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REPTILE ENCLOSURES
By Melissa Kaplan
anapsid.org

The enclosures in which reptiles are housed are important to their health and well-being.

Lighting is a critical component of your reptile's enclosure. Whenever possible, provide your reptile with natural, unfiltered sunlight. Glass and plastic filter out the beneficial UV. UVT Plexiglas is manufactured for the greenhouse industry, and does not filter out the beneficial UV.
To many people, these three terms--cleaning, disinfecting and sterilizing--are synonymous but the fact is that they stand for three discrete processes. What you know or don't know can at best be a waste of time and money for you; at worst, it can make you ill and be deadly to your animals.
Choose a suitable substrate that is safe for the iguana and easy for you to clean. The latter is a criterion as the easier it is for you to clean, the more likely you will be to clean the enclosure every time it needs to be cleaned. Often, that means daily cleaning.
In creating a home, we must provide for the iguana not only as he is today, but also as he will be in the months and years to come.
There is no way for someone who has not had a great deal of experience with iguanas to tell how old they are (even experienced folks can only make an approximate guess). Iguana growth is determined by diet, heat and activity, as well as by the population characteristics in the population from which the iguana was taken or bred.
The costliest initial mistake made by iguana keepers is starting off with too small an enclosure. Enclosures aren't cheap to begin with, but you save nothing by buying less expensive small enclosure.
Iguanas don't need night lighting. That being said, the lights from heating pads, power strips, night lights, and diffuse moonlight are acceptable and may in fact help them in case they are startled awake.
If you have an iguana and want another, be prepared to set up separate housing if need be. Big igs often get along just great with little ones, and females can be just as territorial as males. There are no hard and fast rules other than for you to be prepared to create separate environments for them, permanently or seasonally (during breeding season) if need be.
They are not the same thing. As reptiles have become more popular as pets, lots of products have hit the market designed to thin out the reptile owner's wallet. Many do not do what they are advertised as doing and, for some, there are already less expensive alternatives available.
Where you set up the iguana's enclosure is as important as how you set it up.
Every animal has a preferred optimum temperature range in which its systems work most efficiently. On either side of that optimum range is a narrow range of tolerable temperatures. Temperatures that are lower or higher than the tolerable range will cause stress and ultimately death. What's the right range for your reptile?
A great deal of thought must go into a reptile's captive environment. The type of environment it needs will be based on how big the animal gets, how the animal lives in the wild, how it gets water, and its macro- and microclimate requirements. Learn about the appropriate size before you get the reptile.
Reptile size will vary throughout the early years of life as a reptile grows. The enclosure size suitable for a 1-year old iguana, boa constrictor or savanna monitor may not be the size suitable for that same reptile 2, 3 or 5 years later. Tables with standard tank sizes are provided.
Substrates commonly used in reptile enclosures include those listed here. Some of these substrates are inappropriate for some reptiles. Some are inappropriate for all reptiles and are included here so that you will be forewarned against buying them despite pet store recommendations and the implied or explicit wording on product packaging and advertisements.
There appears to be a lot of choice out there in substrates marketed for reptiles. Fortunately, the decision making isn't so difficult, once you realize how dangerous or inappropriate so many of them are for your reptiles.
Hot rocks, heated branches, and undertank heating pads are not only unnecessary for iguanas, but can harm them. Iguanas internal temperature regulator can fail; the rock becomes hot enough to severely burn the iguana, sometimes fatally.
Outside winter temperatures make difficult for your reptile's heating equipment to maintain the required temperatures for the species throughout the day and night. You can monitor the temps in the enclosure in three spots (the basking, warm, and cool areas) several times during the day and night to see what's going on.

   
About the author(s)
Melissa Kaplan Melissa is the author of Iguanas for Dummies as well as numerous articles on reptiles. She contributed two chapters to the 3-volume work The Biology, Husbandry and Health Care of Reptiles (Lowell Ackerman, DVM, editor), and co-authored the top-rated Captive Care of the Green Iguana video (Scimitar Productions, UK).

Melissaís training and background in wildlife rehabilitation, animal behavior observation and veterinary clinical nursing procedures have all contributed her to study of and the care and keeping of reptiles. Through the years, she has been actively involved in reptile rescue and rehabilitation, consulting with pet owners, veterinarians, and animal regulatory agencies on reptile care, behavior and welfare issues. In 1997, she earned her masterís in education, with her thesis, "Classroom Reptiles."

Her website, www.anapsid.org, contains a wealth of information on the care, health and behavior of reptiles in captivity and in the wild.

An article,"Meet Melissa Kaplan," appeared in the January 2000 issue of Reptile Hobbyist magazine. She is also on the staff of Kingsnake.com. Melissa currently lives in Northern California, and is presently co-habiting with a Cyclura iguana, blue-tongue skink, a ballpython and various chelonians. Melissa continues to promote herp welfare through her website, as well as advocate on the behalf of those stricken with invisible disabilities through her Chronic Neuroimmune Diseases site.


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