Updated: November 10, 2022 by Jennifer Munsell
Part of the joy of owning a lizard is being able to interact and play with it. You might be wondering: what are the best lizards for handling? We have selected eight lizards that we think are the best for handling based on size, speed, and temperament.
Before actually handling your lizard, there are some important things you need to know to keep you and your lizard safe and stress-free.
Handling can be stressful for the lizard, and some lizards even drop their tails when they are stressed or frightened. Other lizards will scratch and bite if they feel threatened, even if they have a very docile nature.
Good handling practices include proper hygiene, being aware of your location, knowing how to pick up and hold your lizard, and how to put it back in its enclosure once you are done handling it.
Once you have a handle on the handling knowledge, move onto and review our top eight lizards that enjoy being handled.
Good Handling Practices
Humans carry bacteria and parasites on their hands that can be toxic to reptiles. We are also much larger than lizards and can handle them too roughly and drop them easily. Lizards, on the other hand, have sharp claws and teeth that can cause serious damage to humans if they are frightened or stressed.
These are just a few reasons why it is always good to ensure you are handling your lizard properly. Read on to learn more about what you should keep in mind when handling your scaly pet.
Your lizard is used to its enclosure. This space feels safe and secure for them. From their vantage point inside their enclosure, they can see the room that they are housed in. They are familiar with these surroundings.
This means that handling them in the room where their enclosure is will be less stressful than a completely new environment where they have not been able to assess the threats and objects around them.
Handling should always be done in a location where there are no natural threats to the lizard such as birds, cats, and dogs, as this adds stress to the situation, and your lizard can react negatively.
You should also always avoid handling your lizard in any location where there is a lot of noise and fast movements, such as a party or out in public, as the chaotic stimuli can provoke aggressive and fearful behavior such as biting and hissing or even cause a stress response such as tail-dropping in some lizards.
Reptiles are very sensitive to bacteria and parasites that we pick up on our hands. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before handling your lizard.
Extra special precautions should be taken if you are handling different reptiles one after the other. Mites and other parasites are easily transferable between reptiles and their enclosures. Always be sure to wash your hands thoroughly between handling sessions.
If a reptile has defecated on your clothing or hands and you plan on handling another lizard, then you must change your clothes and wash your hands thoroughly. Bacteria and parasites are present in fecal matter and will cause harm to your lizard.
How to Pick Up Your Lizard
Lizards’ natural predators typically snatch them up from above by their tails. Do your best not to simulate this behavior to avoid stressing out your pet.
When you pick up your lizard, make sure they have seen your hand and scoop them up from underneath their bodies. This means that you will get the best grip on them and support the majority of their body. Approach them very slowly from the side rather than from above.
Never pick your lizard up by the tail. This is incredibly painful for them. They will either turn and bite or run away. Some lizards can drop their tails as a decoy to predators, and not all lizards can grow them back, such as the blue tongue skink.
Always make sure your lizard knows you are there and has become comfortable with your presence. Be sure to fully support their body and tail whenever you pick them up. If you are gentle and avoid roughly handling their tails, the handling process should go well for both you and your lizard.
How to Put Your Lizard Back
There are three main reasons why you would need to put your lizard back in its enclosure. The first one, and hopefully the one that happens most often, is that you are done handling it and are ready to put it back in its tank.
The second is that your lizard has been out of its enclosure for too long and is losing its body heat rapidly. Remember, lizards are ectothermic, so they need external heat to regulate their temperatures and metabolic functions.
The third possible reason why you’d put your lizard back in their enclosure is that your lizard is stressed or acting aggressively. If this is the case, you risk a nasty bite if you continue to hold it. Look for quick, erratic movements away from you, darkening of the skin, puffing out of skin flaps, or hissing.
Do not just toss your lizard back in its enclosure. This can hurt it and promote an aggressive or stressed response. Gently lower your lizard back into its enclosure and place it near its basking spot or its favorite hide. Remove your hand slowly so you do not startle it if it is stressed.
Here are the Best Lizards for Handling
Now that you have a better idea of how to properly handle your lizard, take a look at our top eight lizards that tolerate and even enjoy being handled.
This list is not ordered from best to worst because all of these lizards are great for handling depending on your preferences as far as size and appearance, and everyone’s taste is subjective.
1. Argentine Black and White Tegu
Tegus can grow up to three feet in length and may weigh anywhere from 20 to 30 pounds.
These lizards are very large and heavy, which means picking them up and handling them is a two-handed (and two-armed) job. When handling, their body needs to be supported properly.
Tegus are highly intelligent and can be very friendly and docile if socialized properly from a young age. Many owners say that they can have behavioral traits like dogs; they like to be cuddled and will happily walk around the house, provided there are no other pets around.
If your tegu is not handled often from a young age, it can become aggressive as an adult. Make sure you are committed to frequent and consistent handling if you want the best-behaved tegu.
2. Bearded Dragons
Bearded dragons typically grow to around 18 to 24 inches in length.
Beardies are good-sized lizards if you are a newbie and want a lizard that will feel secure in your hands. Picking them up is simple, and because of their laid-back and docile temperaments, they will often walk onto your hand and will not need to be picked up at all.
Bearded dragons are perfect lizards to handle as they are very docile and friendly. They genuinely enjoy being handled and will gladly sit with their owners for hours at a time.
Bearded dragons are good lizards to have if you have children and want to get them into caring for pets. They are not particularly large and intimidating or heavy enough to be accidentally dropped. They are also hardy and not too small that children will easily squash them.
Any time a child is handling a lizard, they should be carefully supervised.
3. Blue Tongue Skink
Blue tongue skinks grow to anywhere from 14 to 18 inches in length.
While they are slightly smaller than the aforementioned bearded dragons in length, blue tongues are very heavy lizards for their size. This means that their bodies need to be carefully and gently supported at all times.
Whereas a bearded dragon is light enough to hang onto the front of your shirt or sit on your shoulder while you walk around, a blue tongue skink is much heavier and bulkier and can be seriously injured if mishandled.
Due to their weight and size, they are fairly hardy and easy to handle.
Blue tongue skinks are docile animals that are known to enjoy a good handling session if properly socialized from a young age. They can be quite active and will move around on you a lot while you handle them. If they are tired or are enjoying your body heat, they may lay their body along your forearm for a quick nap.
4. Ackie Monitor
Ackie monitors grow to around 27 inches in length.
The Yellow ackie monitor is more popular than the Red ackie monitor, though it is a little smaller. Both the yellow and red ackie monitors are great for handling. While they look like their larger savannah monitor or komodo dragon cousins, they lack the strength, size, and bulk of those lizards, which makes them very popular.
Ackie monitors are skittish when young but become more docile as adults.
As juveniles, Ackies can be quite nervous and averse to being handled at first. However, if you have patience and commit to consistent and gentle handling, you can gradually tame your Ackie monitor easily to the point where they come to you to be handled.
Simply place your hand into their enclosure slowly and steadily, approach them from the side, and allow them to crawl right onto you. Handling them helps keep them mentally stimulated and healthy.
5. Chinese Water Dragon
Chinese water dragons generally grow to around two to three feet in length, though most of this length is from their long, thin tails.
Chinese water dragons are beautiful lizards that are a good size to be handled. They are slightly smaller than a green iguana, which makes them a good option if you have a limited amount of space to house them.
Chinese water dragons are easily tamed and are very intelligent. They recognize their owners and can form genuine bonds with them. They are very friendly and almost never bite when handled properly. The only drawback about this lizard is that they have advanced care requirements which can quickly become pricey.
These lizards will happily chill on your arm or shoulder and keep you company while you do your thing.
6. African Fat-Tailed Gecko
African fat-tailed geckos grow to approximately nine inches in length.
The African fat-tailed gecko is similar in size and shape to the more common leopard gecko, though its head and feet are a bit larger. They are on the smaller side for handling but will fit in your hand comfortably.
African fat-tailed geckos are the epitome of chill. They are docile, adorable, and take to handling extremely well. They are happy to sit with you and explore your hands. They are not as well known as the leopard gecko or the crested gecko because they are not as common.
7. Green Iguana
Green iguanas can grow up to six feet in length from head to tail tip.
Adult green iguanas are big lizards with big teeth and claws, so it is easy to assume they are aggressive, dangerous animals. However, they start quite small and delicate. If properly socialized from a young age, green iguanas are great to handle despite their huge size.
Your green iguana will have its own personality, and temperaments vary from lizard to lizard. They can be very relaxed or very aggressive, but with a patient owner who is willing to socialize them, they will gradually become more tame and affectionate.
These beautiful lizards make it onto our list because when they are tamed and trained properly they are wonderful to handle and highly intelligent.
It is essential to get to know your green iggy’s body language. This will tell you when it has had enough handling or when it does not feel like being handled at all. They are very expressive and never bite without a reason.
If you are looking for a big lizard that does well with handling, bonds with their owner, and is a strict herbivore, then the green iguana is for you.
8. Leopard Gecko
Leopard geckos grow to around 10 to 12 inches in length.
If we had to pick a number one lizard for handling, care, and cuteness all rolled into one stunning chirpy lizard it would be the leopard gecko. This lizard is small enough to comfortably fit in your hand but large enough that you feel secure holding them.
Leopard geckos are loving and curious lizards. They enjoy being handled and will often vocalize with adorable chirps and barks. They will happily walk over your hands and up your arms and keep you entertained for their whole lives.
The only drawback to keep in mind is they can drop their tails if they are startled or if they feel their tail being pulled on. Thankfully, if your gecko drops its tail, it will slowly grow back.
Training and Taming Your Lizard
All lizards can be aggressive and nervous around handling depending on their species, history, genetics, and their owner. Most lizards can be tamed up to the point of tolerating and even enjoying frequent handling, though some lizards are more easily socialized than others.
If you want to have a lizard that enjoys being handled often, then you will need to be consistent with your training and taming.
Once you have put your new lizard in their enclosure, let them rest for a couple of days to get used to their habitat and surroundings. Once they have settled in, you can start the familiarization and socialization process. Carefully put your hand in their enclosure and let them approach you. Do this once a day for a couple of days. Avoid picking them up just yet.
Once they are used to your presence, you can move on to gently scooping them up and holding them inside their enclosure. Always scoop from underneath the lizard and approach them from the side rather than from above. Never pick them up from above or by their tails.
Handle them for short periods to get them used to you and the experience. Slowly increase the amount of time they are out of the enclosure and are being handled.
Always watch for signs of distress and aggression and gently return them to the enclosure. If you’re willing to put in the time and effort consistently, your lizard will become used to and eventually even enjoy being handled!
FAQS on Handling Lizards
Do all lizards like to be handled?
No, they do not. Certain types of lizards can become very stressed when they are handled and do better when they are left alone in their tank and kept as display lizards. For some species, no amount of socialization will get them to enjoy being handled.
Why do lizards drop their tails?
Autotomy is the process where a lizard will ‘drop’ or self-sever its tail as a decoy to distract predators. The predator has a nice juicy tail to eat, and the lizard can get away and live another day.
Will my lizard grow its tail back if it drops it?
Not all lizards grow their tails back. For example, African fat-tailed lizards and leopard geckos do grow their tails back, but green iguanas will not regrow theirs. A regrown tail will not look the same as the original and will often be shorter and smaller.
My lizard won’t stop biting me; what can I do?
If your lizard is aggressive and tend to bite you no matter what you do, there are a few potential reasons for this behavior:
- Your lizard may be going through puberty. Green iguanas can become very aggressive around puberty (two to three years old) and may bite if they are being handled roughly.
- Your lizard’s enclosure may have something wrong with its temperature or humidity settings. Make sure you use a quality hygrometer and thermostat to regulate the humidity and temperature. If they are uncomfortable in their enclosure, they can become stressed and aggressive.
- Your lizard may be in their mating season and are hormonally worked up.
- Your lizard may be about to enter brumation.
- You may be handling them incorrectly, and they are trying to tell you that you are scaring or hurting them.
I am scared of my lizard biting or scratching me, but I still want to handle it. What can I do?
You can wear some light gloves to handle them until you are ready to handle them with your bare hands. Make sure that the gloves are washed after every time you handle your lizard.
Handing Off to You
Hope this helps you make the best decision when purchasing a lizard with handleability in mind. Just make sure you are following good handling practices when you handle your lizard.
Handling your lizard should be a fun, enriching, and exciting activity for both you and your lizard. Handling provides bonding time and is mentally and physically stimulating for your lizard which keeps them healthy and happy.