How to Build a Custom Reptile Cage

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How to Build a Custom Reptile Cage

When building a reptile terrarium, it is important to create an environment as close as possible to the animal’s natural habitat. Remember that a caged reptile is completely dependent on its owner for all of its physical needs. There are many types of reptiles, from snakes to lizards to turtles, and each one has specific needs. It is the owner’s duty to study and understand these needs and to fulfill them adequately. When designing a cage, consider size, budget, materials, and construction.


How to Plan a Reptile Habitat

When building a custom reptile enclosure, keep a few guidelines in mind. First, consider the size of the cage. Take into account not only the size of the reptile when it comes home from the pet store, but its adult size as well. Research the animal’s breed to find out how much it will grow and how much room it will need when it does. Certain species require plenty of room to move around in, and will need different areas for swimming, for burrowing, for sunning, and for hiding. Determine what material the substrate (the floor of the cage) should be: for example, gravel, sand, or pebbles.

Second, determine how to control the climate in the enclosure. If the reptile requires a humid environment, use a solid lid instead of a mesh one (but keep in mind even high-humidity enclosures require adequate ventilation). If the reptile requires a heat source, determine which kind; some reptiles use a single source for both heating and sunning, but others need separate sources for each. Also plan to invest in either a probing thermometer or a temperature gun for precise temperature monitoring.

Third, consider budget. Pet suppliers offer a huge selection of habitats and equipment, some of which are pricey. Some equipment, such at thermometers, are non-negotiable components of a proper enclosure, but some equipment, such as the enclosure itself, can be made at home.


Materials Needed for Various Habitats

The materials needed for a custom enclosure will vary depending on each species’ preferred habitat.





Drought-resistant vegetation.

Heat source.

Large rocks, twisted branches, and hiding compartments.

Lighting: full-spectrum fluorescent or direct-beam incandescent, depending on the needs of the species.

Screen or wire mesh lid.


Topsoil, if appropriate.

Gravel or pebble substrate.

Species-appropriate plants, live or gathered.

Logs and rocks.


Aquarium with appropriate filtration and conditioning system.

Divider or stands to separate land area from water area.


Ferns, ivy, or other plants appropriate to humid environment.

Washed gravel to simulate river bed.


Always modify any pre-existing terrarium system to fit the particular needs of the reptile species.


How to Build a Reptile Enclosure

Several types of materials make good enclosures. Plywood or pine boards work for a wooden enclosure, but be aware of any chemical treatments the wood has received before exposing reptiles to it. Melamine is durable and washable, making it a good choice. If using an opaque material such as wood or melamine, consider whether the reptile prefers this kind of private environment and has sufficient lighting inside the enclosure, or if a see-through material would be better. This includes plexiglass and wire mesh, although an entirely wire mesh cage is usually impractical. If using wire, consider rubber-coated wire, which is kinder to lizard feet.

Cut enclosure walls with square corners to make sure they match up. Secure wood and plexiglass with screws. Allow cut-outs for ventilation screens and doors. Apply latches and hinges to door frames. Design doors to open sideways, or down; do not place hinges on the tops of doors, because this requires one hand to hold the door open while reaching into the cage. Affix all screens securely. Reptiles are notorious for escaping, so make sure lids and doors are sturdy, and apply petroleum jelly to the top rim of aquariums and terrariums to keep an escapee from gaining traction on the glass.

Use non-toxic silicone sealant for aquatic and semi-aquatic enclosures. It is also a good idea to affix rocks, branches, or any furniture a reptile could get pinned under, to the floor of the cage with sealant. Incorporate all heating and lighting elements into the enclosure and attach them with clips as needed.


How to Buy Reptile Cage Supplies on eBay

Reptile lovers can find almost anything they need to build the perfect reptile enclosure on eBay. Shoppers can easily use the search bar on the top of any eBay page to search for ‘reptile cage’ or ‘terrarium’. Or, if the preference is to build one’s own enclosure but still need to buy components like terrarium furniture or heating or temperature monitoring equipment, search for ‘reptile heat lamp’ or ‘aquarium rocks’. Remember to place the needs of the specific reptile species first when buying supplies for a habitat.

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