Top 10 Exotic Pets for Beginners

One of the real pleasures of exotic pets is quite simply how many different species there are available. From the common to the rare, from the cheap to the expensive and from the easy to care for to the virtually impossible. Irrespective of who you are if you have enough passion and a little money to spare there is an exotic pet perfect for you.

Of course this wide diversity also has it’s downsides – most notably because with so many choices it can be difficult to narrow down your options and make the best choice for you. In an attempt to help you in your decision-making process we have put together a list here of the top ten exotic pets.

These are the top exotic pets not just because of the numbers of these animals currently being kept in captivity. They are also typically easy to care for, reasonably priced and readily available from most exotic pet stores.

Please note that there are no accurate figures on the numbers of types of exotic pets kept in captivity – this list is made up using a combination of experience in the exotic pet industry and from discussions with hundreds of other exotic pet keepers.

Lastly the species listed below have been deliberately chosen to cover the full range of exotic pets including reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. So no matter what your personal likes and dislikes, if you’re looking for your first exotic pet you’ll find something here to put you on the path to success with exotic pets…

Bearded Dragons

bearded dragon photo

Bearded dragons are arguably the most widely-kept pet lizards in the world. The Australian bearded dragon (or “beardie” for short) reaches a reasonable size of around 60cm meaning they are chunky enough to be safely handled without being so large as to need an unrealistically-large vivarium.

Furthermore beardies can become very tame indeed and seem to enjoy interaction with their owners whilst most other lizard species simply tolerate their keeper.

Thanks to their ease of care and breeding bearded dragons are not only available at very reasonable prices but there are also a number of different color morphs currently in culture. Bearded dragons like a dry, desert-type vivarium with rocks or branches to climb on and a very hot basking spot at one end that mimics the Australian desert sunshine.

Pleasantly the the new exotic pet keeper bearded dragons also appreciate a reasonable amount of plant matter in their diet meaning less contact with livefood will be necessary.

Leopard Geckos

leopard gecko photo

The leopard gecko is almost as popular as the bearded dragon though don’t grow to anywhere near the size of the bearded dragon. Reaching a smaller size their living quarters can be proportionately smaller. In this way it is often easier and cheaper to buy a leopard gecko vivarium than it is to buy a cage for a bearded dragon.

With patience leopard geckos are perfectly handleable though they are typically far less likely to actually seek out contact with their keepers.

Similarly to the bearded dragon, the leopard gecko likes a dry, hot desert set-up though feeds exclusively on livefood rather than being omnivorous like the beardie. They are also typically far more terrestrial and are less likely to climb up tank decor – preferring to bask on the floor of their cage.

Ball Pythons

ball python photo

Typically when people hear the word “python” they think of a snake as long as a car and as thick as your leg but the ball python (or royal python as it is sometimes known) is different in that it achieves a far more reasonable adult size.

A length of 120-180cm is normal meaning that even an adult can be kept in a simple, reasonably-priced vivarium equalling the total length of your snake. Furthermore like most pythons the ball python is typically very docile indeed and can be safely handled without any risk of harm.

When you consider just how reasonably priced these snake are, how easily handled they are and how simple they are to care for they could be said to be the perfect pet snake.

The only potential downside is their unfortunate habit of going off their food for extended periods of time causing stress for some owners. However in time most ball pythons will start feeding once again on their own without requiring veterinary intervention and without any harm having come to your snake.

Corn Snakes

corn snake photo

Corn snakes will normally achieve a similar length to ball pythons though they are far slimmer than the more chunky body shape of the ball python. Just like the python corn snakes are easy to keep and can be safely held by keepers of all ages.

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However there are also some major differences between these two species. Firstly corn snakes rarely if ever go off their food so from this perspective they may be viewed as even easier to keep than ball pythons and many people would argue that the corn snake is infact the easiest snake of all to keep in captivity – and in all respects the perfect “starter” exotic pet.

A further benefit of the corn snake is just how many different color morphs there are now commonly available offering a bewildering number of choices to the potential exotic pet keeper.

In this way it’s possible to decide on the corn snake as the perfect pet, buy a suitable vivarium and all the extra bits of kit then spend some enjoyable time looking at all the different colors and patterns possible to find a specimen that you find the most appealing.

Chile Rose Tarantulas

chilean rose tarantula photo

Whilst there are hundreds of different tarantulas available there are really only two species that are suited to the absolute rank beginner. One of those is the Curly Haired tarantula and the other is this – the Chile Rose tarantula – also sometimes known by similar names such as the Chilean Rose or Chilean Rose-Haired tarantula.

The reason for us selecting the Chile Rose here for our list of the top exotic pets rather than it’s cousin the Curly Hair is that the Chile Rose is the most readily available – and kept – tarantula of all. In this way if you are considering buying a tarantula it is the species you are most likely to come across in your local exotic pet store.

However this should be seen as good news because this species makes an ideal introduction into the wonderful world of giant spiders. The Chile Rose is one of the cheapest of all the tarantulas, rarely ever bites and is adaptable and easy to care for.

Given the bare minimum of a gently heated vivarium with live insects to eat once a week or so a Chile Rose tarantula can live for over a decade and provide hours of pleasure and entertainment during that period.

Indian Stick Insects

stick insect photo

The Indian stick insect is also sometimes known as the laboratory stick insect, and whilst they appear boring and insignificant to many pet keepers they can be an ideal exotic pet for small children.

Thanks to the way that they require no artificial heating, feed purely on bramble leaves and will breed almost uncontrollably once a colony is established you will typically find they survive and thrive with virtually no care on your part whatsoever.

As an interesting side note, virtually every Indian stick insect kept in captivity is a female and this species reproduces without the need for males in a process known as parthenogenesis. In this way even a single Indian stick insect will produce fertile eggs without any mating required and soon enough the next generation will begin to hatch.

Indeed Indian stick insects have proven so easy to breed that more than a few exotic pet keepers actually maintain a colony as a source of food for other carnivorous exotics like lizards.

Imperial Scorpions

scorpion photo

Whilst even many exotic pet fanatics find the appeal of scorpions difficult to understand a small group of dedicated scorpion enthusiasts do exist. Whilst the care of many scorpion species is quite similar it is the imperial scorpion – also often known as the emperor scorpion – that has become the beginners favorite.

These African scorpions actually do not come from the desert as many other species do but infact hail from the moist forests. As a result rather than a dry, sandy environment they appreciate a forest-type vivarium with compost or bark as substrate together with a relatively high humidity and plenty of places to hide.

Whilst even most scorpion keepers do not handle their pets the imperial scorpion is one of the most docile species and some people do engage in handling them though generally-speaking it is recommended you avoid this practise to eliminate the chances of any damage coming to either you or your pet.

Fire Bellied Toads

fire belly toad photo

Fire bellied toads are incredibly colorful amphibians. They have a base color of black with a mottled mossy green on their top side and a bright orange/red mottling on their underside so whilst they may only grow to be a few inches long as adults they’re certainly an attractive species to keep.

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The fact that unlike most exotic pets you can also easily keep fire bellied toads together in a colony means that this species can make a fantastic display for anyone.

So they’re attractive and can live together happily but what else sets fire bellied toads apart from all the other possible pet amphibians?

Well how about the fact that they require no heating or artificial lighting so the costs and trouble of setting up their vivarium are minimal? How about the fact that they can be easily bred in captivity providing you with a whole new experience in your living room? Or how about the fact that these toads are super-simple to keep, relatively long-lived, easy to feed and are available from many exotic pet stores very cheaply indeed?

This really is one species of amphibian that in my opinion has it all.


axolotl photo

The axolotl is a strange creature that is critically endangered in it’s native Mexico yet is thriving as an exotic pet in captivity. These purely aquatic amphibians resemble newts to most people though they are infact larval salamanders which remain in this form as long as they are kept in water.

Should the water ever dry out – as sometimes happens in nature – then the axolotl metamorphoses into an adult salamander and wanders off to find more water!

In captivity the axolotl can reach around 30cm in total length and will live happily in an unheated aquarium. These amphibians are predators so it’s important not to try and place any fish into the same aquarium with them and even plants can become damaged by these impressive creatures as they move about.

Besides this the standard aquarium set-up of gravel on the floor, declorinated water to swim in and a powerful filter to keep the water clean works well for axolotls.

Fed on small pieces of meat, on commercially bought fish food and perhaps with the odd live insect as a treat these creatures can be very long lived (10+ years) and can provide a fascinating talking-point in any household.

African Mantis

sphodromantis photo

The last exotic pet worthy of mention in this top ten list is the African mantis – possibly the most wisely-available and easily cared-for species of praying mantis in the pet trade.

The African mantis is actually not just one species but a number of closely-related species of the genus Sphodromantis that all appear similar and can be kept in identical ways so tend to be lumped together by retailers.

An African mantis is a relatively short-lived pet, unlikely to reach much more than a year or so of age though they can be bred in captivity with a little effort and to keep your collection going this is a worthwhile consideration.

African mantids do require some form of artificial heating during the cooler months though should be fine at room temperature during the summer.

These active insects are generally safe to hold if you are gentle with them, though they can be cannibalistic meaning it is best not to keep them together lest you end up with just one fat mantis that has eaten all of the others!

Praying mantis eat live insects which should be provided every day or two and a major part of the “fun” of owning these insects is watching them hunting and catching their prey – a process which is every bit as fascinating as watching a chameleon on the prowl.

Photo c/o simply.jessi, brian.gratwicke, Fixed in Silver, Nicolas Winspeare, Flickpicpete (Thanks for 2 million+ views), rubund & berniedup

Richard Adams

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