There are so many fascinating species of lizards to keep as pets, it can be hard to choose which one is right for you. While burrowing and ground-dwelling lizards may have their advantages, not much beats a lizard that lives in the trees. What tree-dwelling lizards make the best pets?
Geckos, chameleons, and a handful of other arboreal lizards make excellent pets for those who love watching their reptiles scale heights and cling to tree branches. Arboreal lizards come in a variety of sizes, ease of care, and friendliness.
Check out our list of the top fifteen arboreal lizards – that is, lizards who live in trees. You might just find your new favorite and your next pet!
#1: Crested Geckos
Crested geckos are a fan favorite when it comes to tree-dwelling reptiles. Native to New Caledonia, these little guys were thought to be extinct until one appeared at a research facility. Now they are back and better than ever, especially in the capable hands of reptile lovers.
Crested geckos are easy to care for, feed, and handle making them the perfect pet for those who may be new to lizard husbandry. They’re also pretty affordable compared to some other herps. One trait that makes them unique among geckos is that crested geckos will not regrow their tails so be extra careful when snuggling them!
#2: Chinese Water Dragons
Despite its name, the Chinese water dragon actually lives in the trees of its Southeast Asian home. They typically like to climb very high so having a tall enclosure for this species is a must. However, climbing isn’t their only preferred activity.
Chinese water dragons love to swim, so allowing them a break from the enclosure to paddle around a shallow pool will keep your lizard happy and you entertained.
Be careful when choosing the right home for your Chinese water dragon because they tend to rub their mouths and noses against the glass and can end up hurting themselves. A mesh top and sides are preferable for this lizard.
#3: Giant Day Geckos
Giant day geckos are eye-catching lizards with brilliant colors, unique personalities, and amazing climbing skills. As their name implies, giant day geckos can get very large for a gecko, topping out at 10 to 12 inches in length when full grown!
However, giant day geckos are pretty high maintenance when it comes to their care, so if you’ve never owned a reptile before, this may not be the first pet to go for. If you have an idea what you’re in for though, giant day geckos make excellent pets that can sometimes live up to six to ten years!
#4: Leaf-Tailed Geckos
Leaf-tailed geckos are native to the island of Madagascar where they live in the trees and their uniquely shaped tails make them appear as though they are a part of their homes. Although these little lizards don’t get much bigger than six to eight inches long, they come in a wealth of stunning varieties.
Mossy, satanic, and giant leaf-tailed geckos are the most popular kinds among pet owners. Like the giant day gecko, they require a little more care than your basic reptile pet and don’t typically like to be handled due to their fragile nature. If you’re up to the challenge though, these gorgeously ornamented lizards can make great pets.
#5: Mexican Alligator Lizards
The Mexican alligator lizard looks exactly like its namesake – a mini alligator. However, instead of roaming the swamps, Mexican alligator lizards live in the trees which makes them a perfect pet to put their beautifully textured appearance on display.
Check out the gorgeous Mexican alligator lizard and see why it’s arguably one of the most beautiful arboreal reptiles:
You don’t need to be an expert to take care of one of these reptiles, however, a little bit of experience will go a long way. Given the proper care and husbandry, Mexican alligator lizards can live up to twenty years in captivity!
#6: Veiled Chameleons
Also known as cone-headed chameleons, veiled chameleons are a curious species with a large structure protruding from the top of their heads. This cone-like bump grows with age and veiled chameleons have been known to live up to eight years in captivity.
Found solely in the trees of their native homes, veiled chameleons need lots of places to climb. They don’t particularly enjoy being handled but are fascinating to watch as long as they are well cared for.
#7: Emerald Tree Skinks
If you are looking for an active and entertaining arboreal lizard, the emerald tree skink will not disappoint. These little guys love to scramble up and down branches and are curious about just about everything.
While they are easy to care for, they are insectivores, so make sure they get plenty of bugs to eat. Also, if you are thinking about getting any other reptiles, you shouldn’t put them in with emerald tree skinks who should only be housed with others of the same species.
#8: Green Anoles
Green anoles are the perfect beginner pet for someone who is looking for an easy-to-care-for arboreal reptile. They’re one of several lizards that stay small, which means they don’t need much space and don’t require any specialized maintenance. One thing to keep in mind is that anoles don’t typically like to be handled, so these lizards make better display pets than social creatures. Still, they’re quite smart so they can be quite fun to watch as you can expect at least some interaction with their environment.
Green anoles are very common in the southeastern United States, making them easy to acquire for some people who simply need to explore their backyard to find their next best friend.
#9: Pink-Tongued Skinks
Pink-tongued skinks are a favorite among reptile owners since they are low maintenance, mild-mannered, and beautiful to observe. They come in richly banded variations of black and white with signature pink tongues.
While they don’t have many demands, they do need some spaces to climb since their home in the wild resides in the trees of Australian forests.
#10: Gargoyle Geckos
The gargoyle gecko is another great beginner reptile for those who are looking for a lizard that is easy to take care of and tolerates handling. In fact, gargoyle geckos tend to be very docile, and they can become very friendly with their owners.
Just like crested geckos, gargoyle geckos are native to New Caledonia where they can be found blending in with the bark of the trees with their perfectly camouflaged skin. Unlike their rarely found crested gecko counterparts though, gargoyle geckos are widely abundant throughout their tropical home. Even though they’re similar to their crested counterparts, they should still be housed separately.
#11: Emerald Swifts
Although emerald swifts are vibrantly colored and beautiful to watch, they are not a very common pet reptile. However, they made our list because of their exotic appearance that makes it well worth the effort to care for these arboreal lizards.
They have a shorter lifespan compared to other pet lizards and can be difficult to handle, but for those who can obtain and maintain an emerald swift, this species is a true treasure among reptile lovers.
#12: Tokay Geckos
Tokay geckos are fascinating arboreal lizards with a beautifully displayed pattern of colors on their skin, including blue. However, you should note that tokay geckos tend to be very aggressive and will not hesitate to bite if you do not handle or care for them properly.
While it may take a little bit of work to build a relationship with a tokay gecko, it is well worth the effort. They are one of the largest gecko species and can live up to ten years in captivity if properly maintained.
#13: Leachie Geckos
Like tokay geckos, leachie geckos favor the larger side of the spectrum. However, these giant arboreal reptiles are far more chill than the tokay geckos. They are easy to care for as long as you handle them properly.
Since they are found in the forests of New Caledonia, they are used to a tropical environment. In order to keep your leachie gecko happy, make sure to provide ample humidity and heat so that it feels right at home.
#14: Chewie Geckos
The chahoua gecko, known more affectionately as the chewie gecko, is another New Caledonian arboreal gecko species that is easy to care for and a favorite among reptile owners. This species is less commonly seen as a pet simply because they can be fairly expensive due to their difficulty to breed.
Chewie geckos are fairly large like the leachie gecko and enjoy climbing through dense foliage which mimics their native forest home.
#15: Panther Chameleons
Like veiled chameleons, panther chameleons are great pets for those who have reptile husbandry experience. They are very docile but do not like to be handled and need lots of branches to climb since they live solely in trees in the wild.
Panther chameleons can be challenging because they are so high maintenance but if you are willing to put in the time and effort, they can be very rewarding reptiles to own. The colors they display are absolutely stunning, as long as you remember to observe from a distance.
What Are Some Other Lizards That Like to Climb?
While we’ve reviewed the top fifteen arboreal lizards, there are many other species that make great pets who love to climb too even if they aren’t always found in trees.
Bearded dragons are semi-arboreal, which means they spend some of their time climbing in the trees, but they also need to be on the ground for part of their daily routine.
Caiman lizards are large ancient looking reptiles native to the swamps of South America who get their name from their similarity in appearance to caimans. However, they too love to climb and make exotic pets for those who can care for them.
Gold dust day geckos are a species of gecko native to Madagascar that look like they have been lightly sprinkled with powdered gold. Since they enjoy flower nectar, they are often found climbing in trees or near the ground wherever there is food.
There is a plethora of climbing lizards that make great pets – some of them are solely arboreal while others only live in the trees some of the time.
How Should I Best Accommodate My Arboreal Lizard?
While all arboreal lizards have different temperaments, food requirements, and environmental needs, they do have one thing in common: they come from the trees. No matter what arboreal lizard you keep as a pet, make sure that the enclosure has sufficient tree branches to climb and live in.
While all reptiles are fascinating and have the ability to make great pets, those that live in the trees are particularly special. Oftentimes, these species display brilliant colors, outstanding camouflage, or other unique characteristics that make them stand out from other reptiles.
If you want to delve into the husbandry of arboreal lizards, check out our list to see which one may be right for you. Some are easy to care for while others may present more of a challenge, but each one is worth the time and effort spent to make your reptile a good home.