As long as you have the necessary tools, equipment and skill to do so, you can forgo a store-bought reptile cage and make your own. In fact, if your pet is large, it may be necessary to construct your own cage, as relatively few commercial options exist for large captive reptiles. Consider a basic design and build from scratch with wood, plastic, glass or screen; or re-purpose another item into a suitable reptile habitat.
Screen or Mesh Cages
Most common chameleon species, including panther (Furcifer pardalis), veiled (Chamaeleo calyptratus) and Jackson’s chameleons (Trioceros jacksonii), will not thrive in aquaria or solid-walled cages of any kind; they require the abundant airflow provided by a screen- or mesh-walled habitat. To build an appropriate chameleon cage, construct a rectangular frame with a hinged door and attach screen or mesh to four sides, the door and the top. Use a plastic or wood panel for the bottom. Never use cedar for reptiles.
Soft nylon mesh is acceptable, although it may snag your lizard’s toenails. Quarter-inch plastic-coated hardware cloth is preferred. Place heating and lighting equipment strategically to allow your pet to bask and raise his body temperature.
Plastic or Wooden Cages
A simple rectangular box, fitted with a hinged transparent door, makes a good reptile cage. By using half- or three-quarter-inch hardwood or plastic panels in the construction of the box, you can avoid having to build a frame for all but the largest cages. Hinged doors are easy to make, but you can install bypass sliding doors if you purchase and install a pair of tracks on the cage floor and ceiling. Use jewelry case locks to keep bypass doors secure.
Cut a hole in the lid and cover it with aluminum mesh if you plan to use heat lamps or fluorescent lighting for the cage. If doing so is consistent with the manufacturer’s directions, you can place radiant heat panels inside the cage, but you must drill holes to allow the power cord to exit the cage. Cut out a few "windows" and cover them with mesh to provide ventilation.
Acrylic or Glass Boxes
You can make an aquarium-style enclosure with four walls and a bottom from glass or acrylic panels. Because of the importance of straight, accurate cuts, purchase pre-cut panels unless you have experience with these materials. Commercial aquariums usually lack frames; the panels adhere directly to each other. However, you can construct a frame from wood, metal or strong plastic, and attach the panels to the frame if you prefer. If you attach glass to glass or acrylic to acrylic, use appropriate silicone glue to seal the edges and let it cure before using the habitat.
Make the lid by building a frame and attaching a piece of mesh to it. Make the frame just large enough to slip over the top of the aquarium. It can be difficult to make locking mechanisms for custom-built aquariums, but adhesive Velcro straps are often sufficient for containing small animals.
Repurposed Furniture or Containers
If you are the creative type, you can convert a variety of everyday items into suitable reptile cages. Chests, plastic storage boxes, entertainment centers and old televisions are just a few of the items that reptile keepers have used to contain captive creatures. After gutting the furniture or box as necessary, seal the interior with plastic film, acrylic sheets or a nontoxic water sealant; block any potential escape routes; and design a door for the enclosure.
You must allow for heating and lighting equipment by installing mesh-covered windows on the top. Regardless of what you intend to re-purpose, the completed cage must be secure and must allow you to access and observe your pet.
Dimensions and Layout
The cage should allow your pet to behave as he would in the wild. For example, frilled dragons (Chlamydosaurus kingii), who spend the majority of their time moving up and down vertical tree trunks, should have vertically oriented cages. By contrast, blood pythons (Python brongersmai), spend their lives lounging on the forest floor and should have horizontally oriented cages.
It is imperative that your pet’s cage be spacious enough to permit adequate exercise, sufficient mental stimulation and the establishment of heat, light and moisture gradients. While the space requirements of different species vary widely, small reptiles, such as leopard geckos and garter snakes, require 2 to 6 square feet of space. Medium-size herps, such as ball pythons (Python regius) and blue-tongued skinks (Tiliqua spp.), require cages of 6 to 8 square feet. Small but active species, such as bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) and Russian tortoises (Testudo horsfieldii), require 8 to 32 square feet of space. Large iguanas, monitor lizards, tortoises and constrictors require closet- or room-size cages.
- That Reptile Blog: The Natural History and Captive Care of the Frilled Dragon or Frillneck Lizard, Chlamydosaurus Kingii – Part I, Frilled Dragons in the Wild
- Melissa Kaplan's Herp Care Collection: Reptile Housing: Size, Dimension and Lifestyle
- Brandywine Zoo: Blood Python
- Melissa Kaplan's Herp Care Collection: Use of Cedar as a Substrate for Reptiles and Other Pets
- The Chameleon Company: Caging
- Clay Davenport Captive Bred Reptiles: Cage Building Tips
- Tricia's Chinese Water Dragon Page: Inexpensive Ways to Make a Great Reptile Enclosure!