January 15, 2021

5 Best Reptiles and Amphibians for Children & Beginners

by Stacey-The Reptile Guide


Contrary to popular belief, reptiles and amphibians can make great pets for children. In addition to the well-known benefits of companionship and lessons in responsibility and compassion, owning cold-blooded critters opens the door for kids to learn about biology and better hygiene practices.


Positive notes aside, reptiles and amphibians are still not every family’s cup of tea. Luckily, there are many options available. If your little one wants a snake, but the lack of eyelids and limbs freaks you out, a lizard can make a great alternative. If lizards are too large and active for your child’s liking, a frog may make a great addition to the household. If frogs are too slimy, what about a tortoise?


We’ve narrowed down some of the best pet choices for kids out of the most common types of reptiles and amphibians and provided some necessary information to help you and your kid decide if it’s the right pet for you.


Best Lizard: Leopard Gecko


Leopard geckos are a popular pet for children because they are both easy to care for and handle, and the interaction doesn’t stress them out very much. A large enclosure isn’t required, nor is fancy UVB lighting, unlike other lizards.


They eat a straight-forward insectivorous diet, taking the guess-work out of calculating the ratio of greens to protein that a child might struggle with when feeding a bearded dragon or an iguana. Once full-grown, they only need to eat two to three times per week.


Leopard geckos should have three hides: one on the warm side of the enclosure, one on the cool side, and one filled with dampened sphagnum moss to aid with shedding. The water dish should be shallow to prevent drowning and kept on the cool side to avoid increased humidity. Solid substrates, like paper towels or tiles, are preferred over particulate matter.


Leopard Gecko Facts at a Glance:


Lifespan: 10-20 Years

Size: 7-10 Inches

Enclosure: 10-Gallon Aquarium or 20” x 10” x 12” Enclosure

Habitat Requirements: 75-95°F; 20-40% Humidity; Terrestrial Set-Up (Prioritize floor space)

Diet: Live insects dusted with calcium powder

Best Frog: Pacman Frog


Pacman frogs aren’t a great choice if your little one is looking for an interactive pet or a pet they can handle. These guys are great for learning more about science: environmental pollutants, temperature, and humidity all affect Pacman frogs more than they would affect mammals or even reptiles.


A simple set-up involving a plastic tub, a hide box, paper towels, and a small water dish is acceptable. Most owners prefer to offer them a substrate to burrow in, like coconut coir. They’re also great candidates for what are known as bioactive enclosures, which include beneficial organisms and living plants. Pacman frogs aren’t great swimmers, so a shallow water dish is imperative.


What they lack in interactivity and handleability, they make up for in their comedic value. Pacman frogs are very enthusiastic eaters, and their feeding antics are likely to give kids and adults a healthy chuckle!


Pacman Frog Facts at a Glance:


Lifespan: 7-15 Years

Size: 2.5-7 Inches

Enclosure: 10-Gallon Aquarium or 20” x 10” x 12” Enclosure

Habitat Requirements: 70-85°F; 50-80% Humidity; Terrestrial Set-Up (substrate for burrowing and shallow, wide water dish)

Diet: Small, live insects dusted with calcium powder

Best Snake: Children’s Python


Children’s pythons aren’t quite as common as other typical pet snakes for children, like corn snakes and ball pythons. But with a name like Children’s pythons, how could we not suggest them?!


Contrary to the popular myth that they were named for their suitability as a kid’s pet, they’re named after the zoologist who first described them, John George Children.


While their care requirements are simple, and they stay the perfect size for children, some juvenile individuals have the stereotypical python attitude and can be a bit nippy. This typically goes away with age and frequent handling.


Children’s pythons enjoy having a water dish large enough to soak in, climbing opportunities, and plenty of spaces to hide. Juveniles should be fed every week, and adults can be fed every two weeks.


Children’s Python Facts at a Glance:


Lifespan: 30+ Years

Size: 36 Inches

Enclosure: 20-Gallon Aquarium or 30” x 12” x 12” Enclosure

Habitat Requirements: 78-90°F; 50-60% Humidity

Diet: Adult mice or young rats

Best Toad: American Toad

Similar to Pacman frogs, although possibly to a slightly less extreme, American toads don’t do well with frequent handling, and they aren’t incredibly interactive. Occasional handling should be fine as long as you make sure your child washes their hands very well before and after handling their pet.


Set-up, again, should be similar to the Pacman frog’s as these guys aren’t particularly aquatic. However, they do enjoy an occasional soak, and their amphibious nature makes ambient humidity important.


Where these guys really shine is their low temperature requirements and their availability. Most households will not need to supply any supplemental heating for their toad. Being native to most of the United States, they’re commonly available for sale, and you could even make an adventure of finding one with your child. How cool would it be to find and bring home your own pet!


American Toad Facts at a Glance:


Lifespan: 10-12 Years

Size: 2-4 Inches

Enclosure: 10-Gallon Aquarium or 20” x 10” x 12” Enclosure

Habitat Requirements: 60-70°F; 50% Humidity, Terrestrial Set-Up

Diet: Live insects dusted with calcium powder

Best Tortoise: Russian Tortoise


Of all chelonians (turtles and tortoises), Russian tortoises may just be the best choice for kids and beginners alike. They stay small enough to live in an indoor enclosure, and they’re known for being full of personality. Some keepers even compare their behavior to a dog! 


Unlike many other tortoises, Russian tortoises are rather active and love to climb and explore. Still, actual handling, holding, and touching should be kept to a minimum to avoid stress. Although a 55-gallon aquarium is listed as the minimum enclosure, you should go as big and elaborate as you can as these guys will truly utilize and appreciate all of the space that you give them.


Your child can feed them a healthy salad of hay and plant material three to four times a week. They’ll need a UVB bulb for basking, which must be replaced approximately every six months.


Russian Tortoise Facts at a Glance:


Lifespan: ~100 Years

Size: 5-10 Inches

Enclosure: 55-Gallon Aquarium or 48” x 12” x 12” Enclosure

Habitat Requirements: 75-88°F; 30-50% Humidity; UVB Lighting; Terrestrial (Roaming) Set-Up

Diet: Hay, leafy greens, grasses, and other plants

Stacey is a lifelong reptile lover, caretaker, and author at Reptile Guide.

Reptile.Guide is an online community of lifelong reptile lovers and caretakers passionate about educating reptile pet owners on how to properly care for their pets so that they can enjoy as many happy and healthy years with them as possible.

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