Instructables

How to Make a Fake Tree Branch for Your Reptile

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Picture of How to Make a Fake Tree Branch for Your Reptile
Large climbing reptiles require a suitable habitat. Nothing is more disturbing than seeing large pythons, boas, or iguanas in tiny barren tanks with inappropriate things to hang or climb on. These reptiles need naturalistic environments that mimic their natural rainforest habitat. The trouble is that you can't just find large tree limbs in the pet store and anything you pick up outside is not always reptile-safe even if you are able to have it treated and disinfected. Plus, large pieces of suitable driftwood cost a lot of money! Here is an inexpensive method to create natural looking, tree-like branches that are more like the large vines or moss-covered limbs that tropical reptiles love.

Buying the supplies for your branch will require a trip to the local big box stores or even your local hardware store, but if you have different kinds of reptiles, you most likely may have some of this stuff already, plus scrap PVC pipe can be gotten from plumber friends and the infrared stripper lamp borrowed from painter friends. The benefit is that once the supplies are in hand, you are now equipped to make several branches for any size habitat.

The branch I made was for my small-ish stunted iguana, who does not have very good use of his back legs. The branch needed to be big enough for a comfortable basking branch and allow a good grip since he is a weak climber.

A word of caution about bending the PVC pipe. The use of a heat lamp, such as is used to strip paint, is desired over the open flame of an acetylene torch. A hand torch will work but be aware that burning PVC fumes can, well, kill youso use the heat lamp and obey all safety precautions.


 
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Step 1: Step 1: Preparation

Gather your materials:

5 feet of 2" PVC pipe
Concrete bonding adhesive
Paint brush
small bucket or container
Roll of landscaping burlap
Terrarium moss reptile bedding
Coconut husk reptile bedding
Infrared paint stripping heat lamp

Other materials you'll need include a tarp or plastic drop cloth when brushing on adhesive, heavy work gloves for handling hot PVC, latex gloves when working with the adhesive, and a wide container for mixing the moss and husks.

Prepare your materials:

• Cut the burlap into eight strips about 3 feet long and 6 inches wide.

• Break up equal amounts of the coconut husks and moss and crumble together in a wide shallow bin or container. You will have to shred the moss into small bits.

• Clear out an area and lay down your drop cloth.


Step 2: Step 2: Treeify the branch

Heat the PVC just enough to bend to the desired shape with the infrared heat lamp. I did this outdoors because I was unsure how much fumes there would be. Wedge the pipe on an angle against the ground and something high enough so that you're not stooped over too far. I used my patio chair since it had spaces in the back to stick the pipe through and hold it in place.

Hold the heat lamp right up to the spot you want to bend. Turn the pipe a quarter turn or so every minute. The pipe will become soft enough to bend in about 3 minutes. Put some pressure on the lower part of the pipe with your foot as it heats. You will feel when the pipe is soft enough as it will start to give. Careful not to melt the pipe! You just want to soften it enough to bend. Move the lamp away and push on the pipe with your foot to the desired angle and hold it there for about 2 minutes to let the pipe cool and harden in position. How much of a bend or what kind of shape you want will be determined by what your needs are. I made two good bends that twisted and put a curve in the middle potion of the pipe to give it all a nice natural feel. As you put more bends into the pipe, it will twist and give you a natural contour.

Step 3: Step 3: Mummify the branch

Use the brush and paint on the adhesive and let dry for a minute or two until it becomes tacky. Wrap turns of burlap down the length of the pipe. Wear latex gloves and squeeze down the burlap to get a tight wrap. When you've covered the length of pipe, paint on more paste and make turns of burlap in the other direction to give the whole thing two layers of burlap. Squeeze the burlap down to stick to the pipe and let dry overnight. I let a bit overhang the ends and I also stuffed burlap into the open ends of the pipe. The burlap will provide a good grip for a climbing lizard as well as a good base for sticking on the moss.

Step 4: Junglefy the branch

Lay down a plastic drop cloth or some garbage bags beneath your branch. Work on one side of the branch at a time. Brush or pour on good coating of adhesive over the top side of the burlap and press on clumps of the moss/coconut husk mix with your gloved hands. I did this in stages over several days. I wanted the adhesive to dry fully before working on the next side plus, I was laying on the layers of moss pretty thick.

When dry, shake off the excess, turn the branch over and repeat until you have good coverage over all sides of the entire length of the branch. The burlap base provides a natural texture so it is OK if your coverage is not thick and some of the burlap peeks through. Make sure you shake or gently pull off as much loose material as you can. If you don't, your reptile will and either eat it or make a big mess. (My iguana is likely to try and eat it anyway, but it won't hurt him and hopefully he'll realize quickly it doesn't taste very good! He's also likely to create a big mess anyway, but hey…)

Step 5: Ready to Go!

Picture of Ready to Go!
Like it was swiped out from under a sloth in the rainforest! The branch is now ready to be mounted inside your enclosure and provide happy playtime for your reptile.

The overall time waiting between letting layers dry was long, but each session layering on adhesive and moss was quick. And yes, it was messy, but the effect of realism is both attractive and functional!

nsecure2 years ago
Instead of using organic matter to coat the burlap, have you thought about using something like habacrete or one of the much cheaper (yet same materials) from a hobby store? You could also use sanded grout, which is what you coat Styrofoam with when making reptile waterfalls and such. I'm thinking cleanup would be a lot easier as well. If you wanted to add something to make it easier to climb, perhaps a jute rope that you could just unwrap when it got grungy? Just thinking out loud....
mdwfg3 years ago
dude that surely looks like pot haha.
mboehlig3 years ago
Simple thing about using a branch from outdoors... it is risky n likely to rot, or have something to make your pet sick. that being said the simple solution is.... Put the branch in the oven! at the lowest heat possible for at least 15-20 mins take it out let it cool, do it once more. This kills off any parasites or bugs etc n helps remove any moisture that would make it rot. like magic!

However the whole idea of building n making your own is to do a fun project! So I say do what ever you like, My snakes love there home and so I'm happy.
tankhowland4 years ago
 WTF why not give them a real tree branch
You can give most caged animals natural branches by choosing a wood that is safe for the animal.  You want a branch that is healthy to begin with - since it's less likely to have any rot, excessive parasites or bacteria.

Take the branch and scrub off any dirt with a good scrub brush. Then boil it - if it's too long to completely submerge  boil each side - or boil water and pour it over the stick in your driveway or yard.

Once the branch is fully saturated with the water you can bake the branch at 350 in an oven to kill most of the parasites or bacteria.  Watch the branch so you don't start to char it - you just want to bake it dry.  The water evaporating from inside the branch will steam out a lot of the bad stuff.  I do it for my degus with apple branches and grape vines.
aideis terriann3 years ago
That is a good suggesting. If you have a large stock pot you can actually put the wood in the boiling water. Also, using your bathtub might be a safer idea than dumping boiling water on the ground where it could splash on your feet and legs. Another thing you can do is after you've used the boiled method and the wood has fully dried you can wrap the wood up in a garbage bag and freeze it for a few days. The extreme heat and cold would make it impossible for for any parasites to survive. Obviously the larger the peice of wood the more difficult this would be, if not impossible.
terriann aideis3 years ago
I always forget about freezing as an option, though if the stick doesn't fit in my oven it's sure not going to fit in my freezer! Great addition to this thread!
Parasites.... AND buying something that is properly sanitized is extremely expensive, especially if it is large!
wirechief4 years ago
Lets not forget the obvious here. Why don't ya just grab a branch that has fallen from a tree?
or just reuse one that was cut off from pruning ! after pruning your trees is healthy for the growth of the tree and surly the real branch would be healthy for your reptiles   
J@50n Fred826644 years ago
if sh just went and did that, what fun would if be, it would also rot after a while.
pipervin (author)  J@50n4 years ago
Correct. Plus, any branch taken from outdoors is bound to be infested with bugs and bacteria, live or not. Your reptile will eventually get sick, and smaller animals will die. Properly disinfecting a large branch is near impossible. Tiny mites are hardier than you think...
a bit odd don't you think in there own wield habitat they live in has real branches some dead and alive. they crawl around in the most unsanitary places and thrive  and yet when humans intervene playing mother neater or some kind of God there seams to be all thees issues of sickness, and mites. Kinda of funny Take a snake or a lizard off a pig or cattle farm or any kinds of farm  living in contact with all kinds of nasty bactericidal exposers and worry about some branch you picked up from the woods or cut off a tree.  lol I do not get the way kids think any more the goverment is a messed up now I hate to see what it will be like in the next 50 years theeskids are running the show. I will be dead by then my pore grate grand kids       
Most reptiles in the wild get mites and parasites! They get sick in the wild too and yes they die in the wild! These are our pets and we love them. We want them to be as healthy as can be especially since we are paying their expensive vet bills. That is why we invest so much time, effort, and money in giving them the best care possible. I mean you wash your hands after using the bathroom because it's sanitary... same concept! And what in the world does the government have to do with this subject? I kinda feel sorry for your pore grate grand kids too, just not for the same reason... lol
Well first of all My mom tout me not to make a mess on my hands when I go to the bathroom so there for I do not need to wash my hands when I am done ,,, so no need to be so sanitary if there is no nasty things on your hands! Your mom must not of tout you vary well if you get it all over your hands. it is waste not something to play in! Secondly with all the other chemicals my hands get on them there is nothing living on them any ways
As pipervin said, any material from the wild will probably have a variety of parasites on it.  In your reptile's tank there will be no natural predators for the parasites.  You'll get a population explosion of mites and bugs, which will quickly kill your pet.  You can sterilize small branches by baking them in the oven. but that's not possible for large structures.

Thanks for the idea pipervin.  I need to make a bigger tank for my royal python, now that she's fully grown.  I'll give your method a try.
if you would of looked down you would of see the rest of my postings. there for you would not look like a broken record.

Fred82664 says:                                                                     Feb 10, 20103:17PM  
 " so your saying Darwin was right after in that Evaluation dose happen after all even if  the hands of human to push it along. Kind of makes the makes the Cristian fable of creation a deception. lol ( get the pitch forks and torches Fred found a flaw in the religion teachings )  honestly I was not trying to bash your libe. I did not see the fact that we humans have done that much mutation in the reptile life !"


And yet one still has to poke a stick at a dead caucus. 

I tend to only post stuff that I know about.  You might like to try that.
so you say ! Then what makes you so insightful to know any thing about me ?
I could be using this web site for a sociology experiment. Step back from the tree so you may see the forest.    

"I tend to only post stuff that I know about.  You might like to try that."
If that is true YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT ME !    and yet you clam I know nothing about biology. lol I could make the clam that you are a pompous overly compensated value of self. regardless of that being true or false I would not make such a clam.  I do not know you as you do not know me and yet you posted something you know nothing about. so now you have posted a false statement. One might think on you validity to any more of your postings !       

pipervin (author)  Fred826644 years ago
Unfortunately, captive-bred reptiles have none of the natural defenses their cousins in the wild have. The fact is, they do get sick and die from infections and infestations in unsanitary conditions. You're right, they evolved in the jungle so this shouldn't be an issue, but humans got involved and now it is. There you go...
Goodness! All I said was how about a fallen branch from the yard. Whew!
lol no my postings on most libes have a tendency to attract closed  minded  people that can not see different prospectives with a open mind. It is like the man that can not see the forest do to the one tree he has in his face. such narrow tunnel vision.  
so your saying Darwin was right after in that Evaluation dose happen after all even if  the hands of human to push it along. Kind of makes the makes the Cristian fable of creation a deception. lol ( get the pitch forks and torches Fred found a flaw in the religion teachings )  honestly I was not trying to bash your libe. I did not see the fact that we humans have done that much mutation in the reptile life !     
No, we are saying you are trying to make a point about nature and human interference that doesn't fit. I respect your right to an opinion, but for one, it is quite off topic here.

Furthermore, travel to a foreign country and try to live as you do at home (casually consuming food and drinking tap water) and you will get sick. It is a matter of the microbiology to which your body is not accustomed. Similarly, a reptile that has been captively bred has never been exposed to the microbial fauna that its wild brethren have. Thus, it hasn't built up any defense and in a captive habitat, has no option for retreat or escape.

Please save your soap box for sites where it is more appropriate.
First of all  you have no idea of how I live. perhaps a little intro for you I am an educated homeless technician the company I once worked folded under in the from the economy and now the streets are my home. so if I could get to a foreign country I am sure my body could handle what ever is in there drinking waters.
it is called ADAPTION TO YOUR ENVIRONMENT .  what is so funny is that people think they can leave this life with out dieing. some days death would be welcomed like a old friend that one has not seen in a long time.         
MaXoR4 years ago
I fourth, or fifth all those recent positive comments. I really like the way it looks. True, someone could pick up a stick from the local area, sanitize it, and use it.

However I know of several of my friends who have tried the approach of "Just pick up a big branch, it's going to be fine" and have seriously hurt their pet, or worse yet, one even ended up dieing from it's ailments. I agree with whoever had said that whole bit about natural defenders, and other microbial beings that naturally balance things out, not to mention the whole captive bred point as well.

I am not a reptile specialist, however I know what I've seen, and this is one of the best looking, and likely highly accepted (Reptiles are not too keen on those white plastic pipes and won't just bask anywhere...) I've seen for a DYI option.

Personally, this get 5 thumbs up from me, because I intend to use this for my own Ball Python. Everything can be bought sterile, and moss is healthy for any animal.(It's also usually pretty PH neutral, or so I've heard)
 Very cool! I have a hermann's tortoise so I would have no use for it, but if I had an iguana or other reptile, I would definitaly make this!
gnawlej4 years ago
This is absolutely brilliant! I would hunt for good, clean, safe branches when I had my herps, but I never thought of building one from PVC. Melting the PVC is, in my opinion, a superior alternative, not to mention inexpensive.

But I wonder if treating the PVC this way would affect off-gassing. I know there are reports of PVC off-gassing negatively impacting health. Could accelerate the process?
pipervin (author)  gnawlej4 years ago
That is a good point. I thought of that since it is usually considered unsafe to use paints and regular lumber like pine in reptile enclosures for the same reason. The things going for me in this are the fact that the pipe itself is buried under layers of burlap, glue, and stuff. But, the enclosure is typically over 80° which is a concern.  Museum enclosures use pvc all the time, but I believe that since it is not exposed it is not a danger. It is usually the phthalates in the off-gas that pose the most danger and those are not used in plumbing pvc. More research maybe....
I like it! I need another branch for my geckos cage, so I'll probably try this with some 1/2" pipe.