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REPTILE / new pets

A Set-up Guide for Reptile Habitats

These cold-blooded creatures will need the warmth of home


What kind of terrarium does my reptile need?

  • Depending on the species, your reptile may require more or less space to roam, so the size will depend on how big your new pet will be as an adult.
  • As for the terrarium’s shape? As a rule of thumb, reptiles that climb should have a terrarium that’s taller than it is wide. Reptiles who don’t climb should have a terrarium wider than it is tall.
  • Make sure the terrarium is placed on a very stable surface so it won’t tip over. Put it in a low-traffic area out of direct sunlight, drafts and strong smells. It should be near an electrical outlet so you can plug in the lighting and heating units.
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Your reptile’s environment

  • Snakes, lizards, tortoises and other reptiles are ectothermic, which means they get their heat from outside their bodies. They’ll need a toasty habitat in order to survive.
  • Your reptile’s terrarium should have a warmer end and a cooler end, so your pet can travel back and forth between the two as necessary. For the warm side, place a heat lamp, ceramic heat emitter or night-specific heat bulb over an elevated spot, like a nice, flat rock. This will be your scaly pal’s basking spot.
  • The exact temperature and humidity of the habitat depends on where your reptile originally came from. Invest in two thermometers, one for each end of the habitat, to monitor the climate and a hygrometer to monitor the moisture in the air.
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Reptiles that come from…
Need their home’s warm side to be… (Degrees Fahrenheit)
…and its cool side to be…
…with this much humidity
The desert
90 to 110 degrees
65 to 85 degrees
10 to 30 percent
A temperate climate
90 to 100 degrees
65 to 85 degrees
30 to 50 percent
A tropical climate
85 to 95 degrees
70 to 85 degrees
50 to 80 percent
A semi-aquatic environment
80 to 95 degrees
60 to 75 degrees
50 to 80 percent

What about light?

Some reptile species are diurnal (active during the day) while other species are nocturnal (active at night). Either way, reptiles need a 12-hour light-and-dark cycle that mimics day and night. Otherwise, they get disoriented — wouldn’t you?

Even if the heating source in your pet’s terrarium gives off light, install a UVB bulb. This special bulb mimics sunlight, so reptiles can get enough Vitamin D.

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Décor details

The floor of a reptile habitat should be layered with either reptile carpet or a bedding material that’s good for burrowing. Reptile bedding comes in lots of varieties, including calcium sand, coconut fiber and aspen. Ask a PetSmart associate which choice is best for your species of reptile.

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Furnish the habitat with a shallow water dish and a sturdy basking rock or log. Most reptiles appreciate a hut or other area for privacy. Climbing species will enjoy lots of live or artificial branches to play in.

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