I've been keeping leopard geckos since I was 15 years old, and have experienced the good, bad, and the ugly when it comes to terrarium products. This homemade humidity hut is my rendition of a simple hack many hobbyists and breeders have turned to rather than buying the more expensive faux rock hides on the market. This mini sauna will help your gecko shed her dead skins more easily, which provides several health benefits, and give her a cozy place to hide out. Total cost = $5-$8 (for the bedding material) vs. $10-$25 for a store bought cave.
First I'll show you the "Leopard Gecko Version" for terrestrial geckos, then we'll do an alt version for arboreal (tree dwelling) species like Crested Geckos that can also be used as a temporary nest box.
Bonus: This project keeps one less chunk of plastic from going in the landfill!
Step 1: A Word on Reptile Care
While this Ible is intended to save you money, I think it is important to state that keeping reptiles is a financial commitment, as with any other pet. Know that you do need to invest in some core quality products to keep your geckos healthy, and that not everything can be a DIY budget affair.
You should expect to drop some real money on:
The appropriate size glass tank for the size and number of geckos you have. Avoid those plastic "critter keeper" cages pet stores sell, as they will not be compatible with your heat sources. These should really only be used as transport containers for vet visits, or a temporary depot while you clean the real tank.
A quality heat source is SO important! Your gecko's body temp needs to be kept at a certain level in order for digestion and other processes to happen correctly. Under Tank Heating pads are excellent and very safe to use. Ceramic heat emitting bulbs are a nice option too, though you must make sure the lamp's casing doesn't touch anything nearby. It WILL melt/singe stuff like carpet. Do some research on the type of reptile you like to find the most compatible type of heating element and what temperature your tank needs to kept at.
If your species dictates, a UVB bulb. Crested geckos, for example, absolutely need UVB to form their bones properly as they grow. Skipping this bulb risks crippling developmental issues. My male crested was already suffering from a deficiency when I bought him, and UVB + proper diet straightened him out a bit and kept it from getting any worse.
Now here are some places you CAN save money!
Paper Towels as bedding. Skip the reptile carpet, sands, and barks. Those substrates can sometimes contribute to health problems. Paper towels are totally safe, make for easy clean up, plus you likely stock them in your house anyway!
Buy feeder insects in bulk and re-package them yourself. This is probably most practical if you own multiple reptiles. You'll get a much better price on things like mealworms if you order a 1000 direct from the supplier, rather than buying those little tubs of 50 at petCo.
Homemade hides like the one in this Ible! They're very effective, non-porous (easy to clean), and practically free.
Step 2: You Will Need...
A Clean Plastic Cottage Cheese/ Yogurt container --Minimum recommended size for an adult leopard gecko is 8 oz. This will be sort of a sauna stall size. If you want them to have a little more space, or want more than one gecko to be able to use it at a time, I suggested graduating to something more like the large tub of Country Crock Spread.
Spray bottle full of clean water.
Sphagnum Moss --If you made one of my carnivorous plant jars you probably already have this lying around. Available in most garden stores and some pets stores.
T-Rex "Jungle Bed" (optional) --this is an earthy soil-like bedding medium with pieces of coconut fiber in it. While it is generally not recommended as a flooring for leopard gecko tanks, it does hold moisture well and is mold resistant. Since it is unlikely that your gecko will be eating inside the hut, there is little danger of the animal ingesting a harmful amount of the substrate.
Step 3: Cut a Door
Squeeze your cottage cheese container until it becomes oblong.
At one of the skinnier sides, snip into the plastic with kitchen shears.
Once you have penetrated the plastic, insert your blade securely and begin to cut a round or oval shaped door. It can be tricky to be precise when cutting plastic with scissors, so don't expect to get a perfectly round hole as you'd see on a birdhouse. For most geckos, it will be better if the door is wider than it is tall.
Once you have made it all the way around, you can go back and trim any jagged edges.
Step 4: Fill With Substrate
Put the lid of your container on, making sure it is fully closed all the way around. You will have an upside down plastic tub hut.
Moisten your sphagnum moss. If find the least messy way to do this is to put some in a plastic ziploc bag and mist with the spray bottle.
Put three to four pinches of moss inside your hut, just enough to cover the floor.
Optional Jungle Bed --You can put a pinch or two of jungle bed in here too, but it isn't needed. I like the way it holds on to moisture, but it can pose a danger to the gecko if they accidentally eat it and can't pass it out the other end. Use your best judgement. If you're a Leo beginner, I'd skip it until you get to know your geckos habits and have more experience under your belt.
Step 5: Leopard Gecko Version--DONE!
This is the hut configuration I use for my leopard geckos. Notice that the doorway is low to ground level. Since Leos don't really jump when they get older and can be somewhat clumsy climbers, we want to keep this easy to get in and out of.
Heat from your under tank heat pad or overhead ceramic heat bulb will cause the moisture in your moss to rise and circulate, creating a nice little sauna inside the tub. This will help a shedding gecko get out of her old skin more quickly and completely. No more dried skin stuck around the face and toes, and less stress for the gecko.
Mist the moss every other day or so to keep the cycle going.
SAFETY NOTE: Never use a "heat rock" as your gecko's heat source. Aside from the fact that they will do nothing to encourage humidity within your new hut, they are actually very harmful devices and I'm not sure why they're still on the market. Heat rocks increase the probability of impactions and can sometimes cause burns. Just. Don't!
Step 6: Alt for Arboreal Geckos/ Digging or Mini Nest Pit
My crested geckos LOOOVE to root around in the jungle bed substrate, so I give them an extra inch or so to enjoy. Since they are natural climbers, having the door off the ground is not a problem.
For this version, turn the hut you just made right side up (lid on top).
Fill to the bottom of the doorway with Jungle Bed.
Spray with water to moisten, then add some of your damp sphagnum moss on top.
Close the lid, and now you have an enclosed humidity hut with extra plush flooring.
A proper nesting box should really be much larger, more like the size of a plastic shoe storage box. Since I am not actively trying to breed my cresteds, this cottage cheese tub size serves as their skin shedding sauna but would also be an ok place for the female to deposit an egg if she happened to have one. I check the tub every week and if I ever see any eggs I would build a "real" nest box. If you choose to breed, do so responsibly. Do adequate research and evaluate the potential health risks breeding may pose for your gecko. All my leopard geckos are female because I decided I did not want to chance issues like male aggression or egg binding.
Step 7: Happy Healthy Geckos!
Everyone loves these little spa shacks and their sheds have been much easier since I introduced them. One unexpected benefit for me was that the humidity inside the Leo hut helped clear out Buddah's (gold, first pic) clogged tear ducts --a problem our vet has been trying to fight for a year!
I hope you lizard lovers out there will give this simple Ible a try and see what it can do for you.
For more info on geckos and their care, I highly recommend checking out the forums at GeckosUnlimited.