Tank Tips: A Guide to Making Your Reptile or Amphibian Feel at Home

As you probably know, most household reptiles and amphibians can live happy, domestic lives in appropriately-sized fish aquariums. This guide will tell you how to make sure your aquarium is big enough, and how to turn it into your pets’ ideal environment.

Tank Sizes

Aquariums, or fish tanks, should be large enough to accommodate your pet reptile or amphibian at its full grown size and also provide plenty of room for exercise. Each species has its own requirements, but here are some general guidelines:

  • For Lizards: The tank should be about 3 times longer than the animal’s snout-to-tail length and at least 1.5 times as wide. The tank height should be about 1.5 times taller than the lizard’s snout-to-tail length.
  • For Snakes: The length of the tank should be at least 3/4 the animal’s snout-to-tail length, and the width should be at least 1/3 the snout-to-tail length. Snake species that live on the ground should have a tank that is at least 3/4 as tall as the snake’s length. Snake species that live in trees, should have a tank that is at least the same depth as the snake’s length.
  • For Turtles: The tank’s length should be about 5 times longer than your pet’s carapace, or upper shell, length. It should be about 3 times as wide, and two times as deep. For aquatic turtles, add another 6 to 12 inches to the total depth to account for your turtle’s swimming water.

Tank Heating

All reptiles and amphibians are cold-blooded and need an external source of heat and a basking area, where they have room to rest while warming. Heat rocks alone are not always sufficient, because reptiles and amphibians also need UVA and UVB light exposure, which allows for the proper absorption of dietary calcium. Glass and plastic materials will filter out ultraviolet light, so UVA/UVB lights should be placed inside the tank or on a screen cover on top of the tank. It is important to avoid illuminating the entire tank, because reptiles and amphibians also need cooler areas, away from the light, to regulate their body temperature and functions. To ensure good health, amphibians and reptiles need 10 to 12 hours of darkness daily. This period of day and night can be adjusted to coincide with natural light cycles, which means a longer period of darkness during the fall and winter and a shorter period of darkness during the spring and summer.


Reptiles and amphibians are often much more sensitive to humidity levels than mammals. Most species require a relative humidity of between 50% and 70%, but some species that come from more arid (dry) areas will require less. If your pet is shedding, increasing the humidity can help the process. Expensive humidity controllers are not always necessary. Some simple and inexpensive ways to increase humidity includes misting your pet with a spray bottle daily, placing a damp cloth near the heat source, or providing a bathing area inside the tank.

Cold Blooded Feng Shui

Reptile and amphibian owners should carefully consider what they put down as a substrate in their pets’ tanks. Wood shavings, sand, corn cob, or cat litter should be avoided. Your pet can eat these and develop gastrointestinal obstructions. Better choices include unshredded newspaper or reptile carpeting. These are also both easier to clean and disinfect. Reptiles and amphibians need in a clean environment because they can develop bacterial and/or fungal infections if forced to live in an unmaintained, dirty tank.

You should provide your pet reptile or amphibian with a variety of tree limbs, rocks, logs, and artificial plants to mimic their natural environment. These provide an opportunity to exercise and encourage normal behaviors in your pet. But don’t go overboard! You want your pet to be engaged, not entrapped. For ideas and inspiration on creating an ideal environment, try searching YouTube for videos highlighting how your pet interacts in their natural habitat!

If you have questions about your pet reptile’s habitat, health, or nutrition, contact us to schedule a consultation.

CEDARCREST Animal Clinic provides medical and surgical care for every stage of your pet’s life including preventive wellness care exams and vaccines, spays/neuters, and a variety of specialized care for your dog, cat, avian, or exotic. We are home to the only veterinarian practitioner in Virginia to be double Boarded in Avian and Canine/Feline care and provide care for birds, small mammals, and reptiles of all sorts! Plus, we are home to Virginia’s most exclusive dog boarding resort that includes heated floors, an expansive play area, and even webcams so you can watch your pet while you’re away. We’re located in Fishersville, Virginia, and serve Augusta County and surrounding areas including Waynesboro, Staunton, Harrisonburg, and Charlottesville. 

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Speedy was such a good boy for his wellness exam! Did you know that even though they have big, bulky shells, Russian tortoises love to climb and explore through all different terrain? 🐢 ... See MoreSee Less

Speedy was such a good boy for his wellness exam! Did you know that even though they have big, bulky shells, Russian tortoises love to climb and explore through all different terrain? 🐢
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