Setting Up a Terrarium for Australian Reptiles

Author: Kristy Walker   Date Posted: 17 May 2019 

Setting Up a Terrarium for Australian Reptiles

Keeping an Australian reptile companion can be a fun, rewarding and educational experience, and learning all you can prior to setting up will give your new friend the best chance to really thrive!

 

How Do I Choose the Right Enclosure for My Reptile?

One of the most important decisions you will make for your reptile pet is the size of his enclosure. It’s ideal to buy a terrarium big enough that your pet, even fully grown, will have enough room to move freely and not feel cramped. Additionally, you should consider the accessories and decor you will need to provide, and ensure that even fully equipped, your reptile will have plenty of room to thrive even at his maximum size. This will include adequate space for hide cave(s), lighting, heating, and food and water sources.

 

A general guide for the sizing of some of the most popular pet reptiles:

 

Name

Recommended Enclosure Size

Bearded Dragon (1)

Up to 550L

Carpet Python (1)

120x60x60cm (minimum)

Turtle (1)

3m long (minimum)

Tree Frog (1)

40L  minimum)

Terrestrial Geckos (1)

30x30x30cm (minimum)

Terrestrial Geckos (2-4)

60x50x30cm (minimum)

Small Arboreal Geckos (1)

30x30x45cm  minimum)

Small Arboreal Geckos (2-4)

45x45x60cm (minimum)

Large Arboreal Geckos (1)

30x30x60cm (minimum)

Australian Scorpions (2-3)

35x30x30cm

Blue-Tongue Lizard (1)

120x45x60cm (minimum)

Pink-Tongue Lizard (1)

45x45x45cm (minimum)

 

Considering your pet’s physical activity and ability is also a key factor in your terrarium choice. If your pet can climb or you have other pets, you will need to have a secure, lockable terrarium to keep him safe. Some reptile pets, such as Bearded Dragons, are known escape artists, reinforcing the need for terrarium security! If your pet enjoys climbing, considering the space needed to add various levels or platforms can help make future accessorising much easier.

 

Given the expected lifespan of some reptile pets can exceed 20 years, it’s a good idea to ensure your purchase a high quality, durable terrarium!

 

What Heating and Lighting Does My Reptile Need?

Your new reptile buddy will need reliable heating and lighting sources, adjusted for his specific needs. Ideally, these will replicate his natural environment. Our Care Sheets cover various reptile pets and their specific needs, but a good set of general rules are:

 

  • Visual gauges can help you monitor your terrarium’s vitals. These include thermometers, hygrometers and humidity gauges
  • Lighting that meets your pet’s UV needs - you can also add a timer and a thermostat so that the day/night cycle is automatically monitored
  • Heat sources - in addition to lighting, many pets require an additional heat source to remain at their optimal temperature. This can include heat globes, pads or rocks

 

Key parameters to watch for your reptile include:

 

Temperature

Does my pet reptile need a warm climate, cool climate - or both? Usually you will want to replicate his natural environment. If he needs warm and cool areas in his terrarium, you should ensure you have thermometers in both, and monitor them daily. Examples of reptiles who need a temperate range include:

 

  • Australian Geckos - warm: 29-32°C, cool: 19-24°C
  • Pink-Tongue Lizards - warm: 32-35°C, cool: 23-28°C
  • Bearded Dragons - warm: 35-40°C, cool: 24-26°C
  • Carpet Pythons - warm: ~32°C, cool: ~24°C
  • Turtles (Emydura, Chelodina Longicollis) - water: 22-26°C, dry: 28-32°C
  • Tree Frogs - warm: 28-30°C, cool: 22-24°C

 

Reliable sources of heat include heat pads, rocks and lamps.

 

Humidity

Many reptile pets require a humid environment to thrive. Once again, thinking about your pet’s natural environment is key in working out his humidity requirements. To take the guesswork out of keeping your terrarium adequality humidified, you can fit a hygrometer to your enclosure and monitor it regularly. Reptiles who have specific humidity requirements include:

 

  • Geckos (specific humidity requirements can be found here)
  • Australian Scorpions
  • Tree Frogs - summer: up to 50%, winter: down to 30%

 

You can add humidity to your terrarium via a damp sponge or misting, and keep a close eye on your humidity using a humidity gauge.

 

Lighting

Meeting your pet’s lighting needs is an important part of helping him thrive. Establish the following about your pets to determine his ideal lighting needs:

 

  • Is he naturally diurnal (primarily active during the day) or nocturnal (primarily active during the evening)?
  • Does he naturally live in an open environment with exposure to direct sunlight or under a rainforest canopy, exposed only to mottled sunlight?

 

To mimic exposure to direct sunlight, you should install high wattage lights directly to the basking area(s) of your terrarium. This will help your pet mimic the basking behavior he would participate in, in the wild.

 

To mimic exposure to mottled sunlight, install lower wattage lights or use terrarium decor (such as logs) to filter the light.

 

Why is providing UVB light important for reptiles? Reptiles require Vitamin D3 in their system to synthesise healthy calcium levels to maintain bones, growth and egg production. Without Vitamin D3, your reptile can be susceptible to deadly Metabolic Bones Disease, blindness, mouth rot and other illnesses. For many reptiles, UVB light is the main way that Vitamin D3 is produced. For others, they may be able to get sufficient Vitamin D3 through other ways such as food. Therefore, providing UVB light is critical for many reptiles to stay healthy and thrive.

Does my reptile require UVB light? It’s important to note that all reptiles can be safely provided with UVB light, so if you are uncertain about your pet’s requirements, it is safe - and recommended - to install UVB lighting in your terrarium.

 

Reptiles Requiring UVB Light

Reptiles Not Requiring UVB Light

Bearded Dragons

Carpet Pythons

Blue Tongue Skinks

Green Tree Pythons

Goannas

Geckos

Long Necked Turtle

Snakes

Short Necked Turtle

 

Other Diurnal Lizards

 

Other Desert-Dwelling Lizards

 

 

In addition to providing light sources, you can secure them using lamp holders and protect them using lamp protectors - which will also prevent your pets from touching the light source directly.

 

Food and Water

Your reptiles will of course need suitable food and water sources in their terrariums. For example, geckos prefer to drink water droplets from misting over drinking from a water dish. Your reptile pet may need and enjoy a permanent water source as well as a dish to bathe in. Regular cleaning of any water dishes is essential to keep your reptile happy and healthy!

 

Reptiles will typically be fed on demand rather than left with food in their terrariums, such as feeding gut-loaded live insects or thawed frozen foods.

 

In addition to dusting them with calcium powder and supplements, live insects can be gut loaded prior to feeding to maximise their nutritional benefits. Be sure to feed appropriately-sized live insects only to your pet - for example, geckos should only be fed small insects to prevent a blockage risk.

 

How Can I Keep My Reptile Terrarium Secure?

If your reptile is a climber or escape artist (such as the infamous Bearded Dragon!), it’s important to ensure you have a secure lid. A well-ventilated, secure lid with a lock is ideal to keep your pet safely housed and also protect him from other pets in your household.

 

It’s also important to consider the total weight of your terrarium and its accessories, and ensure it is placed on sturdy, solid furniture which can safely bear its weight.

 

How Can I Decorate My Reptile Terrarium?

While terrarium decor is a personal choice dependent on how you want your enclosure to look, it’s also important to consider your pet’s preferences and needs!

 

Caves can provide natural-looking places for your reptile pet to hide, helping him to feel safe and secure. Platforms and rocks situated above a heating pad can provide perfect basking spots. If your pets enjoy climbing and you also want a natural look in your terrarium, you can provide climbing vines and artificial plants.

 

Good terrarium decorations look good, provide a function for your pet (hiding, basking) or both! It’s also important to ensure you leave plenty of room for your chosen reptiles and essential accessories such as lighting, heating and gauges.

 

Terrarium Set Up - Quick Guide


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