We want a pet reptile. What kind should we get?
October 25, 2015 8:54 AM   Subscribe

We'd like to have a lizard as a pet. We love animals, but we've never done the coldblooded thing before. What would be the best choice for us? Snowflakes inside.

I've had tons of kinds of warmblooded pets. We have a puggle named Apple, who basically ignores/avoids things she finds strange (terrified of butterflies. terrified), so we're not worried about her bothering anything.

Our details:

1. We probably a lizard, but maybe a snake if it would be a better fit.
2. Something not too smelly.
3. A turtle won't work- my husband had one as a child and it got very ill. He's been traumatized and doesn't want another one.
4. We predominantly would like to watch the pet, not handle the pet. Mostly we'd like to enjoy watching a little guy or guys going about their lives.
5. The largest enclosure we'd be able to fit in our apartment is 3 feet long.
6. We don't have access to a pet store more than once a week- so I'm not sure how you keep live bugs for feeding? How does that work?
7. We're very concerned with keeping pets ethically and kindly. If there are any common pitfalls (like animals that suffer for being in captivity or something) we'd like to be told.

Also my husband would like to know if they can love. This is not really important to me.
posted by Blisterlips to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps a leopard gecko? I've owned several, and they're pretty low maintenance. Some like to be handled every once in a while, some won't mind if you just leave them in the tank. A large container of worms lasts me several weeks, and is stored in the refrigerator.
posted by Malleable at 8:58 AM on October 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

I had Anoles growing up. They scamper, they change color, they're pretty low Maintence
posted by The Whelk at 9:18 AM on October 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

On lizards and love
posted by The Whelk at 9:21 AM on October 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

There are also crested geckos - one plus for a lot people is that you don't need to feed them live insects.
posted by ShooBoo at 9:44 AM on October 25, 2015 [3 favorites]

Seconding leopard gecko. They are the standard beginner's lizard pet. You can feed them live mealworms, which come in cans and live in their own food so you don't have to worry about them. Also crickets, which you keep in a separate little container with cricket food. Both can be bought at most chain pet stores in bulk and last several weeks.

I dont know if my gecko "loved" me. I think she just liked that I fed her, and she tolerated me holding her (but maybe just for warmth). taking care of lizards aren't at all like mammals or birds, it's more like keeping a fish that can walk and occasionally escape their terrarium if you leave it open.
posted by picklenickle at 9:55 AM on October 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thirding Leopard Geckos. If you like snakes, Corn Snakes make great first time pets too. They come in some very remarkable colors and can be quite active (nice to watch). You can hold them if you want though. They're surprisingly low maintenance. They don't eat daily and you can do frozen/thawed mice, so stocking up isn't much of an issue if you have a little space in your freezer.
posted by stubbehtail at 10:04 AM on October 25, 2015

I've had a few reptiles, and you're not going to get a sense of love from them, especially compared to a dog. They'll respond to whoever feeds, them, that's about it. The leopard gecko is a cool, easy one for sure.

I don't know if pet stores still do this... probably not, but they used to sell lizards with "beginner" cages that were much too small for their adult size. I ended up building an enclosure for a 5-foot iguana one time.
posted by Huck500 at 10:06 AM on October 25, 2015

Omg guys! Yes!

I've owned many lizards and my hands-down favorite was the Uromastyx. There are super pretty ones, like the Somali or Moroccan, but I went with the much more common Mali. What can I say—this little creep just called out to me.

They're my favorite because they are hearty, desert creatures. They are runners rather than climbers, so the tank needs to be long rather than tall. I liked that, because they fit well on furniture rather than becoming furniture themselves, if that makes sense.

They live for about 7 - 10 years or so, and while it's sad when they go, it's a weird solace that you're not going to have this buddy (and big tank) til you're 95 and you have to put it in your will. Hope that doesn't sound cold. :-/

Care: ok, there are plenty of care sites online, and this shit is always up for debate. Some nerd will definitely come in after this comment and "well actually" me. Anyway.

They are omnivorous, but mainly eat dark leafy greens, which is great because you can just pick up some collards or kale in any ol' grocery store. They LOVE carrots and dandelions for treats. It's adorable when the little dandelions get stuck in their little beaky snoots. Occasionally they're allowed a cricket or two—you want some, but not too much calcium in their diet. If you're squicky about crickets, they make powder you can sprinkle on their food. They don't much care about water, but I always put a very small tray of it in for him.

For substrate, I went with non-calcified sand (they eat the sand with their veggies and shouldn't get TOO much calcium), and never crushed walnuts. I also had pretty good results with smooth bird seed. (Bonus: they can eat it and it's cute to watch them crunch away on little safflower seeds. Just keep away from pointy stuff!)

Temperature is where this gets tricky. You want a regular heat lamp and a UV lamp—one for day and one for night. You want one on one end (cool-down side) and one on the other (hot, basking side.) Should be a gradient from about 80 degrees to about 120. On the hot side, put one of these basking logs. On the other end goes his food.

When you pick one, you want to make sure their eyes are alert and they're looking around, interested in what's going on. IIRC, the males are brighter than the females, but their temperaments are pretty much the same.

Their temperaments being...content at best and tail whippy at worst. Most of the time they're ambivalent to most things.

Anyway, screed over. I love all lizards. If you want help/more info/whatever, let me know! I could talk about this for years.
posted by functionequalsform at 10:48 AM on October 25, 2015 [8 favorites]

Absolutely get a crested gecko. Their heat requirements are very similar to ours so you probably won't have to use a heat lamp, and they can be fed entirely off of a reconstituted-with-water powdered diet that you can purchase (although my crested gecko Lex is super into crickets so I give her a couple -dusted with calcium - every week or two). They are super soft and more handle-able than anoles with a lifespan that's similar to a cat or a dog.

I actually don't hold Lex often - I just like watching her life progress in her live-planted terrarium. I also have an anole, involuntarily (he hitchhiked up north with me from Louisiana when I moved and I had to adopt him or let him freeze/dessicate once I discovered him living on a porch plant in October), and he's way, way more high maintenance. He requires a heat lamp, and fairly constant crickets, and he's way more jumpy if I need to get him out of his cage (which you do have to do with any lizard in order to clean it every so often). His lifespan is also much shorter, and I've been anticipating his death for over a year which is mildly anxiety-producing.
posted by vegartanipla at 11:10 AM on October 25, 2015

Oh, and to add - my mother LOVES pets and has had a huge variety of amphibians, reptiles, fish, rodents, birds, and small mammals. She says her favorite pets are her dogs followed closely by her crested gecko.
posted by vegartanipla at 11:12 AM on October 25, 2015

Snakes. Hands down, if someone wants a reptile pet, they should absolutely start with snakes. Why?

- They eat whole prey. No supplementation required.
- Their rodent prey is available as humanely killed frozen/thawed and can be stored in your freezer for months.
- North American species require supplemental heat but not excessively picky temperature/humidity parameters.
- Lots of pretty colours available in most common pet species.
- Do not require additional lighting.
- Do not require you to fuck around with nasty, stinky bugs that chirp...incessantly...all the time.
- Are usually calmer when handled than many small lizard species, if you ever do want to handle it.

Anoles cannot (should not) be handled, are usually wild-caught, and require supplemental lighting and humidity. They're an awful idea for a first reptile (if you want it to live longer than a few years).

Crested geckos are better, but they do require supplemental humidity and some are a bit skitty about handling (dropping their tails) - they aren't a bad idea for a new keeper, but they are definitely more high maintenance than a snake.

Leopard geckos - I find 'em boring, can't really speak to their suitability. But they will eat nasty stinky bugs, and you need to gutload their prey before feeding, so you will not be able to use "cans o' bugs". Sorry.

For a starter snake, look into corn snakes (best option), rosy boas, Sonoran gopher snakes, children's pythons, spotted pythons, Florida kingsnakes, possibly California kingsnakes. Avoid ball pythons (picky eaters), western hognose snakes (mildly venomous, can be picky), and any wild-caught or farmed animals - they will have parasites and are usually taken at the expense of the environment. I've written a fairly goofy caresheet for corn snakes and it also covers most of North America's commonly kept snakes (with the exception of lower humidity for rosy boas).

And, well, actually, lizards shouldn't be kept on sand - the sand is ingested and can cause impaction and death. Fully planted bioactive enclosures (using a sand/soil mix - common pet animals don't live on straight powdery sand in the wild) are certainly an option, but I don't know how hardcore you want to go... maybe because it'll be your only tank, you'd like to make it a showpiece? Maybe you want to start slow? I dunno.
posted by Nyx at 1:29 PM on October 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

re: love, well... reptiles don't really have those neural structures, or those social behaviours, or any kind of offspring care, for the most part. Snakes can and will learn to trust you, especially as you grow more experienced at handling and they feel more comfortable with you.
posted by Nyx at 1:34 PM on October 25, 2015

As for crickets, if you need to feed them to whichever reptile you decide on, you can get a Cricket Keeper, which is a small plastic container with black metal tubes (capped on one end) running diagonally through it. You feed the crickets special gel (nutrition and water so they don't drown themselves) and they hide in the tubes. When you want to feed your pet, you pull a tube and shake crickets into your pet's enclosure. The crickets will live for a week, easily. If you ever see a mention of feeding your pet "gut-loaded crickets," it's referring to this.

I've used this system successfully for pet scorpions and a tarantula.
posted by zenzicube at 1:59 PM on October 25, 2015

After a misadventure with a chameleon (definitely not for beginners), our teen son's become a keeper of two bearded dragons. Relatively low-maintenance, very laid back - it's been a year now and he/they seem pretty happy troopers.
posted by progosk at 4:17 PM on October 25, 2015

Beware of juvenile Bearded Dragons; they require different and more laborious care. (I don't know if this is true of other reptiles as I was very happy with a pair of fire belly newts. They are very active and very easy to care for if you wanted something pretty, smaller and semi-aquatic...)
posted by DarlingBri at 4:50 PM on October 25, 2015

crested geckos are lovely, I got to meet one recently and they are amazing to hold - so soft! he felt like velvet walking up my arm
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:17 PM on October 25, 2015

Iguanas are assholes. My brother had one and it hissed at everyone and whipped us with its tail.
posted by Fister Roboto at 9:33 PM on October 25, 2015

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