When you get a new pet cat, you first need to head to the store to get food bowls, a litter box, some toys and treats, as well as bedding, food, and medicine.
The same goes for buying any kind of reptile. You have to do a lot of research upfront about what kind of habitats to build, the best terrarium supplies on the market, and much more.
In many ways, getting a pet lizard is a bigger commitment than if you were to get a puppy or adopt a cat. But, it’s a very rewarding experience, and if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, we’re sure you’ll think so too!
A lot of people tend to overthink their pre-pet purchases, and it’s because people are nervous to be reptile owners. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources out there that help first-time reptile owners evaluate what terrarium supplies are worth buying, and which ones aren’t. Consulting one of these guides–like ours!–is a great way to easily choose the highest quality necessities without worrying!
In this guide, you’ll find information about:
- How To Set Up A Basic Terrarium
- Reptile Terrarium Kits (Are They Worth It?)
- How to Choose a Terrarium Tank
- What Substrates Work The Best?
- How To Regulate Your Terrarium’s Temperature and Humidity
- What Plants to Decorate Your Terrarium With
- Tips and Tricks For First-Time Terrarium-Builders
- Terrarium Supplies FAQs
What Is a Reptile Terrarium?
A terrarium is the best way to mimic an environment similar to that of a reptile’s natural habitat. When designing your own terrarium, start with a glass container or plastic vivarium with high sides and a secure fitting top.
There are two things important to keep in mind when choosing your container: 1) there needs to be enough room for your reptile to move around comfortably and 2) the container should be escape-proof.
Terrariums can be as simple or elaborate as you like, but there are a few basic elements that every terrarium should have. These include:
- A source of heat: Reptiles are cold-blooded animals and rely on their environment to regulate their body temperature. A basking spot with a heat lamp is the best way to provide your reptile with the heat it needs.
- A source of UVB light: UVB rays are essential for reptiles as they help them absorb calcium and produce vitamin D3. Without these things, your reptile will become sick and could die.
- Substrate: This is the material that you will put on the bottom of your terrarium. There are many different types of substrates available, but not all of them are suitable for every reptile. Be sure to do your research before choosing a substrate for your terrarium.
- Plants and décor: Plants and other decorations are not only aesthetically pleasing, but they also provide your reptile with hiding places and places to climb. Be sure to choose non-toxic plants that are safe for reptiles.
Now that you know the basics of setting up a reptile terrarium, you can get started on creating the perfect home for your pet!
Complete Reptile Terrarium Kits
People who’ve owned reptiles in the past probably have all the necessary equipment to purchase another lizard on the spot. But, if you’re a first-time reptile owner, you have to get all the right gear to take care of your pet, and that can be a n overwhelming commitment!
That’s why many new reptile owners choose to purchase a complete reptile terrarium kit! These kits include all the components you need to keep your pet lizard happy and healthy from day one. Plus, a lot of the reptile terrarium kits have been designed to match a single kind of reptile, especially when it comes to tank size, heat lamp minimum/maximum temperature, and plant habitat features.
That way, you can be sure you’re purchasing all the right products for your new reptilian friend! Not to mention, you’re likely going to be able to snag the gear you need for cheaper as a bundle than if you were to buy each product individually.
Choosing a Terrarium Tank
When purchasing a terrarium tank, there are a few important things to keep in mind. First off, your terrarium should always be the right size to accommodate your lizard. Obviously, you can get away with a much smaller tank with a gecko than you can with a bearded dragon, simply because the two lizards vary greatly in size.
When choosing a terrarium tank, make sure that you read up on how much it takes to heat each size tank. If you have a tank that’s over 120 gallons, but houses only a small lizard, the overall temperature tank will be much lower because there’s more space to heat.
For bearded dragons, the ideal rule of thumb is that the enclosure should be at least four times their size. For example, if your pet bearded dragon reaches a maximum length at 15 inches, you’ll want a tank that’s 60 inches long.
Here’s a general guideline for tank size requirements for various kinds of reptiles and amphibians. Please note that some species grow larger (or remain smaller) and need different-sized tanks.
|Reptile||Reptile Size||Ideal Tank Size|
|Bearded Dragon||Adult sized 18-22 inches||75 to 120 gallons 48 x 18 x 21 to 48 x 24 x 24|
|Chameleon||Adult sized 15-20 inches||30 to 50 gallons 11 x 16 x 24 to 18 x 18 x 36|
|Frilled Lizard||Adult sized 24-36 inches||20 to 40 gallons 36 x 24 x 48 to 48 x 13 x 16|
|Anole||Adult sized 5-6 inches||10 gallons 20.25 x 10.5 x 12.6|
|Leopard Gecko||Adult sized 5-10 inches||10 to 20 gallons 23 x 15 x 12 to 24 x 18 x 18|
Another consideration to think about when purchasing your first terrarium tank is how secure is the lid? Screen lids are the most common type, however, depending on the size and activity level of your reptile, it may be able to push off or destroy the screen.
To avoid any unwanted escapes, consider looking for a terrarium tank that has a glass or plexiglass sliding lid instead. These types of lids are also much easier to open and close when you need to access the inside of the enclosure.
Finally, it’s important to find a terrarium tank that has the right ventilation. Most reptiles need high humidity levels, so choosing a tank with screened sides will help ensure that there’s plenty of airflow without sacrificing too much humidity.
Glass or Plexiglass?
There are several key differences between glass tanks and plexiglass enclosures, the most important of which is heating. Glass tanks are much easier to heat than plexiglass tanks because glass is a good thermal conductor. This means that the heat from your basking lamp will be distributed evenly throughout the tank, keeping your reptile happy and healthy.
Plexiglass, on the other hand, is a poor thermal conductor. This means that the heat from your lamp will be concentrated in one spot, potentially causing your reptile to overheat.
Another downside to plexiglass enclosures is that they can be easily scratched. If you have a lizard who likes to climb and scratch his enclosure, a plexiglass tank is not the best choice.
Glass tanks are also generally much heavier and more difficult to move than plexiglass tanks. If you think you might need to move your terrarium around frequently, glass is not the way to go.
Finally, it’s important to consider the price when deciding between glass and plexiglass. Glass tanks are usually more expensive than plexiglass tanks, but they’re definitely worth the extra money if you can afford it.
Of course, there’s a lot more detail we can go into when it comes to choosing the right size terrarium tank. To get more specific details, please visit our Terrarium Tank Guide!
Laying Down The Substrate
There are a variety of substrates that can be used in a terrarium, but not all of them are safe for your reptile. Here are some of the most common substrates used in terrariums, along with a few tips on what to avoid.
This is one of the most popular substrates for terrariums because it’s absorbent, natural-looking, and relatively inexpensive. However, it can be difficult to clean and your reptile may ingest it, which can cause intestinal blockages.
If you choose to use coconut husk substrate, make sure that you avoid any products that contain dyes or perfumes. These chemicals can be harmful to your reptile if ingested.
Clay substrates are another popular choice for terrariums because they simulate a natural environment. Plus, most clay substrates are diggable, which allow your reptile to burrow like they would in the wild.
You have to be careful, though, because like coconut husk substrate, clay substrates can be difficult to clean and your reptile may ingest them.
Calcium substrates, which are made up of crushed limestone, coral or oyster shells. Calcium substrates are a great choice for terrariums because they help to maintain high humidity levels and keep the enclosure clean.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind when using calcium substrates. Calcium substrates were designed as alternatives for sand because sand is often ingested by your reptile and causes serious health problems. But, calcium substrates can pose other problems, like impaction, if your reptile ingests too much.
To avoid any problems, only use a thin layer of calcium substrate and make sure there are no large pieces that your reptile could ingest. Calcium substrates can be very dusty, so it’s important to choose one that’s been finely ground.
You should always consult with your veterinarian before switching your reptile over to a calcium-based substrate.
Mulched wood is a popular substrate for terrariums because it’s natural-looking and easy to find. But, not all mulched woods are safe for your reptile.
Cedar chips, for example, release harmful toxins that can make your reptile very sick. So, it’s important to only use mulched wood that’s been specifically designed for terrariums.
One of the best substrates on the market is Zoo Med Forest Floor. This substrate is made from 100% natural cypress mulch and is safe for all reptiles.
Another great option is Exo Terra Plantation Soil. This substrate is made from sustainable coconut husks and is free of harmful toxins.
One thing to keep in mind with cypress mulch is that it can be a bit dusty. If you choose to use this substrate, be sure to clean it regularly to prevent your reptile from breathing in the dust.
Gravel is a popular substrate for turtles and tortoises because it’s easy to clean and doesn’t harbor moisture like other substrates can. When choosing gravel for your terrarium, make sure to avoid any that have sharp edges. These can cut your reptile’s skin and cause infection. Instead, look for smooth gravel that’s specifically marketed as safe for reptiles.
Another thing to keep in mind is that some gravel can be very dense. This can make it difficult for your pet to dig and burrow, which can lead to stress. If you choose a gravel substrate, make sure to get one that’s specifically marketed as “lightweight” or “easy to dig.”
The kind of substrate you need for your pet lizard, turtle, or frog highly depends on the kind of environment those creatures thrive in. For instance, gravel is good for turtles because they are used to rocky streambeds, while dustier environments are ideal for bearded dragons, who live almost exclusively in desert climates.
To learn more about what substrates are best for each kind of reptile or amphibian, check out our substrate-specific guide!
Regulating Terrarium Temperature
One of the most important things you need to do to create a healthy environment for your reptile is to regulate its temperature. Because reptiles are cold-blooded, they need external heat to regulate their internal body temperatures.
Different reptiles require different temperatures, so it’s important to choose the right heating method for your pet.
Some popular heating methods include:
- Heat lamps
- Basking stones
- Under-tank heaters
- Heating pads
There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a heating method for your terrarium. First, you’ll need to make sure the temperature in the basking area is about 10-15 degrees warmer than the rest of the enclosure. This will give your reptile a place to go to regulate its body temperature.
Second, you’ll need to choose a heating method that doesn’t produce too much light. reptiles are sensitive to light, and too much exposure can cause stress and health problems.
Finally, you’ll need to make sure the heating method you choose can be controlled with a thermostat. This will help you maintain a consistent temperature in the terrarium, which
If you’re using artificial light to heat your terrarium, make sure the bulb is the right size and type for your pet. For example, a UVB light bulb is essential for turtles and tortoises, while a basking lamp is perfect for lizards and snakes.
You can also use heat mats and stones to regulate terrarium temperature. These products work by emitting heat from the bottom of the terrarium, which creates a warm environment ideal for many reptiles.
You also have to consider both daytime and nighttime temperatures, because the key to keeping a healthy reptile is to simulate their natural habitat. That being said, there’s a fine line between night and daytime temperatures, so be sure to read up on your specific breed of reptile or amphibian.
Terrarium Bowls, Misters, and Drippers
Misters and drippers are a great way to add some humidity to your reptile terrarium. If the environment in your terrarium is too dry, it can lead to health problems for your pet.
Misters and drippers can help keep the humidity at a healthy level, and they also provide some much-needed environmental enrichment for your pet.
Be sure to check the water levels in your mister or dripper regularly, and refill them when needed. You should also clean them out with warm, soapy water every few weeks to prevent any build-up of bacteria.
Terrarium bowls are a great way to add some water to your reptile terrarium without increasing the humidity. Bowls can provide your pet with a place to soak and cool down, and they can also be used for drinking water.
Just be sure to choose a bowl that is shallow enough for your pet to get in and out of easily. You should also clean the bowl regularly with warm, soapy water.
Just make sure that when you’re adding water features your reptile actually needs them. Some reptiles, like bearded dragons, live in arid climates, so too much water or humidity might actually be detrimental to their health.
To learn more about adding water features to your terrarium and monitoring the humidity, check out our guide!
Monitoring Terrarium Environment
Reptiles need a certain temperature and humidity to stay healthy, and it’s your responsibility as their owner to monitor these levels. One way to do this is by using a reptile thermometer and hygrometer.
A reptile thermometer is simply a device that measures the temperature of its surroundings, while a hygrometer measures the level of humidity. By using these tools, you can keep track of the temperature and humidity in your terrarium and make any necessary adjustments.
It’s important to watch your thermometer and hygrometer closely for a few days before you even introduce your reptile to the habitat. That way you can get both the temperature and humidity just right before letting your new pet roam around.
There are plenty of good, inexpensive reptile thermometers out there, some of which even come equipped with a humidity-monitoring feature! Here are some of our top picks for the best reptile thermometers on the market.
If you want to learn more about how to measure and adjust the temperature of your enclosure, check out our guide to reptile thermometer usage.
Picking Out Plants For Your Reptile Terrarium
When it comes to choosing plants for your reptile terrarium, it’s important to pick plants that are safe for your pet, as well as plants that might appear in that reptile’s natural environment.
For example, bearded dragons primarily live in desert regions in Australia, so choosing plants that are found in deserts (such as scrub grasses, aloe vera, or echeveria) would be a good idea.
On the other hand, if you’re keeping a green iguana, which is native to the rainforests of Central and South America, you might want to consider including plants like ferns or bromeliads in your terrarium.
Not only will these plants add some much-needed greenery to your reptile’s enclosure, but they can also help create a more naturalistic environment for your pet.
When choosing plants for your terrarium, it’s important to make sure they are safe for your reptile. Some reptiles are known to nibble on plants, so it’s important to choose plants that are non-toxic to your pet.
We’ve put together a list of some of the best plants for reptile terrariums, as well as a few tips on how to care for them. Be sure to check it out before adding any plants to your enclosure!
Adding some decorative elements to your reptile terrarium can really help bring it to life. You can use a variety of materials to decorate your terrarium, such as rocks, branches, and leaves.
When choosing decorations for your terrarium, it’s important to make sure they are safe for your pet. Some reptiles get curious and munch on the elements of their terrarium, so it’s important to choose materials that are non-toxic to your pet.
Here are a few suggestions for safe and fun decorations for your reptile terrarium:
- Rocks: You can use rocks of different shapes and sizes to add interest to your terrarium. Just be sure to check that they are all smooth and free of sharp edges.
- Branch: Driftwood or other natural branches make great additions to reptile terrariums. Just be sure to soak them in water for a few hours before adding them to the enclosure to avoid any potential problems.
- Cork bark: This is another great material to use for reptile terrarium decoration. Cork bark can provide your pet with a hiding place, as well as some much-needed environmental enrichment.
- Climbing nets: Chameleons in particular are great climbers, so adding a rope net is a good way to add a bit of variation to their vertical enclosure.
One of the most important things you can do when setting up a reptile terrarium is to try and create a natural environment for your pet. This means replicating the temperature, humidity, and plant life that would be found in your reptile’s natural habitat. Don’t overwhelm your reptile or amphibian with fancy decor, because it might cause them more stress!
Tips and Tricks for Building Your Terrarium
Now that you know the basics of setting up a terrarium, here are a few tips and tricks to help you get started:
1. Start with a clean slate. Before you add any substrate or décor to your terrarium, make sure to sterilize the enclosure with a pet-safe cleaner. This will help prevent the spread of disease and bacteria.
2. Choose the right size. It’s important to choose an enclosure that’s big enough for your reptile to move around in, but not so big that it’s difficult to regulate temperature and humidity. A good rule of thumb is to choose an enclosure that’s 10 gallons for every 1 foot of your reptile.
3. Think about ventilation. Reptiles and amphibians need a good amount of airflow to stay healthy, so make sure the terrarium you choose has plenty of ventilation.
4. Consider your reptile’s needs. When choosing décor and substrates, make sure to consider what your reptile needs to be happy and healthy. For example, desert-dwelling reptiles will need gritty substrates, while forest dwelling reptiles will do better with soil or mulch.
5. Don’t forget the basics. In addition to a well-ventilated enclosure and the right substrates, your reptile will also need a water dish, hiding spots, and the proper lighting.
6. Create a realistic environment. One of the best ways to ensure your reptile is happy and healthy is to create an environment that simulates its natural habitat. This means including plenty of hiding spots, the right substrates, and the proper temperature and humidity levels.
7. Don’t overcrowd your terrarium. It’s important to give your reptile enough space to move around, so avoid overcrowding the enclosure. Plus, you shouldn’t move around the environment too much. Rearranging too much can stress out your reptile!
8. Keep it clean. reptiles are sensitive to changes in their environment, so it’s important to keep the terrarium clean and free of bacteria and parasites.
9. Know when to seek professional help. If you’re unsure about anything related to your reptile’s care, it’s always best to consult with a veterinarian or reptile specialist. They can help you create a custom care plan for your pet and answer any questions you may have.
Terrarium Supplies FAQs
To start off, you will need at least a:
-Tank or enclosure
-Substrate and bedding
-Both a heat and humidity source
-A reptile thermometer/hygrometer
-Plants and decor
-Feeding and water bowls
As you learn more about building terrariums, you can add additional features, like waterfalls, underground dens, and more!
There are a lot of reputable terrarium suppliers out there. The big-name stores like Petco, PetSmart, and Chewy often offer some of the best prices on terrarium supplies, but smaller manufacturers and suppliers can offer more specific products. CBReptiles and XYZReptiles both have a wonderful selection of terrarium materials.
It depends! We recommend that first-time reptile owners purchase a terrarium kit that’s designed specifically for your kind of reptile. This way, you know you’re getting the right products for your pet. But, more experienced terrarium-builders often know exactly what products they want, so they purchase all the parts individually.