular, so naturally most active between dusk and daylight when it is dark, but pet leopard geckos can commonly become more active during the day with human interaction. This is great for anyone who is working from home during the day. A heat mat will be required overnight at one end of their enclosure.
They are insectivores, so their diet consists of crickets/locusts and treats, making it a lot easier than a bearded dragon’s diet. Treats include cockroaches and mealworms, but only in small doses. No salad needs to be made, either.
The main downside is that they need live food, so you have to ensure you’re comfortable handling live food as well as confident in caring for the food. It will have to be dusted with a vitamin supplement.
Adult geckos also shed their skin every four to eight weeks, so it’s important to do your research to know how to help this process. Leopard geckos lose their tails when they’re significantly stressed, which is important to keep in mind; however, the positive is that they regrow their tails, unlike crested geckos.
Because they are so friendly, they are perfect for younger reptile fanatics. The perfect pet to get any children interested in herpetology!
2. Bearded Dragon
Bearded Dragons are the most popular choice for pet lizards in the UK, and it’s no surprise given their low maintenance and friendly, docile disposition. They usually remain at around 2ft in size and require a hot, dry environment given they are from Australia.
Bearded dragons are omnivores, eating vegetation and insects, so feeding is a little more complicated than with a leopard gecko. They love insects and worms but can tackle larger prey too. As well as keeping insect food alive, you also have to make bearded dragons little salads. Their diet actually needs to be 80% vegetarian.
A bearded dragon will spend a large portion of their day basking in light and warmth, so you will need a UVB reptile lamp in place. When done, they retreat to a cooler area, so their vivarium requires precise temperature control.
They’re quite a bit larger than leopard geckos, but because they’re so relaxed, they’re still easy to handle despite their size. Due to their relaxed nature, they also don’t mind being handled. A bearded dragon is naturally awake during the day, which can make them easier to care for and watch for any signs of illness.
Bearded dragons can go to the toilet anywhere between once per week and once per day, so be prepared to clean regularly. Your beardy may also need spot cleaned themselves, as they aren’t the best at avoiding their waste.
3. Crested Gecko
The crested gecko is the most common arboreal (living in trees) reptile kept in the UK. Their skin patterns can vary, and they will usually live between 15 and 20 years.
Like their leopard gecko cousin, crested geckos are fairly easy to look after. Once your gecko has become accustomed to you, they can enjoy being handled and have a calm disposition. But it’s important to remember that they have to be handled delicately since they’re quite small and can become anxious easily.
A crested gecko will need a warm, humid enclosure. It also needs to be tall, as they love to climb. This is a big difference when comparing them to a ground-dwelling leopard gecko. A naturally planted enclosure will go down a treat with them. Something like a 45 x 45 x 60 glass enclosure will be ideal, although nothing is stopping you from going larger.
A diet of fruit and insects for protein is best. Live insects will be required, such as brown crickets and locusts. For the fruit part, a replacement can be used, if it is easier for you to manage.
4. Uromastyx Lizards
If you have been reading down the list so far screaming because the thought of having live insects in your home is daunting, you’ve got to the right pet now. Never buy a reptile that needs live food or insect protein if you can’t face feeding these to your pet.
Instead, a Uromastyx lizard is a vegetarian alternative that allows you to keep a reptile without the live food downside. This is great for anyone who is also uncomfortable handling meat, as all they need is salad and seeds. Insects can be given as a very occasional treat, but they can happily live without, and juveniles will naturally show decreasing interest in insects over time.
Uromastyx lizards, also known as a spinytail or spiny-tailed agamid, are super relaxed, making them a great choice for a first-time owner. They’re a little more nervous than bearded dragons simply because they tend to burrow in the wild and therefore aren’t too keen on being out in the open. But they are active during the day.
Before you buy a Uromastyx, however, you have to be aware that their exact care needs and size depend on their exact species. An Egyptian Uromastyx gets to 3ft and the Ornate Uromastyx won’t even reach 1ft usually. A Morrocan Uromastyx is seen by many experts to be the best behaved and easiest to keep.
They aren’t as common, so determining their lifespan in captivity is hard, but thought to average around 15 years. Uromastyx requires a fairly large habitat, around 6 x 2ft for fully grown adults. The minimum height will depend on the lighting and heat your species requires.
A Uromastyx will need a deep burrowing substrate in order to cool down. You should read more about this fascinating animal before deciding if it is right for you. While their feeding is easy, their tank setup can be difficult.
5. Blue-Tongue Skink Lizard
As the name suggests, these lizards have a unique blue tongue that is pretty impressive, and they’re known to be fairly intelligent and curious creatures. Ground-dwellers, they somewhat resemble a snake in most parts.
These lizards are a little bit harder to find, but a great option if you’re looking for a more uncommon reptile that is still relatively easy to look after. Native to Australia and parts of Indonesia, you have to ensure you buy one through a reputable breeder as wild-caught blue skinks are common on the pet market.
Blue-tongue skinks are calm and docile, making them a good choice lizard for first-time or younger owners, and they’re active in the daytime, which is easier for a lot of people at home during the day. While friendly, their jaws are strong, so a bite would be painful. This is why gentle, minimal handling is important. They will often hiss and stick their tongues out as a warning that they are feeling vulnerable.
Although great for beginners, they do require a large amount of space and perfect substrate. They like to dig, so it’s important to factor that into your enclosure. Something around 40-60 gallons is best, and they need a secure lid. A large, shallow dish of water will provide both somewhere to bathe and defecate.
They need UVA/UVB light for between 10 and 12 hours per day, for their metabolism. A basking spot at 95°F/35°C is needed. Diet-wise, they’re omnivores, needing 60% vegetables and fruits (such as carrots/beans/parsnip/strawberries) and 40% meat items (like mealworms and mice). They should be fed every other day when adults.
6. African Fat-Tailed Gecko
The African Fat-Tailed Gecko is less common than a leopard gecko, but are small and good for handling.
They’re crepuscular (relatively nocturnal), terrestrial (ground-dwelling) and have moveable eyelids to prevent dust from getting into their eyes. Only reaching 7-9 inches, they’re a smaller form of gecko and are quite docile. This makes them easier to handle versus some other reptiles.
They require a 10+ gallon tank, which is slightly smaller than some other gecko breeds. As they are found in West Africa, they spend most of their time in humid hiding holes below the ground surface. This means they need a humid, hot climate to live in. Wooden vivariums are perfect as they hold heat better.
African Fat-Tailed Geckos are carnivorous, so aren’t known to eat any greens or plant material at all naturally. In captivity, they should be fed crickets and other types of larval insects like mealworms. Ideally, they will be live.
Their tanks need to be cleaned daily, as they are susceptible to Cryptosporidiosis if waste is left in there for too long. However, apart from this, their tank just needs a deep clean once per month.