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Building a cage – which material?

Glass

Terrarien aus Glas mit eingebautem Gazedeckel

Glass cages with screen top

Cages made of glass belong to the oldest in keeping reptiles, and have been staying keepers in good stead for years. Unfortunately, many standard glass cages in common shops are not suitable for keeping chameleons due to their bad ventilation. That means before using a glass terrarium for a chameleon, you have to add ventilation mesh and convert the original cage into a chameleon-appropriate one. In most cases, people remove the top and one pane and replace it with aluminium screens. We use modified glass terrariums as quarantine cages.

Advantages:

  • easy to look through the glass
  • easy to clean and disinfect
  • translucent
  • waterproof

Disadvantages:

  • Top has to be replaced with metal screen, because glass does not leave UVB radiation through
  • The standard perforated metal plates on top absorb too much light and UVB radiation
  • difficult to install sufficient ventilation areas
  • high weight
  • some chameleons react aggressively towards their mirror image

Polystyrene or styrofoam

Quarantäne-Terrarium aus Styrodur

Quarantine cage made of polystyrene

Especially hobby do-it-yourselfer love to create their own terrarium out of polystyrene or similar material, but it never became prevalent in chameleon keeping. If you want to invest a lot of time and efforts and have a creative streak,  you will be able to get pretty results with hairdrier and other tools. But in most cases, these self-built back panels and terrarium walls do not reach the original expectations, especially in terms of optics.

Advantages:

  • relatively cheap material
  • lightweight
  • can be built exactly after personal ideas
  • self-made look

Disadvantages:

  • need to be coated several times (epoxy resin, tile cement)
  • very difficult to clean and disinfect (almost impossible)
  • enormous amount of time needed
  • self-made look
  • teils instabil

OSB (oriented strand boards)

Terrarium aus OSB, hier für Heuschrecken genutzt

Terrarium made of OSB, here used for locusts

Especially beginners in keeping chameleons like these kind of cage material, because it is cheap and easy to work with. You can get OSB in every DIY-shop. Even ready bought OSB terrariums can be easily changed or converted into chameleon-appropriate style. It is a big disadvantage that you have to coat OSB with epoxy resin or similar seals several times, otherwise the high humidity of a chameleon terrarium will make the OSB swell up. Partially, this might lead to much more intense costs than thought before. Optically, we do not like to have OSB cages inside our living rooms.

Advantages:

  • cheap material
  • DIY centers can cut all boards individually
  • dimensionally stable, ventilation areas can be cut out even in the final cage

Disadvantages:

  • very difficult to clean and disinfect (hardly possible)
  • not waterproof: all boards have to be coated and sealed
  • bad look / rarely well taped with decoration soil
Terrarium aus Forex

Cages made of rigid foam boards

Rigid foam boards

In the last years, rigid foam boards have come to popularitiy among chameleon and reptile keepers. It has a noble appearance, is easy to clean and disinfect and lightweight. This is set against higher costs only. Rigid foam boards are rather soft, so you have to make sure your boards are thick enough to avoid bending.

Advantages:

  • very lightweight, easy to transport
  • clean, pretty look
  • easy to clean and disinfect
  • easy to cut and work with
  • Welding without preheating possible for small cages
  • can be combined with alu profiles for larger cages

Disadvantages:

  • very soft and flexible material, but only useful with small cage sizes
  • adhesive bonds might come loose over time
  • relatively expensive
  • conditionally  UV-stable (yellowing), UV-stable boards are more expensive

Aluminium profiles

This is probably the best choice when building terrariums: A mixture of aluminium profiles and other materials. They leave nothing to be desired, since almos every shape, look and size is possible. The profiles are linked with plastic profile connectors. Well done, the ready aluminium frames are extremly robust, almost indestructible. You can build whole terrarium walls as well as single cages. The profiles come in different colours, so you can use them without any problems in living rooms, too. You can combine aluminium profiles with every other material, e.g. glass, rigid foam boards or aluminium composte panels – or mix it all up.

Advantages:

  • very stable and robust
  • leightweight
  • made for the long-term
  • hardly loss of value over time
  • very nice look

Disadvantages:

  • expensive

Aluminium composte panels + aluminium profiles

Terrarium aus AluverbundplattenCages made of aluminium profiles and white aluminium composte panels have an elegant appearance, similar to rigid foam board terrariums. But they have many advantages concerning stability, size and durability, and are even cheaper in price. This material is generally UV-stable and you can cut surfaces for ventilation screens everywhere. Best choice ever would be using aluminium profiles combined with composte panels: They are almost indestructible.

Advantages:

  • clean, elegant look
  • dimensionally stable even with 200 cm heights
  • lightweight
  • good price-performance ratio
  • easy to clean and disinfect

Disadvantages:

  • might be a little more expensive
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