Pet stores that sell Reptiles
I frequently get letters and phone calls from parents whose kids, and adults whose partners or spouses, want a reptile. I get even more letters and phone calls from parents whose kids (or spouses) went ahead and got a reptile without realizing the full implications what they were getting into. In many cases, the reptile they got was unsuitable for them; in too many cases, a reptile was unsuitable, period. These owners found, often too late, that the choosing and caring for reptiles is not as simple as it may appear.
The Alien Factor
With most reptiles, we are attempting to keep an animal with very specific environmental and dietary needs in an environment very much unlike its native habitat. Owners must spend a great deal of time-and money-working to keep their reptile's enclosure warm enough or cool enough, and dry enough or humid enough, or the reptile will sicken and die. What works to provide the right temperatures and humidity during the summer may not be enough during the winter. During the spring and fall, the great disparity between ambient day time and night time temperatures makes almost daily fiddling with heating equipment a must. If you don't have the money to invest in the extensive heating and lighting equipment (and increased power bills) or the time to be monitoring temperatures day and night during much of the year that is a basic requirement of keeping most reptiles, then a less "alien" reptile should be considered.
The Interest Factor
Whether the child is six or sixteen, most lose interest in their reptile after the initial thrill has worn off. This is true of many adults, especially those who acquire reptiles that are more work than they bargained for. The daily grind of food preparation, cleaning and disinfecting the enclosure, checking the water, the temperatures, making sure it is shedding properly, taming it, getting pooped on, remembering to close and secure the enclosure, spending the allowance or limited budget on lighting and heating and food supplies (or begging parents or family for the same), blowing the savings on emergency veterinary care because one or more of the above weren't provided or done, all conspire to make even the best intentioned, most avid child (and spouse) find other things to take their time. This leaves the animal to languish in its enclosure, often for years, as one parent or the other tries to guilt the child (or spouse) into caring for it. Too often, these animals end up severely ill before anyone does anything about it (usually giving it away when they find that no one wants to buy it). Too many of these animals die from the neglect.
The Cool Factor
The cooler-looking the reptile, the more it is likely to cost you, in time and money and space, to set up properly, quite apart from the cost of the reptile itself. The trick for a parent who is working to get their child redirected to a more appropriate reptile is to learn as much as possible about the suitable reptiles. This usually means heading to the local herpetological society, World Wide Web, and herpetological booksellers to get information on how the animal lives and has adapted to its environment, as the books and information available in most pet stores will not cover this information.
The "Caterpillar" Factor
Richard O'Barry, founder of the Dolphin Project, has said "Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as important to the child as it is the caterpillar." Teaching your child why she can't have that lizard or frog or snake is just as important to you and the child as it is to the animal itself. Keeping animals of any sort is a major responsibility. It is a life-long commitment (the life of the animal, which may well exceed your child's middle school, high school and college years). It is not something to be done lightly, nor with the thought that if it doesn't work out, or the child gets bored, you can just give it to a zoo or sell it. The increasing number of reptiles being given away for whom no homes can be found tells just how unrealistic this attitude is. Being tired of the whining and begging is simply not a good enough reason to potentially put the life of an animal at risk.
The "Vet" Factor
Tegus (Lansdown; AI)
* Note: Since this article was written, Uromastyx breeders have, well, multiplied like their lizards. If you buy from a good captive breeder and if you will commit to maintaining these lizards at the hot desert temperatures they require, and if you don't mind the scratching or poking of the claws and the spiked tail, then this lizard may be worth a try for some beginners.
Generally speaking, any snake that requires two or more people to handle it when it is barely half grown isn't a good idea for beginners. That elimiates all boas and pythons but the very small one ones (those that are less than six feet when full grown).
Anacondas - combine huge size and nasty temperament in a powerful body
Hognose - while generally nice and docile, they are rear fanged and mildly venomous; the easterns only eat toads