How to Make a Fake Tree Branch for Your Reptile





Introduction: 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.

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!

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!



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    Just checking in, looks like an old post. I am interested in doing the same thing for a frilled dragon. How did this work out over time? Thanks!

    Thanks! Yes, old post. The iguana that enjoyed this has since gone to the big rainforest in the sky. :( The branch held up fairly well. The moss did flake off over time and the burlap showed through in a couple of spots. But my iguana was pretty rough. He climbed on it quite a bit to get to his perch. Make sure the bits that fall off aren't something the could cause problems for your dragon if eaten. Good luck!

    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....

    dude that surely looks like pot haha.

    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.

     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.

    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.

    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!