Glass Chameleon Cages

Summary: The Glass Terrarium

  • Glass terrariums store energy so care must be giving to what you put in the system.
  • Glass terrariums have the maximum control and minimum ventilation
  • Glass terrariums are easily found, but rarely in sizes that are suitable for chameleons
  • Get a glass terrarium if your ambient temperature/humidity is lower than your chameleon’s preferred range

Anatomy of a Typical Glass Terrarium

Glass Baby Cage 1080x1440

First we need to establish that there is a huge difference between a glass terrarium and a glass aquarium. Aquariums are designed to hold water and terrariums are designed to hold soil, plants, and provide ventilation. The initial failures in using glass cages for chameleons were with aquariums and there were a number of issues that made this difficult. Though it should be noted that there were breeders that successfully used glass aquariums. It is easy to find glass terrariums now that have ventilation holes in the lower front of the cage. This, combined with a screen top produces what we call the chimney effect. This is where the warmer air on top rises and pulls the cooler air from below up. The cooler air is replaced by air from the lower front vents. In this manner, there is a subtle, but constant airflow through the cage. Thus the most valuable feature to look for when searching for a glass cage is the front vents and screen top.

Every material we use has certain characteristics which are pros or cons depending on your needs. Glass is a good insulator. This means that heat put into the system will stay longer and any heat continuing to be put into the system will build on what is already there. Unlike screen cages where the heat is constantly replacing the energy sucked away by the room’s ambient temperature, in a glass cage the heat will build on its self. It is the same with humidity. This characteristic is perfect if you live in an environment which is cool or dry and you need to bump up your numbers. This insulating characteristic is a con if you live in an environment that is good for the chameleon or is hotter or more humid. So, depending on what you home ambient conditions are, glass could be what makes this possible or a bad idea!

The main consideration is that you can no longer just pump energy into the system. You will have to turn the heat lamp off when the cage has risen to the appropriate temperature and monitor humidity so it does not get oppressive.

Most of all, if you have screen cage experience, realize that you have to re-think everything. You will kill your chameleon using screen cage husbandry with a glass cage.

Other than that, glass cage are very heavy, rarely have drainage, can shatter, and take effort to find in sizes suitable for chameleons.

But if the insulating characteristics of a glass terrarium are of benefit to you, all these drawbacks are easily dealt with as will be shown in this module.


Respiratory Infections

Glass was been demonized by a certain vocal segment and a number of us have been working very hard since then to bring perspective to the situation. Glass is a tool like any other and, if used properly, can have spectacular results. When used improperly can kill your chameleon. The object is to use any tool correctly. One of the common statements that are repeated without much understanding is that glass causes respiratory infections. Usually, even incorrect statements are worth finding the kernel of truth. In this case, the community had experienced a difficult time keeping chameleons alive in glass aquariums. When they were moved to larger screen cages things became easier. This spawned an overall advisement to use only screen cages. So, yes, chameleons did get sick in glass aquariums. And, yes, it is easier to misuse a glass terrarium than it is to misuse a screen cage. But glass terrariums are a valuable tool and it pays for anyone interested in chameleons to understand how to use them. At the very least, understand that they CAN be used very effectively and do not perpetuate the “glass causes RIs” inaccuracy. To explain,  a respiratory infection usually comes on when the chameleon’s immune system is compromised. This can happen when stressed from incorrect environmental conditions or husbandry errors. But this can happen in screen cages as well. The truth in this statement would be that applying screen cage husbandry on a glass cage will result in a sick and dying chameleon. The solution is not to get rid of the valuable tool we have in glass terrariums, but to educate the keepers in when it is appropriate to use glass.


Reflections

The next major concern is that glass produces reflections and that stress will kill your chameleon. It is true that you can get reflections inside your cage. There are enough people successfully keeping chameleons in glass cages, though, that it seems like the reflections that are caused are dealt with in stride. Chameleons seem to understand that either the ghost chameleon is not real or that it is in the bush next door and not a threat. Of course, the closer the reflection is to a true mirror image the more of a response you will get.

Reflections can be minimized by placing the lights close to the front of the cage or hanging plants by the offending area.

Why some people report problems with reflections in their glass cage and other people can breed generations of chameleons with ever having a problem is still a mystery. If you believe you have a problem with a reflection you can test it. First, acquaint yourself with the behavior of being threatened and show your chameleon a mirror at about the same distance as the suspected reflection. You will then see the level of threat response if it is a reflection that is causing what you are observing.  Obviously, your chameleon may have a different reaction to a clear image rather than a ghost image, but it establishes a base line. You can also temporarily hang something (plant, cork bark, etc…) in front of the area that you think has the reflection and see what behavior change happens. The reason why it is so important to develop a set of tests is that if you look for advice on social media you will run into a vast number of people who have heard the soundbite, but have not thought about it critically. Prove the problem to yourself or you may spend effort fixing a problem that does not exist instead of the thing that is a problem.


Controlling Ventilation

mist nozzle in a glass chameleon cage

Because the standard glass terrarium very little natural ventilation you may find yourself needing to create more airflow in the cage. This is where small fans become very useful. A computer fan placed on the top screen and blowing up or to the side can give extra power to the chimney effect as it sucks air up and pulls it out. The whole characteristic of a glass terrarium is to slow the ventilation so if you are using a glass terrarium you presumably want less ventilation. Thus, a few strategically placed computer fans can create extra airflow you are looking for to finalize the balance and ensuring the cage dries out during the day.

Since the nature of a glass terrarium is to decrease ventilation, it is often easier to decrease the energy put into the system instead of trying to remove it later. Keep the basking light on less time. Reduce the number of mistings. Maybe less fogging at night. Because glass stores these things we should take advantage of this characteristic and rely on that storage more. Mistings can be much shorter to coat the area and the water droplets will stay longer.


Drainage

Drainage becomes a problem with glass terrariums. You will need a special glass bit or professional help to drill a drainage hole in the glass floor pane. But it would be more effective to change your misting and watering habits so that drainage is not a issue. Since this is a glass terrarium where the mist droplets will stay on the leaves longer, you can shorten your misting times. This avoids how much water dribbles down and is stored in your drainage layer.

If you do need to suck some water out you can also insert a PVC pipe down the corner of the cage when you build it. This will give you access to the water at the bottom of your cage drainage layer using a special miniature nozzle tool at the end of your wet/dry vac. Or else you could use a Turkey baster!

The best solution is to take advantage of the insulative properties of glass and reduce your water input into the system. With proper hydration there will be no need for drainage beyond the standard in-cage drainage layer.


Branching in a Glass Terrarium

Branching in the glass terrarium can be a challenge as the walls are smooth. Branches can be placed in the soil layer and propped so they branch in the right areas. Obviously, branches with more character than completely straight are useful. Cork squares can be used to line the glass walls and then branches can be imbedded straight into the cork.

Because of the difficulty in finding larger terrariums, glass vivariums are often used for smaller chameleons such as Carpet Chameleons, Lesser Chameleons (Furcifer minor) or Pygmy/Stump-tailed Chameleons. With these smaller chameleons, the branch structure of common vivarium plants such as Schefflera arboricola and Ficus benjamina can act as perching areas.

brevicaudatus in glass chameleon cage
Dense foliage in glass chameleon cage

Unless you commission a custom terrarium, the glass terrariums you are most likely to run into are the ones by Exo-Terra and ZooMed. These terrariums do an excellent job. When looking at glass terrariums there are really only two main components to consider.

Size. Most glass terrariums are not sufficiently large for keeping the most common chameleons. The Exo-Terra 36″W x 18″D x 36″H is the only one that I would attempt to keep an Adult panther or Veiled Chameleon in. There are a few larger size cages that I will list below. But if you are going for one of these terrariums consider getting a smaller chameleon such as the carpet chameleon (Furcifer lateralis)

Ventilation. Unless you are getting a custom cage made, you will probably be looking at either an Exo-Terra or Zoo Med terrarium. Both of these are designed with ventilation included. What you are looking for are small vents by the front bottom of the cage that will allow air to travel up through the cage and out the screen top. But how much ventilation you really need is determined by the environment you are trying to keep the chameleon in.

glass terrariums next to each other

Glass Terrariums Available

The following reviews cover the major manufacturers of glass terrariums in the market.

Note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Exo-Terra

Exo-Terra logo

Exo-Terra originated the glass terrarium design that is so popular today. Exo-Terra does make cages at the high end which are large enough for chameleons. You can reference this table for appropriate sizes for your situation.

Baby: Babies of any species can be raised in this terrarium. The bigger it is the more successful you will be raising a group. Althogh, ideally, each baby is raised separately.

Small: Carpet Chameleons (Furcifer lateralis), Lesser Chameleons (Furcifer minor), South African Dwarf Chameleons, and Pygmy/Stump-tailed Chameleons.

Medium: Female panther chameleons

Large: Male Panther Chameleons, Veiled Chameleons, Jackson’s Chameleon.

X-Large: Parson’s Chameleon, Oustalet’s Chameleon, Meller’s Chameleon.

24″W x 18″D x 36″H

Exo Terra 36x18x36

36″W x 18″D x 36″H


Zoo Med

ZooMed Logo

ZooMed has a wide line of Naturalistic Terrariums. The “Skyscraper” at 18″W x 18″D x 36″H would be a more-than-adequate cage for smaller chameleons such as female panther chameleons, carpet chameleons, or South African dwarf chameleons. Pricing varies widely and there is a challenge finding retailers willing to ship these breakable items. The chart below has links to retailers that had competitive pricing at the moment, but you may need to look aorund to find the best price when you are purchasing your item.

You can reference this table for appropriate sizes for your situation.

Baby: Babies of any species can be raised in this terrarium. The bigger it is the more successful you will be raising a group. Althogh, ideally, each baby is raised separately.

Small: Carpet Chameleons (Furcifer lateralis), Lesser Chameleons (Furcifer minor), South African Dwarf Chameleons, and Pygmy/Stump-tailed Chameleons.

Medium: Female panther chameleons

Large: Male Panther Chameleons, Veiled Chameleons, Jackson’s Chameleon.

X-Large: Parson’s Chameleon, Oustalet’s Chameleon, Meller’s Chameleon.

 

Zoo Med Skyscraper Terrarium

The Zoo Med Skyscraper Terrarium at 18″W x 18″D x 36″H


More Research On Cage Types?

Would you like to check out the other cage types before making your final decision? Pick your type below!

Shopping for Screen Cages

chameleon cages

Shopping for Hybrid Cages

Lights on a chameleon cage

Navigation

This module describes the basic types of chameleon cages and is part of the course Selecting a Chameleon Cage which, in turn, is a class within the even larger Term 1: Getting Started With Chameleons. If you have selected your cage then it is time to the course Setting Up Your Chameleon Cage!

Term 1: Chameleon Husbandry Course List

Chameleon Academy Logo with yellow motto

Selecting a Chameleon Cage Homeroom

Exo Terra Cage Build

Setting Up Your Chameleon Cage

baby panther chameleon in a cage