Can a Reptile Enclosure Have TOO Much Clutter?
One of the most common pieces of feedback you’ll hear on a newly set-up reptile enclosure is: “Clutter it up!” Snake not eating? Clutter it up! Lizard’s glass dancing all the time? Clutter it up! These people have good intentions, but it’s all a bit useless if you don’t know what they mean. To make things even more confusing, there are lots of “experienced” reptile people out there who staunchly preach that enclosure décor is for the benefit of human viewing only, and that reptiles don’t care about what their enclosure looks like.
So who’s right? What does “clutter it up” actually mean, and is it possible to go too far?
What does “clutter” mean in the context of reptile husbandry?
When reptile keepers refer to “clutter,” they’re not usually talking about the piles of useless stuff that tends to accumulate in a human home like too many books on the shelves, the collection of old clothes you still haven’t donated, disorganized papers on a desk, or those moving boxes you never got around to unpacking. In the context of reptile keeping, when an enclosure “needs clutter,” it’s too bare for the animal to feel comfortable living there. Adding more items such as logs, branches, and foliage uses up the open space and makes it more “cluttered.” In other words, when applied correctly, “clutter” increases the usable area inside an enclosure by making use of its internal volume rather than just the floor space, while also creating a variety of hiding places to increase the animal’s freedom of choice.
Is it possible to have too much clutter?
Yes, in theory, a reptile enclosure can be too cluttered, but usually that’s hard to do. Many animals live and thrive amongst the “clutter” of nature: leaf litter, piles of woody debris, rock piles — even human litter! Any experienced herper will tell you that these are usually great places to find reptiles, especially snakes.
Essentially, if you’re wondering if your reptile’s enclosure is getting uncomfortably crowded, ask yourself: Are the accessories in my pet’s enclosure preventing it from moving freely? (Note that “uncomfortably crowded” for one species may be “just right” for another, so it’s definitely not one-size-fits-all!)
If the answer is yes, you can resolve the issue by 1) rearranging the décor to better accommodate your pet’s preferred mode of movement, or 2) remove a piece or few until things become more functional. In the case of live plants, if things are looking too cluttered, you may need to give the plants a trim.
What’s better: clutter or no?
It’s true that reptiles don’t care what their enclosure looks like, but they do care about its functionality. Whether you use rope or branches, they care about having things to climb on; whether you use decorative caves or a plastic box, they care about having places to hide; and whether you use realistic artificial foliage or paper netting, they care about having shade. And as long as all of this “clutter” is arranged in a way that allows the reptile to move freely, it really does seem like more is better!
Clutter may even be able to resolve certain common behavioral problems in pet reptiles, because more cover helps many reptiles feel more secure and can help alleviate boredom by creating a more engaging environment. Increasing security and reducing boredom can in turn help boost appetite, reduce pacing and/or glass dancing, and increase expression of interesting natural behaviors!
- Rebekah Walenta