Choosing the Right Terrarium for Pet Lizards

A lizard-keeper who cares about the well-being of his animals will have the necessary sense of responsibility to provide the appropriate environment for them, for only when the living needs of the particular lizard species are met can the animals be comfortable, live a long time, and perhaps even reproduce. Neglect or skimping for the wrong reasons, either on the terrarium or the equipment, lead only to disappointment, quite apart from the bad conscience that must result if you are responsible for the illness or death of an animal.

Lizard Terrarium

The Terrarium

If you are buying a terrarium in a pet store, it is a matter of taste whether you choose a frame, all-glass, or wooden terrarium. Whatever you decide, be sure that the terrarium is well made and easy to clean and maintain.

If you want to build the terrarium yourself, you should have some experience with carpentry. Get advice from the pet store or hobby shop.

Size
It is impossible to give a rule for calculating the size of a terrarium. Lizard's space requirements depend not only on their size but above all on their behavior. So comparatively small species may, because of their territorial behavior, require much space. These animals establish territories and defend them. They suffer if the terrarium can't be divided into territories because it is arranged wrong or there are too many animals living in it. The size of the terrarium also depends on the number of animals you want to keep.

Obviously you must allow for freedom of movement for the particular kind of lizard. In certain cases larger lizards require markedly less space, because they are neither territorial nor free-ranging. You will find helpful information in the last chapter about the details of terrarium size and the suitable number of lizards.

Shape
Pet stores mostly carry the oblong, all-purpose terrariums, which are about twice as long as they are wide and just as high as they are wide (ratio 2:1:1; length:width:height). Very nearly all lizards can be accommodated in such a terrarium, and a suitable place can be found for it in any dwelling. Lizards that live in treetops, tree trunks, or in stone walls require a terrarium that is twice as high as it is wide (1:2:2). If the terrarium is free-standing with space around it and perhaps has an island of wood or stone in the middle, a cube shape would be appropriate.

Location
What shape and size terrarium you choose also depends on where you plan to put it. It can be free-standing or it can be built into a wall of shelves. If you are thinking of building one in, you must consider beforehand how the terrarium can be heated, ventilated, and lighted without problems.

Ventilation
An important prerequisite for the successful care of lizards is the provision of fresh air. Nowhere — not even in the most stifling tropical jungle — is there so little movement of air as there is in a space that is enclosed on all sides.

Covering: A cover is necessary for most terrariums. The largest part of the terrarium roof must be of wire screen. The size of the mesh and the weight of the wire should be chosen so that neither lizards nor food animals can escape. Plastic mesh is unsuitable because the heat of the spotlights can melt it and the ultraviolet radiation of the therapeutic lamps can cause it to deteriorate.

Side-wall ventilation: One of the side walls of the terrarium must be perforated over the lower third to an area of at least 10 percent of the area of the terrarium (length x width of the terrarium floor) or be made of wire mesh. This is the only way to allow for air to combine with the influx from the heat supply to create thermal movement.

Technical aids to ventilation: If roof and side ventilation are not possible because you cannot undertake the appropriate construction changes or you want to build the terrarium in, you must use mechanical ventilation. An aquarium air pump with an air tube having an interior diameter of 0.2 inches (5 mm) is suitable for this purpose. The tube should be directed to the floor of the terrarium and fastened so that the air is expelled horizontally. You can also install a rotary or tangential fan, by means of which air is pressed or sucked into the tank through a shaft (consult with the pet store). Bear in mind that only a very small amount of air movement is required in a terrarium, so you must regulate the equipment so that you don't generate a storm. Be careful, too, that only clean, temperate air is drawn into the terrarium. Cold air or air polluted with tobacco smoke or pigment solvents will injure the lizards.

Doors
It is very helpful, especially in larger terrariums, if one of the long sides can be opened so you can work in the terrarium unhindered. A glass door that can be slid to one side or overhead is advisable. Then you can reach everywhere in the tank without having to open the whole front — which is a special advantage with fleet-footed lizards, ever poised for escape. To keep the terrarium floor material from clogging the track for the sliding doors, the track should run 4 inches (10 cm) above the bottom of the terrarium. Sand and earth will block the door (or the rollers in the case of large plates of glass), which can break the glass.

The Sun Terrarium

On sunny summer days you can bring your lizards out into the fresh air for a few hours. It does them good to enjoy sunlight that is not filtered through glass by being in a wire cage on a balcony or in a yard. You don't have to be particularly handy with tools to build a cage of lath and wire mesh yourself.

  • It needn't be as large as the terrarium, but it should allow the lizards enough room to move around.
  • The wire mesh should be fine enough and strong enough to keep the lizards from escaping.
  • A bathing place for the lizards is important; it should be large enough so that there is enough room in it for the whole lizard.
  • You must cover one part of the cage so that the lizards can withdraw into the shade. This is important, because the sun — even in the northern latitudes — can exceed the temperature ranges that are tolerable for reptiles, and the lizards, at least during the early summer, are not yet used to the effects of direct sunlight.

The lizards can also stay in their own terrarium for their sunbath if you put it on a wheeled base and roll it outside. A shady corner is particularly necessary in this case, and above all you must keep very careful watch on the temperature in the terrarium. In a cage that is mostly glassed in, the danger of overheating is very great!

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