When I was making my first cage my wife Cheryl came out into the shed and asked me what I was doing. I mumbled or grunted something about "building snake cage" whilst earnestly trying to figure out some small detail or putting in an annoying screw (I'm not sure which), to which she rolled her eyes and ambled back into the house - I believe shaking her head and possibly rolling her eyes.
Anyway, I wanted to make a good cage. I had made one already but it was far too small as I had divided it into two sections by placing a timber divider in the middle. It cut the cage in half and was close enough to the floor to prevent interaction while leaving enough space to slide a heat mat under. It covered about 1/2 to 2/3 of the cage either side of the middle.
I decided to do it that way as it cheaper than making two cages and the two children's pythons were still small, having just graduated from the plastic containers. (When I housed them in the plastic containers I used small terracotta plant bases for their hides. I cut a little out of the side of the base for the entrance - this is a good tip for juveniles and young snakes or lizards)
I housed the two juvenile carpet pythons in that cage, one each side, but as they grew I knew I needed to make another cage.
So I did some research and with a bit of help from pet shops and some research on the web I was able to come up with what I thought was a simple snake cage plan.
A snake cage design that:
- was easy to make
- was strong
- looked good
- had appropriate thermal properties
- had easy access
- was lockable
- was easily maintained.
I suppose I should back up a bit and tell you how I made the first snake cage. Having two juvenile snakes about to graduate from their small plastic cages meant I needed accommodation. Initially I thought I had to make two snake cages with two sets of heat mats, thermostats (I know there are alternatives), lighting and twice the amount of materials.
So I decided, after multiple diagrams and fiddling about, to make one cage and divide it in half. I still needed to heat both sides. I placed a divider in the cage. It was close enough to the floor to prevent the snakes going underneath yet high enough to allow the Flexiwatt heat pad to slide underneath.
I also made the divider so that it fitted in the cage exactly but only held in place by screws. These screws could then be removed if I wanted to make the cage larger and build a second cage.
I made a number of mistakes with this cage.
The front was glass but it was fitted and did not slide or move. There were two hinged lids on top, one for each side. As I had no experience, it didn't occur to me that his was a poor design. I soon found that it was. I should have at least made a door at the front, either sliding or drop down. The top door was a good idea, but not on its own.
I chose to make the door on my new cage a single drop down door for a number of reasons.
First and foremost was ease. I didn't have to slide the door and get a reptile from the other end as the snakes don't move out of the cage very quickly. If you have dragons or frisky reptiles it is better to have either a sliding door or two drop downs or, alternatively a combination ie a drop down door at the front with a hinged roof on top. This allows ease of access from above to retrieve the reptiles and also ease of access from the front for cleaning and accessorizing.
Drop down doors are the easiest to make and the most forgiving of mistakes, particularly plexiglass. Drop down glass doors and sliding doors require a little more effort, and time. If you have limited room, a sliding door is much more satisfactory. All my subsequent cages have sliding doors but that is a personal choice.
As I had carpet pythons, I did not need to have a UV light - usually you can use supplements to provide any extra dietary needs with snakes. If I had wanted to put in a UV light for a lizard in the first reptile cage I made, I would have had some difficulty because the hinged roof and fixed front would have made the angle of access when installing a light difficult. I had effectively eliminated half the roof and could not access the back of the cage roof easily. The light fitting should have been installed at the same stage as the half roof - something I neglected to think of at the time.
I also chose to make my own heat mats using Flexwatt. My first commercial mat was far too hot and buckled one of my plastic cages and the timber it was sitting on. I had to throw it out. According to the instructions it was supposed to self regulate and not require a thermostat. It didn't work. So I decided to make my own heat mat and attach it to a thermostat. No problems so far and the results are far better.
To make the mat, I drilled holes in the back of the snake cage and dismantled an old electrical cord. I attached a plug I bought from the hardware and attached it to one end and I soldered the other ends onto the mat. I wanted to use a detachable plug so I could thread the cord through a small hole in the back of the cage. I wanted the hole to be small enough to prevent escape, even by small snakes.
The soldering was a bit difficult as the soldering iron had not been refurbished ( I have since refurbished it and it works perfectly now - you can find out how to refurbish you soldering iron in my book "How to Build Reptile Enclosures".)
I also had to drill a small hole in the back of the cage for the thermostat probe, which sat on top of the heat mat. I stuck the heat mat down with some tape but have since used double sided tape or clear duct tape as holds on better and longer.
You can put the heat mat on the base and then placed thin ply or something similar over the top. I have yet to try this method. I have even seen snake cages where tiles were glued and placed over the heat mat, after applying a layer of glue or similar substance. I now use inexpensive vinyl over the heat mat, as it is easily cleaned, and have newspaper or other substrates on top of that again.
Melamine also makes a good base as it is easily washable. Silicone should be placed around the edges to prevent water damage and leakage into the joins, but there is a trick to making a smooth silicone joint.
Placing the lights in the snake cage is relatively easy. I decided that I would place an in-line switch to each light so I could control them from outside the cage without having to scrounge around finding the cord or a switch on a switch board. I have since automated all of these using timers.
I have quite a good range of tools in my shed but I really didn't need a lot to make the cages. I think for most people, cutting the timber square is one of the biggest issues. There are ways around this so that constructing the cage is relatively easy (you can find these out in the book "How to Build Reptile Enclosures").
I did a lot of looking around at various cages, trying to determine the best material to build them from. I built mine using MDF. I use it for a number of reasons.
- It has good thermal properties
- It's easy to use
- It comes out well painted
- It's easy to sand
- It does not buckle easily
- You can work with relatively thin (1/2") material making it not too heavy
You do need to be a bit careful cutting it and I would advise using a mask. It can be very dusty.
You also need to be a bit careful putting in screws. Put them in too hard and you damage the hole. They will not hold properly.
I would not advise making a snake or other reptile cage from pine or cedar. These materials can be dangerous to reptiles. A few pieces of pine for framing is fine but not the whole cage.
Another good material is plywood. I do not use it mostly because it can be splintery. It does look good however if you finish it with a timber finish a clear coat.
I also painted my cages (spray paint gives a nice finish). I let them dry out for about a week before I put the animals in there. This is to ensure that the paint has time to cure and that the amount of vapor it releases has declined enough to be no threat to the snakes. You can pop your head in the cage after 4 or 5 days and smell the inside of the cage. When the paint smell has almost gone ,the snake or lizard cage is safe to put the animals in.
After painting it's just a matter of adding locks, door holders and accessories like climbing branches, rocks, hides, water bowls, fake rock walls and whatever you fancy.
My children's pythons, blue tongued lizards and bearded dragon now happily live in their respective habitats.