Is Giving Live Reptiles As Gifts A Good Idea?

Here we are once again, embroiled in the rush and bustle of the holiday season. It’s amazing how fast the rest of the year seems to rocket past after the trick-or-treaters have finished making their rounds. Then it’s straight into Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas or whatever holiday it is you observe at this time of year (for me, it’s Christmas). ‘Tis the season for gift-giving, and I know that no matter how much advance preparation and thought I put into the gifts I will purchase this year, and no matter how far ahead of the rush I think I am, I will inevitably be sucked into the time-is-fast-running-out vortex. What about you? Do you feel on top of your gift-giving game?

Don’t give live reptiles as gifts to anyone but a person you are absolutely certain wants the animal and who you know will provide it with the proper care.


As many of you are undoubtedly devout reptile fans, you might be thinking about giving someone some live reptiles or amphibians this year. Maybe you have a family member in mind, a close friend, or perhaps a child in which you are trying to nurture an interest in the herpetological world. This kind of nurturing should always be applauded. As I mention frequently, children are the future of the reptile hobby, and encouraging them to be curious about herps will help keep the hobby alive and thriving, despite those anti-reptilekeeping naysayers out there who are always trying to levy burdensome laws upon us. But let’s leave those Grinches out in the cold for now, and focus on whether giving live herps as holiday gifts is a good idea or not.

If you want to give a young child starting out in the hobby a live reptile as a gift, choose an appropriate beginner species, such as a leopard gecko or corn snake. Save the carpet pythons until later.

If you want to give a young child starting out in the hobby a live reptile as a gift, choose an appropriate beginner species, such as a leopard gecko or corn snake. Save the carpet pythons until later.


I don’t believe that giving live animals as presents is always a good idea. Many people buy pets on impulse at this time of year, and many of those pets, whether we’re talking about puppies or green iguanas, can end up at a rescue. And those might be the lucky ones – others, especially some reptiles, hamsters, goldfish or bettas, and other inexpensive pets that callous people may consider “disposable,” may end up dead. “I’ll give little Joey this anole, and if he likes it, great. If he doesn’t, well, it’s cheap,” some may think. Naturally, one would hope that this kind of thinking is rare, and that people who give live animals as gifts really do have the best intentions for both the animal and its new owner.

If you know a young child who is interested in reptiles but who does not currently keep them, I would recommend that instead of giving a live animal you give some kind of educational material to further capture his or her curiosity. Books are always a great idea, perhaps (SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT!) even one of these childrens’ books about reptiles, written by yours truly. Videos, too, would likely be enjoyed; the Life In Cold Blood DVDs, based on the excellent BBC series, come to mind. Of course (SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT #2), a subscription to REPTILES magazine would be an über-gift for anyone who likes reptiles, including newbies, and you can subscribe for a measly $14.99 right here!

If you have your heart set on giving a live reptile to a child, there are ways to go about it. First, discuss the idea with the child’s parents (assuming the child is not yours). Find out from them if they would be willing to care for the reptile if the kid ends up neglecting it. Let’s face it, it’s a sad fact that while a kid may be initially ecstatic over being given a new pet, the initial excitement sometimes wears off, video games beckon or what have you, and caring for the animal becomes a chore. This may lead to neglect, and an animal can suffer because of it. So get the parents’ buy-in, and a promise from them that they will take care of the reptile if their child neglects it. Never spring a new pet on any family. Someone once gave my parents a very bouncy puppy without conferring with them first. Though they liked dogs, my parents were suddenly saddled with a lot of responsibility that they had not anticipated. Aside from the time element – they were small business owners who did not have an excess of spare time – there was the fact that they were not the most active people in the world, and not really outdoorsy, and here they were with a very active puppy that needed a lot of exercise. Ultimately, they had to find another home for the pup because they simply were not able to devote the necessary time and training that it needed. Granted, reptiles are much lower maintenance than a puppy, but they do still require some care and attention, after all!

If you live in the vicinity of the child to whom you’re giving the reptile, you could be the rescuer if you notice the reptile is not getting the care it needs. Give it as a gift, but with a strongly emphasized caveat that you will take the reptile back for yourself if you ever notice it isn’t receiving anything other than the proper care it needs to be healthy. Go ahead and threaten! It’s for the life of an innocent reptile, after all. But threaten in a nice way.

Definitely have an idea of a child’s skill level in regard to reptilekeeping prior to choosing the animal you want to give. If you’re giving to a beginner, of course you should stick with one of the well-known beginner species, such as a hardy bearded dragon, corn snake or leopard gecko. These herps are appropriate for younger hobbyists. When kids are getting into their teens, and if they’ve been keeping reptiles successfully for a few years, then you can consider more intermediate species that perhaps get a bit bigger or require more attentive care, such as boa constrictors, water dragons and other popular pet herps. I am assuming you yourself are very familiar with reptiles if you are planning to give some as gifts. I would not advise anyone who is not personally familiar with the animals to give them to anyone else.

I’ve been writing about giving reptile gifts to children, but much of what I’ve written applies to adults, too. Usually (but perhaps not always), an adult has demonstrated that he or she can at least take care of him- or herself, so you may assume a reptile would not be a problem. Thinking that way, though, could endanger a reptile’s life. Again, don’t ever give a reptile to anyone you aren’t sure will want it and who can care for it – not even the most responsible adult you know. Don’t assume that by being given a reptile, someone will suddenly learn to appreciate reptiles, and that they will “take” to them. Giving a pet reptile to people who have not demonstrated a previous interest in keeping reptiles is not a good idea. This may seem obvious, but you never know how desperate someone may become when they’re groping for last-minute gift ideas: “Hey, Barbara always laughs at the Geico Gecko commercials, she’d probably get a kick out of having her own little gecko!” Don’t think like that!

Of course, liking reptiles as you do, you may be friends or family with people who are into the animals just as much as you are. You should be able to safely give such people some new additions to their collection without worrying about doing so. Though, again, I recommend only giving species that you are sure people will want. For instance, perhaps you know a guy who is totally into frogs. He may have tanks and tanks of frogs of all types, but you want to try steering him toward the wonderful world of turtlekeeping. After all, most turtles are aquatic, so if he’s into frogs, maybe he’ll like a couple of painted turtles as a gift. Again, don’t think this way. Don’t give live reptiles as a lark, and don’t assume people will like an animal just because you do. I’m always harping about doing your research before acquiring new reptiles. Well, that goes double when it comes to giving reptiles as gifts. Do your research on not just the reptile you want to give, but the person to whom you want to give it. Know what kind of care the reptile will need. Know what the reptile will be in for once it is placed with its new owner. Providing appropriate care sheets or books along with the animal is always a great idea.

I’m not trying to convince anybody that it’s inevitably an awful idea to give a live reptile as a gift. It depends on the circumstances. Plan for any eventuality. Although the animal may not be yours once you give it away, by doing so you are responsible for what ultimately happens to it. Don’t take this responsibility lightly. Think about what you’re doing, proceed with caution and deliberation, and – who knows? – you could be giving someone a reptile that they will cherish and nurture for its entire life. If you have your heart set on giving a live reptile as a gift this holiday season, that’s definitely the goal you want to shoot for!

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