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!
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.
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.