Monday, October 5, 2015 | NHS Behavior Department

Reptiles are unique animals. They cannot regulate their own body temperature, so they require special living environments. These environments should also reflect the animal’s natural habitat to promote natural behaviors. 

Most health issues in reptiles are actually the result of improper housing and care. By creating the perfect environment for your reptile, you are ensuring an enjoyable experience for both of you.


There are four styles of habitat, depending on the natural habitat of your reptile. Research which mini-environment works best for your reptile. 

  • Desert: high temperature, low humidity
  • Tropical: moderate temperature, high humidity‚Ä®
  • Semi-Aquatic: half land, half water
  • Temperate: moderate temperature, moderate humidity

Selecting a terrarium 

If your reptile is primarily land-dwelling, select a housing container that is longer than it is tall. This will allow the animal optimal room to move around. Avoid placing too many decorations that limit the animal’s ability to move around comfortably. 

If the animal is primarily tree-dwelling, select a tank that is taller in design. Provide plenty of climbing structures at multiple levels.

Select a housing unit that allows for optimal air flow. Some animals, such as chameleons, need housing entirely composed of mesh to properly thrive.

Place your terrarium near an electrical source so you can plug in your heat lamp. It should be out of direct sunlight and in an area that has few temperature variations. 


This can be the most enjoyable part of owning reptiles. Use your creative side in decorating the animal’s new environment. However, set things up so that the animal feels comfortable and can exhibit natural behaviors.

Substrate (floor coverings) will help establish an area for burrowing, basking, humidity control and proper waste retrieval. Commercial substrates are available and should be carefully selected for your particular animal.  

  • Desert: sand
  • Tropical and temperate: wood chips

The decorations should allow the animal to exhibit natural behaviors, such as climbing, burrowing or basking. 


Provide a heat lamp for your animal to bask. Place the lamp over one side or in a corner of the terrarium. This will create heat levels within the environment so the animal can self-regulate. You will also need to provide a lighting source that offers full-spectrum ultraviolet light.


Use mild cleaning products to clean the terrarium. Do not clean fixtures or caging in a food preparation area. Always wash your hands after handling your reptile or any of the fixtures in the terrarium. 

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