As the reptile-keeping hobby has grown, so too has the selection of reptile-keeping equipment on offer.
These days there are more reptile hides than ever before available; some custom-made for the reptile-keeper, with others being easily re-purposed from other sources.
In this article we’re going to look at some of the options available to you, in order to help you choose the best reptile hide for your needs.
The Importance of Reptile Hides
Many reptiles and amphibians are know to be quite shy in captivity. Even the bolder or more confident species will generally benefit from a hide of some form; somewhere they can hide away from prying eyes and feel safe.
Indeed, some species (notably snakes) can become noticeably aggressive in the absence of somewhere to hide. It seems that being forced to constantly sit in the open leads to stress, which can then boil over into aggression towards their keeper.
But there are other reasons to provide a reptile hide besides limiting stress and minimizing aggression.
Providing somewhere for your pet to hide away also makes for a more natural environment. The natural world isn’t sterile and dull; it’s a multi-layered experience with plenty of plants, rocks and bits of old bark to explore and hide within.
Lastly, appreciate that reptile hides can enable you to create “micro-habitats”. For example many of our more commonly-kept snake species (think Corn Snakes or King Snakes, for example) tend to be kept in arid surroundings. A damp substrate can lead to sores or skin problems in many snakes. But what happens when your snake struggles to moult, thanks at least in part to their dry surroundings?
Here a hide can be used as a source of moisture. When your snake enters the humid surroundings of their hide they’ll find their remaining skin softens and becomes easier to slough off. Outside of the hide the substrate can remain as dry as ever, giving your pet snake the best of both worlds.
The provision of one or more hides should therefore be considered an essential part of keeping any reptile or amphibian in captivity, as it leads to happier and more docile captives.
Types of Reptile Hides
There are more reptile hides available than ever before. While some are freely available from most pet stores (or online) a handful might be rather more difficult to find.
For clarity we have opted to separate the range of reptile hides available into three core groups. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses which we will cover in turn.
Natural Reptile Hides
“Natural” reptile hides are those made from natural materials; most commonly wood.
Organic Appearance – Most natural hides look absolutely fantastic when placed in a reptile cage. For those of us (like me) who appreciate a well landscaped vivarium, such as for smaller lizards or tree frogs, natural hides can become an attractive and integral part of the overall design.
Habitat Simulation – Arguably natural materials like wood can also benefit your reptiles and amphibians by more accurately mimicking the hides that wild herps use. In other words, natural hides can more accurately simulate the wild habitat of many species.
Large Variability – Natural hides are often available in a wide range of sizes and shapes thanks to their natural origin. For example pieces of bark may be found that are a matter of six inches long or several feet, and they may be flat or curved.
While this can mean a fair amount of shopping around to find the “perfect” hide, it also means that with enough patience you will almost certainly be able to find one or more natural hides of a suitable size and shape.
Mould Attractant – Of all the different hide materials wood is the most likely to attract mould and fungus, especially in more humid tank environment. While problems are unlikely in drier environments (think of bearded dragons or most snakes) great attention should be paid in humid rainforest set-ups like those for day geckos.
Difficulty of Cleaning – The rough and absorbent properties of wood can make cleaning such hides rather more difficult than more “artificial” hide materials.
One of the smaller natural hides comes in the form of coconut halves, typically with a small access hole cut in the side. While these are unlikely to be much use for those of us keeping ball pythons, for smaller critters such as poison dart frogs they can be ideal. They’re lightweight, they look great and the cost is minimal.
Cork bark has been one of my “go to” reptiles hides for as long as I can remember. This natural and renewable resource is lightweight and as each piece is different its possible to find a huge range of different sizes and shapes.
Taking the time to select an attractively curved piece of bark under which your pet can hide is well worth the effort and can look fantastic in a vivarium.
For arboreal reptiles and amphibians such as day geckos and tree frogs (and even some tarantulas) it is often possible to find whole “tubes” of bark, which can be placed on end in the vivarium. This not only gives vertical height to creatures that like to climb, but also allows them to climb inside to hide away at will.
There are a small number of hides which look like pieces of log, yet have had the inner surface smoothed off and rounded. These are typically considerably heavier than cork bark or coconut shells, and come in a smaller range of sizes. They can however look good and are one of my preferred solutions for smaller snake species.
Artificial Reptile Hides
Artificial reptile hides are typically man-made, from materials such as plastic. While they are often priced similarly to more natural hides, they offer quite the opposite list of pros and cons.
Easy to Clean – The artificial materials that such hides are made from can make them considerably easier to clean. Consider, for example, how easy it is to spray down a plastic container in comparison to a wooden one and you’ll get the idea.
Varied Appearance – There is a growing market in “pre-fabricated” reptile hides. From artificial caves to dinosaur eggs through to skulls, if you want to create a truly memorable vivarium design then there are all sorts of options available to you.
Less Attractive Appearance – Some might argue that artificial hides are less attractive than natural hides made of wood. While the overall effect depends on the actual hide chosen, I have to admit that I generally prefer the appearance of more natural hides.
Fewer Range of Sizes – As artificial hides are made by people, there is far less variety than one might find with naturally-occurring hides like cork bark. It may take extra effort to find a suitable hide, therefore, especially if you’re keeping a larger species such as a common boa.
I stumbled across plastic hides just recently while in a reptile store. To be fair, they are worse than hideous; just a shiny black plastic box with a hole cut out of the front. They’re completely at odds with the aesthetics of a naturalistic vivarium, but I must admit they have a range of practical benefits.
They’re super-easy to clean, incredibly lightweight and come in some very generous sizes. I’m slowly moving most of my ball pythons over to these hides simply due to the practicality of being able to clean them easily, and quickly lift them up to check on each of my captives even if they’re hidden away.
“Caves” is in speech marks, because this word rely doesn’t do justice to the wide range of options available now. While most of the more popular options do indeed mimic the appearance of a small cave, a growing range of different styles are available, including the skulls and dinosaur eggs mentioned earlier.
Re-Purposed Reptile Hides
Lastly in the list of potential reptile hides there are a range of household objects which can be effectively re-purposed for use as reptile hides. While the range is really limited only by your creativity, I would like to take a moment to discuss two of the more popular options among reptile owners.
An empty cereal box, placed on its side with the “end” open can make a cheap and effective hide for snakes. If necessary the box can be “cut to fit” so that it properly accommodates your pet. These are of course available free of charge and can be easily sourced and replaced.
As with all the other options, of course, there are a number of downsides of such a solution, not least their less-than-attractive appearance. In addition its worth noting that such boxes cannot be cleaned, and can become easily soiled.
As a result you might need to eat a lot of cereal in order to keep throwing them away when soiled and replacing them with a fresh box.
If your vivarium has a decent layer of substrate then a second alternative is to place a plant pot on its side, and partially bury it in the substrate to create a semi-circle. This is a solution which I personally use regularly for tarantulas, but rather less so for reptiles and amphibians.
For ease of cleaning I make use of plastic pots, though terra cotta pots are another option if you’re willing to put the necessary time into cleaning them.
What Is The Best Reptile Hide?
Now we’ve covered some of the more popular reptile hide options the next obvious question is that the best reptile hide is. The answer here isn’t an easy one, and is largely down to personal preference after considering their appearance, the size of your pet and the pros and cons outlined.
Personally I’m a huge fan of using curved wood hides, carefully placed into the vivarium so that one end is flush with the back of the vivarium. This provides just one access point, and looks great. They can also be very easy to clean and come in a range of sizes, so are ideal for smaller snakes.
Increasingly I’m using the boring plastic hides for larger ball pythons due to the practicalities of keeping larger snakes. Here a piece of cork bark is so light that it is likely to be slowly shifted around the cage over time, making it harder to site it in the most appropriate location.
However the only wrong answer here is to provide no hide at all for your pet. No matter what species of reptile or amphibian you’re keeping you should put some thought into which option is likely to work best for you.
What Size Hide Should You Buy?
Reptile hides come in a range of different sizes and styles, and many beginner reptile keepers struggle to decide on the most appropriate size for their pet.
The primary goal of your hide is that it should allow your pet to entirely conceal itself. Hides for snakes should therefore allow your coiled-up snake to comfortably sit inside, without its head or tail poking out of the entrance. So pay attention to the approximate dimensions of your snake when curled up and aim for a hide at least as large as this.
Ball pythons are a good example of a reptile species that can benefit from a hide. In the wild these snakes would typically hide out in old rodent burrows during the day, only leaving the safety of their burrow at night.
As a result ball pythons tend to feel most confident and comfortable with a reasonably-small hide. Given something much larger than they need can make them feel rather less secure than a hide which offers a rather more snug fit.
The goal when choosing a hide is therefore to find one which is large enough for your pet to conceal itself in fully, but small enough that it mimics a small hole in the wild.
This means that it can be necessary, especially if you own a baby snake, to progressively invest in larger hides over time, replacing it a couple of times a year as your snake outgrows its existing hide.
How to Clean Your Reptile Hide
It’s critical when keeping reptiles and amphibians to maintain their cages in hygienic conditions. While many keepers are happy to remove soiled substrate and to wash out a vivarium, its equally important to regularly clean and sterilize the hides that you use.
Here there can be significant differences in how easy different hides are to clean. For example one of the moulded plastic hides discussed earlier may not be the best-looking solution, but they are supremely-easy to wipe over with some anti-septic reptile-safe cleaning spray. Left to air-dry the hide can be sterilized and back in your pet’s cage within minutes.
Contrast this to a piece of cork bark, with all its rough surface, and they can be a lot harder to keep clean.
Broadly speaking I have found that the best way to clean your reptile hide largely depends on the material it is made from.
Cleaning Plastic or Moulded Hides
Simply scrub the hide clean to remove any faeces, sloughed skin or other debris. Next spray liberally with a reptile-safe disinfectant and leave to air dry before placing back into the cage.
Natural wood can be rather more problematic to clean due to its rough and absorbent surface.
The best solution I have found is to start off by soaking the hide in warm water to soften any attached debris, then follow up by rubbing firmly with a scouring pad to remove any debris.
The challenge comes next, when it comes to sanitizing the hide; in my experience reptile-safe spray can be rathe rless effective, as it is often absorbed by the wood rather than treating the surface.
Instead I recommend boiling the kettle, and in a safe place (in the garden or the bathtub) liberally pour this boiling water over the wood. In this way you should kill any micro-organisms or fungal spores present. Then leave the wood to cool before placing it back into the vivarium.
How Many Hides Should I Give My Pet?
The number of hides you give your pet will be affected by a range of factors, including the size of the cage and the number of inhabitants.
If your reptile cage allows it then offering two different hides can be a good idea. The reason is that it gives your pet choices, and allows you to see which they prefer.
As a first experiment try placing one hide at the hotter end of the cage, and the other at the cooler end. Pay attention to which one your pet chooses to use over a period of a week or two. The reptile always sat at the hotter end may want the temperature in their tank to be increased slightly.
The opposite may be true of reptiles always cowering at the cooler end. By slowly moving these hides around the cage over a period of weeks you’ll be able to identify the “ideal” temperature that your pet likes to rest at.
The next experiment can then involve moving both hides to this locality, to see which hide they actually prefer. Providing a piece of cork bark and a moulded plastic hide next to one-another, for example, can help you to identify which of these hides your pet prefers.
Once you know which hide your pet prefers, and where in he cage they like it placed, you can consider removing the less-popular option to give your pet more space to move around in their cage.
In situations where you keep two or more reptiles or amphibians together I would recommend always providing at least two hides. In this way if one of the animals is more dominant or aggressive there will always be somewhere for the less dominant individual to hide.
Questions? Please use the comments section below and I’ll get back to you 🙂
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