New Natural Habitat


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I have decided to build a natural habitat enclosure for our vailed chameleon named Rio (he's maybe 4 months old now). I am waiting for the new enclosure to arrive. It will be a Reptibreeze LED Deluxe 24 x 24 x 48 with the Reptibreeze stand of the same size. The plan is to create a square plant box the sizes of the enclosure (23.74" x 23.75" x 6" or 8" depending on the height of the bottom door which I have to measure when the enclosure arrives.

The box will be filled with bottom 1/3 basic organic soil, top 2/3 Exo Terra plantation soil topped off with Eco Terra plume moss. The moss is mostly there to allow waste to fall through and in case Rio decides he wants to chow on the dirt. The soil will be seeded with springtails and/or isopods to help break down the waste.

Plants. The following have been selected:

Schefflera arboricola ‘Mini Variegated’ - Dwarf Umbrella Tree (center)
Alsobia dianthiflora 'Lace Flower' (center/foreground)
Fittonia verschaffeltii 'Red' - Nerve Plant (foreground)
Philodendron cordatum 'Brasil' (background/climber)
Nephrolepis obliterata 'Emerald Queen' - Australian Sword Fern ( center)
Peperomia scandens 'Green' (background/climber)

All plants will come from Josh's Frogs.

The plants will need some time to grow. In the mean time, I will probably use artificial plants in the upper portion of the enclosure to give him the privacy he needs. A network of artificial vines and wooden branches will make up the thermoregulation highway and fun places to climb.

Lighting will be changed as well. Right now he's getting one full-spectrum UVA+UVB lamp (75W) and Reptisun 5.0. The new setup will probably be 2 x full-spectrum plus hood style Reptisun 10.0 due to the large size cage. The light should also accommodate the plants.

Dripper will be used same as now but without anything to catch it, so it waters the soil. Misting as usual to benefit both Rio and the plants. He'll eat from a cup and I'll probably continue to feed him crickets free-range, although I worry about them getting lost in the moss. He usually seems to enjoy hunting for them, but lately he's been spoiled with hornworms and waxworms.

That's about it, I think. I welcome all constructive feedback and recommendations, especially on the plant selection and overall setup. Thanks everyone in advance for your input, I'll post pictures once the project is underway.

Here's Rio's current grow-out cage. He's in the bushes drinking. We are super lucky as he is very easygoing and thus far has taken to taming like a pro. I don't plan on handing him excessively. The taming and handling is really more about giving him a better life, so we can easily take him out to free range, to deep clean the enclosure, etc. without too much stress. He's eating from hand everyday and is not as shy as he used to be, so we're off to a good start.

I have a bioactive setup of my own. Exo Terra plantation soil is made up of coco husk and I would advise using too much of it because it can go sour quickly. Try using more organic soil. Add fine sand into the mixture for faster drainage and sphagnum moss to retain moisture. You should also add a layer of leaf litter. Also you should have a drainage layer. And lastly, you have to arrange the wood and plants to cover as much space as possible, to hold water droplets and to create various vertical and horizontal ways for him to climb.


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I have a bioactive setup of my own. Exo Terra plantation soil is made up of coco husk and I would advise using too much of it because it can go sour quickly. Try using more organic soil. Add fine sand into the mixture for faster drainage and sphagnum moss to retain moisture. You should also add a layer of leaf litter. Also you should have a drainage layer. And lastly, you have to arrange the wood and plants to cover as much space as possible, to hold water droplets and to create various vertical and horizontal ways for him to climb.
Great feedback. Some questions for you.

The drainage layer. Would fine gravel work okay? If I understand, the following setup would work?

Bottom 1/4 -- gravel
2nd layer -- organic soil/sand (50/50)
3rd layer -- organic Soil
4th -- Exo Terra (1/3) then moss (1/3) and layer of leaves (I learned about that part while doing more research)

Also, which layer would be best suited for placement of the seed critters?

Thanks for your help!

is that a compact uvb? if so change to a linear 5.0 uvb and when he is bigger get a 10.0 linear. the compact doesnt provide enough uvb to accommodate a cham
That is exactly the plan. Yes, the current one he has is compact UVB that came with the grow out kit, but he also has a full spectrum UVB/UVA combo. So, he's currently getting 5.0 from the compact and 3.0 from the full spectrum (along with heat). In the new enclosure, mainly due to the size, he's moving up to the linear tube type and will be getting 10.0 there, so even as he is thermoregulating he will hopefully get some UVB he needs.

Thanks so much for the input. I really appreciate it. It helped ensure I'm on the right track here.
You can use gravel but do take note, it will add considerable weight to the enclosure. I use LECA, clay balls instead. There should be only 3 layers, leaf litter layer, substrate layer and drainage layer. Mix your plantation soil together with the organic soil and sand. Make sure there are no fertilizers or any sort of chemicals in the soil.

You can add your moss near the top of the substrate layer. As for the microfauna, just dump them onto the substrate.
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I definitely agree with the above I would not use gravel for the drainage on a reptibreeze I have a bioactive 24x24x48 with about a 16 inch substrate layer I use light diffuser and weed barrier like fabric for my drainage just because of the weight issue.I’m no slouch but it takes 2 people to move the enclosure and the bottom bows if not held correctly.

You have to think about heavy it’s gonna be once it absorbs water.
But with deep substrate you can find a nice water balance for your plants and chameleon and might not even need drainage,my drainage well has been dry for two months and I mist 4 times a day for a total of 16 minutes
I use a weed fabric too. My substrate is 12 inches deep and really heavy too, I tried moving it by sliding it across the room once and I can definitely break it apart if I exert too much force. I live in a humid area, and provide mistings twice a day, 5 mins each time. I have never seen any water in my drainage layer.


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You guys all rock. Thank you so much for the input. I didn’t think about the wait in those terms. I was more concerned about being able to move the cage without the bottom breaking open, which is why I want to build what will essentially be a “window box” with the screen not being the load bearing bottom wall.

I’ll do it the way you all suggested. Can’t wait to get started.


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Here's another dilemma. I was thinking about building a box from wood or possibly plexiglass, but after watching the biodude's video suggested by @Oneofthosemegans, I am rethinking the idea. He does not put any type of container although he mentions screening in the sides, if needed.

Does anyone have any experience with this?

Since the Reptibreeze Deluxe comes with a shallow tray that should accommodate a drain layer, would leaving the mesh for remaining layers work okay?


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Today was the day. I finally got the enclosure delivered and went to work. There are a few outstanding tasks. I'll be adding moss later today and I need more branches, vines. Plus, I am considering adding artificial plants to the back until the vines in the back grow. It will obviously take a while. They will need to be secured to the back, which presents some challenge given the access issues.

Also, I am not crazy about the arrangement of vines thus far... I'll probably rearrange. Misting system has been ordered and should be here next week. There will be two nozzles in the top front corners. That should work well.

Last, I need to seed the soil.

Here as some pictures. I am relatively new at keeping chameleons and this is the first grown up enclosure I've put together, so please don't hesitate to offer feedback or suggestions.

The setup is bottom tray is the drainage layer. Lava rock + Hydro Balls


Next there is extra screen to hold the soil in place and to prevent soil from coming out the sides. I opted against building a box inside as it would only add to the already considerable weight. The stand that I am using is the Zoo Med stand that goes with the enclosure. It's not the most sturdy but, then again, I am not using it the way they intended. It actually become more sturdy as the project went on, so I think we're okay.


Next a layer of Exo Terra Plantation Soil and plants...


To save on weight and to create an interesting landscape, I created a slope in the back. Next, vines... I ran out and had to "borrow" from Rio's grow out cage, so he moved in a little early. He was very curious as to what I was doing. :LOL:


I tried to create pathways all the way from the bottom to the top with various resting areas where the vine is horizontal through the vertical space to provide for good thermoregulation hangout spots.


24" T5 installed. This one is 5. (came with the enclosure) with the 10.0 on order. In addition, he has two full spectrum 75W lamps to provide both UVA and UVB. He's actually getting total of 11.0 UVB, which may be enough. What do you guys think?

LED lights are... meh.

The enclosure overall, meh... wish it was more sturdy and better built quality. Then again, it's not expensive and the size is right.


Well, that about does it... A few more updates are still coming. Rio seems happy thus far...

I welcome all feedback and advice. Please don't be shy!


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Any comments, anyone?

Hopefully I did my homework and this setup is okay. I decided to not add plastic plants at this time. He seems quite calm in there. Anything else I am missing?


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A quick update, in case anyone is still following this adventure. Rio is now settled into his new enclosure and resumed hand feeding. He’s got a favorite spot now to hang out, which is cool. Moss is in and the seeding critters should be here in a few days.

Things are coming along nicely.


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Update: The LED lights are useless and seem to stress Rio. They are permanently off now. The misting system has been installed. Moss has been installed. Still trying to decide on the best critters for the soil. Any recommendations? I hear isopods may actually crawl out the sides, which would not be good. I did double mesh the bottom portion of the cage, so I don't think that's likely.

I replaced the dual dome (2 x 75W full spectrum) with just a larger, single dome (1 x 75W full spectrum). Two were overkill and having one does exactly what is needed and uses 50% of the energy. More efficient.

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