If scales and tails get your kid excited, you have many good options for pet reptiles. When choosing a reptile for kids, consider the animal's required habitat, the lengths your child is willing to go to feed the animal, whether the creature is sturdy enough to withstand handling, and whether the pet will hold your child's interest throughout its life.
Children do well with animals whose habitats are easy to maintain. Animals that don't require heat lamps or UV lamps will be easier for your child to care for. Corn snakes, king snakes and many gecko species need no special lighting. Geckos and snakes also don't need a big enclosure compared to other reptiles. Many geckos and small snakes are happy in a 20-gallon aquarium. Turtles and tortoises require UV and heat lamps. Aquatic turtles will also require regular water changes and monitoring of water quality and temperature. Turtles and tortoises need roaming room outside their aquarium. Large animals like iguanas, monitor lizards and pythons -- such as the Burmese and reticulated python -- grow too large for many homes to accommodate, often needing an entire small room to move about in.
Some reptiles do better with handling than others. Small snakes have no claws and rarely bite their owners. Corn snakes, ball pythons and California king snakes are good choices for kids because of their laid back attitude and manageable size. Corn and king snakes grow to about 5 feet long, and ball pythons reach 4 feet in length, but are thicker and more muscular. Bearded dragons are easy to tame and are docile, verging on lazy. Delicate reptiles aren't recommended for children because the animal could get injured. True chameleons and anoles can get stressed from handling, which can affect their health. Tokay geckos are quick to bite, have strong jaws with sharp teeth, and can inflict serious damage.
Your child may be put off by feeding live animals to a pet reptile, especially when cute, fuzzy mice are on the menu. If this is a primary concern, a vegetarian reptile could be the best choice. The drawback is that vegetarian animals require a more varied diet that involves more preparation and planning than reptiles that eat insects and small animals. Certain species of tortoises can live on a vegetarian diet. Geckos, blue-tongued skinks and bearded dragons can eat produce along with store-bought reptile food, but it's preferable for them to eat live invertebrates at least once a week. Captive bred snakes should take well to eating pre-killed prey, such as frozen and thawed mice.
A pet that's active at the same time of day as your child and doesn't spend most of its time hiding has a higher chance of receiving the care and attention it needs. Blue-tongued skinks are lively creatures that like to explore their environment. Leopard geckos are nocturnal so they may not hold much interest for your child until the evening, but are fun to watch as they climb and scamper. Bearded dragons are largely inactive and may not hold your child's interest for long. Turtles and tortoises are active pets but live for 50 or more years, a very long time commitment for a young child to make.
All reptiles may have salmonella in their digestive systems, so they're not recommended for children under 5 years old. Children may become sick when they touch the reptile or the animal's habitat and then put their hands in their mouths. Teach your children to wash their hands thoroughly before and after handling their pet and always supervise any interactions with the pet reptile.
- ReptileChannel.com: Best Pet Reptiles for Children
- Green Iguana Society: Better Reptile Pets for Kids
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Reptiles, Amphibians, and Salmonella
- Melissa Kaplan's Herp Care Collection: So, You Think You Want a Reptile?
- Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council: The Worst Reptiles for Beginning Hobbyists
- Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images