Ten Pets better for Children: Reptile and Amphibian Variety

If your child seeks a unique pet, perhaps you’ve considered investment in a reptile or an amphibian. Called “herps” by their enthusiasts, reptiles and amphibians rank among the most spectacular animals in existence. As true grandfathers of evolution, their features often seem mind-boggling compared with those of their warm-blooded contemporaries, and the striking colorations and patterns that many of them possess are truly beautiful. They certainly do make for unique pets. But not all of them are good pets for children.

If you’re considering one for a child, it’s very important that you first research your options. Many options are out there, and not all of them make good pets. Some have specific care requirements that must be met in full if they are to thrive in captivity. And although most of these creatures are completely docile, and many are incapable of harming us, there are some exceptions available that are innately aggressive, some of which grow sizes quite large.

And unfortunately, researching is oftentimes not enough. There’s a lot misinformation out there, especially on the Internet. Always double-check what you read. For example, anoles are frequently described, as on the Internet, to make great pets for children, but in actuality they don’t. Anoles need highly controlled artificial environments, which for a child can be a lot of responsibility to maintain correctly, and is not worth their time, considering the returns aren’t all that great. A good pet for a child should foster at least some amount of responsibility, but should more so engage their interest. All in all, do your research and do it well. Weigh your options, and make the right decision, for you, your child, and for your new pet.

Sulcata Tortoise

Turtles are awesome. But not many of them make good pets for children. Aquatic turtles especially, which tend to be extremely messy and require constant cleaning to their tanks, are not good for children. Not to mention, aquatic turtles have a strong capacity to spread diseases. But one exceptional turtle for children is the case of the sulcata tortoise. Sulcatas are big, sociable, long-living chelonians that just so happen to be the third largest living tortoise on Earth. But that kind of size takes some time to happen. Sulcatas were a stretch to be mentioned here because of their size, but the pros that sulcatas bring may warrant your consideration.

Baby sulcata eating a strawberry.

In relative to their lifespan, sulcatas grow pretty quick, but they need ten-to-fifteen-years (years in captivity) to reach their full size, which sometimes weigh at over a hundred-pounds. They do get big. But at birth, sulcatas are small enough to sit on the palm of your hand, which quite frankly is adorable to see. However, if you and your child do decide on the sulcata route, be prepared for a long, long-term investment.

They’re not so difficult to care for. The most burdensome aspect to caring for sulcatas, aside from their eventual size and longevity, of course, is that by being turtles, aquatic or not they can be messy. But the mess with sulcatas is relatively mild. Most should find it manageable. And as I’ve said, they are sociable. And will grow only more and more receptive to you with the years that pass. When full grown, they’re nothing more than gentle, giant vegetarians. And during all stages of their lives they do require space to roam, which is amusing to watch when they do. Sulcatas can make excellent pets. They are a big responsibility, but if you’re able to embrace it, watching your child grow side-by-side with a lifelong pet could be quite rewarding.

NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and his sulcata tortoise.

Kenyan Sand Boa

Snakes aren’t for everyone. Some people find snakes awesome and some people don’t. Some people even have a phobia of snakes. It was a snake after all that offered the apple to Eve, says the Bible. But if your child wants to have a pet snake, and you’re OK with that, consider the Kenyan sand boa. Petite snakes, Kenyan sand boas rarely exceed a foot in length, and never beyond two-feet, with males growing considerably smaller than females.

Perhaps the biggest turnoff people find to keeping snakes is their nutritional requirements. Most captive snakes do feed on mice, and sand boas are no exception. However, sand boas don’t feed very often, eating no more than once a week while growing, and as seldom as once monthly when grown. They’ll also take to frozen mice if you care for them to do so. They’re hardy enough to do it. Most snakes are.

For several reasons, sand boas are popular beginner snakes. Not only are they hardy eaters, but also their care requirements are pretty simple. They’re inexpensive animals to upkeep, and they’re inexpensive animals themselves. Sand boas are not sociable, though, and much of their time is spent burrowing under sand, hence their name. Occasionally they might peak out their heads, allowing for you to see them while they see you, but that’s about as much as they care showing themselves off. If you do care to handle them, though, they’re quite tame. Rarely if ever do they bite, and should they, it won’t inflict any injury, especially with how small they are.

Some baby Kenyan sand boas; a few different genetic morphs.

Rubber Boa

For all the reasons why Kenyan sand boas can make great pets for children, rubber boas are better. Native to the Pacific North West of the United States, rubber boas are pretty hard to come by in the pet trade. Roughly the same size as sand boas, rubber boas are some of the more manageable of snakes, needing nothing greater than a five-to-ten-gallon enclosure, even when grown. Rubber boas don’t need having a fixed heat source, helping to make their upkeep inexpensive, and provision for their comfort is achievable by room-temperature surroundings.

Perhaps what’s most amazing about rubber boas, though, which also makes them so great for children, is their temperament. Bites by rubber boas are virtually unheard of. In fact, handling rubber boas is often done as exposure therapy to help people with ophidiophobia overcome their fear of snakes. Rubber boas just really don’t bite people. If you do handle one, its most likely reaction will be to lightly enwrap your wrist, arranging its body as like bracelet, perhaps just to absorb the natural heat that emits from your body. Rubber boas are as harmless as can be, and they’re pretty cool snakes. Unfortunately, they’re quite hard to come by.

Rubber Boa


Axolotls are just plain funky. As purely aquatic salamanders with lion-like manes to boot, axolotls are about as awesome as anything that a fish tank can offer. Appearance wise, axolotls look to be not much different from a neonate salamander, for which sometimes they are mistaken. But unlike many salamanders, which cycle through a metamorphosis, axolotls keep their gills for life.

Care for an axolotl is pretty simple. They prefer room temperature water, which does need to be kept clean, so a good working filter is a must. As for substrate, a bare bottom tank is best, but sand is OK if you prefer. But don’t use gravel because they will attempt to ingest it. Axolotls are carnivorous, and a feeding regiment consisting of frozen krill and bloodworms can make for a good staple diet, although offerings of live freshwater shrimp and feeder guppies should be provided on occasion.

Axolotls are not pets to be held. They must only be observed. Even so, there’s much value a child can take from such pets, and axolotls being as cool-looking as they are, makes them appealing to children.

Albino axolotl

King Snake

King snakes are instinctually cannibalistic, so it’s important they be kept away from other snakes. One king snake per-enclosure is the golden rule to follow. That’s why they’re called king snakes. In the wild, even rattlesnakes and copperheads bow to king snakes. Fortunately for humans, though, king snakes are completely harmless to us. And if you do happen to live in area that has venomous snakes, then a wild king snake is a snake you should hope lives nearby. But never take in a wild king snake, of course. Never take in any wild animal, period.

You can find king snakes at most any pet store. In terms of how cool they are, even the most ardent of snake keepers will agree, king snakes are great. Very tame, gregarious, and they grow to a moderate size, usually no more than five-feet long. There are few different types of king snakes, the most common of which in captivity are the California king snake, and the Mexican black king snake. Both are excellent snakes, both look stunning, and have identical care requirements, which are basic and easy to upkeep.

If you feel comfortable about snakes, the king snake is a fine option, even for children. But as with any animal you consider, use your judgment. Take into account your child’s personality, their interests, their age, and the level of their responsibility. King snakes are not known for biting people, but they are known by those who keep them to be fast, surprisingly cunning as well. If you’re not sure whether your child will always remember to secure the lid on its enclosure, you may want to consider a different pet.

juvenile California king snake

Fire Bellied Toad

If your needs call for something that’s easy to take care of, look no further than fire bellied toads. Semi-aquatic, fire bellied toads need access to water at all times but need access also to at least one dry surface. The simplest way to achieve this is simply to add a rock that’s large enough to rise above the waterline of its enclosure. In many ways, this is actually the best setup they should be given. Provide a two-inch layer of gravel for substrate, and fill the enclosure at about six-inches high with water. Give or take with those dimensions, proximity is not important. Adding a filter may be worthwhile, although not necessary, but does make for convenient upkeep. Use a cheep filter if anything. As far as diet, they’re able to thrive on just pellets.

Beyond awesome colors, and how easy they are to care for, fire bellied toads are also cool because you can house as many of them as you want, so long as you have the space to do so. They’re also by no means known for aggression, so you can mix in some other creatures if appropriate. Fire bellied toads happen to go great with fire bellied newts, to offer just one example.

Fire bellied toad

Cuban Tree Frog

Many tree frogs are available that make great pets for children. The Cuban tree frog is just but one example. Cuban tree frogs are one of the easier ones to find in stores, though, and they are more affordable than are some of the others.

Cuban tree frogs are pets to look at, not to hold. Although you may do so if you care to, it shouldn’t be made into a habit, as the skin on them is porous and sensitive. Always wash your hands both before and after if holding them. And that much you should do when holding any reptile or amphibian.

Keeping care of Cuban tree frogs is simple. An ideal setup should be the essential equivalent to a terrarium. But at the raw basic minimum, you’ll need 100% organic soil, free of any pesticides, perlite, and any other manmade inclusions. If you’re not sure whether your soil is safe, you can always purchase a specialty brand at your local pet store instead. You’ll also need to provide a water dish. But beyond that, all else that’s needed are things for your tree frog to climb on. Live plants are best for that, but you must make certain they‘ve not been sprayed with pesticides. Even if a plant is sold as pesticide free, rinse it thoroughly with water beforehand, just to be safe.

What makes Cuban tree frogs so great is their climbing ability. It’s pretty cool to watch their suction cupped toes get to work. With their large eyes, they keep keenly alert of their surroundings, and they’ll respond to your own activity on the other side of the glass. Watching them eat is amusing, as well.

Cuban tree frog

Ball Python

In the snake breeding business, none can compare with the demand for ball pythons. With thousands of genetic morphs already in existence, and more always in the works, ball pythons are king, and most likely will remain so for a long, long time coming. If you care spending the money, your pet truly can be one of a kind. But the cost to do so is hefty.

On the other hand, you could always invest in a normal ball python — they cost up to thousands of dollars less, often as little as just fifty-dollars — but beyond the colors and patterns on their skin, any ball python is the same as the next, which is a good thing, because they make excellent pets just as they are. Growing to only three-to-five-feet-long, but built stocky with good girth, yet sleek and athletic in overall appearance, ball pythons look like scaled-down miniature versions of their giant relatives, which in good sense makes them seem one of a kind already.

Better yet, their temperaments are completely docile, making them great pets for children. You can take them out and not have to worry that they’ll slither away like king snakes. And the reason they’re called ball pythons is because a primary defense mechanism of theirs is to curl up into a ball. Being as docile as they are, they’re very tolerant of being held. If you do decide on getting a snake for your child, a ball python may well be your best option.

Genetic breeding has rendered the ball python with incredible variation — here is but three examples among the thousands: The first is a “banana enchi clown,” from Constrictors Unlimited; up top is a “killer hornet,” bred at Kick’s Balls of Lockport, NY; and third is a “normal” ball python, that is, its normal appearance.

Leopard Gecko

Lizards make great pets for children in all aspects but one, which is the most crucial aspect of all. If not for rigid care requirements, there’d be many lizards that I recommend for children. Unfortunately, lizards just tend to be very sensitive animals, and the artificial environments most all of them require are pretty expensive to upkeep. If you’re willing to foot that bill yourself, and also do most of the work that follows, there are several more other lizards to consider. But if you want your child to be as involved as possible, consider leopard geckos instead.

Leopard geckos are not just easy to take care of, they’re down right awesome to keep. They have all sorts of different colors and patterns, they can chirp, they lick at things with their tiny little tongues, they “smile”, and children are able to hold them without you needing to worry.

Their care requirements make for a short list. They need one fixed heat source, best achieved by a low voltage under-tank heater. No lighting is required. Provide most any substrate you wish; most choose to use sand, although some prefer ceramic tiles or just paper towels as both make cleaning quite easy. And provide a few hiding spots as well. Leopard Geckos are nocturnal, so they will need somewhere dark to keep during daylight hours. And unlike many other geckos, leopard geckos lack the ability to climb walls or ceilings, and although they are quick, they’re not so easy to lose. They’re insectivorous, meaning they eat insects, and should be fed regularly. Leopard geckos make excellent pets for children.

smiling leopard gecko copy
Leopard Gecko- note the “smile”

Bearded Dragon

Bearded dragons, although requiring more rigid care than do leopard geckos, require less than many lizards, and because of their amazing temperament, are the best pet reptile for children.

In terms of their care, you’ll need to step things up a bit from that of leopard geckos. For one thing, bearded dragons are diurnal, which means they run the schedule we do, so proper lighting for them is required. You’ll need full spectrum UVB lighting, and you’ll also need a heat lamp. Substrate remains the same as leopard geckos. You’ll not need to provide hiding spots per se, but the enclosure should be furnished with a few landmarks if you hope for them to be comfortable. And a basking spot such as a rock or piece of sanitized driftwood should be kept underneath their heat lamp, with appropriate distance kept between. And having a water dish is a must, of course, too. In terms of their diet, bearded dragons are diverse eaters, and it’s important to honor their preferences, which include both veggies and insects. Bearded dragons may also be fed specifically formulated pellet foods from time to time, as well.

Nice picture of an adult bearded dragon.

Although the care involved with bearded dragons is relatively steep, the returns that you and your children can enjoy from them more than makes up for it. Enthusiastic pets, bearded dragons seem to always be interested by our presence. It’s often difficult to be objective in describing their behavior because their actions can seem so quirky. A dominance display by them is to dramatically nod their heads in repetition, which although is comical to witness, means nothing of the sort to them, for all that is known. But all the same, bearded dragons are harmless, and they’re really hard not to love. Children tend to invest deeply with bearded dragons because of how engaging they truly are. Bearded dragons are the best pet reptiles for children, providing for them a real sense of responsibility by caring for something that engages their intrinsic enjoyment.

… just a meme that I think ‘s funny…

7 thoughts on “Ten Pets better for Children: Reptile and Amphibian Variety

  1. seriously? Snakes and fire bellies? grow up. First of all, snakes hate to hang out with humans and would love to escape in your exhaust vents and if that isn’t bad enough, what would a 7 year old say if he had to feed it dessicated rats, lizards, and frogs? Second of all, cut the crap. Who would want a 1 inch frog that would do anything to get away from it’s owner? See what a mom would say if she finds her son’s escaped frog singed in her soup. Don’t listen to this article, your child could be in for a shock purchasing one of these. I recommend tiger salamanders that are hardier than Axolotls or a nice old blue tongued skink that are way more interactive and companion like than a tortoise your child will eventually have to release in the wild due to it’s size.

    1. Ball pythons and corn snakes make good pets. Corn snakes are better pets than bearded dragon in terms of care. But leopard geckos are good.

    2. I normally don’t write things on public blogs or posts, but comments like these really upset me. How small and self-righteous can you be to dump on someone else’s article when clearly you know just about as much or less than they do? Your opinion isn’t law. It isn’t this guy’s fault if an irresponsible parent or child gets a pet they don’t know how to take care of because they haven’t done their research. I have no opinion on the animals listed in this article, but I do know that not all children want cuddly bunnies and guinea pigs. I also know that snakes and tortoises have proven to be great therapy pets for children with mental handicaps. If you wanted your opinion to be respected, you should have been polite. Why don’t you cut the crap and grow up?

  2. Sand is HORRIBLE for leopard geckos. They may digest it while eating which causes impact ion. Also, newts only do good with their own kind. They do not do good with any other spiecies.

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