Enclosures are made from many different materials, and all have been used with success over the years. But whether you decide to design and build your own cage or purchase one from a manufacturer, keep in mind that each material has its advantages and disadvantages. Below is a summary of the more commonly used materials. Regarding color, there are many options depending on the material you choose, but chondros are usually kept in either black or white cages. While some keepers feel darker colors provide more security, others have shown white to be just as suitable for maintaining a healthy collection.
If you decide to build your own enclosure, research the materials available to you. Some can be toxic, or can release toxic substances under some conditions (such as when heated) and your animal’s health could be at risk. With a little effort you can usually find non-toxic alternatives for building a GTP enclosure.
Glass is less thermally efficient than other materials. That is, it does not hold heat very well. And although glass is relatively inexpensive, it breaks easily, often requires modification to hold heat and humidity, and it is heavy. Another thing to consider is that if your GTP is unsettled/nervous, the transparent sides of glass may make it feel even less secure, which can increase stress. Covering the exposed sides with a towel will help improve your chondro’s sense of security during a transition period. Regardless, glass enclosures tend to be more suitable for those with a dedicated heated room, or for those living in a warm climate.
Like glass, acrylic is not very thermally efficient and leaves an animal exposed on the sides. It is lighter than glass, but can scratch easily if not cleaned properly. Also, mineral deposits from misting can be more difficult to remove from acrylic. While it can be somewhat difficult to work with, it offers more flexibility to modification than glass.
Wood is fairly easy to work with, is relatively inexpensive, and is more thermally efficient than glass or acrylic. A major disadvantage is the fact that wood is porous. If left unprotected it will absorb odors and moisture and can lead to a smelly and moldy cage that may compromise your snake’s health. Sealing or covering the inside of the cage will solve this problem. A non-toxic polyurethane-based sealer works well but can discolor and peel with time. Covering the interior surfaces with contact paper, or laminating with Formica or melamine are good options, but this is more labor intensive and requires specific tools and know-how to accomplish.
Melamine (Coated Wood)
Melamine is found at home improvement stores and is sometimes used to build cages and rack systems. Unfortunately, the melamine available at these stores is usually a thinner version of that used on countertops, so it is a lower quality. This product is quite heavy, stains rather easily, and will absorb moisture and swell over time.
Another issue is the melamine itself. Melamine is an organic compound that is manufactured by mixing urea with formaldehyde under heat and pressure to produce melamine resin, a synthetic polymer that is fire resistant and heat tolerant. For years this compound has been considered safe for normal uses, but recent studies indicate that melamine resin can leach considerable amounts of melamine monomers under certain conditions such as high heat. While it is unclear what long-term effects this will have on human health, it has the potential to cause negative results to the health of a reptile in a heated enclosure.
PVC and Other Plastics
When it comes to adult GTP cages, expanded PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) and HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) are the most common. Although cut-to-size sheeting is available from local plastics suppliers, these cages are usually ordered from one of several reptile cage manufactures. There are many styles and sizes and most companies will custom design cages to your specifications. Some benefits of these materials are they stack well, hold heat and humidity well, are much lighter than wood or glass, and provide an aesthetically clean look.
Recently, concerns have been expressed over the potential out-gassing of harmful chemicals from PVC, although there hasn’t been specific evidence to support this. Regardless, some keepers are choosing HDPE as an extra precaution. HDPE is USDA and FDA-approved so it is recognized as safe enough to eat off of. It does not out-gas or leach toxins, and it is chemically resistant; nothing sticks to it and it will not stain. While this makes HDPE easy to clean and sanitize, it can be challenging to adhere heat tape to it because of its non-stick properties. In addition, HDPE is softer and more susceptible to bowing/sagging than PVC.