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How do you start UK

This is a publication of PETSHOP JOS GEURTS and it is especially meant for starting vivarium lovers.

This publication is meant to point them in the right direction when starting this interesting hobby and is it also meant to keep the hobby interesting. Because this publication does not answer all questions and specific demands that are involved with this hobby, we can imagine that you still have questions after reading. Don't hesitate to write them down en bring or send them to our shop. We will try to find the best solutions for your questions and problems, so that you can continue your hobby with lots of fun and satisfaction. Our experience with this hobby, gathered in 40 years, guarantees it. Normally, if you would like to purchase animals, it is very important to:




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General information about TERRARIA

- Housing General

There are many species of reptiles and amphibians. They can be found all over the world, except for the very cold areas around the polar-areas. They can be found in many different biotopes. There are not much animal-species which way of life depends on and is adapted to the biotope. It is needless to say that housing is of the greatest importance for these animals. There is not a universal terrarium or that is suited for many reptiles or amphibians. Per species of animals you have to study the demands that the animal has before we can start keeping this animal.

The number of possible biotopes is infinite. For example, watch the differences between a desert-area and a tropical rainforest, or between a South American plateau and a Canadian tundra. The extreme adaptations of these animal species, which enables them to survive, also makes them very vulnerable in imprisonment. We have to imitate the natural biotope as good as possible to give the animals a reasonable chance to stay alive, stay healthy and to propagate themselves. In a general story about housing we have to restrict ourselves to some general remarks.

Before you can start you have to find out what the minimum needs per animal species are which we have to meet. This can involve extreme consequences. For example: Rat-snakes from moderated areasonly propagate themselves if they had at least a few weeks of wintersleep. Some chameleons can only be kept with success if they can be kept with a temperature that approaches the freezing-point at night. Many frogs and toads have very high demands regarding the acidity of their environment. We can make an infinite list of examples. We shall restrict ourselves to some general aspects.

-What is a biotope?

A biotope is a -for animal species- natural environment in al her facets. It is a composition of all things that are important for a certain animal or vegetable organism to give the organism optimal chances. Sometimes a biotope exists of very large areas, such as a coral-reefs. Sometimes a biotope exists of a small, clearly traced area, such as a mountain-brook or a little pool in a savanna. If we want to imitate a biotope, this doesn't mean that we completely have to copy the natural situation. Some things, such as humidity range, temperature and acidity, have to be watched accurate. Other things can be replaced if we take the demands of the animal or plant into account. For example: sufficient places to shelter are of vital interest for many animals. It is not always important if the shelters are made of natural materials or if they are made with old flower-pots or pieces of PVC-tube.A jungle-terrarium with iguanas may have artificial plants and it may also be free of plants etc. There are some rules that have to be followed before buying an animal:

1.The size of the terrarium.

You always should take the size that a full-grown animal needs. It happens often that people buy an animal without realizing that in a few years it can increase in length about 10 to 15 times. With choosing the size of the terrarium you should also take the needs of the animals regarding the height and length of the vivarium into account. A desert animal will need a long wide terrarium whereas a jungle-animal wants to climb high.

2.Can you provide the animals with enough food at any time.

Often a snake is accepted in a family but the nursing of rats is not. If you can't get enough food at an other way, it is better to buy no such animals. You have to realize that the nursing of food involves lots of annoyance. Crickets make noise, mice smell etceteras.


Besides an average temperature you have to watch the right day/night-rhythm and a right adaptation to the seasons. Desert-animals require a big difference between day temperature and night temperature. In the winter, gray rat snakes (Elaphe obsoleta spiloides) have to be kept with low temperatures during a certain period, to enable propagation. Jungle-animals don't require such a big differences between day/night-rhythm and the season-rhythm. For many animals it is also important to watch the bottom-temperature. It is of course impossible to give a complete survey of air-temperatures for all animals, but we can give you some indications:


Salamanders  18°C      12°C 

Frogs moderated areas  18°C  12°C 

Tropical frogs  25°C  20°C 

Reptiles subtropics  28°C  20°C 

Jungle animals  35°C  25°C 

Desert animals  40°C  15°C

4.Humidity range.

This doesn't only vary per biotope/animal species but it can also vary per 24 hours. In the dry desert environment a large amount of dew will arise in the evening and morning. Many amphibians require a very high, constant humidity range that can't be realized by normal evaporation. This requires special machines. Building a waterfall in a terrarium often realizes a sufficient high humidity range.


With ventilation you often have a problem: you have to find a balance between a good draught-free ventilation, the right humidity range and a non-blurred front-screen. This often causes a problem, but the balance can be found easily. 6.The use of the right materials. Many frogs hate fine sand. For many desert-animals fine sand is necessary for digging, but they can get eye-inflammations if they dig in potting soil or something like that. A good bottom-substrate can ensure the right acidity in a certain biotope. For example, peat involves a sour environment and limestone involves a base environment.

-The most important terrarium-types.

We can classify terraria by temperature (moderate or tropical), by climate (for example, desert and savanna are both dry but have totally different climatological circumstances), by humidity range or by the part of the total surface that is land or water. The type of vegetation is also important.

A paludarium exists of water for 1/3 and of land for 2/3. The land-part can be filled with swamp-plants and climbing-plants. a palludarium is an excellent place for a waterfall. A waterfall is beneficiary for the humidity. In a paludarium you can keep amphibians as well as fishes who live in shallow water. You can combine frogs, toads and salamanders with labyrinthfishes, provide that you only combine animals that live in the same biotope. You have to watch the acidity and hardness. You also have to be sure that the animals don't eat each other. Big salamanders eat little fishes en the big fishes eat salamanders. Several kinds of small lizards are also good animals for a paludarium which is not too humid (some species of the gender Anolis). Generally spoken, a paludarium is a high terrarium with lots of climbing possibilities. It is a jungle-terrarium with a lot of water.


A swamp-terrarium is a paludarium that is specially suited for animals who live on the ground. A swamp-terrarium mostly a long, not too high tank with relatively lots of water. It is suited for most salamander-species and for many water-loving frogs. - Tropical rainforest-terrarium This is a warm and humid terrarium. You can use ferns, orchids and bromeliads as vegetation. This type of terrarium can be regarded as a paludarium with few water-parts. It is suited for keeping some sorts of Phelsuma's, Anolisses, poison frogs, tree-frogs, little toads and little,insect-eating snakes.

For larger animals, such as iguanas and agamids, you have o use artificial plants, because these animals destruct and eat real plants. -Turtle-terrarium. There is no typical turtle-terrarium. There are many turtle-species which all have their own wishes. Of course, water-turtles need a bigger water-part than land-turtles. Water-turtles are big polluters. Good cleaning-possibilities, e.g. using a filter and a draw-off-tap, are essential. With a (swamp) turtle-terrarium, you have to put the accent on hygiene and easy cleaning of the tank. Decorative things are easily crushed. Stagnant water in a turtle-terrarium can lead to the formation of dangerous bacterium-species, wich are also dangerous for humans.

- Steppe-terrarium (rock-terrarium)

This is a terrarium with lots of sand and eventually rocks, firm plants or something like that. For the construction you cab use strong plants. The terrarium is also called rock-terrarium if you construct it with rocks and stones. Reptiles for this sort of terrarium are: wall-lizards, agamids, lacertidae and skink-species.

- Desert-terrarium.

You can compare a desert-terrarium to a steppe-terrarium, but the differences in temperature in the day/night-rhythm will be bigger. In the desert, the temperature falls during the night. You can imitate this by putting the heating off at night. The bearded dragon is one of the most popular terrarium-animals, suited for a desert-terrarium. But there are still several other species that can be kept in this type of terrarium.

- Mixed terrarium.

People often say that a mixed terrarium is suited for started. You can combine several species. But nothing is a bigger lie. The combination of several species often causes big troubles and that's the reason that especially starters should never do this without decent accompaniment. Advanced lovers should, in case of combination, always ask themselves if such combinations are responsible. The best way of keeping a terrarium is to put one or two, but not more than three species in one terrarium. Of course, this depends on the size of the terrarium. Of course it is possible to put different animals from the same biotope and especially the same size in one terrarium, but you have to be careful.

Something you shouldn't do is combine little insect-eating snakes with little lizards because the lizards can't tell the difference between dangerous and not dangerous and this ensures stress and this chases then through the whole terrarium. The snakes don't only have this situation in the beginning (when the lizards fly over them) but later, if the lizards are used to the situation, the lizards keep disturbing the snakes and this is bad for their health.

- Riparium.

Lately you're hearing a lot about a riparium. This is a terrarium in which a riverbank or ditch is copied.

- Construction and decoration of the terrarium.

A terrarium can be bought or you can make it yourself. In both cases, people often make a mistake: they don't take the demands of the future inhabitants into account. Thus you first have to make a list with the needs the vivarium has to meet to ensure that the animal can be tended well and that it can give the owner the pleasure that he or she expects from it. Of course, the listing for a living room-terrarium differs from the listing of a terrarium that you see in the shop, which has to meet other needs. In all cases you have to look if something is beneficiary for the animal and than you have to look if you can "smuggle" with some things. For example: an empty terrarium without any sheltering-possibilities causes stress with the animals, but a completely decorated terrarium is unfit for a shop, because than it is hard to catch the animal. It is a compromise to decorate the shop-sales-terrarium with pieces op PVC-tube, because these tubes can be checked easily. The right temperature, humidity-range and the duration of lighting are essential for the well-being of our animals. There are several ways to reach the goals.

- Some things you have to take into account.

Temperature and temperature variation. You have to distinguish the "dry" part and the "wet" part. Besides this, each animal has a maximum or minimum-temperature, but also an ideal temperature which often differs per part of the day. In humid biotopes there won't be big differences between day and night temperatures, but there will be between the different seasons. there will be big differences in day and night temperature in desert terrariums. For waterparts, you can use water-heating with a thermostat. For the dry parts, you can use special-heatlamps, bottom-heating-wire, heatingmats or, especially for smaller terrariums, ordinary lightbulbs or spotlights. For bigger terrariums you can use a radiation-stove or central heating. Remember that reptiles always need radiation-heat to keep in good shape, so a bottom-heating is never enough. - Ventilation. Everywhere it's humid, there's a chance of condensation, also on the windows. That's a nuisance, because you can't see much, especially if there are minerals and chalk in the water, which are left on the window. You can solve this problem on two different ways.

1. A good ventilation, either by ventilation-strips, or with a little ventilator ( e.g. a computer-ventilator). Air-conditioning is always welcome, in any type of vivarium.

2. Water without chalk and minerals, so reversed deminarelized.

- The size. Not only the surface that an adult animal needs is important, but also the need to climb and dry shelter-areas.

- The materials. There are many terrariums in which wrong materials are used or wrong combinations of materials are used. Humid terrariums have to be waterproof and the front screen have to be free of condensation. This remarks looks like forcing an open door but in the real world enormous mistakes are made regarding this point, also by so called expert advisors.

- Use the right materials for the decoration. Always look to the demands the animal has. Try to copy the natural biotope as good as possible. You can use artificial decoration such as plastic plants but take care of natural sheltering areas which the animals need.

- Back-wall and side-walls. These are, except for their decorative functions always necessary. They provide the animal with climbing-possibilities and a protected environment. A tank that's open on some sides can cause stress with some animals and we have to avoid that.

- Humidity range. This is very important for all animals. Remember that not only a rainforest has humid air, also a desert-area can be very humid for a short period at the change of day and night. You should not only spray in a terrarium with animals that need a high humidity range, but also in a desert-terrarium. It is advisable to create a waterfall in the vivarium for biotopes with a high humidity range. A waterfall creates high evaporation. The necessary humidity range depends on the species and is about 50% to 98% during the day.

-Food. Can you provide the animal with the right food under all circumstances? A lot of prey-animals can be bought and you don't have to grow them yourself so you don't have the smell and the noise.

-Filtering. Stagnant water quickly changes into dead water and dead water quickly changes into deteriorated water. If it is not freshened every day, even a small part of water should be kept moving for good oxygen-absorption and it should be filtered to keep the quality stable. This is not only important for the animals (especially fishes and amphibians) but also for the owner of the terrarium. It won't be the first time that someone gets sick of a polluted water-pool with turtles.

-The lighting. Animals and plants need light. Some species need more than others. Often the use of heatinglamps is enough, You often have to use special growthlamps for the plants. You can do a lot with TL-lamps or so-called PL-lamps. Average, the animals need 12 to 18 hours of light per day. The best way to control this is the use of a time-switch.

- UV-light. The human eye can't see this light but it is essential for some biological processes. UV-light can be classified in three groups: UV-A, UV-B, UV-C. UV-C has the shortest wave-length. UV-A is used for calcium-absorption, UV-B is used for the production of vitamin D and UV-C light is very dangerous. It is important to watch the type of UV-light and the instruction manual if you use it.

-Used materials. Not all materials are suited for all animals. Fine sand is not suited for salamanders. A peat-bottom won't be used for a steppe-terrarium. Pottery-soil will rot in a wet environment. Here goes the same rule: per animal and per material you should examine the possibilities. Materials The choice of the materials that can be used for the decoration of the vivarium is restricted by the type of biotope, such as sand in a desert-terrarium and peat in a swamp-terrarium, but also by practical matters such as hygiene and easy observation (in a zoo) or catching and handling (in a shop). As we said before: you don't always have to use natural materials. A flowerpot gives an animal often as much protection as a nice-built flagstone wall does.

It is important to decorate the terrarium so that stress is avoided.

Animals with stress will behave unnatural (and wound themselves) and they will suffer from diseases and parasites, such as intestinal worms. This is a fact. That's the reason that we put a back-wall in the terrarium and side-walls are also preferred and we also build shelters. Empty tanks are totally unfit. In a terrarium in your living room and in a zoo, you nevertheless have to try to copy the natural situation as good as possible. This is important both esthetically and educationally. Every material that's used in a terrarium has its advantages and disadvantages. We will try to discuss them as good as possible.


For back-walls:


Cork-plates are one of the most used materials for back-walls. It has some important advantages, it is easy to place and it isn't expensive. An important disadvantage: crickets eat holes in this sort of wall. It also crumbles fast in a terrarium with big lizards.


Cork bark is nice, but strictly speaking it is more suited for decoration. Because of its raw structure it is hard to use. Crickets will crawl in the rooms behind the wall and so do small amphibians and reptiles. The later even can get stuck.


The thin peat-sheets are not often used, because they aren't very firm. Eventually they can be used in an amphibian-terrarium. Peat-blocks aren't used for the back-wall either, because you can't glue them with lute. In an "Anolis"-terrarium it can be used, and stacked against the back-wall, provided that you make sure that the layered structure is horizontal. Eventually you can try to connect the peat-blocks to each other with long nails with clipped-of heads.


Fern-root is frequently used in paludariums. There is a possibility that it will be prohibited in the future, because fern-root is robbed out of the rainforest. But it is ideal, because it is easy to use and very nice. In humid circumstances, ferns and mosses will spontaneously grow on it. All other plants also grow easily on fern-root. Fern-root ensures a sour biotope, just as peat and cork do.


Nice thin schist can be glued on the back-wall with silicone-lute. The chinks are also covered with schist. First you have to put the tank on its back-screen. Schist is suited for all kinds of terrariums.


This stone, which can be distinguished from schist because it isn't as fine layered as schist and it is always colored red. It is rarely used as back wall. The bricks are to big and to heavy. In large desert-terrariums it is nice.

-Cement on tempex

Use a blow-dryer to make contours in the tempex and "paint" it a few times with quick drying cement. The result looks like a rock. It is ideal for desert-terrariums.

-Paint on tempex

Use a kitchen-knife to scratch nice contours in a tempex-plate. Then you have to paint it a few times with a brown paint, for example latex wallpaint. This looks like lavastone. A disadvantage is that the paint can be scratched of and you can see the white tempex again.


Styropore looks like hard, fine tempex. It is colored, very natural and easy to place. It is pity that plants won't grow on it. Sometimes, lizards can scratch it.


PUR-foam looks like shaving-foam, but PUR-foam gets very hard. It's a pity that this stuff is light-yellow or light-green, so it has to be painted. Mostly you can do it after is has hardened. The PUR looks like hard balls. If you spray paint on the foam directly after you sprayed the foam, there will be tiny holes and the PUR will look like lavastone.

-Lavastone in cement

This combined, gray/brown back-wall can be placed layer by layer. It is very beautiful, but also very heavy.

-For decoration:

-For decoration you can use almost all back-wall-materials (except for tempex) and especially for terraces and hiding of equipment these materials are suited.

- Of course, artificial plants are often used. Nothing is against this. You have to make sure that, the bigger the animal gets, the stronger the plants are. Because these animals can break artificial plants by walking over them and trying to climb in them. - Real plants have more disadvantages than advantages. The animals will try to eat them. Besides that, in many terrariums the circumstances aren't ideal and the plants will die. In paludariums, only real plants are used. The best known plant is the Ficus Repens, in paludariums real weed. Tillansias, Bromelias and ferns are also suited for humid terrariums, but you shouldn't be surprised if some of them die.

- All kinds of stones can be used to make caves.

- Several kinds of wood can be used. If the wood makes contact with water, it is preferable to use tropical roots. Other wood will rot after some time.

Outside in the nature you can find stumps, branches and other decorative pieces of wood. these things are only suited for use in dry terrariums. For creating branches grapewood is often used, because it is decorative. Wood with lots of chinks and holes and a raw bark is less hygienic and it is a disadvantage with a parasite-infection.


For bottom-substrate:


This is an ideal cheap bottom-cover for dry terrariums. It gives a good natural impression and it is easy to clean. You have to choose the coarse clippings.


This are pellets of a dried sort of clay that's normally used as cat's box filling. The advantage of this material is that it doesn't create dust and it absorbs very good (that's why you should only use it in large terrariums). If a big lizard or snake produced a turd with some moist, the bentonite clots it together and it can be removed.


This material is suited for desert-terrariums. The trick is to choose clean sand, which has the right size and structure. Sand with an irregular structure doesn't collapse easy, so lizards can dig holes in it. Sand in a desert-terrarium is easy to clean, simply by sifting it.


Gravel is hardly used in terrariums, because it is sharp and hard and because in nature, there are not many animals that live on gravel. Gravel can be cleaned by washing/rinsing it like aquarium-gravel.

Pottery soil:

Pottery soil is often used in especially humid terrariums. But don't let it get too wet, because it will rot and smell. If especially big animals pollute the bottom a lot, it has to be replaced regularly.


Peat may become moist, it won't rot or smell but it will sour the environment. If that isn't a problem, peat is a great bottom-substrate. Peat-blocks in a paludarium, as island in the water can overgrow with moss and other plants.


Vinyl is very hygienic. It is easy to clean and it leaves no room for parasites or dirt. Yet it is not too smooth for most of the reptiles. It looks nice, provided that you choose a natural color. It is extremely suited for terrariums with snakes, tree-living lizards and amphibians. It can even be used for decorating the back-wall and the side-walls.


We hope that reading this file has given you an idea of what you would like to do yourself. Take your time and don't make precipitated decisions. Mostly this is at the cost of the animal, but also at the cost of your purse.

With thanks for the translation by: Niels Timmermans Tegelen.