Popular Cage Types and Setups for Pet Reptiles
In this article I will discuss the different types of cages and cage setups used in South Africa and abroad. You will learn the pros and cons of each cage type to better educate yourself on the best cage for your situation. Not only will this article benifit beginners but also more experienced keepers who may want to try something new.
The first type of cage setup is what is called minimalistic or basic cage setups, these are often plastic tubs lined with newspaper, a water bowl and a hide. The benifits of this type of cage setup is that it is cheap and you can house more snakes in a smaller space if you use a rack system, which is plastic tubs which slide into a shelve which is heated with heat cable or heat pads. Some more benifits include the fact that humidity and temperature are easy to control in this type of enclosure. Many reptile keepers are going against this setup stating it is cruel and the snakes are bored and require enrichment to live happily in captivity. This enrichment theory is wrong in my opinion. Reptiles have primative brains and are not intelligent enough to get bored, it is more important that they have the correct climate and security rather than plants. Also many reptile keepers think their pets are more intelligent than they actually are by thinking they have the same human emotions and feelings which their owners do. Reptiles lack these complex emotions. This drives the owner to think that thier pet requires more stimulation and interaction than it actually needs. Another very important reason this type of caging is suitable is that it is very easy to clean and keeps bacteria and parasites to a very low level. I keep most of my reptiles in this type of setup and a fecal float done on my Leopard Geckos showed no parasites of any kind which is unusual as geckos often pick up parasites, I think the reason for this is the cleanliness of the basic cage setup I use for them. Obviously you cannot keep huge boas and pythons in tubs as they are too big and the tubs are too small, also certain types of lizards are not well suited for life in a tub. In these situations the next type of cage setup I will discuss is more appropriate. Tubs and racks are suitable for breeders and keepers with large collections. Many species do better in tubs than in other cage types.These include Blood Pythons and Ball Pythons which prefer the security and more stable temperature and humidity levels that can be provided in a tub and will often feed better in a smaller opaque tub. A tip I can give it you want to see your reptiles more but still want to use a racking system is to use Exo Terra Faunariums or their smaller sized Breeder Boxes. I utilize a lot of these cages in my snake room and they work very well. There are Chinese knock offs of the Exo Terra Faunariums that are much cheaper and do the job equally well.
Semi Naturalistic Cage Setups
Semi naturalistic cage setups usually consist of a wooden cage with a glass front, with a natural substrate, hides, and artificial plants. The plastic cages with glass fronts which American keepers use are not widely available in South Africa. All glass enclosures can be used but are expensive and most SA keepers do not use them. The benifits of semi natural enclosures is that they look more natural and make good display cages, for keepers who wish to view their pets. Many species thrive in these cage. These include most duirnal lizards such as Bearded Dragons, Monitor Lizards and Skinks. Most snakes do well in these cages as long as a cage lock is used. Hatchling snakes can escape from these enclosures and are best kept in tubs. The downside of these wooden and glass cages is that heat and humidity are more difficult to control and the cages will eventually get water damaged and will need replacing when this happens. If you remove feaces and uneaten food on a regular basis this type of cage will have moderate levels of bacteria which your reptiles immune system will be able to fight off. Often the artificial plants, drift wood and fake skulls are more for the keepers benifit rather than their pets. Keepers enjoy making the cage look pretty because it looks nice to them but the reptiles don’t really care too much. There are certain species such as arboreal snakes which require branches to climb on and chameleons which require lots of foilage and branches in their enclosures. So at least some species do require certain types of cage decorations. A good thing about wooden and glass cages is that you can easily install basking lamps that many lizards require, some species of snakes for example Rinkhals benifit from a basking lamp. One downside of this more natural setup is that if you get a mite infestation you will have to strip the cage until nothing is left and clean out the cage. You may need to repeat this process several times as mites have a habit of reappearing once you think you have gotten rid of them. This type of cage setup has been used successfully in South Africa for decades and is the standard setup that most hobbyist keepers use.
This type of enclosure is supposed to be the most natural cage that you can get. The cages have natural soil, live plants, bright grow lights and isopods to eat any faeces or uneaten food. This type of cage setup is being promoted by many keepers as the way all reptiles must be kept. I have many problems with this scenario. Firstly it is naive to think you can recreate nature in an average sized cage, in nature reptiles live a natural life but they have hundreds of kilometers in which to do so. In this type of setup there are very high levels of bacteria due to the fact that the isopods do not do as good a job as you may think. Reptiles with a compromised immune system can actually get sick and die in a bioactive setup due to the high levels of pathogens, for example putting a wild caught Bush Viper in one of these cages could kill it. Some keepers boast that they have not cleaned their bioactive enclosures in years, this is animal abuse according to me. I have seen YouTube videos of setups with so many isopods that the snakes have them crawling all over them, which cannot be comfortable for the reptile. Bioactive cages could work well with small species such as Poison Dart Frogs, Salamanders and small day geckos and possibly Crested Geckos. I do not think that bigger reptiles will do well in bioactive enclosures, these setups are more suited to smaller species with high humidity requirements and are most definitely not suitable for most reptiles we keep in captivity. I personally would not go the bioactive route, however if you can find the correct species to put in it you are welcome to try it. I recently read an article in Reptiles Magazine an American publication about the care of Poison Dart Frogs. Bioactive enclosures were mentioned and I was surprised at how complicated it is to setup a bioactive enclosure for this species, it seems more difficult to look after the plants than the frogs. These cages are suitable for more experienced keepers who want a nice display cage for smaller reptiles and amphibians.