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CAGES AND VIVARIUMS

You've found your perfect reptile pet and now you need to buy or build the home of his dreams.

If you're purchasing a baby reptile, consider his full-grown size when you design his home. In general, you should allow a minimum of three square feet of floor space for each foot in length of your full-grown reptile. If your companion is arboreal, or tree dwelling, you'll want a cage at least as tall as it is long.

It's important to know what kind of home your pet requires. Some animals, such as chameleons, require specialized cages. For many years, chameleons fared poorly in captivity, even in zoos, until it was discovered that they thrive in large wire mesh cages. No other material provides enough ventilation. Now captive chameleons live and reproduce with great success.

Reptile Habitats

Before purchasing a reptile, consider what kind of habitat or environment he'll need. There are five basic types of reptile habitats. Desert: A habitat characterized by dry conditions and temperatures of 100 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Provide water in a small dish. Reptiles that live in deserts don't require much water.

Temperate: Stays mostly dry with occasional wet periods. Spray the enclosure lightly with water every second or third day to make your pet feel more at home. Appropriate temperatures range from 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on your pet's species. Provide a large, shallow water bowl your pet can fit info.

Tropical: This habitat is hot and humid. Maintaining this climate requires both a heating apparatus and regular misting. Temperatures are generally in the low 90s. Many tropical animals are arboreal, so they will need tall enclosures. Provide a large, shallow soaking bowl. Semi-aquatic: Contains separate land and water areas. Animals that live in these habitats are swimmers, but they also love to bask. The temperature depends on your pet's species. Tropical semi-aquatic animals need a water heater as well as a heat lamp. Temperate species may need only a small basking lamp. Excellent water filtration is needed to maintain animal health.

Aquatic: A habitat consisting entirely of water. This kind of habitat is not a common one for reptiles, but all aquatic turtles including the Mata Mata prefer it. They sit on the shallow bottom with their heads above water to breathe. Excellent water filtration is needed to maintain animal health.

Construction Materials

The four types of material commonly used to make cages and vivariums for reptiles are plastic, glass, wire mesh and melamine.

Plastic: Most plastic tanks are too small for adult reptiles. If your pet belongs to one of the smaller species, you may use a plastic enclosure as a quarantine tank or a travel cage but not as a primary home for a full-grown reptile.

Glass: Glass vivariums and aquariums usually have a ventilation hood to allow air circulation. Light fixtures inside the hood provide light, heat and ultraviolet rays. If your reptile belongs to a semi-aquatic or aquatic species, a glass enclosure makes an ideal home. Commercial vivariums providing everything needed for an attractive and healthy environment can be purchased, or you can create your own, using rocks to simulate a landmass.

All reptiles need a hiding place. If your pet seems stressed, you can cover two or three sides of the aquarium with paper or cardboard to provide more privacy. Remember, glass intensifies the sun's rays. To prevent overheating, never place a glass habitat in direct sunlight.

Wire Mesh: Homes for many reptiles, especially chameleons, can be crafted from wire mesh. You can purchase such enclosures or build one from scratch by stretching wire mesh around a wooden frame. With this kind of home, you'll see more of your pet and he'll get plenty of fresh air. It is more difficult to maintain temperature and humidity in a wire enclosure. To keep your reptile from escaping, be sure to use especially strong and tightly woven wire mesh. Check regularly for worn places where your pet could force his way out.

Melamine: Melamine is wood coated with a finish resembling plastic. You can purchase melamine enclosures from a specialty company or you can build one from scratch. Typically, the enclosure has a glass front and a ventilated hood. Three sides and the floor are made of melamine. An enclosure of this type will allow you to see your pet, while still protecting his privacy. Melamine also absorbs heat and resists water.