Habitat Construction: Desert

Half the fun of reptile and amphibian keeping is building their environments to be as natural as possible*—so let’s get building!

Materials you’ll need:

  • Terrarium (tank) and stand – Be sure it’s large enough for the population you plan to house
  • Substrates (material for floor of terrarium) – River pebbles and fine sand are best for snakes, lizards, and turtles, but research your reptile’s needs first
  • Drought-tolerant plants – Such as cacti and succulents
  • “Furniture” – Large rocks, contorted branches, hide boxes
  • Filter material – Such as air conditioning filter or two layers of plastic screening to place between the substrates
  • Non-toxic aquarium sealant – To affix rocks or “furniture” in place
  • Heaters – Under-tank heating pad(s)
  • Terrarium top – Metal-framed screen or wire. NOTE: Do not use a glass top
  • Lighting – Fluorescent or incandescent for general viewing, basking incandescent, and ultraviolet (UVB) necessary for your pet to make vitamin D
  • Ventilation – Small fan, optional
  • Feeding dish
  • Adhesive thermometer
Building, step by step:
  1. Place the under-tank heater or heaters (depending on tank size) on the stand; then position the tank on top.
  2. Place and seal heavy “furniture,” rocks, limbs, etc. before filling in substrate. This is to protect critters that like to burrow from getting trapped.
  3. Place the large, smooth, and variably sized river rocks on the bottom of the tank to a depth of about two to three inches. NOTE: Do not use aquarium gravel.
  4. Lay the filtering material on top of the rocks from step 3.
  5. Pour several inches of fine sand over top of the filtering material. For a realistic, textured appearance, mix in a few pieces of variably sized river rocks.
  6. Add plants (real or plastic). You can either sink the individual pots into the sand or plant them directly into the sand.
  7. Arrange lightweight furniture and hide boxes.
  8. If installing lighting inside the tank, position and affix. If you’re using lighting outside the tank, install the screen top and make sure it is escape-proof.

In addition to Desert habitats, the most common types of environments for reptiles and amphibians include Woodland, Aquatic, and Semi-Aquatic. To learn more, or to see step-by-step instructions, just click on the links.

*As always, we encourage you to do as much research as you can before you purchase your reptile or amphibian. Especially regarding temperature, feeding, and lighting requirements—each living creature has its own specific needs.

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