Reptile Habitats

Reptile habitats need to have enough room for the intended inhabitant to move around and thermoregulate properly. This often means a larger than average enclosure.


Your scaly pal’s habitat should also have a humidity level of about 70 to 90 percent. A thermometer and hygrometer are needed to monitor ambient temperatures and moisture.

Ambient Temperature

Reptiles can’t sweat like humans and dogs, so they cannot adjust their internal body temperatures if the outside environment is too hot or too cold. Because of this, their habitats must be made just right for them. This is particularly true for cathemeral (night-time) reptiles such as frogs.

Most pet reptiles require a thermal gradient inside their enclosure, with a warm basking area and cooler areas that are 2-30 degrees either side of their preferred body temperature (PBT). The cool end should have hiding places and hide boxes as well as plants to help provide a retreat from the heat. It is important to measure the temperatures in both ends of your reptiles’ enclosure on a regular basis and to make sure the temperatures are correct for their species.

Using a climate map such as the one above can help you determine what sort of conditions your reptile needs in their habitat. From tropical rainforest to the world’s hottest deserts, there are a huge range of habitat requirements and many options for how you can duplicate these conditions in your pet’s enclosure.

For aquatic turtles and amphibians, water temperatures are also a vital factor. While many pet owners automatically assume that aquatic pets need their water heated to tropical fish tank temperatures, this is not always necessary for reptiles native to North America. Typically, the ground water temperature of lakes and rivers is more than adequate for most aquatic reptiles. Look up local water temperature reports on weather and meteorological websites to get valuable real time data for your region.

Digestive Heat

As endothermic animals, reptiles must absorb ambient and digestive heat from their surroundings. In the wild, they use their natural habitat to thermoregulate and seek out suitable basking spots that provide the right conditions. In captivity, the habitat must be able to meet all of their needs – from warmth and light to water, food and hiding places.

Many reptiles rely on their habitat for shelter, protection and breeding sites. They also require a variety of substrates for burrowing and nesting. These can be as simple as shredded newspaper or a mix of sand, garden soil and peat moss. However, the type and quality of substrate must be carefully selected for each species. The wrong one can make a reptile sick or irritate their skin.

Reptiles must have access to a source of fresh water for drinking and bathing. Water is often a source of nutrition and can help regulate internal temperature. For aquatic reptiles, the water must be filtered and aerated to remove organic waste and disease-causing bacteria.

Many reptiles live primarily on the ground, while others climb in trees or up on branches. Each type of reptile should have a habitat that includes appropriate climbing and hiding objects for its species. For example, bearded dragons need a few large rocks for basking and a lot of ground foliage, while a veiled or Jackson’s chameleon will thrive in a tall screen enclosure with lots of dense branches to hide under.


Most reptiles need a certain level of humidity, but the precise amount varies by species. For instance, tropical pythons need higher humidity levels than desert sand boas. A hygrometer will help you determine the right level of humidity for your pet.

Reptiles that require high humidity should be kept in enclosures with tall, wide sides. This helps to increase the airflow and prevent overheating. Misting the habitat regularly will also raise humidity to the correct level.

A water dish will also add moisture to the habitat, but a shallower dish will have a lower effect than a deeper one. Positioning the water dish closer to the warm end of the cage will raise the humidity, while moving it to the cooler end will decrease it.

If you’re struggling to get the humidity in your reptile habitat to an ideal range, try adding a dehumidifier to your home. These are specifically designed for pet homes and can be purchased from specialty pet stores.

It’s important to know your pet’s needs and keep them in an environment that will promote their health and longevity. Proper temperatures and humidity can reduce nervousness and keep your pet’s skin in good condition. If you’re unsure about how to care for your reptile, consult an expert at your local pet store or vet clinic.


Reptiles require a variety of light levels to perform basic metabolic and physiological functions. Light also plays an important role in setting circadian rhythms. These are the daily schedules that govern sleep and activity patterns in all animals. If a reptile is exposed to too little or too much light at the wrong time, it may become stressed and unhappy.

Many reptiles need access to full-spectrum sunlight in their habitats. This is especially true for those species that require a certain amount of direct basking heat. Species from different areas of the world have differing sun exposure requirements, so consult books, Internet guides or your vendor to find out what’s appropriate for your particular species.

In addition to the visible light of infrared radiation, some reptiles require supplemental lighting that emits a small amount of UVB. This part of the spectrum produces vitamin D, which helps reptiles absorb calcium and stay healthy. This can be achieved with the use of specialized UVB lamps, fluorescent tubes or certain halogen bulbs.

Some nocturnal reptiles also need a low level of heat in their enclosures at night. This can be provided by ceramic heaters or heat mats. These can be used with a timer to turn on at a set time during the day. For energy and cost-conscious owners, a halogen or fluorescent bulb in conjunction with a heating device can be just as effective as the use of a specialized UVB lamp.