Heating a single vivarium such as for a corn snake or an iguana isn’t difficult and there are lots of effective and reasonably-priced solutions out there from heat mats to ceramic bulbs.
But what if you have a large number of small vivariums or exotic pet cages? Examples of these might be people keeping a lot of small invertebrates in tiny cages, people who have a collection of tarantula spiderlings or even those keeping small herptiles that must be kept separate from one another.
How do you easily and efficiently heat dozens of small containers without either spending your life savings buying a never-ending supply of individual heaters (plus figuring out how to plug them all in) or by cooking your exotic pets by using heaters that are too powerful for such small containers?
Fortunately there are three solutions for heating a large number of small vivariums which I have used successfully over the years. All of them are cheap and easy to set up as well as doing a great job of keeping your exotic pets at an ideal temperature.
The “Incubator” Technique
Using the incubator technique, rather than heating each individual vivarium you instead heat just one large vivarium and then place the smaller tanks within it. By carefully controlling the ambient air temperature in the main “incubator” vivarium you can keep the temperature levels within the individual cages at a suitable level.
I have used this method very successfully in the past and is the technique I prefer to use when rearing hundreds of individually-housed tarantula spiderlings after a successful breeding program. However it is worth noting that irrespective of which form of standard reptile heating you use to maintain a warm environment it is likely that some areas of the incubator – and hence certain smaller cages – will be warmer than others.
Particularly in the case of invertebrates temperature can be a controlling factor for growth where inverts kept warmer will typically eat more and grow faster than those kept at a cool temperature.
There are two ways to look at this situation. The first is to accept this fact as a positive one. As an example, male tarantulas typically mature before females and only live a short time after maturity. By having your exotic pets growing at different rates it increases the chances of getting mating pairs from this rearing situation. For example some males in the cooler area will take longer to mature while some females in the warmer area will grow much faster.
When you combine these two elements it can be reasonably easy to control growth rates so that your males and females mature at a similar time ready to be mated as soon as possible.
The other way to look at this situation is to move the smaller reptile cages around every week or so in order to ensure that each animal over time receives a balanced environment of both warmer and cooler conditions.
The incubator method is typically simple to set up and monitor though of course will may need to buy a large vivarium to act as the “incubator” so you can place all the smaller containers into it and this can raise the cost of this type of heating for smaller herp tanks.
Furthermore because these containers are within a second vivarium it can make watching your exotic pets more troublesome. Realistically you will probably have to remove the smaller containers to look at your pets but if you’re rearing dozens of babies this is unlikely to be too much of a worry and you will most likely have the adults on display while the youngsters are reared up for later display when they have achieved a reasonable size.
The “Heat Strip” Technique
Anyone who reads this site regularly knows I am a big fan of heat mats – they’re cheap, they’re easy to work with and they’re tremendously reliable and hard-wearing. The vast majority of heat mats on sale are either a square or rectangular shape where the length and width are of roughly similar dimensions.
However do your research and you should be able to find some that are much, much longer than they are wide and these are often referred to as “heat strips” even though they are essentially just a heat mat with odd dimensions.
I have a number of heat strips that are just a few inches wide yet several feet long and this means that I can place a good number of smaller exotic pet cages on them and heat them all using just the one heat strip. This is a method I use with juvenile tarantulas housed in cricket tubs so I can keep a closer eye on them, heat them all to the same temperature and allow a gentle heat gradient just as I would with an adult spider.
The downside of the heat strip technique is that this method is really only suitable is you have a large surface area to lay your exotic pet cages out on – such as a long shelf – and that even then you might get half a dozen or a dozen cages on one of these heat strips – but you won’t manage to use it for hundreds of tiny praying mantis or spiderling pots.
The “Heat Cable” Technique
Heat cables were originally designed for use by gardeners in their green houses and so are sometimes referred to as “heat cables”. These are plastic or rubber-coated cables that can be plugged in and then generate a gentle warmth, the main aim being to heat up the beds in a greenhouse to encourage seeds to germinate earlier in the season than they otherwise might.
But these cables can be just as successfully used for dozens – or more – of exotic pet cages. I have a decent-sized bookcase which I bought and I have used tape to stick the cable onto the shelves so that the whole bookcase has a heating element running along the front of every shelf.
In this way I can fill the bookshelf with exotic pet vivariums of varying sizes and the heat cable provides suitable warmth to literally dozens of specimens at once yet only uses up a single plug in my home.
You can find heat cables of a variety of lengths so it’s worth working out what sort of area you want to heat first and then finding a cable to match those dimensions though personally I have found that investing in the longest cables I can find mean that I have far more flexibility in the future and have managed to reuse these heating cables for all sorts of situations over the years such is their versatility.