Barbie Enclosures – An enclosure for you. Or the Reptile?
Authored by Pete Hawkins:
Bearded Dragons Network
Voted winner of Reptile Report’s Readers Choice ‘Lizard Personality of the Year’ 2016
I’m seeing an increasing rise of what I have come to call,
Barbie House Reptile Enclosures.
There are some major downsides of keeping in such ways.
Mental and physical stimulation being just two big factors that spring to mind. But also, hygiene. Over the past few years; more so in the age of Facebook groups and online forums.
These are enclosures kitted out with beds, teddy bears, dolls, soft furnishings, carpet, and the like. Even toys like balls are used.
I may lose a few group members for saying…frankly, I’m appalled by these.
How did we even get to this stage? How has anyone come to the conclusion it’s okay to do this? Regardless of whom and why someone does this. What these ‘well-meaning’, but misguided keepers may not realize, is there are some major downsides of keeping in such ways.
The worst example I’ve seen is “keeper’s” painting their bearded dragons’ and chameleons’ nails with nail varnish. The colour is irrelevant, it simply shouldn’t be done.
Not only could it be toxic to the reptile, but it could crack and fall off. Knowing how they are attracted to and will taste anything with bright colours, this isn’t a good situation to be in.
I’ve also seen many keepers getting little mini dog collars made, necklaces, and even chokers. The poor reptiles honestly have no idea. As current research says that while the lizard is aware there is something on its body which is unnatural, it probably doesn’t comprehend this as jewelry, or as being ‘pretty’. Their brains just aren’t wired the same as ours.
I’ve seen keepers put jumpers and hats on reptiles before also. Most of the time it’s for a photo opportunity. Although it annoys me personally, I know the purpose, and it’s not a permanent thing. (A little more on this below)
Sure, I see the photos of the bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) sleeping in the bed. But I can tell you for a fact it hasn’t actively crawled into that bed, pulled the covers overs itself, and then gone to sleep.
I’ve seen beds, couches, mirrors, and even little chandeliers within a tank/vivarium. All in disregard for not only safety of the reptile, but simple practicability. Seemingly the delusion the reptiles even care, or more importantly, benefit from any of it.
Take a bed for example. Now I don’t mean a rock…log…sand-pit. I mean a bed. Little mattress, duvet, pillows.
Sure, it “may” have wandered onto the bed. But that’s more the fact the bed is placed in its favourite sleeping area. Not because it was chosen by the reptile, because it is soft, warm, and fluffy.
Practically and factually speaking, a cold-blooded reptile like our bearded dragons gain zero benefit of warmth from such a sleeping set-up.
We, as mammals, we are warm-blooded. We sweat and perspire to cool or wrap in layers of clothing to trap our own body heat next to our body, keeping us warm. Your body will shiver to aid blood flow, thus, warming us up. A reptile, like a bearded dragon on the other hand, is cold-blooded and needs an external heat source in order to heat up, charge up, and energize.
Hence why they depend on basking, either in the sun or artificial heat sources, to raise their body temperature.Therefore, a blanket will serve no benefit. All you have, is a wrapped up reptile. Or as some people say. “A reptile burrito”.
We NEED to be thinking about what these reptiles require, NOT what you want to give them. It’s their home. Not yours. Well, again, unlike ourselves. We have the hair follicles. Linked to nerve-endings, helping us to determined soft/hard/fluffy, and so on.
A reptile has none of this at all.
It has a hard, protective, almost armour like, keratin based outer layer. No elasticity. (Hence the complete shed when they grow). So they wouldn’t, in any way feel any comfort with such either.
So what we are actually seeing, is human practises portrayed on to another species. Anthropomorphism to the extreme.
I get told “but it’s my baby,” “it’s so happy,”
Truth of the matter is the reptile is stuck in a 4ft box with “useless” items inside. It has no choice what so ever. I’m pretty sure if it could, you’d wake up one morning with the viv/tank doors open, and a pile of tacky furnishings dumped on the floor where it has had a clear-out.
Or, the reptile has left you a note saying
“I’ve moved out. To somewhere more natural and beneficial.”
And the same goes for the dragons sleeping on a teddy-bear provided. It’s more the fact you’ve placed this item where it sleeps as opposed to the dragon wanting to sleep ON that teddy-bear.
What reptiles need
Ultimately, you are keeping an enclosure, more so, than the occupant.
I always suggest looking at where the reptile originates from. Then take a little piece of the area, and recreate the best you can within the viv/tank.
It’s all about emulation, and stimulation. Something of which John Courtney-Smith talks about in his latest book from Arcadia Reptiles, Bio-Activity and the Theory of Wild Re-Creation™.
I’m a huge fan of a naturalistic enclosure. Bioactive, and naturalistic are the type of enclosures I use with all but one of my current 14 reptiles and amphibians. So it’s something I do actively promote within my Facebook groups and social meetings. It’s a daily task to help promote, educate, and provide info on where members can obtain the needed equipment for an optimal reptile environment. See our Sponsors Banners whom are people we trust for the latest recommended reptile products and feeders.
So many of these keepers do have little beds made and other actual doll-house furnishings within.
It’s important to realise much of the keeping of a reptile/amphibian is about the enclosure. So, you get that right, and the occupant inside has every chance of thriving.
Ultimately, you are keeping an enclosure, more so, than the occupant. As everything they require must be adhered to within the set-up.
They have absolutely zero choice on anything you provide for them.
Provide enrichment via giving options to do what the reptile does naturally, like, digging, and climbing.
A dragon, for example, will simulate the activity of digging regardless of what substrate is used. But providing an actual substrate provides that resistance, strengthens the muscles in the process, and provides them with an activity to keep them busy. Far healthier.
Snakes, also burrowing animals, will burrow down into aspen. Which is fine if that is what the snake is provided with. But is it providing the needed natural enrichment? Is it thriving, or just being?
A natural composition of soil, sand, moss, leaf-litter would not only be far more enriching for the snake., but will aid shedding via textures and the humidity it holds.
It allows the snake to behave much more naturally.
Real or fake?
The real or fake decor is another thing I witness all too often.
Don’t get me wrong, I use fake vines and foliage within my set-ups and even have a ZooMed hammock in one of my dragon enclosures. But it’s important for these things to be reptile-safe and appropriate first and foremost, and not there purely for human aesthetic appeal.
Take the hammock for example. Its practical. It serves a purpose. And more than that, it comes from a branded reptile supplier, which guarantees its safely and has had it tested to withstand the conditions of our enclosures (Heat. Humidity. Damp).
I see people make their own hammocks, which if done appropriately can be fine, but by using the man-made polyester/nylon material of an old pillowcase, it’s not a good choice. It will get dirty and could potentially be a fire hazard. As well as unhygienic.It may look all pretty and have a great pattern on it. But the reptile cares nothing of this at all.
It’s just a case of being practical; maximising stimulation, and emulation of its original habitat, while creating a safe environment.
So you see. It all about giving the Reptile/amphibian what THEY need. Not what you want to look at, or what you want others to see when they look into an enclosure.
These are lives we have in our hands. Living and breathing in a world which YOU have created for them within the restriction of a vivarium/tank.
The reptile/amphibian has no choice in what you provide, all this is down to your research and creativity
But that creativity must be directed to a natural set-up which allows the animal the exhibit natural behaviors, enriches their lives, and does so safely.
All can be achieved with a mix of real and fake looking natural/naturalistic looking items.
But let that pet herp be a dragon…be a frog, which is something it is never going to be able do with a Barbie bed in its way.