The 10 Best Lizards to Keep As Pets

Written by Heather Hall
Updated: September 8, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/Paul Oborowski
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Key Points:
  • Many types of lizards are not for beginners. If you are considering a lizard as a pet it is wise to do a lot of research first.
  • One of the best choices for a beginner is the Bearded Dragon.
  • Each type of lizard has a difference climate, food and enclosure requirement.

Introducing a new pet into the home is a big decision, especially when you want to get it for the kids to learn some responsibility and bonding. Though the most common pets to adopt are dogs and cats, adopting reptiles has become increasingly common. These cold-blooded creatures may look intimidating as pets, but they are some of the easiest to take on.

There are many different types of reptiles, so it could be difficult to find the best pet lizards without a little guidance. Is a bearded dragon the right one for you? Can a leopard gecko be a good option for beginners? Let’s dive into the 10 best pet lizards for kids and adults alike.

#10 Caiman Lizards

Best lizards - caiman lizard
Northern caiman lizard sitting on a rock. Caiman Lizards are one of the best lizards for beginners.

iStock.com/Denja1

Though the Caiman Lizard is at the bottom of this list, it is still incredibly friendly and a great companion for any owner. They get rather large at 5 feet long, so a big enclosure is needed to contain them. However, for a beginner that wants to train them, they can be quite fun. With rainbow colors and a lot of patience, the Caiman Lizard is perfect for beginners that want to take on a larger animal instead of a more traditional reptile.

Because of its length, a Caiman lizard will need an enclosure that is between 4-6 feet long, 1-3 feet wide, and 2-4 feet tall. Part of the terrarium should have a large water area where the lizard can fully submerge, as well as things to climb on.  Caiman lizards come from a tropical habitat where they are used to temperatures in the range of 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit, even 100 or more degrees when they are basking.  They need UVA and UVB rays for vitamin D3 which promotes their overall health as well as activity like feeding.  A combination of natural sunlight, an Exo Terra Halogen spot lamp, and a Reptisun or Powersun UV lamp will help you replicate the environment a Caiman lizard needs to thrive.  It will also need a comfortable branch in its enclosure to relax on for basking.  

The diet of a pet Caiman lizard can consist of crickets, canned snails and shrimp, superworms, and fruit like kiwi, banana, papaya, and mango.  They also need a reptile multivitamin and calcium supplement.  As the lifespan of a Caiman lizard is roughly 10 years, a pet owner is looking at an investment of time and money for the setup and maintenance of the pet, as well as space in your house.  Take these things into consideration before taking the plunge.  You should purchase a Caiman lizard through a reputable reptile breeder and can pay anywhere from $350 to $1500.

ProsCons
Beautiful coloringCost $350-$1500
Easy-going temperamentSpecialized diet
10 year lifespanLarge enclosure needed

#9 Green Iguanas

Best lizards - Green Iguana
Tropical Green Iguana in Florida flashes its tongue. Green iguanas tend to be one of the best lizards for beginners to take care of because they are not carnivorous.

iStock.com/Travel_Bug

Green iguanas tend to be rather easy for beginners to take care of because there are no carnivorous tendencies. These reptiles are herbivores, so they should be fairly easy to feed. Still, with how large they get (up to 6 feet long), they’d need an enclosure similar to that of the Caiman lizard, but even larger to account for their longer length. Their tank will also require a water pool.

Iguanas are relatively friendly and are easy to tame. While they are great for beginners, the amount of care needed to own one means you will need to be able to dedicate time, energy, and money. Green iguanas average $25 – $40. While this may seem like an affordable option for a pet lizard on the surface, the investment in all the care and maintenance can get quite expensive. A terrarium or cage for the iguana can cost between $150-$1000 depending on size and preference. UVB light bulbs would be an investment between $29 and $300 twice a year. Food for your iguana can cost from $1 – $50 per day. And as it’s an exotic pet, veterinary care for your pet green iguana can cost on average $200 – $300 a year for general care, but run in the thousands for more serious health issues. And there are other costs to consider like toys, items to climb on, and other miscellaneous costs. (Note: these costs can apply to multiple species of pet lizards, not just iguanas)

With a lifespan of about 20 years, they can be great long-time companions. Just be sure to count the costs and make sure that a green iguana is really the right pet choice for you.

ProsCons
Friendly and easily tamableCostly care
Cost $25-$40Up to 6 feet long
Lifespan 20 years

#8 Savannah Monitors

Best lizards - Savannah Monitor
Savannah monitor lizard in a Tsavo East, Kenya. The Savannah Monitor is incredibly easy to tame, which makes it one of the best lizards to keep.

iStock.com/MariusLtu

The Savannah Monitor is incredibly easy to tame, which gives beginners the fun of a larger reptile without the stress of controlling it. It will need a large habitat with the ability to dig, as it loves to burrow in the dirt. You’d need quite a large enclosure with plenty of dirt for burrowing that won’t cave in on the lizard, affording it the opportunity of hiding its 3-foot-long body.

As fun as this creature can be, you’ll have to get comfortable with its diet, which is rich with eggs, birds, insects, and most other animals that are within their grasp. Unfortunately, many owners of Savannah monitors feed them diets high in fat (like rodents or canned dog food), which can result in obesity and fatty liver disease, which can greatly shorten its life expectancy. It’s also very important to seek a reputable breeder to purchase a Savannah monitor from as opposed to buying an imported one, as imported Savannah monitors often suffer trauma and rough conditions that can also negatively affect its life expectancy.

Savannah monitors actually shed their skin periodically, which can show up as flaky dandruff around your home if you let it roam. Prices for a Savannah monitor will run from $25 – $100, but as we discussed earlier, the set up for any pet lizard is going to initially cost you. Proper care can give a pet Savannah monitor up to 20 years with its owner.

ProsCons
Easily tamableProne to obesity and fatty liver disease
Cost $25-$100Prefers dirt in enclosure to burrow in
Can live to 20 years with proper careSheds scales

#7 Chinese Water Dragons

Best lizards - Chinese Water Dragons
Water Dragon in Kew Gardens London. Water dragons are one of the best lizards for a novice to take care of.

iStock.com/Nigel Jarvis

The Chinese water dragon is native to south China, Vietnam, Thailand, southern China, and Cambodia. In adulthood, Asian water dragons come in shades of green from dark Kelly to light mint, with vertical pale green, mint, aqua or turquoise stripes. They grow to about 3 feet long. This particular species of water dragon is the easiest to take care of for a novice. They have to take some time to get used to the people around them, but they enjoy being held occasionally.

The 55 gallon terrarium is appropriate for a Chinese water dragon.  Many Chinese water dragon pets don’t understand glass and rub their snouts against it, sometimes damaging their noses and lower jaws.  It’s advisable to consider an enclosure with screened siding instead of glass. They need a UVA/UVB bulb in the terrarium to simulate sunlight for 12 hours a day. Other considerations are objects to climb on, a spot for it to bask in heat, and proper humidity. Their main diet consists of crickets, grasshoppers, meal worms and earthworms, but they also enjoy some fruits, or finely shredded green leafy vegetables.

Chinese water dragons usually cost between $50 and $100. With a friendly personality, the main concern with this lizard is its need for the right care, which can help your pet Chinese water dragon live as much as 10-15 years.

ProsCons
Exotic colorsCan by shy with people at first
Cost $50 – $100Can damage their snouts on glass-sided enclosures
Easy to care for

#6 Chameleons

Best lizards - Chameleon
A panther chameleon baby is catching a cricket by extending his tongue. Chameleons are one of the best lizards because of their ability to change colors.

iStock.com/CathyKeifer

Chameleons are rather calm and docile, but the reason that they are so beloved by owners is their ability to change colors, as well as their kooky globular eyes. They won’t need to be handled because of their ability to become stressed, so it may not be the best option for kids that want a more hands-on animal. They may be a little more difficult to care for with their special needs, but they don’t need as much space as some of the larger lizards. Life expectancy can be anywhere from 3 – 10 years.

For housing, chameleons love to climb trees, so it’s good to have a terrarium that is vertically tall, with plenty of objects to climb high on. A cage with a length and width that are 3×3 and a height of 4 feet would work well. You’ll need to research the correct temperatures for your particular breed for basking spots and general climate. And chameleons drink water droplets from leaves–not from a dish. So you’ll need to either mist the enclosure two times a day or have a drip system installed.

Chameleons catch crickets, mealworms, super worms, wax worms, wax moths, and roaches with their ballistic tongues, but they’ll eat small amounts of leafy greens or fruits at times. They need vitamin supplements, as they are prone to calcium and Vitamin A deficiency. Chameleons range from $30 – $300. We recommend going with a breeder for any type of lizard, as you can better trust that you are getting a healthy pet from the start.

ProsCons
Cost $30 – $300Become stressed when handled
Live 10-15 yearsDrip system or mist for chameleon to drink
Change colors and interesting appearanceProne to vitamin and calcium deficiency

#5 Green Basilisk

Best lizards - Green Basilisk
The green basilisk lizard is also called a plumed or double-crested basilisk; but its amazing ability to run on water gives this species its most recognizable moniker: the Jesus Christ lizard. This is one of the best lizards to keep if you also want some entertainment from your pet.

iStock.com/ArmadilloCommander

If you want a little entertainment from your reptile, the green basilisk is the way to go. With the right traction and speed, they can walk on water. This unique talent is the reason that the green basilisk is known as the “Jesus Christ lizard.” The green basilisk comes from Central America and tropical rainforests in Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, and Nicaragua. It’s body is covered in bright green scales, with a belly that can have white, gray, or light blue markings. While many reptile enthusiasts love its coloring and energy, they can be difficult to care for.

If you’re interested in owning more than one, they can be rather territorial. Two females can get along, two males can get into fights, but a male and female is not advisable unless they are mating. The temperament of the green basilisk is not the most charming of reptilian pets. When they feel threatened, they’ll puff out their necks and snarl, can bite, and are generally nervous and temperamental. They don’t require much care to be kept safe and healthy, and though they can stretch to 3 feet long, the majority of that length is in its tail. With the right care, green basilisks can live to be 10 years old. They are also one of the least expensive options in our top ten, ranging in price from $3 to $20.

ProsCons
Cost $3 – $20Shy, temperamental, nervous personality
Exotic colors, appearanceTerritorial if more than one
Low maintenance, fairly smallCan bite

#4 Black and White Tegus

Best lizards - Black and White Tegus
The black and white tegu is one of the best lizards to keep as a pet. It will even follow you around the house!

iStock.com/Rafael Cutó

The beautiful black and white tegu, a South American species, can grow to be nearly 4-5 feet long, and are characterized by gorgeous beaded black and white scales, arranged in intricate patterns. They tend to be incredibly friendly once they learn to trust their owners, and can be loyal companions. They become incredibly attached, leading them to follow their human around the house. Like several other reptiles on this list, these lizards have a projected lifespan of 15-20 years.

Black and white tegus for sale are more challenging to locate than some other species, so you’ll need to find a reputable breeder.  A hatchling typically runs $200.  As with other popular lizard pets, your B&W tegu will need plenty of room in its enclosure, with measurements from 6x3x3 feet to 8x4x3 feet for larger ones.  You’ll need suitable accessories for climbing, a basking spot with a UVA/UVB bulb that can get up to 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit, and temps from 90-95 degrees and cooler spots of 75-80 degrees.  Tegus also need 75-90% humidity in their enclosures to thrive, so you’ll need a system in place to take care of that.  They like to burrow in substrate, so 4 inches in depth would be good, but it’s recommended to avoid pine or cedar, which can cause dust which is damaging to their lungs.

Its diet should vary for maximum health–don’t rely solely on frozen/thawed rodents or lean meat.  You should mix in fish, eggs, fruit, and veges.  Many tegus turn their noses up (or should we say snouts) to vegetables, so you should chop them fine and mix them in with other ingredients these lizards favor.

ProsCons
Beautiful black and white patterned scales$200 cost for hatchling
Loyal, friendly personalitiesNeed heated and humid environment
Lifespan 15-20 yearsMust vary diet

#3 Skinks

Best lizards - African fire skink
A Fire Skink, Riopa fernandi, isolated on white background. This is one of the best lizards to keep, primarily due to the beautiful red markings.

iStock.com/Farinosa

The African fire skink is easily one of the most popular types of skinks to adopt as a pet, primarily due to the beautiful red markings. It works well for beginners with their low-maintenance needs, but they aren’t really meant for handling. More so, they can be admired from outside of their habitat, watching as they move around and enjoy their surroundings. As an added benefit, this particular skink isn’t really prone to many health issues, making them easier to care for.

If you want a reptile that likes the company of other reptiles, the Gidgee skink is a good option. Though they are quite large at 10 inches long, they like to live with a partner to bring out their social side. With a little patience, they become quite easy to handle.

For a more docile reptile that is more prepared for handling, consider the blue-tongue skink. It only weighs about 4 pounds, stretching to 20 inches long. They are often considered a great choice for beginners and for kids.

Skink lizards have a diet that mostly consists of insects. All three of the species we’ve mentioned are omnivorous, so they should have diets that are balanced between insects (they prefer live ones like flies, crickets, roaches, millipedes, centipedes, beetles, grasshoppers, worms, slugs, mosquitos, or snails), and vegetables such as carrots, collard greens, dandelion greens, cabbage, green beans, arugula, squash, or pumpkin. While a little banana, papaya or berries would be okay for fruit, but citrus fruits can kill a skink.

Skinks prefer burrowing to climbing, so their enclosure, which should range from a 40 gallon – 55 gallons in size. They enjoy hideouts, so look for ones made of Cork bark, wood, rocks, or other reptile-friendly materials. They will need the heated bulbs, and bedding can be cypress mulch, aspen wood shavings, or newspaper. Skinks are prone to blockages, so make sure yours is not eating the particular wood you may be trying.

A blue-tongue skink can run from $150-$500; an African fire skink can range from $40-$50; and a gidgee skink is the most expensive variety, costing between $500-$2000!

ProsCons
Hearty lizard/few health issuesAfrican Fire Skink not good for handling
Blue-tongue Skink smaller, great for handlingGidgee Skink needs a partner
Living environment not as complicatedCan cost a lot for some breeds like Gidgee Skink

#2 Geckos

Best lizards - Leopard gecko
Leopard gecko on a branch. Leopard geckos are one of the best lizards to keep, as they are fairly easy to handle and don’t often bite.

iStock.com/LeitnerR

Geckos are a little smaller than other pet reptiles, but they come in many varieties. The leopard gecko, for example, is one of the most popular options. Their skin can come in a variety of morphs, but the common colorings are yellow, white, or black spotted. They are fairly easy to handle and don’t often bite, but they get much of their notoriety from the sounds that they make. They also communicate with tail movements. Leopard geckos can be held, but are not affectionate or playful, per se. Leopard geckos only grow to be about 8 inches long, reaching their full maturity at about 1 year old.

As leopard geckos are nocturnal, they don’t need as much UVA/UVB light as other lizard species–2%-7% light can help keep them healthy.  A 10-20 gallon aquarium or enclosure will work, depending on it you want just one gecko, or more. You can add hideouts, branches and plants, and a watering area, as geckos drink a lot of water. For feeding, leopard geckos eat live crickets, silkworms, roaches, meal worms, waxworms, and superworms.  You should also include some fresh greens in their diet.  Pet leopard geckos typically run $30 to $100, but can cost as much as $3000! It’s best to seek a breeder to be assured your leopard gecko is healthy.

The African fat-tailed gecko, on the other hand, comes from West Africa. They have the innate ability to withstand their time in captivity rather well and could live well past 20 years if you give them the right care. They are one of the easiest to take care of with any skill level, much like the crested gecko, the gold-dust day gecko, and others.

ProsCons
Docile temperament, interesting sounds and behaviorNot very affectionate or playful
Easier to care for than most pet lizard speciesLive insect feeding (some pet owners don’t like this)
Average cost $30-$100Live 20 years (if you don’t want that long-term investment)

#1 Bearded Dragons

Bearded Animals
Many bearded dragons develop unique behaviors such as “waving” or bobbing their heads. These behaviors are most often observed when they are being territorial or during mating season. This is one of the best lizards for beginners to keep.

Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.com

One of the best pet lizards for beginners and experienced handlers alike is the bearded dragon. It is one of the easiest pets to find in stores and with breeders because they are among the easiest to take care of and are quite friendly and playful. With the right training and exposure, they can even walk on a leash as they get a little social time with their owners. They are well-behaved and sweet, living to be about 15 years old with the right care. Bearded dragons are also very attractive lizard, coming in multiple color options like white, yellow, purple, and red. The come in interesting morphs as well. Another interesting fact is that, unlike most reptile pets, the bearded dragon is odorless, which is a definite plus when housing it indoors. The average cost of one is $25-$75.

One thing to be aware of with bearded dragons or many other reptile species is that they can carry salmonella in their skin. When handling one, you should wash your hands before and after to protect them from germs as well as yourself.

Like many other pet lizard varieties, the bearded dragon will need a roomy terrarium, a basking spot heated up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and cooler areas at around 75-80 degrees. A sandy substrate will work, with accessories like rocks, vegetation, and other things to hide in or sit on. They feed on live insects, mostly crickets, but also mealworms and king worms. Appropriate vegetables would be sweet potato and leafy greens like kale or parsley.

ProsCons
Variety of colors and morphsRequire live insects for feeding
Very friendly, playful, and trainableCan carry salmonella in skin
Costs $25-$75

Here is a Summary of the Top 10 Best Lizards to Keep As Pets

There are many factors to take into consideration. Here are the pros and cons of each lizard.

RankName of LizardProsCons
#1Bearded DragonVariety of Colors. Friendly. Playful. Trainable.Requires live insects. Can transmit salmonella.
#2GeckoDocile. Makes interesting sounds. Easy to care for. Long life span (20 years)Not affectionate or playful. Requires live insects. A long lifespan (20 years) requires a long-term commitment.
#3SkinkFew health issues. Small. Blue Tongue Skink is easy to handle. Uncomplicated habitatAfrican Fire Skink is not easy to handle. Gidgee Skink needs a partner and is expensive.
#4Black & White TegusBeautiful pattern. Loyal. Friendly. Lifespan 15-20 yearsExpensive. Complicated habitat. Must have a variety of foods. A long lifespan is a long commitment.
#5Green BasiliskInexpensive. Exotic colors. Low Maintenance. SmallShy and nervous personality. Territorial. Can bite.
#6ChameleonCost can be inexpensive. Lifespan 10-15 years. Changes colorEasily stressed out. Habitat must use a drip or mist system. Prone to vitamin deficiency.
#7Chinese Water DragonExotic colors. Medium cost. Easy to care for.Shy. Sensitive snouts that get injured easily.
#8Savannah MonitorEasily tamable. Inexpensive. Long lifespan.Prone to obesity. Must have a dirt habitat for burrowing. Sheds scales.
#9Green IguanaFriendly. Easy to tame. Inexpensive initial purchase. Long lifespan.Costly to care for. Gets very large, up to 6 feet long. A long lifespan is a long commitment.
#10Caiman LizardBeautiful. Easy going. 10-year lifespan.Expensive to purchase and are for. Needs a specialized diet. Requires large enclosure.

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About the Author

I am a freelance writer with 22 years of experience. I live in the Pacific Northwest and am surrounded by nature. When I go for my daily runs I often see herds of elk, deer, and bald eagles. I am owned by two dogs who take me on hikes in the mountains where we see coyotes, black bears, and wild turkeys.

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