How To Provide Enrichment For A Variety of Reptile Species
According to the Smithsonian National Zoo, enrichment gives animals a creative outlet for physical activity and mental exercise, as well as choice and control over how they spend their time.
Some small things we can do to provide enrichment to our pets include puzzle feeders that encourage animals to forage for food, climbing structures that enhance habitats, and training sessions where animals can interact with their owners.
Reptile Toys for Bearded Dragons, Tegus, and other Reptiles
From Zen Habitats Animal Care Manager, Kasey, “One of my favorite things to use with lizards and potentially even snakes, though I haven't tried it yet, is dog puzzle feeders. I really like the option that has both options of sliders and latches, so it's a little bit more challenging. Another great option are the ones that are all sliders. These might be a little bit easier for our blue-tongue skinks that might just use their nose to move things around versus their actual limbs. The last one I have used is a little bit more complicated, each little layer spins, so there's lots of opportunities for different treats.”
Just like any other animal, reptiles can be trained to play with puzzle feeders and other reptile toys, it just takes practice! Kasey talks a bit more about how to start training your reptiles to use these reptile toys. “My process when introducing one of these puzzle feeders to the reptiles is to use a dog-clicker and bugs. Every time I give a bug to the animal, I give a click. I give some free bugs in the beginning so that they know that that click is associated with getting fed. Rosie, our tegu, picked up on the association right away, I showed her how to open the latches and she has that really great sense of smell, so she was able to find those bugs right away. When I introduced it to Chi, our bearded dragon, I let him have some free bugs. Then I showed him how the latch opens and closes. I didn’t force our beardie to do anything, but I'm going to keep repeating this process so that he can see it and eventually he will learn and be able to open up those latches himself.”
Reptile Toys For Bearded Dragons – Bug Balls
This is something we have tried with our bearded dragons multiple times! For this reptile toy, you are simply creating a puzzle feeder by using a clear ball with a hole drilled into it. Next, all you have to do is put a feeder insect inside the ball, and you are good to go! Your bearded dragon will love rolling around the ball to try and get their snack out!
If you’d like to learn more about bearded dragon enrichment, click here read our full guide.
Gecko Wheels with Em of Emzotic
Popular reptile YouTuber Em, of Emzotic sat down with us to talk about gecko care, and gecko enrichment! Em immediately suggested using a hamster wheel for our crested geckos Bert and Ernie. She also mentioned that we should use caution with geckos that still have tails, as they could get startled and perform caudal autonomy (drop their tails). We chose a wheel from Amazon that is fully plastic, with no partitions or holes that our animals can get their toes stuck in. The wheel came with options to place it on the floor of the enclosure or be attached to the wall via suction cup. We opted to use the floor option so we could move it to different enclosures in our reptile room. To introduce the wheel to our geckos, we simply placed them in the wheel and let them feel the motion of it. Then we left them alone for them to choose whether or not to use it. It would be best to observe this by using a small camera. We highly recommend trying this amazing form of gecko enrichment for your reptiles!
Scenting Oils for Snakes and Other Reptiles
Em also inspired us to challenge our corn snake, Phoenix’s, olfactory response (sense of smell). Em had suggested using different scented oils to provide food variation and to introduce new smells to our snakes. Kasey explains a bit more about scenting oils and how they can be used for reptile enrichment purposes. “If you are unfamiliar with scent oils, they are primarily used by snake keepers to get finicky snakes to eat more readily available prey items like mice and rats. I have personally had great success using ‘frog juice’ from Reptilinks to get hognose snakes to eat mice. For this enrichment challenge I thawed out two appropriately sized frozen mice for our corn snake. Then I soaked one in water and the other in ‘frog juice.’ I presented both mice on the floor to Phoenix and she showed immediate interest in the frog-scented mouse. This means that maybe in the future I can give her frog as an occasional prey item, which will provide great feeding enrichment.” We would like to mention that if your reptile is on a strict feeding schedule, we don’t recommend this as it could throw off their feeding habitats. However, for enrichment purposes and to introduce different scents and tastes for your reptiles, this is a very easy and inexpensive way to enrich your pet’s life!
Scent Pouches For Reptiles
Very similar to scenting oils, another great way to provide your reptiles with enrichment and to entice their sense of smell is to create little scent pouches. Kasey explains that “What I did was use a little satchel and I filled it with some safe herbs. I chose herbs that would be okay for omnivorous animals to eat. I filled the pouch with things like sage, oregano, parsley, basil. I placed the pouch in my savannah monitor, Chompers, enclosure, all of these scents were novel to him and he was very interested in pouch.”
Sound Machines, Great For All Reptiles
Something simple that you can do to provide environmental enrichment is a little sound machine. You can use your Alexa or your phone for this. For our reptile room, we typically like to play some soothing rainforest noises for our red-eyed tree frogs. We also used an old baby sound machine that has a summer night option. It has this really nice chorus of crickets and little wind sounds. This is something so simple that every reptile owner should do as it provides some good ambiance for your reptiles.
DIY Snake Jungle Gym/Snake Board
Em, from Emzotic told us she was interested in doing something for her snakes! It’s kind of like a jungle gym or a snake board. She explained the way that she would make it by “getting like some safe wood from the Home Depot store and then just getting some pegs, little cylindrical round pegs and really securing those down at different lengths. And that way the snake is actually able to kind of slither up and through in different ways on that board.” She went to say “it would be really great for semi-arboreal and arboreal species a snake because it's like one continuous climbing motion for them and that even gets them to do figure eight and it's super safe as well because they wouldn't be able to fall off of the perches.”
Snake Enrichment with Lori Torrini
Snake behaviorist, Lori Torrini, of Behavior Education LLC was kind enough to spend time with us discussing her favorite snake enrichment options. As we watched her snake, Merlin, climb on an awesome structure, behind her, it was easy to see why this was one of her favorites. “I love snakes that climb. And so much of the enrichment that I design or buy or throw together has to do with climbing. And it's great for medium-sized snakes who are semi-arboreal, arboreal, or even terrestrial, but that enjoy some climbing.” Lori’s climbing structure was built from an upcycled parrot tree and includes a tent and a variety of textured items for her snakes to climb on.
Lori is also a fan of using wooden, carpet-less, cat trees for snake enrichment. She likes to add texture with bamboo, netting, perches, rocks, and branches to provide multiple sensory experiences. If you don’t have a cat tree, Lori suggests the inexpensive and creative solution of an upside-down kitchen stool!
Portable, cloth, dog exercise pens make a great playground for snakes like Lori’s corn snake, Rodney. No need to spend money on fancy toys! Lori suggests using clean boxes and plastic bottles. “They love cardboard boxes…and things that you were going to throw away anyway.” Lori said for her terrestrial snakes she uses a variety of boxes with different types of substrates. “I used like old fruit that I was going to throw away. (I used to feed it to our potbelly pigs but they've all passed away.) I'll put it in a big Tupperware container and set it in there.” She found her hognose snake loved investigating and borrowing for hours at a time. “For semi-aquatic snakes or even snakes that like to swim some, you can put cans of water in here, you know, just make sure that the temperatures are correct.” Lori creates foraging exercises for Rodney in the tent by submerging some items in the water, encouraging Rodney to dive in and get them! Lori also mentioned how her 4x2x4 Zen Habitats enclosure made the perfect place for her snakes during enrichment activities because it provided plenty of space and she didn’t have to worry about them getting out.
The next form of enrichment we wanted to try was to provide a novel substrate to one of our fossorial snakes, Mr. Cheese, the Kenyan Sand Boa. We consulted with Lori about using rice as a temporary substrate. She stated. “as long as the substrate is not toxic when touched, ingested or inhaled, it is a safe option.” We wanted to give Cheese the option to explore a substrate outside of his normal reptile tank that he has never experienced and he took to it right away and burrowed into the uncooked rice.
Happy Zenrichment 2023!
Throughout the month of January, we are holding our first-ever Zenrichment Challenge! Are you looking for ways to provide a more enriched life for your pet? Start the new year off right by joining the challenge! Participants get to follow along with each other on social media and share their pet’s progress throughout the month with weekly check-ins. In addition, Zenrichment participants will get access to exclusive educational content, DIY projects, discounts, souvenirs, and more via email. Ready to join in on the fun or just want more information? Fill out this quick form.