Last updated : 01/04/2007
This page is indexed on our home page under Aspect: 4. Information & care sheets and the Section: Getting started - for the beginner
Before one can determine the enclosure requirements one must review the care sheet for the relevant species. This will give an indication of the potential size, temperature, humidity, and natural habits or nature of the species, as well as the type of heating that is required and the distance that must be allowed for between the heat source and the pet.
On this page various links have been provided to Mellisa Kaplan's site. These articles are generally very good and are definitely worth a read.
Index to this page
Secure and safe enclosure
Size of enclosure
Heating and Lighting
Creating interest displays
Secure and safe enclosure
Snakes will squeeze their bodies through holes that one thought they would never fit through.
Snakes are powerful for their size and are capable of lifting more than their own weight, so watch out for loose fitting lids that are within reach.
I have three Burmese pythons that are housed in a partitioned part on a room, which has a conventional full length door with a pull down door handle. They will climb up against the door, place their weight on the door handle and thus open the door. To prevent this a double locking system was put in place.
Ensure that the inside of the enclosure is smooth and free from any sharp or abrasive surfaces on which the reptile may injure itself from continual attempts to burrow under a substrate, or squeeze out through a gap.
Reptile must be safe from electrical connections in which it can become entangled or being burnt by touching the heat sources such as basking lights and other heating fittings.
And if it does escape look in the back of the couch, under or in the back of the fridge or the deep freeze, under bookcases, behind draws, in shoes or slippers, inside cupboards, between blankets, sheets pillow slips, in fact anywhere.
Size of encloser
The size of the enclosure will be determined by the type of reptile and the snake's natural behavior in the wild and the size it may grow to in time. An enclosure could be upgraded in time to a larger one, but there are costs involved in this, that must be taken into account. Do you want to continually reinvest in new enclosures as your pet grows?. In time, do you want to keep more than one reptile, in which case, when the first enclosure is too small it can be used for the next pet. But then do you have enough space for all these enclosures?
Thermal gradient can be vertical (warmer at the top, cooler on the bottom) and horizontal (side to side); and across (front to back). Thus if the enclosure is too small it will not be able to provide the necessary horizontal gradients and the gradients required by climbing and arboreal species.
Space must be provided for a water bowl, large enough for your pet to completely submerse itself.
Then there are hide boxes, something to climb on and other bits of furniture so your pet can climb, clamber, exercise, sleep, bask, feed, and defecate, without being forced to contaminate itself in its own waste product.
Boa are tree dwelling snakes and should be able to support at least one third or more of their body in a horizontal plane.
Monitor's love moving around and exploring. Your pet should have enough space to move around and even an opportunity to climb.
Go TopFurther Reading
Reptile Housing: Size, Dimension and Lifestyle
Standard Tank Sizes
Iguana Enclosure Plans
Ventilation is important as snakes can develop respiratory problems. Small vents in the back, side and front of the enclosure are essential. You could also install a fan to bring fresh air in to the enclosure but if you place your vents well it should be fine. I find that vents in the sides at the bottom and at the top of the back board works well. (Hot air rises, so cool air comes in at the bottom and hot air escapes at the top) Go Top
Fish tanks do not make good reptile enclosures because their is no natural ventilation that can take place and the lids are often not secure. Secondly, depending on the humidity requirements, water tends to condense on the glass sides and roof, which is fine if very high humidity is required. There are advantages, however in that glass tanks are easy to clean, conducts heat well, and there are no wet rot problems.
Enclosures can be made from a sturdy, non-porous, water resistant materials. such as plastic, fiberglass, marine ply, or melamine with glass sliding doors. or hinged doors that can be secured.
All joints and seams should be sealed with a good quality silicone sealer and water proofed so that it is easy to clean and disinfect. Good quality varnish 0r epoxy paints can be used to paint the inside of the enclosure, where marine ply or water resistant boards are used.
Basic Cage Design Problems
Enclosure Material Suppliers
In South Africa the humidity of our climate varies for season to season and from one climatic region to another. In the Cape we do not have the same humidity or temperature variations that are encountered in Gauteng and central regions.
We provide basins that are large enough for two specimens to fully submerge themselves under water and they seem to enjoy doing so (Boa's and Burm's) and have not had any problems with shedding.
Increasing the surface area of the water and temperature impacts on the humidity and is effective for mild humidity variations. When you have an extremely dry climate and a pet that originate in a humid climate, additional steps need to be taken to compensate and get the humidity within the limits required for the species concerned.
There are various ways this can be done, but first we need to measure the humidity.
Go TopFurther Reading
Microclimates For Your Reptiles
Heating and Lighting
As incandescent lights (globes) give off heat, heating and lighting are dealt with together.
The aim is to create a temperature range within the enclosure that suits the pet concerned and so that it can regulate its body temperature. Secondly, to create a temperature and lighting variation between day and night, where night temperatures are a few degrees lower than day time temperatures, which will ensure healthy animals.
Also bear in mind that the room temperatures and variations from day to day and from day to night, will have an effect of the enclosure's temperature, which should be maintained at a temperature of between 25-32 which is the desired by most reptiles but which is dependant on species. See the care sheet for recommended temperature and humidity.
If a number of reptiles are housed in separate enclosures, the insulation of the room, so that it does not loose heat will increases the ambient temperature of the room and result in warmer enclosures or less electricity to keep them warm. Good quality heavy curtains help with heat loss through the windows and above ceiling insulation will have the biggest effect on preventing loss thru the ceiling. A ceiling extractor fan, so that fresh air can be induced, or stale air extracted, may be advantageous in a closed room. If the above ceiling insulation is fiberglass, this will have to be replaced as bits of fiberglass could be blown back into the room on windy days. As we all know fiber glass is terrible stuff to work with, as it itches like made.
The basic starting point is a heating pads. These come in different sizes and with different heating capacities.
Placed under the floor of the enclosure or inside a wooden enclosure, under a tile (with smooth edges). However, the choice of substrate can further diminish the effectiveness of the heat pad. (see substrates)
The heat pad should be effective for an area which is just larger than the reptiles body (coiled , in the case of a snake). Temperature can be regulated with a thermostat or dimmer switch or by adjusting the thickness of the substrate and therefore, its insulation properties, to provide the desired temperature, when the heat pad is left on all time.
A suitable sized heat pad of low wattage is best so that it remains on at all times and a basking, light or infra red light is used to regulate the temperature in the enclosure.
From our reading, these are not recommended as the heat source is too direct and can result in the animal sustaining burns.
See comments from six experts on the subject Hot Rocks and Reptiles
However, new models with built-in temperature regulating controls are becoming available, with designed safety features that when the controller fails they do not warm at all.
Ceramic heaters and Infrared Lights.
Typical applications are for brooding of day old chicks and piglets in the agricultural sector or for keeping food warm in the catering and restaurant trade.
These Infrared lights are available in the general trade in 250/175 watts only. These lights produce alot of heat which would only be suitable for very large size enclosures. So as to have room for the light fittings and a good distance between light and basking area. The advantage with infrared is that they give off little visible light relative to the rated watts. We found philips to be more available,at the time of writing they were under R70.00 and are available at many lighting distributors and your local agricultural Co-op. These light are very good for raising the ambient temperature of the enclosure.
We have a selection of lights (Zoomed and others) as do most retail reptile stores, which start at 50 watts, for use in smaller enclosures
Other Lights (heat emitting)
Overhead heating (basking light). This gives a reptile the opportunity to regulate its temperature.
Night Lights use to simulate lower lighting levels, some of which are invisible to reptiles, create the lower temperatures required to simulate night temperatures and lighting. Automatic time switches assist with the day night regulation, and thermostats control the temperature.
See Unraveling the mysteries of UV lighting.
Two thermometers with temperature range of 20 to 34 C are required if the temperature differentials are to be measured across the width of the enclosure.
Little thermometers with a little suction cup so that it can be stuck on the inside of the enclosure and which can be read from the outside, are available for as little as R6.50 from the local pet shop.
Digital strip thermometers that change color as the temperature changes, are a little more expensive at R16.50
Various are available and a domestic indoor outdoor thermometer can be used to measure the temperature on two sides of an enclosure.
By changing the globe form a 60 watt or 40 watt during the summer months, to a 100 watt bulb during the winter, is a crude but effective way of regulating the heat and compensating for the lower ambient room temperature.
Light Dimmer switches
A standard light dimmer switch suitably wired up to the lights (get help!! Do not electrocute yourself or your pet or cause a fire) or any other electrical heat sources, can be used to regulate the temperature.
All the above methods require manual monitoring and adjustment. Temperature controllers regulate the temperature automatically switching off when the temperature reaches a certain point and automatically switching the power back on when the temperature drops. See our accessoriess section.
There are a number of different specially packaged materials that one can use as substrates. These include bark, moss, sand, corn cobs, wood chips, wood shavings etc. but all that there advantages and disadvantages. A tank with nice white or grey pebbles, looks great but there are problems associated with this type of substrate. Firstly, cleaning becomes a problem and therefore, the increase in potential harmful bacteria.
Sand has similar problems and unless it has been sterilized it could, introduce all sorts of problems. The soil and accompanying organic debris contains micro organisms, parasites, and environmental toxins that may be harmful to non-native species and to native species who have been in captivity for a long time.
Any loose substrate can be ingested by accident and can cause intestinal impactions. This will more likely occur when your pet feeding on its prey and bits of the substrate stick of the prey or are otherwise swallowed with the prey item. This can cause major health problems. In addition, if the particles are sharp, these could abrade the mouth of reptiles setting up ideal conditions for mouth rot (ulcerative stomatitis) to start
Pets whose hemipenes or cloacal tissue are everted during defecation, can pick up bits of the substrate and this could cause infections. Bear in mind that the environment of high temperatures and humidity are ideal environments for bacterial and fungal growth, so material that retains moistures after being wetted by food, water, urates, and faeces are going to be a problem.
News paper works well but looks terrible. Astroturf or carpeting (clean and unused) looks good, is reasonably easy to clean, but expensive. However, ensure the glue has been well cured and does not give off fumes when heated by heat pads etc as this could cause problems.
After struggling with these problems for years we have developed our own substrate which works very well and we believe, addresses most the above problems. Its easy to wash and disinfect, dries quickly and when it starts looking a bit tatty, its cheap enough to throw away. See more detail on Pet~Turf
Substrates for Reptiles by Melissa Kaplan
Creating interest displays.
Really go to town and have a miniature waterfall and pool in your enclosure. While this may not be that suitable for a 3 meter snake it will be very suitable for a small lizard, skink, gecko, or frog. Including a little pump, these features cost as little as R150.
Drift wood found on the beach or in rivers can be used but be sure to sterilize the pieces first so that you do not introduce woodworm or other pathogens into the house or enclosure.
Interestingly shaped rocks make nice features.
You can go out and buy the furniture or spend some rewarding hours searching for suitable bit, on a day outing in the country with the family.
Artificial plants and greenery can be added or live plants can be used. However bear in mind that you are creating a micro climate that is ideally suited to all sort of moulds, fungus and germs to thrive and the more goodies you have in the enclosure the more difficult it will be to clean and disinfect.
The more reptiles one keeps the less one is inclined to add the artistic touches, as the time taken to clean, just gets to be too much.
Treating Wild-Caught Wood by Melissa Kaplan
The Captive Environment by Melissa Kaplan
Last update : 01/04/2007