Aquariums are readily available cages used by many people to house pet reptiles. Despite this popularity, aquariums are not ideal enclosures for reptiles, as they are designed for the needs of fish. But, while aquariums are not ideal caging for most reptiles, particularly larger species, they can make acceptable housing for small lizards, snakes and turtles.
No matter what type of reptile you keep, aquariums will require modifications before being used for reptiles. A screened lid must replace the glass top used with fish. The top must not have any sharp edges and must fasten securely into place so there are no gaps that could allow escapes. Generally, basking lamps and other lights will be placed directly on the screen top. For species requiring high humidity, part of the lid should be covered with glass or plastic to limit the airflow and raise the relative amount of water in the air. If heating devices are to be used inside the cage, make sure the cord doesn't create a gap in the lid.
Young turtles can be very successfully reared in aquariums of suitable size. A 20- to 30-gallon enclosure could house a pair of young red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) or painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) although, once mature, even the smallest adult turtles will need at least six to eight feet of floor space -- that translates to a 75- to 100-gallon aquarium. If that size is within your comfort zone, aquariums are fine choices for small aquatic turtles, since aquariums are designed to hold water and allow a 360-degree view.
Ball pythons (Python regius), common kingsnakes (Lampropeltis getula ssp.) and similarly sized snakes can be adequately housed in an aquarium. Likewise, young specimens of large species like boa constrictors (Boa constrictor ssp.) and blood pythons (Python breitensteini) can be housed in aquariums -- temporarily, before graduating to proper caging for large snakes. Ten-gallon aquariums are appropriate for snakes up to about 2 feet in length. Twenty-gallon aquariums suit snakes around 3 feet in length, and 40- to 75-gallon tanks are big enough for snakes up to 4 or 5 feet. Snakes above that size are best housed in commercially produced or custom-built reptile cages, as extremely large aquariums are difficult to heat and secure adequately.
A number of small lizard species can be housed in aquariums if fitted with a screen lid and appropriate heating and lighting fixtures. Green anoles (Anolis carolinensis), day geckos (Phelsuma sp.), tokay geckos (Gekko gecko), leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius) and crested geckos (Rhacodactylus ciliatus) are all well-suited for aquariums. Arboreal species should be kept in vertically-oriented aquariums, while terrestrial lizards should be offered the biggest area of floor space possible. The biggest drawback to using aquariums for housing small lizards is that arboreal species often try to escape when the lid is removed. Additionally, some lizards require very high temperatures, which can be difficult to achieve in glass-sided habitats.
Reptiles Unsuitable for Aquariums
Some species should never be kept in aquariums. Panther chameleons (Furcifer pardalis) and other true chameleons appear to be very adversely affected by the reflections in the glass, and they can become stressed very easily when kept in aquariums. Additionally, chameleons require excellent ventilation -- something difficult to achieve in a cage with five enclosed sides. Other species that shouldn’t be kept in aquariums include lizards prone to running full-speed into the glass, like green basilisks (Basiliscus plumifrons).
- Melissa Kaplan's Herp Care Collection: Standard Tank Sizes
- Vida Preciosa International: The Ball Python Care Sheet
- Crestedgecko.com: Crested Gecko and Gargoyle Gecko Care and Breeding
- Chelonia.org: Trachemys scripta Care
- Melissa Kaplan's Herp Care Collection: Anoles
- The-lizard-lounge.com: Panther Chameleon Care Sheet
- South Shields Lizards: Green Basilisk
- Melissa Kaplan's Herp Care Collection: Reptile Housing: Size, Dimension and Lifestyle
- PhotoObjects.net/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images