Choosing the right enclosure for critters is important. There are just too many products available in the market. Which one should you choose? In this article I will tell you all you need to know so that you can choose the right enclosure for your pets.
Acrylic Versus Glass Enclosure
The most commonly used enclosures by hobbyists are probably acrylic and glass. One of the most commonly asked questions about enclosure is which materials make the best enclosure. There is no right and wrong answer to this question and it’s always about preference.
Here’s a comparison table between the acrylic and glass enclosure.
|Looks ordinary||Looks classy|
|May be scratched||Scratch resistant|
|May warp||Will not warp|
|React with certain chemicals||Inert|
Acrylic is a type of plastic also known as plexiglass. Many plastic enclosures nowadays are made of acrylic.
Acrylic enclosures are affordable, durable, lightweight and highly customizable. However, it can be scratched, damaged by some chemicals and may warp.
Advantages of Acrylic Enclosure
The price for an acrylic enclosure is cheaper than that of a glass enclosure. Naturally, most people see this as the key criterion when selecting an enclosure.
Unlike glasses, acrylic doesn’t break if it falls. This is important especially when you need to move the enclosure. Being lightweight also means you can easily clean the enclosure.
Arthropod-keeping is a small niche and sometimes you just can’t find a suitable enclosure for specific critters. Acrylic-made enclosures allow you to make as much customization as you want because it can be drilled to create vents or build small doors, and it can be cut to the desired size. Because of that, many hobbyists choose to build their custom enclosures using acrylic.
Disadvantages of Acrylic Enclosure
There are three main disadvantages associated with acrylic enclosures in this hobby: scratches, chemical stability, and warping.
Compared to glasses, acrylic can be scratched easily. Some coating can be applied to protect the acrylic from scratching although we don’t know for sure which products have those coatings. To reduce scratches, you should not use brushes when cleaning the enclosure. Instead, use cloth only.
Acrylic can react to certain chemicals such as acetic acid, formic acid, aldehyde, formalin, etc. If your pets are known to excrete those chemicals, avoid housing them in the acrylic enclosure.
Examples of arthropods that can secrete those chemicals are vinegaroons, ants from the genus Formica, ground beetles from the family Carabidae and the devil rider stick insect Anisomorpha buprestoides. The same applies to detergent – use only mild detergent for cleaning.
Lastly, acrylic can absorb water from the surrounding, including the substrates and even from the atmosphere. As time passes, there is a possibility of warping on the acrylic. This often happens on thin acrylic, especially the lid.
Acrylic Enclosure to Avoid
Avoid using an acrylic enclosure that comes in pieces and needs to be assembled. Use those that come pre-glued to prevent your pet from escaping.
Cheaper acrylic enclosures often come as a DIY product where you need to assemble a few pieces of acrylic plate into the enclosure. Those plates are secured at best by rubber bands, and may break apart if knocked, not held or handled correctly.
If you can only get those acrylic enclosures that come in pieces, you can still glue them using silicon glue. Be sure to ventilate the enclosure after glueing because the gases emitted during curing may harm your pets.
Of course, you can always buy acrylic sheets and DIY your enclosure, which is cheaper and more flexible.
Glass enclosures are popular because they are beautiful, clear, sturdy, and chemically inert. However, glasses are heavy, fragile and more expensive than acrylic.
Highlight of Glass Enclosure
Glass enclosure always gives a classy feel (at least to me) and looks more beautiful probably due to its design. Because of that, I like glass enclosures better. If you only need 1 enclosure and have the budget, go for glass.
One thing worth highlighting – glass enclosure is heavy, which is good for my scenario. My in-laws often bring their kids to my house. Those little guys are curious and they always try to touch my enclosures. They sometimes move my acrylic enclosure but not the glass one because it’s too heavy (partly because it is bigger and I put an anti-slip mat below). That gives me peace of mind.
Lowlight of Glass Enclosure
The biggest set back of a glass enclosure is the price. It costs more than a good acrylic enclosure. That is why many hobbyists who need to maintain more than 1 enclosure will not consider a glass enclosure.
Glass enclosures are heavy and fragile. It can be difficult to move them around when you need to clean the enclosure. You need to be really careful when washing the enclosure.
Lastly, most glass enclosures come with a mesh lid, which is not suitable for certain pets such as tarantulas because their claws may get stuck onto the mesh. But you can always DIY a suitable lid for the container.
The Cheapest Plastic Enclosure for Critters
The cheapest enclosure that you can get is any used plastic container for food. It can be a used plastic deli cup or a cookie jar, which are part of food packaging. They are almost free!
While used plastic containers are cheap, most people use them temporarily. I can think of 2 reasons for that.
Obviously, plastic containers are not as beautiful as a more proper glass or acrylic enclosure. Moreover, many plastic containers are not fully transparent and have some level of opacity. Upgrading to glass or acrylic enclosures elevates the experience of keeping arthropods to a higher level.
Second, many food plastic containers don’t have a secure lid. My first beetle grub was delivered in a deli cup. I left it overnight in the deli cup without moving the grub into the intended container because my flake soil has not arrived yet (that’s why it’s a good idea to make your own flake soil).
And guess what? The grub was gone the next morning! It knocked the lid off, crawled out, and fell from the cabinet.
I managed to find it in a corner of the room. It’s lucky that it is still alive despite falling from 5-6 feet high. The resulting adult was very weak and inactive, which I suspect was due to the injury from the fall. This wouldn’t have happened if I put the grub in a plastic container with a screw cap.
Plastic containers are good if you have young or small arthropods that can’t knock off the lid of the container. For instance, if you have young centipedes, tiny jumping spiders or caterpillars, a deli cup is often sufficient.
Plastic containers are also good for beetle grubs, since you won’t be looking at the grub for a long time anyway. But it is important that the lid is secure enough (eg. screw cap) because most grubs are strong enough to push the lid away.
Other Types of Enclosure
On top of a delicate enclosure and used plastic container, you can also use different kinds of storage boxes to house your critters. Examples include: plastic shoe box, storage box, rubbish bin. You just need to make some vents on the wall and that’s it!
Size of Enclosure
The size of the enclosure is very important for your pet arthropods. Often, those critters are delivered to you in a small container for the ease of transport. That is OK since it is meant for temporary use. You should never think that your pet only requires such a small enclosure and house it permanently in such an enclosure!
As a general rule of thumb, most critters will need enclosures with width/length of at least 2-3 times their body length. You can provide them with bigger enclosures if you want to.
The size of the enclosure that you provide depends on the size of your pet and its behavior. For instance, jumping spiders love to explore and hence you should give him an enclosure much bigger than its size. Conversely, tarantulas prefer to ambush their prey, and hence they need big enough enclosures, but not too big that it becomes harder to hunt.
A bigger enclosure can also allow your pets to grow larger if you give them enough food and keep them under ideal conditions. Take the Hercules beetles for example, enthusiasts always put the grubs in a huge container instead of a smaller one in order to obtain bigger adults.
The Lid is Important!
I cannot stress more on the importance of a secure lid for your enclosure. Although I have done some research before I started keeping my first beetle, I still underestimated the importance of a secure lid, and the strength of my beetle
My first beetle was the Atlas beetle. I didn’t prepare the enclosure in advance and had to put it in a small acrylic outworld used previously for my ants. It fits my beetle well but the lid cannot be secured. Knowing my beetle could escape, I put a few heavy pebbles onto the lid.
On the next day, the beetle was no longer in the enclosure! He pushed away the lid and escaped. I managed to find him and put him back. So, the clever me decided to double the pebbles, and tie the lid with 2 rubber bands.
And hey, it worked… not so well. Now the beetle can’t push away the lid and escape due to the rubber band. But he is stuck with his limbs in between! I had to carefully move his fragile but sharp limb back into the enclosure. This happens every few days, particularly if the beetle finished his food.
The moral of the story – a lid or a door that can be secured is very important for your enclosure! And always prepare the right enclosure first! This applies to all other pet arthropods.
Are Decorations Even Necessary?
Decorating the enclosure is not necessary for many pet arthropods. Most likely, they will not be able to appreciate the decoration. What they look for is simply something practical, like a suitable shelter or something that helps them.
Tarantulas, for instance, benefit from an artificial retreat in the enclosure; black widows, for example, appreciate some branches so that they can build nests on it. They care nothing about the aesthetic part of the enclosure.
Having said that, you should consider decorating your enclosure. This will give you a more enjoyable experience watching your critter in the enclosure. You can even build a fully or partially self-sustaining vivarium to house your pet. I’ve never done it before but building a vivarium for my critters is definitely on my to-do list.
Here’s a video of a simple vivarium that you can make by yourself.