Reptile Habitats

Reptile habitats support diverse species and ecosystems. Providing a suitable environment requires a mix of factors like temperatures, photoperiods, humidity levels, and decor elements like rocks, branches, mud, or plants.


Hobbyists convert terrariums, aquariums and other containers into reptile habitats. These must be large enough to allow for adequate thermoregulation and food gathering space.


Lighting is one of the most important aspects to consider when setting up a reptile habitat. Specialized lights made specifically for reptiles provide the proper amounts of UVA and UVB to help keep a reptile healthy and happy. These lights also provide the necessary heat to maintain a comfortable environment.

All terrariums need to have adequate light and heat sources to mimic natural environmental conditions. Specialized lights can be purchased from pet stores or online and come in many different wattage options to fit the specific needs of each species.

The most common type of reptile light is a UVB lamp that produces the right wavelengths to help your animal produce vitamin D, which helps with the absorption of calcium for healthy bones. A basking light is also a necessity for a reptile that requires it, such as turtles, tortoises, some iguanas, bearded dragons and monitor lizards. These lights are meant to re-create what the sun would do in a desert or hot environment by warming a certain area of the cage where the animal can lay and absorb the heat.

Another important feature of a reptile light is a blue light that replicates the part of the electromagnetic spectrum that helps to regulate circadian rhythms and promotes photoreceptive behavior, such as the ability to see. Reptiles that are not exposed to enough natural light may develop metabolic bone disease, which can lead to illness and even death. This is a very serious problem that can be prevented by providing your pet with the correct lighting requirements in his or her habitat.


Reptiles are ectotherms, meaning they depend on their environment for heat. Since they lack the ability to regulate their body temperature on their own, they rely on the sun and other sources of heat to warm themselves. They also seek out cooler areas to cool down. This constant regulating of temperature is important to their well-being. It helps them digest, maintains their immune system and increases the effectiveness of certain drugs.

Habitats should be designed to mimic the climate of the reptile’s native ecosystem. Deserts, woodlands, temperate grasslands and savannahs are the habitats of most reptiles. In order to replicate this, the habitat should be a mix of temperatures, humidity levels, photoperiods, elevations and organic and inorganic elements.

A habitat should provide a thermal gradient that includes a basking area, cool areas and the ability to rest or hide when needed. A reflector dome fitted with an incandescent light or a tubular heater is one option for supplying basking heat. Other options include infrared devices and mercury vapor lamps. A thermostat should be used to control the heat source and ensure the ambient temperature in the habitat is within the species’s ideal range.

Many people attempt to create a naturalistic habitat, with interesting layered substrates, plants, branches, molded back and side walls and “ponds.” While these are appealing to the eye, often they do not leave enough room for the intended reptile to move around, access the necessary microclimates or thermoregulate.


Reptiles require a constant supply of fresh, clean water for drinking and moistening their skin. The water also prevents their internal body fluids from evaporating as they bask or move about their habitats. A good way to ensure that your reptiles have sufficient water is by using a shallow water dish or adding a moist substrate like sand, garden soil, peat moss, various wood shavings (avoid cedar which is toxic), coconut fiber, and synthetic carpet.

Those with terrestrial habitats may need several inches of loose material in their enclosures while others requiring rainforest or desert vivaria can often get away with just a few inches. Be sure to monitor relative humidity in your reptiles’ habitat with a hygrometer and keep it at or above the ideal level for your species.

Herpetoculturists are a creative group when it comes to constructing reptile habitats, and many have modified armoires, prefabricated shower stalls, jewelry or deli display cases, and sturdy wooden bookcases into reptile cages. Just be sure that whatever you use is adequately sized to provide the thermal gradients and visual privacy that your reptiles require.

Avoid mixing reptiles from different species, or even orders, together as this can lead to disease and death. Additionally, it is not a good idea to mix animals from different continents together because these may have commensal or other organisms in their skin that are foreign to their wild counterparts and which could be fatal to them.


Reptiles are air-breathing vertebrates that use special scales or bony plates (the horny shell of a turtle or the rows of bony plates on the back of a crocodile) for protection. They control body temperature by moving into warmer or cooler places. Their metabolisms are very slow. Without fur or sweat glands, they can’t keep warm on a cold day, and they can’t cool off on a hot one. They need a stable environment with a temperature gradient, adequate humidity levels, and shade.

They also need a diet that is rich in minerals, vitamins, and calories. Herbivores and omnivores need balanced rations of fruits, vegetables, and insects. Carnivores need meat, including the occasional fish or chicken egg. Feeding these dietary requirements is critical for keeping reptiles healthy and strong.

Besides providing food and shelter, many reptiles play important anthropogenic roles in ecosystems. For example, some snake and lizard species help control serious agricultural pests. Others, such as crocodiles and tortoises, serve as a source of leather.

Reptiles also have a vital role in the global economy as pets. About 3% of households in the United States have a pet reptile. Having a suitable habitat is important for their health, and the enclosures must mimic their natural environment, provide ample space, hiding places, basking spots, and water sources.