How to Set Up a Reptile Terrarium




Introduction: How to Set Up a Reptile Terrarium

In this instructable you will learn one way (of many) to set up a habitat for your reptile friend.

Step 1: Assemble Materials

First you will need to assemble all needed materials. It is a good idea to do this well ahead of bringing home your Reptile.

Below is a list of items I used. It is definitely not exhaustive, feel free to add/subtract as appropriate.

1. Cage/Aquarium
2. Locking Screen Top
3. Basking Light (May be optional)
4. UV Light (Not Required for Snakes)
5. Heat Mat
6. Substrate
7. Hiding Areas
8. Other Decorations (Optional)
9. Water Dish
10. Food for Your Specific Pet
11. Feeding Tongs (Depends on Pets)
12. Scooper
13. Additional Box (For Use When Cleaning/Feeding)
14. Thermometer(s)
15. Hygrometer(s)
16. Light Timer (Optional)

Step 2: Set Up Tank

The first step to setting up the tank is to thoroughly clean the glass if an aquarium is used. There are many off the shelf cleaners available to use in reptile habitats, but simple soap and water will suffice. Just make sure all the cleaning agent is rinsed from the tank before use. At this point you will need to determine which side of the tank to use as the "hot" side and which is the "cold" side. It is important to have a temperature gradient in the habitat so the animal can self regulate their body temperature. The heat mat will be added to the "hot" side of the tank. The brand of mat I chose has an adhesive backing so it is easy to stick in one place on the tank. The mat needs to be under the tank so the animal cannot burn themselves on the mat. I also placed washclothes under the tank and mat to protect the laminate on my table. This is optional. At this time it is also a good idea to add the thermometers, I use 3 thermometers, one for the "hot" side, one for the "cold" side, and one in the center to show the tanks ambient temperature. It is best to place the thermometers low in the tank where the animal will actually be.

Step 3: Add the Substrate

The next will be to add your substrate. For my particular use I went with a textured mat. I chose this because I can use one mat and switch out for a second mat when I am cleaning the first. It also allows me to view the animal more easily, and find him when he needs to be removed for cleaning. Because I used the mat as a substrate I also added moss throughout the habitat for the animal to burrow through. Alternatively you can use some type of substrate such as aspen chips. This will allow for easier spot cleaning, and acts as a hide over the entire area of the tank.

Step 4: Add the Decorations

This is the step where you can let your creativity show. The most important point here is to have a hiding space for your animal on both the "hot" and "cold" sides. The stump hide on the "hot" side is located directly above the heating mat so that a bubble of warm air is trapped there where the animal can stay warm at all times. As you can see from the pictures I used several fake plants that stick to the glass with suction cups. These serve two purposes, one is to allow an area where the animal can climb and move around on more than one level, the second is to use the plants in place of a background on the tank. In the future I may add more and different types of plants to further cover the back of the tank. At this point you can also add the water dish. It is important to place the water dish on the "cold" side to inhibit the growth of bacteria. Remember to change your animals water daily, if you wouldn't drink it neither should they. The water dish should also be large enough for the animal to submerge itself in the case of snakes. This will help with shedding and also add to the humidity in the habitat. For some animals that require high humidity a hygrometer may be used to measure humidity.

Step 5: Add Top and Lighting

At this point you can add the screen top and lighting. Locking tops are recommended to ensure animals remain in their home. Heat lighting should be added above the heat mat on the "hot" side. Heat lighting may not be necessary depending on the temperature requirements of your animal and the heat output of your heating mat. For my purposes I use one 50 watt daytime bulb. This set up allows for a basking zone of around 90 degrees F and a cool zone about 73 degrees F. For lizards additional UV lighting should be added to increase the amount of vitamin D received by tha animal in order to process calcium. At this point it is a good idea to plug in all lights and heating mats and let the tank cycle day/night for a few days to ensure the proper temperature for your pets before adding them to the habitat.

Step 6: Automation

This step is not required, but will make maintaining a normal day/night cycle easier. I use a normal timer switch purchased from Walmart to plug in the heat lamp. This allows 12 hours on and 12 hours off of lighting for the reptile to simulate the natural daylight. I leave the heat mat plugged in at all times to allow a warm spot during "night" hours.

Step 7: Maintenance

I find it easiest to take the animal out of the habitat in order to clean. For this I use a locking tub with several air holes drilled around the sides and top. It can make your animal more comfortable if you add a hide while he is in the tub as well, this can be something simple like a cup or bowl the animal can crawl into. It is important to keep the tank clean and replace substrate as it becomes dirty.

Step 8: Enjoy Your Animals New Home!

Feel free to add and change your new pet's new home as you see fit. Remember the most important thing is the animal's happiness and to maintain a low stress environment.

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    7 Discussions


    3 months ago

    What other stuff can you lay down for a snake (baby)


    8 months ago on Step 2

    If you are using any sort of heating element that can go above the suggested temperature it’s VERY important to use a heat regulator such as a thermostat!


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I find this is a god start, but would advise people to deign their terrariums to mimic the animals natural habitat ( my snake for example has pine needle and leaf bedding, and my leopard gecko has digestible calcium sand). Also, although this -ible is specific to reptiles, amphibians have very soft and sensitive skin, so plastic logs and bedding can cut and hurt them, as well as not maintaining the moisture they need.


    5 years ago

    Your ible is a good general starting point for someone thinking about having a reptile but if someone does take the plunge to become a reptile owner they should do extensive research on the particular one they want. So they know exactly what they are in for. Reptiles need more care & attention than cats & dogs. Not trying to scare any one off, just want to make sure people know what they are getting themselves into. We got our greek tortoise when he was a baby & have had him for a year and can't imagine not having him now. Coconut fibers are one of the best choices for substrate for tortoises. Wood bark or chips can leave splinters. They also have different humidy level needs, a hygrometer is needed like you said. Also depending on the type & age of reptile you have determines the best size terrarium to buy for them. Newts, hermit crabs, frogs, insects & arachnids up to 4 inches in size can live in a 5.5 gal. Geckos & frogs up to 5 inches in size - 10 gal. Juvenile bearded dragons - up to 10 inches & snakes - up to 30 inches - in a 20 gal. Adult bearded dragons - up to 15 in, all tortoises, snakes - up to 48 in can live in a 40 gal. For tortoises a safe area outside where they can get sun & be left alone is really good.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Very nice guide for someone getting their first snake!

    As a longtime gecko owner, I guess the one thing I'd like to point out is that those substrate choices are not universally good for ALL reptiles, especially the aspen bark. While it is probably fine for snakes, I always found that having chips to burrow in just gave crickets a really easy way to hide from my geckos. Also, geckos and frogs are not always great with their aim. If they miss the prey and swallow substrate instead, that could turn into a blockage in the digestive track.


    5 years ago

    don't forget to add UVB for certain reptiles. they need it for overall health and to aid in digestion. and UVB only lasts about 4 months even though the light still works. and infra red 'nighttime bulbs' are still visible to your pet