If you want an exotic pet, reptiles are a good choice. The main two that people prefer are snakes and lizards. There are differences between them, which may affect how you feel about each type of pet.
Snakes live longer than lizards, but care costs can be higher. Snakes are bigger and eat rodents, while lizards are smaller and eat varied foods. Snakes have fangs while lizards have small teeth or molars. Bites from both reptiles hurt, and venomous bites require an antivenom.
You may think these facts make either snakes or lizards better. The difference is down to your taste. We explain all the differences between lizards and snakes, from food to setup costs, health issues, risks of handling, and much more.
Pet Snakes vs. Pet Lizards
Whether snakes or lizards are best isn’t a question that can be easily answered. There are reasons why you might prefer to keep a snake, and reasons you might prefer a lizard. You’re not ‘wrong’ if you would want one but not the other.
We’ve looked at each aspect of keeping a snake or lizard. This includes food—what they eat and how often, how much they cost, how old they get, how easy they are to handle, and more.
Are Snakes and Lizards Venomous?
All common pet snakes, e.g., ball pythons, corn snakes, and hognose snakes are non-venomous. They are constrictors, which squeeze their prey before they eat it. They don’t squeeze their owners because you’re far too big for them to think you’re food.
The same applies to all pet lizards. Iguanas may have a small amount of venom in their saliva, but only enough to cause a slight, infection-style bite mark.
Both snakes and lizards can still bite. However, a pet snake’s bite is no more painful and no more dangerous than a cat’s bite. A pet snake’s fangs are no longer than a cat’s fangs, and they don’t bite with more force.
The only way that a lizard or snake’s bite can become dangerous is through infection. Reptiles carry bacteria in their mouths, like all animals. If you don’t wash their bite, these bacteria could cause infection. Untreated, the infection could become serious.
Smaller lizards’ bites are not as painful as a snake’s bite. Iguanas have molars instead of fangs like a snake, but their bite still hurts.
Do Lizards and Snakes Eat the Same Food?
Snakes eat a variety of food in the wild, usually rodents. According to the Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, the majority of owners feed their captive snakes on rodents.
These are fed to the snake having already been killed, frozen, and thawed. This prevents parasites and allows you to buy in bulk.
Lizards are more varied in their care. Some, like geckos, eat crickets and other bugs. Crested geckos can live on powdered food formula that’s added to water, which is easy to do. Others eat nothing but fruits and vegetables.
If you’re disgusted by bugs or mice, then you should get an iguana. These eat leaves, vines, fruits, and flowers. These things are easy to source and aren’t disgusting.
How Often Do Snakes and Lizards Eat?
Juvenile snakes eat frequently to support their growth. You might find yourself feeding them once every two, three, or four days. Frequency depends on portion size and the individual snake. Adult snakes may eat once every ten to fourteen days instead.
Some lizards feed more often than adult snakes. Anole green lizards feed once every two or three days, like juvenile snakes.
Do Snakes Cost More than Lizards?
It’s possible to buy either a snake or a lizard for $10-$20. But unless you want a basic pet, you’ll have to pay more. Designer morphs of snakes cost a lot more, up to several thousand dollars.
The lizard morph market isn’t as well-developed as that of snakes. But you can still find similarly expensive examples.
The setup cost for snakes and lizards is similar, too. Both have particular needs you need to help them meet, as they’re cold-blooded. You need to provide them with:
- A tank that holds onto heat and humidity
- Something that provides warmth in their enclosure, e.g., a heat bulb or heat mat
- Specialist food
- Sundry things like a water bowl, misting bottle, etc.
All of this is more than you’ll need for a regular pet, and is more expensive too. But as both snakes and lizards are cold-blooded, they need roughly the same things. Their setup cost around the same.
As for their food, as we established, some lizards eat a different diet to snakes. Things like crickets and mealworms are cheaper to buy than snake food. Cheaper still are vegetables.
So, while your setup cost may be roughly equal, the continuing costs are less for a lizard.
What Age Do Lizards and Snakes Reach?
The longevity of snakes varies by species. Ball pythons, one common kind of pet snake, can reach between 25 and 30 years old.
Corn snakes don’t live as long, only reaching around 15 years of age. Other species will only reach 10 years old at a maximum. Their lifespans are longer in captivity than in the wild.
By contrast, common pet lizards don’t generally live as long. So, for example:
- Iguanas survive for between 10 and 12 years
- Leopard geckos live for between 6 and 20 years (although shorter lives are more common)
- Crested geckos live between 15 and 20 years
- Bearded dragons live for between 8 and 12 years on average
- Pet chameleons will only live to ten years at a maximum, with 6-7 being more likely
As you can see, most of these lizards don’t live as long as snakes. Some don’t even live as long as regular pet mammals.
However, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you’re young, or your young child wants a pet, it might be good. Few people can look after a pet for thirty years. And if you bought one but couldn’t, you’d have to give it up, which would be sad.
Best Reptile Pets for Handling
If you want a pet that you’d like to handle, this is one area where lizards and snakes are different. Snakes are bigger than lizards, for example, while lizards seem more comfortable during handling.
Are Snakes and Lizards Scary to Handle?
Most of the public are scared of snakes. But, if you’ve ever owned one, you’ll know that they’re nothing to be afraid of. So long as you treat them with care, there’s no need to be frightened.
When a snake is used to their owner, they won’t hiss at them or strike at them. That only happens when you corner the snake or make them feel defensive. When you learn more about snakes/lizards, you’ll learn how to handle them correctly instead.
That being said, most pet snakes reach around five feet on average. Some, like boa constrictors, can get even longer (12-13ft). You might find the idea of handling such a big animal scary, and understandably so. Some snakes are more suitable for beginners than others.
The longest pet lizard you’ll find is the iguana, which can reach 6ft. But most lizards are much shorter. If you think a six-foot ball python is too long to handle, then stick to smaller lizards.
Are Snakes and Lizards Dangerous to Handle?
The only other way that either snakes or lizards could be dangerous is if handled unhygienically. Both carry salmonella in their mouths and on their skin. When you handle them, if you don’t wash your hands afterward, you could become sick.
Salmonella isn’t the only bacteria they carry, though. Reptiles (especially those that have a water source/are aquatic) can carry botulism, too, as well as Campylobacter and leptospirosis. These cause diseases similar to food poisoning and flu.
Snakes and lizards are equal in this regard. So, after you handle any reptile, wash your hands straight away. You should wipe down surfaces that the reptile may have walked/moved on, too.
Are Snakes or Lizards More Fun to Handle?
Snake handling is exciting at first. It’s fascinating to get used to a new kind of pet. They react much differently to things than common household pets. However, they aren’t much fun to play with.
Snakes don’t play games with their owners. They don’t understand basic games like chasing, for example. When you handle them, all they’ll do is try to explore the area a little. And you should stop them from doing that, in case they escape.
However, this is little different from lizards. Both lizards and snakes are reptiles. Reptiles have brains that aren’t as developed as mammals, or humans. They can’t form bonds with their owners like other pets can. They won’t play games, either.
Do Snakes Need More Care than Lizards?
One area that snakes and lizards differ is in their activity. Snakes are notoriously inactive. When left alone, they don’t move around their enclosure much. When handled, often they slither slowly up and down your arm.
Furthermore, many snakes are ambush hunters. This means that when they ‘hunt,’ they sit as still as they can. They wait for their prey to come to them. During this time, they can be mistaken for sleeping, or even being dead.
Lizards are far more active. Smaller lizards are more challenging to handle than snakes, because they can easily get away. When they move, they may scuttle quickly.
Also, a lizard’s enclosure may be much larger than it when compared to a snake’s enclosure. The snake may have less room to move around, and therefore be less active.
Health Issues in Snakes and Lizards
A snake’s inactivity can cause several health issues. Scale rot is the most prominent. This is where the snake sits for an extended period of time on a damp substrate. The dampness causes their scales first to go soft, and then rot. This affects their underside.
This is caused in part by the snake’s inactivity, and in part, because their enclosures are small. Scale rot can affect lizards, but nowhere near as frequently. Small lizards have lots of space in their enclosures, to get away from the damp substrate. They also have legs to lift their bodies.
Other conditions are common to both snakes and lizards. According to the journal Virology, nidoviruses can cause respiratory disease in ball pythons. The same conditions can affect lizards too.
For more information, look at our full guides on snake health conditions.
If you’re still not sure which to buy, you should visit a pet shop. Pet stores usually have both snakes and lizards. You can interact with both and see which you like best.
You should also continue your research by looking at individual species of both snake and lizard. There are dozens of species of each that are kept as pets, and their care, appearance, ease of handling, and more all differ.