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Tanks vs. Tubs — What is the Best Type of Reptile Enclosure?

Have you ever witnessed what happens when someone posts a question about housing to a reptile group? Spoiler alert: it’s explosive. As differing opinions clash, things can get heated pretty quickly. We all care deeply about the welfare of our reptiles, but we go about meeting their needs differently depending on budget, resources, and personal taste.

But is there an “ultimate” enclosure? Let’s look at the 6 most popular reptile enclosures on the market.

*Note: I often use “terrarium” as a blanket term for any reptile enclosure, but in this article, “terrarium” refers to a specific style of enclosure with opaque sides and front access.*


Mesh Cages

PROS

  • Superior ventilation
  • Lightweight
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Front-opening for accessibility
  • Mesh creates more surface area for climbing

CONS

  • Does not retain heat, humidity, or water
  • At risk for tearing
  • Somewhat obstructs viewing
Zoo Med Repti Breeze - Mesh Reptile Cage

Zoo Med Repti Breeze (source)

Tanks/Aquariums

PROS

  • Attractive
  • Makes it easy to view reptiles
  • Watertight (unless stated otherwise)
  • Easy to find used
  • Well ventilated

CONS

  • Easy to escape
  • Often too tall to be practical for terrestrial species
  • Heavy
  • Retains heat and humidity poorly
  • Lid on top makes access difficult
  • Large aquariums are exponentially expensive
  • Often requires modification
  • At risk for shattering

Glass Terrariums

PROS

  • Attractive
  • Good for viewing
  • Retains humidity fairly well
  • Watertight (unless stated otherwise)
  • Well ventilated
  • Secured against escape
  • Front-opening doors makes access easy
  • Especially popular with gecko keepers

CONS

  • More expensive than aquarium counterparts
  • Heavy
  • Retains heat poorly
  • At risk for shattering
Exo Terra glass terrariums

Exo Terra glass terrariums (source)

Terrariums

PROS

  • Often custom-built
  • Front-opening for accessibility
  • Opaque sides help animal feel secure
  • Fairly attractive
  • Clear front enables viewing
  • Durable
  • Stackable
  • Secured against escape
  • Traps heat and humidity
  • PVC terrariums are especially popular

CONS

  • Expensive
  • Fairly heavy
  • Wood and melamine are not waterproof (tends to mold and crumble when constantly exposed to water)
Animal Plastics T11 terrarium

Animal Plastics T11 terrarium (source)

Tubs/Bins

PROS

  • Durable
  • Inexpensive
  • Retains heat and humidity well
  • Fairly secure if lid is in use
  • Easy to clean
  • Lightweight
  • Opaque/semiopaque walls help defensive species feel more secure

CONS

  • Top-opening
  • Unattractive
  • Obscures viewing
  • Almost always requires modification
Reptile Mountain blue tongue skink tubs

Tubs used for blue tongue skinks at Reptile Mountain (source)

Racks

PROS

  • Very space efficient, ideal for breeding or large collections
  • Retains heat and humidity well
  • Easy to clean
  • Easy to access
  • Helps defensive species feel more secure

CONS

  • Can be poorly ventilated
  • Risk for escape if poorly built
  • Unattractive
  • Obscures viewing
  • Difficult to use for diurnal species
BoaPhile reptile rack

BoaPhile reptile rack (source)


And the winner is…

NONE OF THEM!

As of August 2016, there are an estimated 10,450 different species of reptile in the world — and we’re discovering new ones all the time. Each of these species has slightly different needs:

Example #1 — Red-eared slider turtles are semiaquatic and tend to get larger than expected. They do best in a large aquarium or pond.

However, tortoises get stressed when they can see the world outside of their enclosure, leading to near-constant pacing. A tub or tortoise box is more suitable.

Example #2 — Chameleons need bright light, cool air, and constant ventilation, so they do best in mesh enclosures.

However, blood pythons like darkness, cramped quarters, and privacy — a mesh enclosure would stress it out and be detrimental to its health. A tub or terrarium would be a better alternative.

An “ultimate” form of housing simply can’t exist. Therefore it is up to the keeper to do their research and house their reptile in the best enclosure for its needs.

A quick note about aquariums

You may have noticed that aquariums made the bottom of the list with a long list of cons and short list of reptiles. While there may not be a “best” type of reptile enclosure, aquariums are far from the top of the list with most species. They’re not always bad (heck, I’ve housed a bearded dragon, blue tongue skink, and ball python in them), but they are pretty inconvenient. Whenever possible, steer clear of aquariums.


What type(s) of reptile enclosure do you use?

Express your opinion in the comments below!

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2 Comments

  1. I have a custom built terrarium made from an old dresser for my blue tongue skink, it’s been weatherproofed for better humidity and viewing. I believe that lizards should be provided with stimulation unless they’re a very stresses species, but blue tongues and beardies actually like interaction, I don’t think that tubs/racks are ever suitable for them. Animal Plastics terrariums for my blood pythons as it allows them to feel safe while also providing enough space to stretch out. They’re not always too expensive, the T8 is very cheap compared to the price of aquariums with the same dimensions, also very customable and you can order specific things for your cage upon ordering, but another con is the shipping time, which is a few months.

    • I completely agree. Bearded dragons and blue tongue skinks are complex species which definitely benefit from environmental stimulation. I’m working on a 4’x2’x2′ custom terrarium for my big Merauke right now, and it’s a lot of work! Mad respect for finishing yours. Tubs and racks aren’t my favorite either, but they definitely have their place. I like the way Reptile Mountain sets up his blue tongue breeding racks — space efficient, cost effective, but not bare-bones either.

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