Pet lizards come in a huge range of sizes, from tiny leaf chameleons little bigger than your fingernail, through to giants such as monitor lizards and green iguanas.
For many of us, having limited space at home, small pet lizards are the easiest to accommodate. What’s more, many of the best small pet lizards are reasonably cheap to buy, easy to care for and – due to their popularity – many are also easy to find in standard reptile shops.
So – what are the best small pet lizards that you should consider?
Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps)
The bearded dragon is probably the best-known lizard on this list. While not as small as some other species listed here, the “beardie” as it is often known as developed a very special place in the hearts of reptile enthusiasts.
Growing to some 60cm or so in overall length, with half of that being tail, bearded dragons are popular for their prehistoric appearance and easy-going attitude.
Indeed, bearded dragons are some of the only small pet lizards that seem to not just tolerate – but actually enjoy – human interaction. If you’re looking for a lizard that you can enjoy handling on a regular basis, you would struggle to find a better option.
Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)
The green anole is the smallest pet lizard discussed here. It was also the first lizard that I personally kept. With a body length of just a couple of inches, combined with a tail that may be twice the length of their body, these are fantastic and highly active pet lizards.
While this is not a suitable lizard for handling – they tend to be flighty and fast-moving – if you’re looking for a pet lizard that will make a stunning display then you’ll struggle to find a better alternative.
There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, being very small lizards means that even in a modest sized enclosure you can create a truly eye-catching display filled with artificial plants and rock faces for them to explore.
Green anoles for also notable for the range of behaviours they display in captivity. You’ll see everything from them waggling their legs at other anoles, to the males inflating their bright red throat pouches.
Green Anoles are sometimes known as the “American Chameleon” for a very good reason; these miniscule lizards can change color from a bright, forest green, through to a dark brown. While the color change is perhaps not as impressive as a “real” chameleon the fact remains that this willingness to change color adds an extra level of interest.
Lastly, note that Green Anoles are also typically some of the cheapest pet lizards on the market. This therefore makes them ideal for those readers on a tight budget, or who would prefer to keep two or more lizards together in order to watch them interact.
Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularius)
Second only to the Bearded Dragon in popularity, the Leopard Gecko has been a mainstay of the reptile-keeping industry for many years.
Originating in Afghanistan, the Leopard Gecko is well-named for it’s black spots on a yellow background, making them a visually appealing lizard. Growing to around 6-8” in overall length, the Leopard Gecko has quite a relatively short and stubby tail, in which is can store fat.
Unlike most gecko species seen in the reptile hobby, this species does not have sticky toe pads. It therefore doesn’t climb up vertical surfaces and can be quite slow moving.
These two aspects mean that Leopard Geckos are far easier to handle than other gecko species – indeed this is another small pet lizard popular among those who wish to handle their pets.
Typically slow and docile, these lizards can be safely held by keepers of all ages – they often seem particularly popular among children and can – with supervision – can make an ideal pet lizard for kids.
Collared Lizards (Crotaphytus collaris)
Collared lizards are native to the hot, dry areas of North America. Growing to around 8” in total length, much of this is made up of a long tail, with the chunky body and muscular legs taking up a far smaller proportion.
There are a number of different Collared Lizard species available in the trade. What is perhaps interesting about this species is it’s sexual dimorphism.
Whereas most pet lizards display very few obvious signs of their sex, requiring a somewhat specialist knowledge to tell males from females, the Collared Lizard is quite a subtle range of blacks, greys and browns for most of the year.
In the breeding season, however, the reason for their name becomes obvious. The mature males develop an astonishing rainbow of colors, with their necks and shoulders displaying a range of colors, depending on species, often comprising of bright sky blue, yellow and even green.
Collared lizards are fast and flighty – like Green Anoles, so probably aren’t the best small pet lizard for the keeper hoping to handle their pet regularly.
For the reptile enthusiast that enjoys building naturalistic vivariums, however, and watching the behaviour of their pet, the collared lizard is an ideal choice.
The author has spent many happy hours building desert-style setups for Collared Lizards, and has lost track of how much time has been lost watching these exciting lizards going about their daily lives.
Crested Gecko (Correlophus ciliatus)
Gaining popularity in recent years has been the Crested Gecko from New Caledonia.
These largely arboreal lizards has an undeniably “cute” appearance, their name stemming from the crests of spines running down the sides of their body, and ending just above the eyes like a set on luxurious long eye-lashes.
Pleasantly, crested geckos soon get used to their keepers and can generally be handled safely, aided by their tails and toes which minimize the chances of them falling.
An additional benefit of crested geckos is that they feed primarily on nectar in the wild, rather than live insects. While captive specimens will certainly consume some juicy crickets when offered, the vast majority of their diet can be made up from artificial nectar solution. This is available from reptile stores in tiny “milk creamer” containers.
The crested gecko is therefore arguably one of the easiest lizards to feed as a pet – particularly beneficial if you’re squeamish about handling live insects or live somewhere that sourcing livefood is problematic.
Yemen Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus)
In truth, chameleons have developed something of a challenging reputation over the years. Many keepers have found them difficult to keep, and their specialist requirements do demand slightly more experience than simpler lizards like bearded dragons.
The obvious exception here is the Yemen Chameleon, which is considered one of the easiest chameleons to keep (and even breed) in captivity. Indeed, they are so easy to care for, and reproduce so readily, that Yemen Chameleons are a relatively common sight in most reptile shops these days.
If you’re interested in a “proper” chameleon (and not a Green Anole) then the Yemen Chameleon is probably the best small pet lizard for you.
That said, ensure you do careful research before making your purchase, as much of the general advice applying to 90%+ of all pet lizards may not be so for your chameleon. For example, chameleons will rarely drink from a water bowl, and instead a drip-feed system works better.
This specialist equipment can, of course, raise the cost of keeping chameleons in comparison to similarly-sized lizards, but the rewards of doing a good job cannot be denied.
Lastly, in our list of the best small pet lizards come the group Australian lizards known as “Uromastyx”. This is a hugely diverse group of lizards, though most grow no larger than a bearded dragon.
Hailing from the hot and arid parts of Oceania, these lizards like it hot – with a basking spot of 35’C or more. Be ready to see your electricity bill go up when you invest in Uromastyx therefore!
So, what makes the Uromastyx a small lizard worthy of your consideration? Firstly, these incredible lizards have quite a unique – even jurassic – appearance. Many are increasingly available in a wide range of color forms, with deep orange and red specimens not unheard of.
Just as importantly, however, it could be argued that Uromastyx are on a par with bearded dragons when it comes to ease of handling. These chunky, confident lizards seem to enjoy contact with people, will come up to the glass to meet you at feeding time and will sit calmly on the hand.
For someone looking for similar benefits to Bearded Dragons, but fancies something a little bit “different” these small lizards might be just what the doctor ordered.
What the Best Small Pet Lizard?
We have now discussed some of the more commonly-seen small pet lizards. As you can see, there is a huge diversity among these species – from truly tiny lizards through to rather larger and more easily-handled species. So which is the best small lizard?
This is a question that only you can answer. Depending on why you want a pet lizard in the first place (to handle or to observe?), on which species you find visually appealing and what your budget is only you can decide on the best lizard for your situation.
Use the above list as a start on your journey, and so as much research as you possibly can on each lizard species. Visit reptile stores in your local area, and strike up friendships on forums, in order to make the most informed decision possible before bringing home your new pet lizard.
Whatever you decide on, let me wish you the best – and welcome you to the wonderful world of reptile care!
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