How To Set Up A Vivarium

So you’ve bought yourself a reptile, and now you need is a vivarium and all its equipment…

But taking care of a reptile requires far more effort than feeding it every now and then!

Reptiles need very specific conditions to thrive in. So to set up your vivarium correctly, you’ll need to regulate things like temperature and heat amongst other things.

Before you move your reptile into their new home, make sure you’ve properly prepared for their arrival by following our vivarium setup checklist.

Vivarium checklist: things you’ll need

UVB lighting

Believe it or not, the cold, harsh and windy climate of the UK is not what most sun-dwelling reptiles are used to. And while whacking up the central heating might warm them up, it won’t ever replicate the sunlight they need to produce sufficient vitamin D.

Vitamin D is incredibly important for reptiles as it plays a crucial role in metabolising calcium. Calcium deficiency in reptiles is one of the most commonly seen nutritional problems, and a severe imbalance can lead to Metabolic Bone Disease, resulting in a weakening of the skeletal structure. Therefore, most reptiles need appropriate lighting to ensure they remain fit and healthy.

You will likely need two types of lightbulb for your vivarium; A heat bulb to keep your pet warm, and a UVB bulb to promote vitamin D production. A UVB bulb is especially important if your reptile is diurnal (active in the day) as it’s likely that almost all of their Vitamin D is extracted from sunlight. A nocturnal reptile does not necessarily require one, but they can still be helpful in regulating a day and night cycle.

You should also make sure you purchase a UVB light that can provide the correct strength of ultraviolet rays for your pet. For example, bearded dragons require a UVB output of 10%!

bearded dragons

Heat bulbs

As previously mentioned, a heat bulb is critical to the welfare of your pet and helps recreate the conditions of their natural habitat. Remember that reptiles are cold-blooded, and so they require a significantly hotter climate than the UK can provide!

Controlling and achieving the correct temperature is critical to caring for reptiles, and so you’ll need to look up the heating and lighting requirements specific to your reptile. This can then help inform your decision on what type of heat lamp to purchase.

These can range from nighttime incandescent bulbs for nocturnal reptiles, to spotlight bulbs for basking lizards.

Whichever bulb you choose, it should be placed at one end of the enclosure so that the heat gradually decreases across the vivarium. This allows your reptile to cool down or warm up by simply adjusting its position, rather than you constantly fiddling with settings.

You should also ensure that your reptile can’t gain access to the bulb as touching it will cause injuries and burning. To prevent this, you can purchase heating guards for your bulb.


So you’ve bought your reptile a heat lamp? Great job, but merely throwing a heat source into the mix isn’t going to solve everything!

You need to actually monitor your vivarium’s temperature on a regular basis to ensure it’s providing the correct level of warmth for your reptile. Therefore, you need some thermometers!

In order to get the best reading and be able to measure temperature levels across the vivarium, you’ll need at least two or three, and there’s a variety of types to choose from.

These include adhesive thermometer strips, digital thermometers or temperature guns.

Once you’ve made your choice, you can place your thermometers at different ends of the vivarium to give a good idea of the general temperature, as well as the level of its hot and cool ends.

Don’t underestimate how important regulating the temperatures of your terrarium is. Reptiles are incredibly sensitive to overheating and cold climates, meaning adjusting the temperature to their perfect climate is vital to giving them a comfortable and healthy lifestyle.

chinese water dragon


For those who appreciate how important controlling a vivarium’s temperature is, you should probably consider getting a rheostat or thermostat for your heating lamps.

A thermostat maintains a specific temperature (more or less), which is great if your reptile needs to live in temperatures between say 18 or 22 degrees C. A rheostat controls how much heat a lamp or heat mat puts out, keeping that constant without regard for the actual temperature.

Both make it a lot easier to regulate temperature for reptiles that require medium temperatures, allowing you to lower the power of your heating device to deliver a more appropriate amount of warmth.

Always research what temperatures your particular reptile thrives in, to best replicate them in your vivarium!


If your reptile is more familiar with a tropical climate, you’ll also need to correctly quantify the humidity of your terrarium with a hygrometer.

A humidity gauge will help measure the moisture within the vivarium, so you’ll know whether it needs to be increased or decreased based on your reptile.

You can increase and decrease humidity with a reptile humidifier such as a mist system, or by altering things like ventilation, heat and even the substrate and plants within your reptile’s home.

Hygrometers can also be a useful tool for non-tropical pets, as they could help you create a more dry, desert-like environment.

a glass reptile terrarium


The appropriate substrate for your reptile depends on their natural habitat.

For tropical reptiles used to jungles and rainforests, you’ll need substrate like moss and soil which can pick up moisture and become damp.

But for desert dwelling reptiles, you’ll require sand (lots of different types of sand check beforehand), bark or other equally dry material that can mimic that territory.


Not only is designing the aesthetic of your vivarium a great chance to be creative and have fun, but it also ensures your pet has a fantastic environment to thrive in.

Keep in mind the natural behaviours of your pet. If they enjoy climbing, you’ll need tall plants, rocks and branches. Others will need areas in which they can hide away and feel safe, so caves and little nooks and crannies may be more appropriate.

It’s also your chance to make the vivarium look pretty for you. So consider what interesting themes and designs you could use!

However, if your reptile is more used to dry, desert surroundings – less is more.

These reptiles are used to open, sandy environments, so try to reduce the amount of foilage and focus on other cool features like some rocky terrain or desert wood.