Reptile Habitats

Reptiles require specialized habitats that can meet their unique dietary and environmental requirements. Keeping your reptile’s habitat well-equipped will help prevent stress that can lead to disease.


A reptile’s home should be cleaned daily to remove spills, feces and shed skin. Depending on your reptile, you may also need to provide a variety of upland microhabitats, such as leaf litter, animal burrows and woody material.


Because reptiles are cold-blooded and cannot regulate internal body temperature, they rely on the environment around them to do so. This means they have specific housing and feeding needs, which vary by species. They also require specific heating and lighting conditions to stay healthy and thrive.

Choosing an appropriately-sized enclosure is essential for your pet’s well-being and comfort. For example, a glass terrarium should be large enough to provide room for climbing, hiding, and basking areas and should have secure ventilation. The size of an enclosure should be increased by one-half for each additional reptile housed together and even more space may be required if a naturalistic habitat is being set up.

When designing a habitat, you can take inspiration from Mother Nature or visit zoos and botanical gardens to see what types of decor best suit a particular reptile’s needs. Some popular reptile habitat decor includes rocks, branches, and a variety of plant materials that add visual appeal to the cage while also providing hiding spots, climbing structures, and humidity regulation.

It is important to note that if you choose to use decorations in your reptile’s habitat, they must be cleaned thoroughly before introducing them to the cage. For instance, you can clean a rock by boiling it and sanitizing it with water or a disinfectant/deodorizer. You can also rinse and sterilize sand in a bucket of water or in an oven. The same goes for branches — you should remove and wash them before using in your reptile’s habitat.


The substrate used for reptile habitats is important for multiple reasons: it maintains humidity, helps control waste and odor, provides hiding spots and helps with plant growth. There are many options for substrates. Some are sterile, which is an important consideration for some reptiles that require a more hygienic enclosure like those recovering from surgery. Sterile substrates help ensure that excessive debris doesn’t enter a wound and increase the risk of infection.

The type of substrate used depends on the species kept, the habitat environment and the desired look. For example, rainforest-dwelling reptiles are often kept in a clay-like substrate. Soil or a mix of soil and peat moss can be used for drier environments. Cypress mulch is a good choice for humid environments because it can hold moisture and resist mold. It’s also great for drier reptiles that like to burrow and dig.

Another good option is coconut fiber, which is a good substitute for earth and can be found in a dry compressed brick. When mixed with water it expands into a substrate that’s good for jungle and rainforest habitats. It’s a byproduct of coconut production, is very inexpensive, holds moisture and is resistant to rot.

Other popular substrates include reptile carpet and mats, which are easy to clean and provide a stable surface. However, they don’t provide the depth of soil or sand for burrowing species and may not be suitable for amphibians. Paper towels or unprinted newspaper are also economical and easy to use as a substrate. They are also easily replaced and don’t contain inks that could be harmful for some reptiles.

Hiding Places

Reptiles need a variety of hiding places to feel safe and secure in captivity. Many lizards and snakes hide in rock crevices, holes or burrows. In your reptile’s home setup, provide them with a variety of hides to choose from, including logs, rocks, terrarium walls and even a box. These hides shelter the reptile from scavengers and predators, while also providing the ground-based thermal heat that they need to thermo-regulate their bodies.

Some reptiles need different habitats at different times of the year. For example, some turtles live in a marine environment most of the time, but must move to land to lay their eggs. Others, like salamanders, live in upland habitats for much of the year, but require temporary wetlands or aquatic sites to breed and lay their eggs.

Reptile habitats need to be built with the specific reptile in mind. A good habitat should be large enough to allow the reptile to roam about, but it should include features that mimic the environment it would normally encounter in its native habitat. These include a sand, gravel or other non-porous substrate for traction, a layer of reptile carpet or other bedding material that provides insulation and security, and a water source with a filter.


The amount of heat and visible light a reptile receives affects its sleep cycle, activity level and mating behavior. It also impacts digestion and the ability to absorb nutrients. It’s important that a reptile’s habitat reflects the natural day-night schedule it experiences in nature. For example, if your pet is a diurnal reptile, it should have a lamp with UVB that comes on during the day and off at night. There are several types of bulbs available for this purpose, including specialized “basking lights” that concentrate heat and UVB in a specific area of the enclosure. The use of a rheostat allows you to control the intensity of the bulb’s output. A specialized UVA light may be used to supplement the ultraviolet wavelengths of a UVB bulb, but it is not necessary for most reptiles.

There are also a number of fluorescent lamps that produce varying degrees of UVB and UVA. These are useful for providing the correct light/heat gradient for a particular reptile species’ habitat, and some brands offer dimmable options.

In addition to these bulbs, there are a variety of incandescent bulbs and other heating devices that can be used to provide the necessary warmth for your reptile’s habitat. However, be aware that any bulb that emits a significant amount of heat should not be placed directly over a reptile’s head. This will cause the animal stress and may burn its eyes.