Reptiles have become a popular choice among pet owners for many reasons.
For one, their distinct appearances and coloring make them a unique choice for a pet. They’re also fascinating to watch, and several reptile species are known for being relatively clean and low-maintenance.
However, not all reptiles are easy to care for. Some demand a lot more attention, maintenance, and commitment, and some are considered much more challenging to keep in captivity.
If you’re looking to add a new scaly companion to your family, you might be wondering which ones to avoid for beginners.
So, what are the hardest reptiles to keep?
Chameleons, iguanas, Chinese water dragons, monitor lizards, caimans, alligators, large or venomous snakes, aquatic turtles, and tortoises are all challenging to keep for new or inexperienced owners. These reptiles require specific living conditions with a lot of maintenance and financial commitment, and many of them can grow to be very large.
Doing research is key before bringing any pet reptile into your home, so by finding yourself here, you’re off to a great start!
Unfortunately, countless reptiles suffer and meet an unfortunate fate every year because people neglect to do proper research before purchasing or adopting them as pets.
But thankfully, I’ve got you and our beloved scaly friends covered. In this article, we’ll go over 10 of the hardest reptiles to keep as pets and why they aren’t recommended for inexperienced keepers.
Let’s get into it!
Chameleons land at number one on this list due to their extremely delicate nature and complex care needs. As a chameleon owner myself, let me assure you that it can be a constant challenge and very stressful to keep up with their needs.
First and foremost, chameleons are not what you would call “hardy” creatures by any means. They are highly sensitive to their environment and even the slightest imbalance in their husbandry, like temperature, lighting, or humidity, can lead to their health deteriorating over time.
Along with that, providing the ideal husbandry for chameleons can be quite expensive. From specialized lighting and misting systems to a varied diet of live insects and vitamin supplements, the costs can add up very quickly.
Chameleons also stress very easily and aren’t usually fond of human interaction. They often view us as predatorial threats and will puff up, hiss, and even bite when being cared for or handled.
Stress weakens their immune system and makes them more vulnerable to illnesses, so it’s not recommended to force interaction if your chameleon is not comfortable with it.
In a nutshell, chameleons require a high level of care and attention and are more of a “look but don’t touch” type of pet. Their delicate nature, susceptibility to stress, and preference for minimal handling make them challenging for owners, especially those who want a reptile companion that is more social and friendly.
Unless you’re prepared to deal with a very needy but also very anti-social animal, I wouldn’t recommend getting a chameleon for a pet.
Iguanas, like the green iguana, are popular pets among reptile owners, but they’re not very easy to own. If you’re thinking of getting an iguana as a pet, there are some things you should consider…
To begin with, iguanas are native to tropical regions, making a warm environment with high humidity essential for them to thrive. As arboreal creatures, they also need plenty of room to explore and climb.
These reptiles can grow to be quite big, reaching lengths of up to 7 feet! So, ideally, an iguana’s habitat should be at least 12 feet long and 6-8 feet high.
Some owners choose to let their iguanas free roam in their house, but that can come with its own challenges as well.
Iguanas can be quite messy, leaving a trail of waste and debris wherever they wander. They also have a knack for digging tunnels, so you wouldn’t want to leave them unattended outside.
When it comes to personality, iguanas are generally on the more aggressive side and can be more difficult to tame than other reptiles. They’re also equipped with Wolverine-like claws that can do a lot of damage to your skin if you’re not careful, even just from holding them.
As with most other reptiles, iguanas need a varied diet with proper vitamin and mineral supplementation to live a long and healthy life. Since they mostly eat fresh fruit and vegetables, this means weekly trips to the grocery store, which becomes costly over time.
Ultimately, it takes time, patience, and a whole lot of effort to build trust with these large and spiny lizards. So, if you’re seeking an easy, affectionate, and cuddly companion, an iguana might not be the best fit.
3. Chinese Water Dragons
Chinese water dragons are often considered to be a friendlier alternative to iguanas, but they come with their own set of unique challenges.
You may see these little guys sold in local pet stores, and as babies, they can look so cute and tempting. But as adults, they grow up to 3 feet in length, so they don’t stay that small for very long.
Because they originate in the subtropical forests of southern China and Southeast Asia, Chinese water dragons require high humidity in their enclosure. They also need the proper lighting and temperatures, which takes some extra effort to maintain.
One distinctive trait of these lizards is their love for all things aquatic. In the wild, they swim, hunt, and scavenge in the water, so providing them with a large sizable water feature in their enclosure is essential for enrichment.
As you might expect, this means you’ll also need to engage in regular maintenance to keep their water source clean and refreshed.
Chinese water dragons are also skilled climbers, so they’ll need a tall enclosure with plenty of branches and trees to satisfy their arboreal instincts.
And finally, they need a varied diet of both insects and leafy greens, so you’ll want to consider that in your budget.
Chinese water dragons can be a fun pet to own and observe. But their need for a large enclosure, water features, climbing opportunities, high humidity, and a varied diet makes them one of the more difficult reptiles to keep.
4. Monitor Lizards
Monitor lizards, like the Asian water monitor, Nile monitor, and savannah monitor can be quite challenging to handle for someone just starting out in the reptile-keeping world.
They might appear small and manageable at first, but handling these giant lizards requires confidence and experience due to their remarkable size and strength.
And when I say “remarkable”, I mean it! Monitor lizards are some of the largest lizards in the world, growing up to 7-8 feet in length! Can you imagine having a modern-day dinosaur as your first reptile pet? I’m willing to bet the answer is probably no.
Not only do these guys grow to be quite big, but they are known for their feisty nature and aggressive behavior, especially if they feel threatened. Handling them safely requires skill and patience, and even then, their sharp claws and powerful tails can pose risks of injury.
When housing a monitor lizard, it’s important to take into account the amount of space they will need. You’ll have to provide a large, custom-built enclosure or dedicate an entire bedroom to your pet.
On top of that, these lizards love to climb and swim, making it quite challenging to create an artificial habitat that meets their natural desires. Setting up and maintaining a proper environment for them can be very costly and time-consuming.
Lastly, monitor lizards are carnivorous and have a very hearty appetite. This means you’d have to be comfortable with feeding them frozen baby mice, eggs, and small mammals a few times a week.
All in all, while monitor lizards are fascinating creatures, they are best left to experienced reptile keepers. The level of expertise and commitment required to meet their needs makes them less suitable for beginners than other reptiles.
5. Alligators And Caimans
Most people would assume it’s not a good idea to get an alligator or a caiman as a pet. In fact, in most places, you must have a special license to own one, and in some areas, it’s entirely illegal. But surprisingly, many still find their way into the pet trade.
First off, alligators are massive beasts that can grow to be more than 12 feet long. They’re dangerous and unpredictable, with jaws that can cause some serious damage.
Caimans are slightly smaller than alligators, but they shouldn’t be underestimated. These guys are just as dangerous and can deliver severe injuries with their razor-sharp teeth.
To keep both alligators and caimans, you would need a spacious and highly secure outdoor pond enclosure. Consider the environment in which you live and if it would be suitable for their needs (humidity, heat, etc.)
Also don’t forget to consider their hefty appetites. Between building and maintaining their enclosure and keeping them well-fed, be prepared to spend a pretty penny.
So, if you’re thinking about getting a caiman or alligator, make sure you’re fully prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. From their dangerous nature to the extensive costs of their care, it’s not a decision to be taken lightly.
6. Large Or Venomous Snakes
Snakes, particularly large or venomous snakes, are another reptile that might not be the best fit for new or inexperienced owners.
Some larger snake species, like pythons and boas, can grow to be massive, sometimes reaching lengths of 20 feet or more!
Because of their colossal size, these snakes can be quite overwhelming for some folks. They can also be very dangerous, and their powerful constricting abilities can cause harm, especially if not handled correctly.
Handling large snakes like this requires expertise and confidence, especially when they reach their full size. Their strength and potential for sudden movements can be dangerous for inexperienced keepers, increasing the risk of accidents or injuries.
As I’ve emphasized earlier, larger reptiles need larger homes, and these snakes are no exception. As they continue to grow, their homes need to grow with them. So, if you’re considering getting a larger species of snake, be prepared to invest in a spacious and well-equipped enclosure.
Lastly, large snakes have substantial appetites and need appropriately sized prey. As they grow, their food requirements change, and providing a varied and balanced diet becomes more complex.
Mice and rats may satisfy their hunger needs when they’re younger, but as they grow, they’ll need larger meals. For some, this might be difficult to witness or keep up with so be sure you’re comfortable with it before signing up.
Now, when it comes to venomous snakes, I think it goes without saying that they aren’t recommended for beginners.
Venomous snakes pose significant safety risks to inexperienced keepers, as handling them incorrectly can result in potentially life-threatening snake bites. Their venom is extremely dangerous and can cause severe harm or even death.
In many places, there are strict laws and regulations around the ownership of venomous snakes, and for good reason. These laws are in place to protect both the public and the snakes themselves, so it’s best to leave ownership of these slithering serpents to the pros.
Learn more about why large pythons and other reptiles on this list aren’t great for beginners, and what reptiles are recommended instead by watching the video above.
7. Tokay Geckos
Tokay geckos made it on this list because their aggressive nature makes them very difficult to handle.
You might spot these geckos at your local pet stores, and their beautiful coloration might tempt you to bring one home. But they’re known to be aggressive and territorial, and they can deliver a nasty bite.
Tokays are often caught in the wild, which means they’re not only feisty but they can be harboring internal parasites.
Additionally, they are mostly active during the night, which can make it difficult to observe or interact with them during daylight hours.
Like chameleons, tokay geckos are tree-dwelling creatures that need tall enclosures with proper airflow and high humidity. This can make it tough for new owners to maintain the right temperature and humidity levels.
Overall, due to their aggressive nature and the challenges they present, tokay geckos are not recommended for beginner reptile owners.
If you’re looking to get a pet gecko, a leopard gecko or a crested gecko would be a much better choice.
8. Aquatic Turtles
Aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles aren’t the most challenging reptiles out there, but they’ve made it onto this list due to their routine maintenance needs and long lifespans.
Aquatic turtles need complex aquatic setups that mimic their natural habitats. This includes a large filtered tank with lots of room to swim and multiple areas for basking.
For beginners, creating and maintaining such an environment can be complicated and time-consuming. It can also be quite costly. A large tank and heavy-duty filter alone can cost a pretty penny, and that with the other equipment and décor needed for a proper setup sure adds up.
Because their habitat consists of a tank full of water, frequent maintenance, and regular water changes are needed to keep the water clean and chemically balanced.
Turtle tanks can become messy quickly, and keeping their water clean is vital to their health. If not regulated properly, it could lead to various health issues such as shell problems and bacterial infections.
Another thing to consider is the long lifespan of a turtle. Many aquatic species, like the popular red-eared slider and common map turtle, can live anywhere from 20-40 or more years. That’s a long time to care for a pet!
Aquatic turtles are cool pets and fun to watch swim, but they can be challenging for beginners due to their demanding maintenance needs and long-term commitment.
If you’re considering getting one, you should be prepared to invest time, effort, and money in providing a suitable and healthy environment for your aquatic companion.
The main reason why tortoises are considered one of the harder reptiles to keep is because of the long-term commitment they require. Tortoises live very long lifespans, oftentimes even outliving their humans.
Owning a tortoise comes with the responsibility of caring for a pet for decades and knowing who will be caring for it next, should it outlive you.
Many tortoise species can also grow to be quite large, requiring plenty of space to live and roam around. You’ll need to build them a large, suitable enclosure or allow them to live freely in a secured backyard.
But be aware that these reptiles can be very messy, tearing up the landscaping and eating any plants they deem delicious in your yard. They also love to dig deep burrows, creating large holes in the ground that they can escape under a fence through.
Tortoises also have specific environmental and diet requirements that must be followed for them to live a long and healthy life. It’s not as easy as just keeping a pet tortoise in a tank and feeding it lettuce, even as a baby.
If they’re not being fed properly or their environmental needs are off, their shell could become deformed by what is called “pyramiding”, and they could develop life-threatening health issues.
In a nutshell (or should I say tortoise shell), tortoises can be a handful. From their long lifespans to their large size, destructive nature, and need for specialized care, tortoises would be best cared for by a more experienced reptile enthusiast.
10. Wild-Caught Reptiles
In the reptile pet trade, many animals are wild-caught and shipped overseas. Aside from the ethical problems with taking animals from their natural habitats to own as pets, there are many other risks involved.
For one, they come with many potential health concerns. Wild-caught reptiles often carry parasites, diseases, or stress-related issues due to capturing and transporting them.
Identifying and treating these illnesses can be complicated for inexperienced keepers, putting both the reptile and the owner at risk.
There are also many legal and ethical restrictions when it comes to wild-caught reptiles.
In some regions, capturing and keeping wild reptiles may be illegal or unethical due to conservation efforts. It’s essential to research local laws and consider the impact on wildlife before acquiring a wild-caught reptile.
Another reason why wild-caught reptiles are considered harder to keep is that they’re generally less accustomed to human interaction, making them harder to handle and tame.
Owners seeking an interactive and social pet might find it more challenging to build a bond with a wild-caught creature.
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning the importance of education and responsible pet ownership when it comes to wild-caught reptiles. In many places, reptiles have become invasive species due to escaping or being released into the wild.
Once they settle in, invasive reptiles can have detrimental effects on local ecosystems. They may outcompete native species for resources, prey on native animals, and even alter natural habitats.
In Florida, for example, invasive reptiles like the Burmese python and green iguana have become problematic and pose significant challenges to conservation and wildlife management.
So, for those new to keeping reptiles, choosing captive-bred species from reputable breeders offers a more humane and manageable way to introduce a reptile to your home.
Owning reptiles is a fun and fulfilling hobby, but it’s important to recognize that some reptiles come with unique challenges and responsibilities.
From giant lizards and alligators that require significant safety measures to snakes and chameleons that need specialized care, these reptiles are not for everyone.
While they may be unique and fascinating creatures, it’s important to carefully consider one’s experience and capabilities before taking on the challenge of caring for them.
For most reptile enthusiasts, starting with more manageable species and gradually gaining experience and knowledge is the best path to becoming a responsible and successful reptile keeper.
But whatever reptile you choose to keep, always prioritize their safety and well-being, and remember that responsible pet ownership begins with careful consideration and dedication.