Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
Vol 2, Issue 12    
September, 2006
Reptile Cage Making Tips
In this Issue

by Mark Chapple

These reptile cage making tips are not comprehensive by any means but they will hopefully help those of you who want to build your own snake or lizard cage.

The first, and one of the most useful tips is:

If at any time you feel frustrated or stuck, walk away and think about it for a while.

Rather than persist, I have found it is better to give yourself a break for a bit. Often the solution to the problem will come to you when you least expect it or you will be more relaxed to tackle something that you have found difficult.

It is important to know the needs of you reptile before you start even designing a reptile cage.
Ask yourself questions like:

  • Is it an arboreal enclosure or terrestrial or a bit of both?
  • Does your herp need lots of water?
  • Would it do well with a sandy cage or desert vivarium setup?
  • What sort of substrate is best?
  • Do you want sliding doors, perspex doors - drop down or swinging or a wooden/glass/perspex combination? Each of these has advantages and disadvantages
  • Think about how you would like to access you herp
  • Do you want openings at the top or sides as well?

Another question you need to consider is what materials will you make the snake or lizard cage from? There are quite a few choices and you need to spend some time find out about this. I discuss this in another article on my website here.

Have a reptile cage plan and draw it up. It may take quite a few sketches before you get it right or satisfy yourself that it is what you want. Draw final cage from different angles. Use a ruler and pencil to make accurate pictures of your reptile enclosure so you get your measurements correct. Drawing from different angles, eg side view, front view, top view, back view will allow you to not only get your measurements correct but helps to give you visual cues when you start making it.

This also has the advantage of reducing the materials costs as you know exactly what you need. It avoids making multiple shopping trips – although, I always forget something.

Make a list of materials you need from your drawings, including sundry items like screws, glue, nails, hinges, sliding rails, vents etc. This is useful for when you go shopping.

  • Determine how you will set up heating and lighting for your snake or lizard enclosure
  • Will the lights sit above the herp cage, above a mesh or a circular hole or will they be fitted inside the cage to allow stacking
  • Do you need to stack the reptile cages or allow for the possibility of stacking?
  • Do you need protective coverings for the lights?
  • Are they purely for basking or do you need UV lighting and if so how long will your cage need to be? If you do need UV light, this can impact on door locations should you want an opening at the top
  • Will you make your own heatmats? What sort of temperature control will you use?

Will your reptile cage be moveable? If not there is no need for castors, or it can be places on top of cupboard. However, if the cage needs to be moved from time to time it is useful to put heavy duty castors on it. Alternatively, place it on a cupboard that has castors and can be moved.

One of the hardest parts is getting perfect right angles and nice straight cuts on large MDF or melamine sheeting should you choose to make your cage from these materials. One way around this is to get the timber accurately pre cut from either where you purchase it or from a local cabinet maker. They may charge you a few dollars but it is well worth it if you do not have the tools at home for accurate cutting. Clamps and timber pieces with electric or hand saws will work but you only need a clamp to slip or go a bit awry as you cut and the edge will be awful, or worse still, the piece has to be thrown away or the cage resized.

Before you start making it, are there some tools you need to borrow or purchase? If are unfamiliar with tools, do you need someone to help you? Make sure you know how to handle a particular tool. If you are uncertain, get someone who knows to show you. Chisels, drills and electric saws can all be dangerous if you do no know what you are doing.

Plan the assembly. Does something need to be done before something else? In what order will you put the pieces together. Does something need two people to make it easier? It is better and less frustrating to ask for help and make a task more successful and easier rather than doing it alone and making a mess of it.
The order of putting things together is not always intuitive. Making large vent holes is easier with the cage in pieces than after it is assembled. For vent holes, this does not matter. Another example is if you have a top door, putting a UV light in before attaching it and other doors makes it easier to attach. If you intend to paint the inside, it is sometimes easier to do so inside before you assemble it.

Are you going to paint your reptile cage? If you make if from MDF you probably need to paint it but if it is made from laminates, than there is no need. If you are going to paint it, will you spray paint it or paint it with a brush? Are you going to line the inside of the cage? If so, what with? When should you do this?

If you do paint your reptile cage, makes sure you leave adequate time for the paint to dry between coats. Give more than one coat and leave the paint to dry for quite a few days at the end before you house animals. This makes sure that the fumes are removed or reduced to an acceptable level.

If you want to decorate your reptile cage, what are you going to do it with? If you intend to put a rock wall in it, you will have to make it a bit wider than you would otherwise to allow for the wall. If you want to have branches in your cage, you need to make sure you can install and remove them easily. How will you attach them in order to do this? You need to treat any timber you use in the cage to remove parasites and unwanted visitors.

Making your own cages can be a rewarding, fun and satisfying experience provided you spend a little time planning and above all, don’t rush it.

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Care and Breeding Australia's Diamond Python (Part 4)

by Stan Chiras


Breeding diamond pythons is very simple. As mentioned earlier, I think I was the first person to breed them successfully in captivity, almost 23 years ago. After frustrating myself for a few years, I decided to study their environment a lot more, and came up with the outlines for feeding, temperature, humidity and photocycling indicated throughout this article. They are the rules of the road for diamond python breeding. Follow them and you should get fertile eggs. Violate them and you'll most likely get nothing. It's that simple.

In order to make it very simple, I'll outline what I do to breed diamonds. I'm sure these schedules can vary somewhat and still result in fertile breedings, as evidenced by breeders other than myself that usually have eggs up to two months earlier than me! But I do what works for me, and as long as my eggs are fertile, I stick with it.Diamonds probably lay eggs every third year in the wild. It's most likely related to a female's ability to build body mass.

Captive diamonds have done well for me by giving the female, no matter how good she looks, a year off between breedings. Those who have bred diamonds repeatedly, without time off, often lose their animals or go through years of non productivity-stark testament that the animal needs time off. Breed your female every year and you're asking for trouble.So, my females get every other year off. If they look a little skinny, I'd gladly give them two years off, which I have only had to do once. Normally, with a regular feeding schedule, they're firm and healthy in 18 months, including a hibernation time in-between. As with most snakes, hibernation temperatures are necessary for production of the viable sperm in the male and ovum in the female.

Assume you have two perfectly healthy diamonds. The male should be at least four years old and 4 to 5 feet long. The female should be 5 years old and 6 to 7 feet long.

Feed them sparingly, as discussed elsewhere in this article. Quit feeding them on November 1.

Begin cooling their room on November 15. Allow the nighttime lows to reach the low 70s and the daytime highs to reach the low 80s.

Then, just after Thanksgiving or by December 1, put the snakes into hibernation-cold turkey.I use Styrofoam boxes filled with lots of aspen bedding and maintain the snakes in a room that is kept between 50 and 60 degrees.

They're kept dark, quiet and cold for at least three months, with a few checks to make sure they're doing okay. At those temperatures they simply coil up and hibernate.

They have no water (although each box has a litter-filled wet bowl to keep humidity at a moderate level), and their cages never need cleaning because their gastrointestinal tracts are empty and their metabolisms are in a suspended state. As mentioned earlier, while their immune systems are likewise shut down, so are the bacteria that might cause problems for animals kept at moderately higher temperatures.

My personal experiences with "half temperature hibernations" have been that the snakes metabolize their reserves too rapidly, while susceptibility to disease rises dramatically. Those who are afraid to fully hibernate diamonds often will end up exposing their snakes to additional health risks, and ultimately end up taking more chances with the snakes' health than if they had hibernated them at colder temperatures.

Hibernating pythons is a foreign concept to most keepers. In the case of this particular snake, common theory doesn't apply.Remove the snakes from the hibernation boxes by early to mid March. I take my animals out at night, place them in the darkness of their cages, and leave them alone. The snakes will be between 50 to 60 degrees (Fahrenheit), and the room should be around 75 degrees, with a basking light coming on the next morning, which allows them to get as warm as they want.

Red 250-watt heat lamps warm the basking area to around 100 degrees. At this temperature the snakes will bask for an hour or so and retreat to the hide box. After a week of this pattern, It's all right to raise the temperatures to the high 70s to low 80s at night, and the middle 80s during the day, with the basking area still available. As mentioned, it's important to make sure the snake can cool off if it wants, and to that end I always provide large cages with thermal gradients available for the animals.

Typically, they can find places in their cages where the temperature is near 70 degrees, which they seem to prefer at certain times. Large, long cages with hot and cold ends are the best way to achieve these gradients.Within a week to a month, after the female has had a small meal or two and shed, it's usually time for breeding. Quite often the male will begin pacing his cage, assumedly because he smells the pheromones of the female, who should be reproductively ready.

I ultrasound my females at this time and usually their follicles are lined out and approximately just over 1 centimeter in diameter. Introduce the male to the female at this time. Introducing the female to the male oftentimes results in a female exploring the new cage while the male is frantically trying to breed. Introduce him to her, and he won't be very concerned with the new cage, believe me! Many of my cages have trap doors between the pairs, and I simply open it and the male quickly scoots over to the female.Carpet pythons often exhibit combat behavior, which led many early diamond breeders to assume the same would be true of diamonds.

To the best of my knowledge combating has never been observed in wild or captive diamonds. This isn't to say that having two males in the cage is a good thing, for I have noticed more frequent breedings when two males are present. But actual combat simply doesn't seem to occur in this species. They're lovers, not fighters.

Breeding usually lasts four to six weeks, when the males lose interest in the females they should be separated. Shortly afterwards the males usually resume feeding, making their feeding year generally a May through October affair, one meal every few weeks. Keep them slim and a little hungry and you'll have healthy, active, virile breeder males. Fatten them if you prefer duds. Females oftentimes feed right up to egg laying. I will let them feed, but reduce the meal size and frequency. If she's healthy she shouldn't need any food, but limited feeding doesn't hurt the egg production/fertility and it does seem to help the females recover after laying if they have been fed before hand. Approximately two months after breeding, and 21 to 28 days after shedding, the female will grace you with 15 to 30 eggs, although larger clutches have been recorded.

My experience with many diamond breedings has been a maximum clutch size of 21, and the smallest being 11. I'd have to carefully inspect diamonds laying larger clutches, suspecting hybridization with the more prolific carpet python. Not being a fan of cross breeding, consider it fair warning that integration with carpet pythons makes anything but the most perfect specimens of diamond python suspect. Look for pure colors of gold, white, black and no browns, banding, patches, or striping. Perfect little rosettes with black and white, or black and gold colors usually assure you've got the real thing. It also helps to get your animals from a reputable breeder.Their eggs will hatch like any python egg-high humidity and a temperature somewhere around 89 degrees Fahrenheit.

Although I've never allowed a female to incubate the eggs herself, this year I have two females with which I intend to let nature take its course. It's fun to weigh eggs weekly and record their growth, but somehow I've come to feel it is the female's right to hatch her own eggs. We'll see how it goes.Don't expect hatchlings to be beautiful. They're dirty and pale looking at birth, but within a few months their colors really emerge. And because they are programmed to know the cold season isn't far away, the neonates are voracious feeders. Unlike carpets, which can be finicky, diamonds usually accept small fuzzy mice eagerly. They grow very fast, and once again remember that it isn't in their best interest to let them do so. Feed the little buggers once a week, keeping them warm with a nice, moist place in the cage.

Give them branches to climb on and you'll think they're tree snakes. When winter approaches, cool them for a couple months to the very low 70s at night and the middle 70s during the day. Don't feed them during this period.When you resume normal feeding remember not to overfeed. They'll grow into healthy, normal snakes that will mature in four to five years and turn into fantastic pets or breeders. Commence normal hibernation with yearlings, and they'll be so perfectly cycled by the time they're adults that you'd have to run them over with a truck not to breed them.Just remember, fat is dead to diamond pythons. Keep them muscular, active, and hungry and you'll end up with perfect specimens of this fantastic species.


Diamonds are beautiful and wonderful snakes. They must be kept in a specific manner, which isn't particularly difficult to accomplish unless you sweater box your animals and you can't subject individual species to appropriate environmental cycling. But even the babies do best if fed only eight or nine months of the year for the first year, and then put into the same total care regime as adults. The young are usually voracious feeders, and if kept just a little cool and off feed their first winter, they become even more voracious the following spring. After that, they slowly grow and mature into magnificent, healthy specimens in the hands of competent herpers.

Breeders have been lamenting about the decline of herp prices for a couple years now, and the diamond python is no exception. We've seen them dip from $2,500 each for hatchlings to sometimes as low as $1,000. If you're a hobby-oriented herper, like myself, it shouldn't matter. I'd work with diamonds if they were a $25 snake. Keep in mind that in the future, only the best animals will command respectable prices, so keep your stock pure. Avoid hybrids at all costs. And if the price gets too low for the commercial breeders to consider it worthwhile, prices will eventually swing in the opposite direction as less diamonds are supplied to the market. Regardless, it is a fantastic, medium-sized python that fits well into just about any collection. Just having beautiful diamonds in your collection is worth the price of admission, if you really like snakes.

The misinformation regarding this species has been a tragic product of irresponsible keepers who didn't bother to find out how to maintain them successfully. I and many others have proven them ever-so-wrong in their almost universal condemnation of the diamond python. If you're willing to play by the diamond's rules, you can assure their health and reproductive viability in any collection. Few snakes stir me the way a solid, slim, mature adult diamond python does.They are beautiful and interesting snakes. With a little common sense and a healthy dose of restraint, they will reward you with two decades of fascination, and if you want, lots of nice, ivory-colored eggs.

Reprinted with permission of Stan Charis

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In the News



Endless visions fill my head – this man – as large as life

And instantly my heart mourns for his angels and his wife

Because the way I see Steve Irwin – just put everything aside

It comes back to his family – it comes back to his pride

His animals inclusive – Crikey – light the place with love!

Shine his star with everything he fought to rise above

The crazy-man of Khaki from the day he left the pouch

Living out his dream and in that classic ‘Stevo’ crouch

Exploding forth with character and redefining cheek

It’s one thing to be honoured as a champion unique

It’s one thing to have microphones and spotlight cameras shoved

It’s another to be taken in and genuinely loved

But that was where he had it right – I guess he always knew

From his fathers’ modest reptile park and then Australia Zoo

We cringed at times and shook our heads – but true to natures call

There was something very Irwin in the make up of us all

Yes the more I care to think of it – the more he had it right

If you’re going to make a difference – make it big and make it bright!

Yes - he was a lunatic! Yes - he went head first!

But he made the world feel happy with his energetic burst

A world so large and loyal that it’s hard to comprehend

I doubt we truly count the warmth until life meets an end

To count it now I say a prayer with words of inspiration

May the spotlight shine forever on his dream for conservation

…My daughter broke the news to me – my six year old in tears

It was like she’d just turned old enough to show her honest fears

I tried to make some sense of it but whilst her Dad was trying

His little girl explained it best…she said “The crocodiles are crying”

Their best mate’s up in heaven now – the crocs up there are smiling!

And as sure as flowers, poems and cards and memories are piling

As sure as we’ll continue with the trademarks of his spiel

Of all the tributes worthy – he was rough…but he was real

As sure as ‘Crikey!’ fills the sky

I think we’ll miss ya Steve…goodbye


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Tell Us What You Think!

If you have a story about one of your critters, funny or serious, found a great web site, found a great article or would like to contribute in any way, please contact me. I'm friendly, don't bite and would welcome your contributions.

And of course, if you have any suggestions for upcoming issues that you'd like to share with us, please send those too!

These could include:
- Great herp web-sites
- A fantastic herp article you know of that should be shared
- Why you pet reptile is fantastic
- A great idea you had
- Funny things that happened
- Dumb**s things that happened
- Images you'd like to share
- Care sheets for your herp

Remember - there are lots of people who would love to hear your stories. Just e-mail me at: Reptile-Cage-Plans


Tell Us What You Think!!

Thanks to those who have given me feedback. I always want to
know of your achievements, good and bad.

There has been some updates to the rock wall construction for
booklet your reptile cage to include an alternative finish
that dries hard, does not crack and looks even more like a
rock wall.

I am currently finalising a book on making glass vivariums
and how to decorate them to look like a desert vivarium.

The digrammatic plans are complete for an arboreal display
cage with side doors and a large glass front. The
construction, imaging and documentation of the cages now
needs to be undertaken.

Thank you to those people who continue to give me feedback
and help others in their endeavours. You know who you are
so well done!!

I have a few ideas for some other additions to the book and
perhaps some other publications but I would love your input.

These could include:

  • Great herp web-sites
  • Why you pet reptile is fantastic
  • Funny things that happened
  • Dumb**s things that happened (like the one in this issue)
  • Images you'd like to share.

Remember - there are lots of people who would love to hear your stories. Just e-mail me at: Reptile-Cage-Plans

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