10 Kid-Friendly Reptiles That Are Safe & Easy to Care For

Reptiles can be fascinating and educational pets for children, offering a unique opportunity to learn about different species and their care. They have become increasingly popular due to their diverse array and sometimes minimal care requirements compared to traditional pets like dogs and cats.

According to the American Pet Products Association ¹, reptiles are owned by over 4.5 million households in the U.S., highlighting their popularity as household pets.

Here is a list of the best reptile pets for families, each offering unique benefits and learning opportunities.

1. Leopard Gecko

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Image Credit: MDV Edwards/Shutterstock.
  • Habitat: These geckos thrive in a dry environment and require a tank with a warm and cool side to regulate their body temperature. The enclosure should have hiding spots and a substrate, such as a reptile carpet or tile, to prevent ingestion of loose substrate.
  • Diet: Leopard geckos eat live insects, primarily crickets and mealworms. To ensure their nutrition, it’s important to gut-load the insects (feed them nutritious foods) before offering them to your pet. Supplements with calcium and vitamin D3 are crucial to prevent bone diseases.
  • Handling: Known for their docile temperament, leopard geckos seldom bite and are easy to handle. They may take time to get used to human contact but will eventually enjoy interactions. Young children should be taught how to handle them gently to avoid tail drop, a defense mechanism where the gecko sheds its tail to escape predators.

2. Corn Snake

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Image Credit: KAMONRAT/Shutterstock.
  • Habitat: They need a secure enclosure with branches for climbing and a hiding area to feel safe. Aspen shavings or paper substrates are suitable for bedding as they help maintain humidity, which is crucial for shedding.
  • Diet: A diet of mice or small rats, appropriate to the snake’s size, should be fed every 5 to 7 days. It’s preferable to feed pre-killed prey to avoid any injury to the snake. Young snakes may need more frequent feeding.
  • Handling: Corn snakes are known for being escape artists, so ensure their tank is secure. They are generally friendly and can be handled frequently, which helps reduce stress and maintain their health. They are not venomous and are usually very calm around children.

3. Bearded Dragon

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Image Credit: Shinedawn/Shuttertsock.
  • Habitat: They require a well-ventilated terrarium with plenty of space to roam. The habitat should include a basking lamp, UVB light, and areas where the dragon can cool down. Substrates like newspapers, ceramic tiles, or reptile carpets are preferred to prevent impaction.
  • Diet: Bearded dragons have a varied diet that includes insects and a wide range of fresh vegetables and fruits. Feed them a mixture of leafy greens and occasionally small amounts of fruit. Calcium and vitamin supplements are needed regularly to prevent nutritional deficiencies.
  • Handling: Bearded dragons are known for their calm nature and tolerance to handling. They enjoy perching on their owner’s shoulders and interacting with humans. Regular, gentle handling is good for socializing your dragon, but always supervise interactions with young children.

4. Russian Tortoise

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Image Credit: Elena M. Tarasova/Shutterstock.
  • Habitat: These tortoises require a large enclosure that mimics their natural environment, with access to both sunny and shaded areas. They need a dry substrate like hay or straw. An outdoor pen is ideal during warm weather, but ensure it is predator-proof and escape-proof.
  • Diet: Their diet should consist mainly of leafy greens, with occasional offerings of other vegetables and fruits. Avoid giving them too much protein or commercial tortoise food, which can lead to health issues.
  • Handling: Russian tortoises are generally tolerant of handling but should not be handled too frequently as it can cause stress. When handled, it should be done gently and infrequently to allow the tortoise to remain comfortable and stress-free.

5. Crested Gecko

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Image Credit: Lauren Suryanata/Shutterstock.
  • Habitat: These geckos prefer a humid environment with plenty of vertical space for climbing. A terrarium with branches and plants, real or artificial, helps mimic their natural habitat. The temperature should be kept moderate, between 72-78°F.
  • Diet: Crested geckos can eat a commercial gecko diet that needs to be mixed with water. They can also enjoy occasional treats of fruits and insects.
  • Handling: Crested geckos are generally docile but slightly jumpy and may not enjoy prolonged handling. They are best for older children who understand the need for gentle and respectful interaction.

6. Blue-Tongued Skink

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Image Credit: Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.
  • Habitat: They require a large tank with plenty of floor space as they are more terrestrial than arboreal. The substrate should be capable of retaining some moisture, as humidity is essential. A basking spot and a cooler area are essential for proper thermoregulation.
  • Diet: These skinks are omnivores, requiring a balanced diet of proteins (like boiled eggs, lean meats, and approved feeder insects) and vegetables. They also benefit from regular vitamin and mineral supplementation.
  • Handling: Blue-tongued skinks are known for their even temper and tolerance to handling. They make good pets for children capable of handling a larger, heavier lizard.

7. African Fat-Tailed Gecko

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Image Credit: I Wayan Sumatika/Shutterstock.
  • Habitat: These geckos require a similar setup to leopard geckos, with a focus on a warm and cool gradient in their enclosure. A humid hide is crucial to aid in shedding.
  • Diet: Their diet consists primarily of insects such as crickets and mealworms. Supplements with calcium and vitamin D3 are necessary to maintain their health.
  • Handling: African fat-tailed geckos are very gentle and less likely to bite, making them safe for kids to handle under supervision. They are also less prone to dropping their tails compared to other geckos.

8. Gargoyle Gecko

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Image Credit: Milan Zygmunt/Shutterstock.
  • Habitat: They thrive in a moderately humid environment and need a vertical space as they like to climb. The enclosure should have several hiding spots and plants for enrichment.
  • Diet: Gargoyle geckos can be fed a similar diet to crested geckos, primarily consisting of commercial gecko food mixed with water. They can also eat insects and occasional fruit purees.
  • Handling: These geckos are generally easy to handle but may be slightly more delicate than the larger lizards. Their calm nature makes them suitable for careful, older children.

9. King Snake

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Image Credit: David A Litman/Shutterstock.
  • Habitat: As they are mostly terrestrial, king snakes require a secure enclosure with minimal climbing opportunities. A proper substrate for burrowing and hiding spots is necessary.
  • Diet: King snakes eat rodents, and feeding them pre-killed prey is advised to ensure safety for the snake. They typically eat once a week, making their care schedule manageable.
  • Handling: King snakes are generally docile but are also known for their strength and quick movements. Regular handling is recommended to keep them tame, and it is suitable for families with slightly older children who can handle them confidently.

10. Hognose Snake

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Image Credit: reptiles4all/Shutterstock.
  • Habitat: They need a dry enclosure with a substrate suitable for burrowing. Temperature regulation and a warm basking spot are essential.
  • Diet: In the wild, they mainly eat amphibians, but in captivity, they are often fed toads and frogs. Many are transitioned to a diet of scented or plain rodents for easier care.
  • Handling: Hognose snakes are generally safe to handle. They may bluff by flattening their necks and hissing when threatened but rarely bite. They produce a mild venom, typically harmless to humans, but washing hands after handling is crucial.

Basic Reptile Care Requirements

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Caring for reptiles involves specific requirements to ensure they remain healthy and thrive in a home environment. Here are some basic care needs common across most reptile pets:

  • Temperature and Humidity Control: Reptiles are ectothermic, meaning they rely on their environment to regulate body temperature. Owners must provide a heat source and often a gradient in temperature within the enclosure. Humidity levels also need to be monitored and controlled to match the reptile’s natural habitat, which helps in shedding and overall health.
  • Lighting: Many reptiles require UVB light to synthesize vitamin D3, essential for metabolizing calcium. This is particularly important for reptiles like bearded dragons and tortoises, which can develop health issues without proper lighting.
  • Enclosure and Space: The size and type of enclosure are critical. It should be secure and large enough to accommodate the reptile’s full-grown size, with space for them to move freely. The enclosure should include areas for the reptile to hide and climb, mimicking their natural environment as closely as possible.
  • Diet and Nutrition: Feeding the correct diet is vital for reptile health. Most reptiles eat a diet ranging from insects and rodents to fruits and greens, depending on the species. The diet should be supplemented with vitamins and minerals to prevent deficiencies.
  • Veterinary Care: Regular check-ups with a veterinarian experienced in reptile care are important. They can help detect and treat health issues early and advise on proper care and nutrition.
Martha A. Lavallie
Martha A. Lavallie
Author & Editor | + posts

Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.