7 Best Reptile Pets for Handling

Reptiles have grown in popularity as pets in the last few years and many people are now jumping into the reptile-keeping hobby. One of the most fun and rewarding experiences in keeping any pet is to interact with them. However, when it comes to reptiles, it often comes to mind if we can have close interactions with them or if reptiles can be handled.

The answer is yes, with some considerations. Lets discuss what qualify as a good reptile for handling.

How to determine if a reptile is good for handling?

First, the reptile in question needs to be robust enough to endure accidental damage when it’s being handled. For this, the pet reptile should be of the right size. Too small can mean a higher risk to the animal when it’s handled and too big of a reptile can put the owner at risk instead.

It’s also good to look for a reptile that is relatively calm. Reptiles that are easily agitated with human interactions are more likely to hurt themselves or their handlers in panic. The best reptile pets for handling are calm, unlikely to bite if handled correctly, and unlikely to try desperately to run away. A fall from chest height can seriously injure a lot of reptiles.

Lastly, as with most animals, reptiles are more likely to respond well to handling if they’re exposed to human presence when young, so your best bet is to get either a young reptile or one that has been handled in a responsible way for much of its life. Especially if a reptile is new to handling or new to you, be sure to work up to it slowly. Let the animal get used to you, then to being picked up, then to being held for an increasing length of time.

Some types of reptiles are easier to find with this combination of physical and behavioral traits than others. The following is a list of reptiles that tend to be good choices if you’re looking for a reptile you can handle.

Best Reptile Pets for Handling

While there’s not a guarantee that these pets will be a good fit for every owner, and while some people will have luck with reptiles that are not on this list, the reptiles on this list tend to be calm and hardy enough to acclimate to (or even enjoy) proper handling.

1. Bearded Dragon

The bearded dragon is one of the most popular reptiles to keep as a pet, and for good reason. These lizards are even known to curl up with their owners to take a nap.

To interact, approach the bearded dragon where it can see you rather than surprising it by grabbing it. If it tries to run away, give it more time to get comfortable with you. Gently slip a hand under its belly, letting its tail trail up your forearm.

Do not squeeze your bearded dragon, and do make sure you keep your hand or arm close to your body so it feels supported and is less likely to fall to the floor.

Bearded dragons tend to be friendly and inquisitive. They’re generally awake and watching what’s going on around them during the day. They live 10-15 years and make a very good companion.

Bearded dragons can grow up to 24 inches long. They appreciate sand or reptile carpet, something to climb on, and something to hide behind. They also need a heat source or basking lamp. A fully grown bearded dragon does best in a 100-gallon terrarium.

Bearded dragons eat two to three times a day. They eat a mix of insects and vegetables, with fruit as treats. There are also more standard, prepared pet foods available for bearded dragons. They should always have clean water available, and waste should be cleaned up about once a week.

2. Leopard Gecko

Leopard geckos are fairly friendly, like all the reptiles on this list. They’re also very cute, with their compact size and their spots.

While handling, make sure your gecko can see you approaching and reaching for it slowly. It’s never a good idea to snatch a gecko without warning. Cradle the gecko, or let it roam over your arms; its weight should be properly supported, but it shouldn’t be restrained. Be sure to stay near the ground at first in case it falls or jumps.

Do not grab a lizard by its tail as many, including the leopard gecko, have detachable tails, and while some species, including the leopard gecko, can regrow their tails, it’s still a stressful event for the lizard.

Unlike other geckos, the leopard gecko doesn’t have sticky hands and won’t be able to climb a tank’s walls. They live 15-20 years. They aren’t always social, but a little time spent studying their body language will make it pretty clear how your gecko is feeling at any given time.

Leopard geckos grow to about ten inches in length. They generally do well in a 10-gallon terrarium with a desert habitat. There should be one part of the tank that’s a little moister for when it sheds its skin. Half the tank should be quite warm, and half should be a little cooler, but not cold. There should be at least one object to climb and to hide behind or underneath.

Leopard geckos like to be under light for 12 hours a day. This includes artificial light, not just natural sources. Leopard geckos eat insects and especially enjoy crickets and mealworms. Baby geckos will eat daily, and adults eat larger meals 2-3 times a week.

3. Corn Snake

Corn snakes are one of the most popular pet snakes as a result of their friendliness and ease of care. They are big enough to safely handle but small enough to remain easy to handle. They tend toward beautiful shades of orange, and their striking appearance helps contribute to their popularity.

Avoid handling your corn snake until it’s had some time to get used to you. Also, avoid handling it immediately after it has eaten. Approach the snake from the side where it can see, not from the top as a predator would. Be confident but not aggressive, and do not squeeze your snake. Handling a snake largely consists of letting it climb and twine around your hands or arms.

Snakes can squeeze quite tightly, so don’t let them wind around objects that may hurt it or around your neck, which could hurt you.

Corn snakes can appreciate the human company, but they don’t generally care to be housed with other snakes. They live about 15-20 years as pets.

Corn snakes grow to reach a length between 4 feet and 5 and a half feet long. They like terrariums of at least 20 gallons, but larger is good, too. They are good at escaping, so be sure there’s nowhere they can escape from their habitats. They like at least one climbing structure, and they appreciate natural light. One end of the habitat should be warm, and the other should be around room temperature.

Corn snakes eat rodents and can be trained to eat thawed mice rather than live ones. Corn snakes eat about once a week, with baby snakes eating a little more often and adults a little less often.

4. Ball Python

Photo Credit: Tris T7, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ball pythons are a great choice if you want a reptile that will live a long time. They’re also one of the easier snakes to care for and don’t generally mind being handled.

After your ball python is used to you, you can handle it between daily and once a week. Move slowly, both literally and figuratively, with juveniles, who aren’t used to people and are more likely to see you as a threat. Do not force handling. Instead, let the ball python be near you until it’s not afraid of you. Use two hands to pick it up, with one near the head and the other supporting the body.

You can grip enough for the snake to feel secure, but do not squeeze the snake. Keep your movements slow and controlled, especially while the ball python is still getting used to you, and never let it wrap around your neck.

Avoid handling when they’re getting ready to shed. Skin will be dull and eyes milky.

Ball pythons live up to 30 years when well cared for. They enjoy climbing, basking, and bathing.

A-50 gallon tank is a good choice for an adult ball python. They like 40%-60% humidity and a pretty warm climate. A temperature gradient is best, with one end around 95 degrees and the other end closer to room temperature.

Ball pythons eat rodents. The easiest to feed them is thawed previously frozen mice. Young ball pythons should eat about once a week, and adults should eat once every one to two weeks. Water should always be available, preferably in a bowl large enough for the ball python to soak in. Clean the habitat once a week.

5. Blue Tongue Skink

The blue tongue or blue-tongued skink is a lizard with–you guessed it–a blue tongue. They are known for having a lot of personalities, and they’re generally very friendly.

Let your skink adjust to you before you try handling it. The more it sees you providing its food, the more it’s going to like you. Approach slowly and visibly, and when you pick it up, be sure to support its weight. Do not grab or restrain them, and avoid picking them up if it looks like they’re about to shed.

Blue-tongued skinks are diurnal, which means they’re naturally awake during the day. They live 15-20 years.

Blue-tongued skinks can grow up to 24 inches long. Adults do well with a 50-gallon tank. They need a heat lamp and a place to bask, and they prefer to be housed without any others of their kind. They appreciate a bit of humidity.

These skinks eat both animal and plant matter and do best with a mix of both. They like rodents, insects, and greens. Babies eat daily, juveniles three times a week, and adults once or twice a week.

6. Argentine Black and White Tegu

Photo Credit: Derrick Coetzee, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The black and white tegu is quite large but is often compared to dogs in both tameness and appreciation for their owners.

Handling works best when started from the hatchling stage. As with other reptiles, let the tegu get used to you before you try picking it up, and don’t ever grab it without warning. Move slowly, and let it see you. The more it’s around you, the more likely it is to even actively seek you out. Be sure its weight is properly supported at all times, and don’t let it fall.

Tegus tend to be very friendly, especially when raised around people. Some tegu owners even take their pets for walks on a leash. They live for about 20 years.

The black and white tegu can grow up to five feet in length and can weigh up to 35 lbs. They like a very humid environment and do best with a temperature gradient that ranges from about 75 degrees Fahrenheit to about 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Their tank should be quite large, often over 100 gallons. They should always have fresh water available and do well with a soaking container.

Tegus eat a mix of meat, insects, and plants, starting daily as a hatchling and leveling out around twice a week as adults.

7. Water Dragon

Water dragons are a good choice of pet for someone who likes iguanas but wants a reptile that is a little more friendly and open to handling.

Begin handling slowly when they are young. Hand feeding is a good way to get them used to your scent. As with other reptiles, approach the water dragon from a side where you’re visible, and do not snatch or squeeze. Be sure to support the dragon’s weight, using both hands if necessary.

Water dragons will rarely get aggressive with humans but might fight with cage mates. These lizards live 10-15 years.

Water dragons can grow to three feet long. They do well in a habitat that allows them to climb, preferably one at least six feet tall. They like it very humid and warm, and they enjoy swimming. A warm, dry basking area is a good idea.

Water dragons eat bugs, preferably live ones, including crickets and mealworms. They eat daily. They also appreciate leafy vegetables and some fruit. Change their water frequently to keep it clean.

Related Questions About Reptiles

You might still have some questions about handling reptiles. Here are some most common questions asked by new reptile keepers!

Are there any affectionate reptiles?

It depends on how you define “affectionate,” but in general terms, yes! Reptiles can, at minimum, learn to appreciate your presence and be excited about it, especially if your presence is associated with treats. Some reptile keepers swear that their pets get downright affectionate, and some reptiles even enjoy cuddling.

What is the most docile reptile?

Bearded dragons are often considered the most docile and most friendly of all reptiles.

Can a reptile recognize its owner?

Yes, absolutely! It may not be immediate recognition, but once you’ve had your reptile for a while, it can definitely recognize you and may even be excited by your presence.

Are reptiles likely to bite you?

It depends on the reptile and on whether it’s being properly handled. If you don’t surprise or trap a friendly reptile, you’re much less likely to be bitten.

Conclusion

No matter what type of reptile you’re looking for, there’s probably a good fit out there for you! If you’re looking for an animal that’s comfortable being handled, you’ll find it on this list. Choosing the right pet for your wants and your lifestyle is the best way to ensure both you and your pet remain happy.

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