The desert terrarium

A breath of desert in the living room

We humans generally think of the desert as a very hot habitat. When we take a closer look, though, we find that the habitats of reptiles in the desert are characterised by very high fluctuations in temperature, depending on where the animals are. At night, temperatures drop quite dramatically. Desert animals deliberately alternate between warm, sunny areas and cooler, shady places in their habitat in order to reach and maintain the temperature they need for metabolic processes and typical behaviour (courtship display, territorial battles, etc.).

It should be noted that desert animals in particular also need some areas with temperatures of 50–60 °C in a terrarium, although they do not spend all day there. It goes without saying that the time spent under the source of heat is also influenced by the air temperature and wind movement in their natural habitat.

In the spring when air temperatures are cool and the winds are strong, they often need to bask in the sun for extended lengths of time in order to reach their preferred temperature. In contrast in the summer when the air temperature is 38 °C and there is no wind, they avoid direct sunlight in order not to overheat above their ideal temperature (35–42 °C for many desert species). The varied distribution of heat is thus a very important factor when heating a basin. The animals always need to be able to move to cooler places when they have warmed up sufficiently.

By the careful selection of technical equipment and their use (e.g. never cover the entire floor of a terrarium with a substrate heating, etc.), the terrarium keeper must ensure that climate gradients are created in the terrarium rather than a uniform sauna climate. Setting a temperature gradient in the terrarium is especially important in this context. No reptile can survive a core temperature of 48 °C.

A desert terrarium can be set up as follows: Any kind of sand is suitable as a floor covering. JBL offers under Substrate you'll find varicoloured types of sand under the name JBL TerraSand natural red , JBL TerraSand natural yellow and JBL TerraSand natural white . JBL TerraSand natural red is supplied damp and can be shaped while it is being spread. After drying, it hardens to a certain degree, thereby permitting burrowing animals to dig caves.

Depending on the animals’ needs, the terrarium can be structured with stone constructions with or without caves. Stone constructions should be glued together for the interest of the safety of the animals and the glass. This can be done by using non-toxic aquarium silicone such as JBL AquaSil transparent .

There usually are two different kinds of bondings: dry bondings or wet bondings in areas which never really dry out. For dry bonding please decide whether the bonding needs to stay slightly flexible, e.g. when using stones or wood decoration, or whether it’s a rigid object. For flexible bonding we recommend JBL AquaSil transparent , which is a non-toxic black or transparent aquarium silicone. For rigid bonds a non-toxic superglue, such as JBL ProHaru Rapid is the first choice. You are unlikely to find wet or moist patches in a desert terrarium. If there are, then JBL ProHaru Universal 80ml , which also sticks under water, will help.

Weight may pose a problem with stone constructions in a large terrarium. Stone imitations made of plastic which can be found in specialist shops are recommended in this case.

Dry woods are also well suited as decorations in desert terrariums. Appropriate plants such as succulents or similar complete the picture. Cacti should only be used in the form of copies made of plastic due to the potential risk of injury. In general, live plants barely stand a chance of survival if there are larger-sized, physically active animal species in the terrarium. Plastic imitations which are available in specialist shops are also well suited in such cases.