If you’re like me, you enjoy setting up your animals in naturalistic, beautiful enclosures with plenty of options for them to run, climb, hide, and bask throughout their enclosure. Creating a naturalistic display is fairly easy with tropical animals, and videos and set ups of tropical displays are common throughout online forums as well as groups on Facebook or google+. However, it is much harder to find displays of desert vivariums, or cages that are more than just the basics for desert species. There is a great deal of stigma with using sand and other small, dry, particle substrates, particularly with species considered desert dwellers, such as bearded dragons or leopard geckos. ‘
However, you can still set up a really neat, naturalistic vivarium with considerably reduced risk of substrate ingestion using a clay substrate made by ZooMed. Excavator Clay is not an ideal substrate for every situation, but when used correctly, it can be used to create beautiful desert landscapes that allow your lizards the ability to burrow and dig without loose substrate everywhere.
Excavator Clay is a clay substrate that hardens once it’s been mixed with water. You can put a simple base layer down throughout your cage and have a flat, plain, natural looking flooring, or create landscapes and burrows. I highly recommend Excavator clay for burrow desert species that thrive in extremely low humidity, and/or come from extremely sandy areas. Steppe Runners, Frog Eyed Geckos, Dune Geckos, Berber Skinks, Uromastyx, Collared Lizards, and other similar desert species all work well in cages with Excavator as the base substrate.
You’ll want to prepare to set up the cage at least a week before putting the animal(s) inside – the clay needs a good amount of time to set and dry. Have plenty of water on hand, and mix it little by little with the clay to create a sandy paste. Build your landscape with it, having lots of fun as you make a huge mess putting it together. I suggest sloping the clay higher towards the back of the cage to add depth and make the cage look more visually appealing, but you can build whatever shapes you’d like.
Add the start of burrows by either using cardboard tubes or balloons to leave air pockets for your reptiles to find and dig out.
Enclosure for Tibetan Frog Eyed Geckos
Build up your cage and let the clay harden for at least 2 or 3 days. If you used a lot of water, it may take over a week to fully dry, so plan accordingly if you are waiting to pick up the future inhabitant of the cage! I like to add a layer of sand mixed with coconut bedding for digging purposes, as the two combined are a much lighter substrate that the animal can easily dig up and move around. The loose substrate is also easy to clean, and leaves the excavator underneath fresh. If you do find that your pet has defecated directly on the excavator, a little water will wash off any feces and make it easy for you to pick up the dirty part.
Just because your reptiles are desert dwellers, that doesn’t mean you should neglect to provide them with humid areas while using your clay substrate. You can put damp moss in some of the burrows you’ve set up, and just keep a few areas moist. When you provide at least one or two damp burrows/hiding areas, the species you can keep on excavator broadens. I have successfully raised Leopard Geckos in an excavator/sand/coconut bedding mix, and if you want a nicer cage for your pets than just a glass box with carpet on the bottom – consider using clay!
Two leopard geckos lived in this exact cage as it is for over a year!
Mealworms were offered in a dish next to the water bowl, and there were multiple moist hides.
Again, it is not a substrate that is ideal for every pet and every situation, but when used correctly you can create beautiful, naturalistic desert set ups. Your desert reptiles will benefit from the ability to burrow and hide in a more natural way, and the reduced amount of loose substrate (due to the clay being hardened) minimizes the risk of substrate ingestion to a negligable worry.
Want to see a video on setting up Excavator Clay? We have one that you can see here:http://youtu.be/Nzu0P-aPPbw