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The Worst Reptiles for Beginners

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 4 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Reptiles Pets Worst Beginners Bad Choice

Reptiles in general are not for the general pet owner as they require far more specialist knowledge and care than your average pet. However, there are certain species which are a particularly bad choice for beginning reptile hobbyists. Sadly, these are often sold as “starter reptile pets” even though they require the care of a very experienced reptile specialist and are really the worst choices for a beginner!

Why “worst”?

There are many reasons why a reptile species may be unsuitable for a beginner hobbyist. Obviously, reptile species that are aggressive are a bad choice for an inexperienced handler as it can be very easy to be attacked and injured. Similar, reptiles that grow to a very large size may be unsuitable as they often require expert handling and may be potentially dangerous, as well as being very expensive to house, feed and maintain. All imported species should be avoided by beginners as they often carry heavy parasite loads and so can be difficult to keep in good health.

What to avoid…

In fact, the list of “difficult” reptile species is actually very long but for most beginners, it is enough to know the more common “unsuitable” species you will often see advertised for sale in pet stores:

1. Green Iguanas

Despite being one of the most common reptiles available in the pet market – and one of the cheapest - green iguanas are actually one of the worst choices for a beginner. They can grow to incredible sizes as adults (easily exceeding 5 feet) and will need a correspondingly large enclosure to house them for maximum health and well-being. Even the largest aquariums sold by pet stores are not suitable. In addition, green iguanas have very specific dietary requirements as well as requirements for their environment in captivity. Finally, although some iguanas do become tame, many remain very wild and aggressive, especially the males.

2. Reticulated, African Rock and Burmese Pythons

People are often drawn to pythons because they can be very cute as hatchlings but they quickly become horrified when these snakes grow to huge proportions in a very short time, regardless of the size of enclosure they are kept in. In addition, while Burmese pythons can become tame, African Rock Pythons and Reticulated Pythons generally remain very aggressive. Furthermore, these two species are often imported which means that they are usually infested with parasites, dehydrated and emaciated – causing further problems in caring for them. Not to mention the fact that pythons of any kind will need massive enclosures – the size of whole rooms – and will be very expensive to maintain and feed.

3. Box Turtles

Another species that is often sold as “ideal children’s pet” or “easy to maintain” – nothing could be further from the truth. Just like green iguanas, box turtles have very specific dietary and environmental requirements. In particular, they need a lot of space to remain healthy and unstressed. Even one box turtle will need to be housed in at least a 30 gallon breeder aquarium. To make things worse, box turtles are usually wild-caught which means they have heavy parasite loads. Sadly, this means thousands of box turtles die every year due to ignorance.

4. Chameleons

Chameleons – even captive-bred ones – combine some of the worst traits for any pet: an anti-social nature, inability to tolerate handling and sensitivity to stress. Feeding and housing chameleons is very demanding and challenging: they need to be housed alone, well away from other chameleons, and struggle to cope with the stresses of a normal household such as pets, household appliances and even passing foot traffic.

5. Green Anoles

Green Anoles are another reptile species that is often treated as “disposable” by the pet industry. Again, due to their low prices, anoles are often bought as pets for children but they make very poor pets. They are very wary and do not tolerate handling well at all. In addition, most anoles are wild-caught which means they are heavily invested with parasites, leading to a quick death. Even captive-bred anoles do not make suitable pets for beginners.

6. Tokay Geckos

Tokay Geckos are easily one of the worst reptiles to have as a pet due to their very aggressive natures – they are probably one of the most aggressive reptile species you can find. No matter how much you try, it is very hard to tame them and teach them to tolerate handling. Their arboreal nature means that they can climb any surface easily and are very quick to escape. Tokay geckos can feel threatened very easily and will not hesitate to bite – they have very strong jaws which can cause substantial injury. Unfortunately, they are very cheap to buy, which means they are often bought by beginners, when really they are only suitable for someone experienced in handling aggressive, fast-moving reptiles.

Finally, a note on the Ball Python – while captive-bred members of this species make one of the best reptile pets for a beginner, the complete opposite is true for a wild-caught Ball Python, or even those labelled as “captive-hatched” or “farm-raised” – these are still imported from the wild. They will be parasitic, fussy eaters, very stressed by the overcrowding during importation and susceptible to disease. These wild-caught versions might seem cheaper initially but they will cost you more in the long-run with vet bills and frustration.

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Excellent read. I'm relieved to see something like this in the internet and hope people become more responsible since I've lost all hope for pet shops selling these animals, as they neither have the slightest clue as how to care for any of the reptiles nor do they even care to know. However you forgot to mention another reptile, which is also NOT for beginners yet is recommended to beginners which is the bearded dragon and Chinese water dragon. I personally care for bearded dragons and raise them like my own children in the Gulf and to ANYONE reading this I gotta say they are NOT easily cared for, and ALWAYS need a lot of money to be spent on such as vet bills, a 50 gallon breeder tank (at smallest) for each and they need special lights for both heat AND uvb/uva florescent tubes which you will HAVE to buy from abroad. I'm not even finished yet, they also need calcium and other supplements- ALSO bought from abroad. I get the things they need from the UK and US. PLUS let's not forget they need to eat, so you need to raise crickets and worms. If you can't follow even ONE of all the pointers I mentioned then a bearded dragon or water dragon is NOT the reptile for you. Stick to a leopard gecko these are truly easy to care for- but you still need calcium for them.All in all to anyone that thinks a reptile looks 'cute' and just feel the urge to buy it on impulse think TWICE. Read a lot, do some serious research and then decide on that basis. The price of the reptile itself won't be quarter the price you'll need to pay to care for it properly!
Sarah - 7-Feb-12 @ 10:38 AM
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