Reptile habitats should offer plenty of room for movement, thermoregulation and access to food. Overhead heat sources must be carefully shielded to prevent reptiles from coming into direct contact with them.
Enclosures should be deep enough for burrowing species like sand boas and chameleons. Fossorial terrariums should provide several inches of substrate for digging and moisture regulation.
The lighting and heating setup is one of the most important components of any reptile habitat. This is because all reptiles rely on sunlight to regulate their circadian rhythms and synthesize vitamin D, which helps them absorb calcium. Additionally, lighting can have direct disinfectant effects on the skin, helping to control pathogens that would otherwise cause disease.
The best option for lighting a reptile habitat is a specialized UVB light. These bulbs provide full-spectrum light that includes UV rays, mimicking the natural light of a desert environment. These lights can be used to heat the terrarium as well, but they should not be positioned where the animal could potentially touch it or get burnt. Instead, it is recommended to use a rheostat to control the temperature of these fixtures.
Other specialized light fixtures are moon lights, which simulate the glow of the sun and can be helpful for nocturnal reptiles. These can help the reptile feel more comfortable in its nocturnal environment and can encourage the production of melatonin, which can have positive impacts on the immune system.
Reptiles are cold-blooded and can’t sweat the way mammals do to regulate body temperature. As a result, they need a more precisely controlled environment than other pets. Getting the temperature just right is important for the health of the animal, and is usually a major factor in whether or not a reptile will thrive in captivity.
Most care sheets and books talk about ambient temperatures (average temperatures in the habitat) but surface temperatures are also important. For example, the temperature of a rock that sits in the sun can easily exceed 130 degrees Fahrenheit. This is great for the reptiles that need to bask, but can be dangerous if the animal is too close or doesn’t move away quickly enough.
Humidity is another important variable in many reptile habitats. Some species, such as chameleons, require high humidity while others such as tropical iguanas need very little. A hygrometer should be used to monitor the amount of water vapor in the air.
The humidity in a reptile habitat is important for several reasons. Most importantly, it helps the skin of amphibians and reptiles stay moist. It also allows for respiration and a regulated body temperature.
Different terrariums require different levels of humidity: an aqua-terrarium has higher moisture content and is suitable for aquatic species; a rainforest or tropical terrarium should have higher humidity to accommodate frogs, turtles, lizards and tarantulas.
Reptiles also require humidity in order to digest food and excrete waste. Humid environments may also provide refuge from wind and harsh sun.
Generally, the humidity in a reptile habitat should be moderate to high. It is important to monitor the relative humidity in the habitat with a hygrometer. It is also important to mist your reptile’s enclosure periodically. This can be done by placing the terrarium near a large water feature such as a shallow water dish, pond or aquarium.
Terrestrial reptiles should have hiding places that allow them to retreat, such as hide boxes or caves. It is also important for the terrarium to have an ample amount of space to accommodate the enclosure furniture, climbing and basking areas and hiding spots.
As reptiles are ectothermic and regulate their body temperature through behaviour, basking in the sun to warm up or seeking shade to cool down is an important part of their natural habitat. Whether it’s a terrarium or an aquarium, a reptile’s home should be carefully monitored to ensure its temperature is correct for the species being kept.
A good thermometer will be durable and easy to read, so it can withstand high temperatures and humidity levels in an enclosure. IR thermometers are great because they don’t require surface contact but can be pricey and may skew readings if the temperature fluctuates or you’re pointing them at an area that is absorbing heat from another source (such as the glass or a light fixture).
Probe thermometers are usually cheaper, more accurate and can be secured to the side or inside of a tank and easily moved to check temperature in different areas. You can also use a temperature gun which is handy since it’s essentially a laser pointer and allows you to quickly measure surfaces (such as walls, water bowls or tanks) without having to touch them.
Reptiles have a wide range of habitats on every continent. Many are aquatic, while others spend most of their time on land. Some are squamates (lizards and snakes), while others belong to the classes Crocodilia (alligators, crocodiles) and Chelonia (tortoises and turtles).
The most common structure in a reptile’s habitat is water. Freshwater habitats need to be filtered and aerated to lower levels of toxic organic wastes, disease-causing organisms and other water contaminants. They also need to be stocked with fish to provide prey for a variety of reptiles.
Other structures may be needed to mimic reptiles’ natural environments. For example, cypress mulch and corncob bedding hold moisture and resist mold growth; these may be more suitable for moist-soil-loving lizards than peat moss or other wood shavings.
Most enclosures set up for people to keep reptiles are too small and lack the diversity of materials, microclimates, etc., needed to adequately meet the animal’s needs for thermoregulation and food gathering. For example, an enclosure for a fossorial reptile such as a sand boa needs to be large enough to accommodate several inches of burrowable substrate over a drainage layer.