Read these 7 Cages & Housing Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Reptile tips and hundreds of other topics.
What do we use in the back of the zoo and the venom lab, where the display qualities of a cage don't matter as much as keeping the animal in good health? Believe it or not, plastic shoeboxes and Tupperware. These make much better cages than glass aquariums because they can be drilled or holed with a soldering iron to offer plenty of ventilation from the sides. Make sure you have a securely closing top, or a stack of cages with a brick on top, and you're good to go. Some large scale breeders build racks, or shelves that can accommodate hundreds of these ventilated plastic boxes. They aren't the best for display, but they are the most convenient for the hobbyist and perfectly healthy for the snake.
Warning: a few species of snake and a number of lizards need more room than the rest, and won't be content in a shoebox. Make sure you know your species requirements before setting up housing.
Different types of reptiles need different levels of humidity, or moisture in their cage. Desert animals need a lot less than tropical animals, but even desert animals need some - especially come shedding time, or egg laying season. Here are a few simple tips to help you maintain humidity at the proper level in your herp cage without creating problems such as mold or insect infestation.
Make sure you know how much humidity your pet needs and can tolerate before you add a lot of moisture to the cage. Good substrates (cage bedding material) that will hold moisture and increase humidity are sphagnum moss and vermiculite. You can purchase both of these things at a hardware or garden supply store.
For animals that need less humidity, you can offer the dampened substrate inside the cage in a portable "hide box", a plastic shoebox with a hole cut in the side for easy reptile access. Remove this box and replace its contents with fresh material if it starts to become moldy or attracts undesirable insects.
Vermiculite should be mixed with just enough water until you can squeeze it and make it hold a shape. This makes a great substrate for egg laying. Sphagnum moss can be sprayed with a water bottle until slightly damp. Some tropical species such as chameleons and arboreal boas and vipers may require one or more sprays inside the cage with a water bottle every day.
Does your pet reptile feel like he's living in a glass aquarium? Even if he is, this could be bad. Like most animals, reptiles need a place to hide to feel secure. You can purchase or even make your own inexpensive "hide box", a small enclosed container with a single entrance and exit that your pet can curl up in and feel secure. Your hide box can be as simple as a used plastic margarine tub with a hole cut into its side, or as complex as a professionally made "trap box" with a sliding door that can be shut and locked from the outside to confine feisty or venomous snakes while their cage is being cleaned. A snake or lizard that has a secure place to hide is more likely to be a calm and well adjusted pet.
Your herp cages can be a beautiful holiday display to brighten any room. You can use your own artistic creativity to design cage decorations, or purchase attractive cage additions in craft stores. The only limits to your creative design are your pet's safety. Use safe, nontoxic and smooth-edged materials such as edible greenery, plaster casts, stone, untreated wood, plastic or clay. Nontoxic paints and dyes which are labelled for use by very young children are also excellent to use for inside cage decorations.
Snakes and some lizards are prone to "nose rubbing", or repeatedly pushing their faces against parts of the cage. If you see this stress related behavior, consider redesigning the cage to offer more room or more "hide space" or both. Just as importantly, make sure you cage has no rough spots (such as wire mesh) that can rub the scales right off your snake.
You can help eliminate the behavior by offering a better cage. Most reptiles like to feel safely hidden, and offering them some cover to hide under (a "hide box", some leaves or plants, etc) can help a lot.
When shedding, reptiles appreciate a rough rock to rub against, but this should be kept in the middle of the cage where it won't stimulate the nose-rubbing behavior.
It's important for a cage to have good airflow with the outside environment, especially if the cage is a tropical one that needs to be warm and moist. Glass aquarium tanks are not the ideal homes for reptiles because of the lack of airflow, but you can mitigate this by using a locking screen mesh lid that is open to airflow.
Reptiles are cold blooded, so it's up to you to keep their body temperature healthy by keeping their cage warm (but not too warm).
Before you settle in with your pet reptile, make sure you know the temperature range it needs to be comfortable and healthy. Make it a point to find out what kind of climate your pet originally came from, and provide an approximation of that climate in the habitat you create for it. A desert animal likes it hot and dry, but will also need a shady spot in its cage to cool off, especially at night. A tropical reptile needs a hot, moist temperature, and a lizard or snake from a high mountain range might need a lot more shade and a cooler temperature.
It's important to provide a range of temperatures in the cage, so that your pet can thermoregulate on its own. Thermoregulation means controlling its body temperature by moving back and forth between warm and cool zones in its habitat. If your pet's cage is too small, or is all one temperature, it can't thermoregulate well enough to stay healthy.
Always be aware of your pet reptile's temperature. Keep a thermometer and a humidity gauge on the inside of the cage, positioned so that you can read it easily.