Barbie Enclosures!

Note – This is an updated & extended version of my 2017 Article for Reptile Apartment

I may lose a few group members for saying…frankly, I’m appalled by these.

I’m seeing an increasing rise of what I have come to call, Barbie House Reptile Enclosures over the past few years. More so in the age of Facebook groups and online forums. This was the case within my original article on the subject back in early 2017. And it’s still the case now.

So, Whats my issue? – These enclosures kitted out with beds, teddy bears, dolls, soft furnishings, carpet, and the like. I may lose a few group members for saying…frankly, I’m appalled by these.

So lets discuss the pros & cons here shall we?.

Well, there are no pros, ha!.

There are only downsides with keeping in such ways. And most of which, are quite major!
Mental and physical stimulation/enrichment are just two major factors that spring to mind. But also of course, hygiene.

Life of luxury?
Life of luxury???

How did we even get to this stage? How has anyone come to the conclusion it’s okay to do this? Regardless of whom and why someone does this. What these ‘well-meaning’, but misguided keepers may not realise, is there are some major downsides of keeping in such ways.

Finger Painting & Jewelry:

One of the worst example I’ve seen is “keeper’s” painting their bearded dragons’ and chameleons’ nails with nail varnish. The colour is irrelevant, it simply shouldn’t be done.

Not only could it be toxic to the reptile, but it could crack and fall off. Knowing how they are attracted to and will taste anything with bright colours, this isn’t a good situation to be in.

I’ve also seen many keepers getting little mini dog collars made, necklaces, and even chokers. The poor reptiles honestly have no idea. As current research says that while the lizard is aware there is something on its body which is unnatural, it probably doesn’t comprehend this as jewelry, or as being ‘pretty’. Their brains just aren’t wired the same as ours.

I’ve seen keepers put jumpers and hats on reptiles before also. Most of the time it’s for a photo opportunity. Although it annoys me personally, I know the purpose is for such, and it’s not a permanent thing. 

Take a bed for example. Now I don’t mean a rock…log…sand-pit. I mean a bed. Little mattress, duvet, pillows.


Sure, I see the photos of the bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) sleeping in the bed. But I can tell you for a fact it hasn’t actively crawled into that bed, pulled the covers overs itself, and then gone to sleep.
I’ve seen beds, couches, mirrors, and even little chandeliers within a tank/vivarium. All in disregard for not only safety of the reptile, but simple practicability. Seemingly the delusion the reptiles even care, or more importantly, benefit from any of it.

Take a bed for example. Now I don’t mean a rock…log…sand-pit. I mean a bed. Little mattress, duvet, pillows.
Sure, it “may” have wandered onto the bed. But that’s more the fact the bed is placed in its favorite sleeping area. Not because it was chosen by the reptile, because it is soft, warm, and fluffy.
Practically and factually speaking, a cold-blooded reptile, like our bearded dragons, gain zero benefit of warmth from such a sleeping set-up.

We, as mammals, we are warm-blooded. We sweat and perspire to cool or wrap in layers of clothing to trap our own body heat next to our body, keeping us warm. Your body will shiver to aid blood flow, thus, warming us up. A reptile, like a bearded dragon on the other hand, is cold-blooded and needs an external heat source in order to heat up, charge up, and energize.
Hence why they depend on basking, either in the sun or artificial heat sources, to raise their body temperature.Therefore, a blanket will serve no benefit. All you have, is a wrapped up reptile. Or as some people say. “A reptile burrito”.
If anything, the reptile will actually be colder. As the blanket/jumper/dress….whatever, is keeping the hot surrounding air from heating them up naturally.

So what we are actually seeing, is human practices portrayed on to another species. Anthropomorphism to the extreme.

Reptile Comfort:

We absolutely NEED to be thinking about what these reptiles require, NOT what you want to give them. It’s their home. Not yours. Well, again, unlike ourselves. We have the hair follicles. Linked to nerve-endings, helping us to determined soft/hard/fluffy, and so on.

Beardie In A Bed!
Beardie In A Bed!

A reptile has none of this at all.

It has a hard, protective, almost armor like, keratin based outer layer. No elasticity. (Hence the complete shed when they grow). So they wouldn’t, in any way feel any comfort with such either.
So what we are actually seeing, is human practices portrayed on to another species. Anthropomorphism to the extreme. I get told, “but it’s my baby,” “it’s so happy,”. *I then mutter to myself – “Is it though?… it really soooooo happy?”

Truth of the matter is, the reptile is stuck in a 4ft ‘ish box with “useless” items within. It has no choice what so ever. I’m pretty sure if it could, you’d wake up one morning with the vivarium/tank doors open, and a pile of tacky furnishings dumped on the floor where the reptile inhabitant has had a clear-out of it’s tank nonsense.

Or, the reptile has left you a note saying
“I’ve moved out. To somewhere more natural and beneficial.”
And the same goes for the dragons sleeping on a teddy-bear provided. It’s more the fact you’ve placed this item where it sleeps as opposed to the dragon wanting to sleep ON that teddy-bear.

What reptiles need:

Ultimately, you are keeping an enclosure, more so, than the occupant.
I always suggest looking at where the reptile originates from. Then take a little piece of the area, and recreate the best you can within the vivarium/tank.
Like my, and my Network group motto; “Replicate, Emulate, Stimulate”.

They have absolutely zero choice on anything you provide for them.

The Arcadia Guide to Bio-Activity and the Theory of Wild Recreation
The Arcadia Guide to Bio-Activity and the Theory of Wild Recreation

It’s all about emulation, and stimulation. Something of which John Courtney-Smith talks about in his book from Arcadia Reptiles, Bio-Activity and the Theory of Wild Re-Creation™.
I’m a huge fan of a naturalistic enclosure. Bioactive, and naturalistic are the type of enclosures I use with all of my current 14 reptiles and amphibians.

So it’s something I do actively promote within my Facebook groups and social meetings. It’s a daily task to help promote, educate, and provide info on where members can obtain the needed equipment for an optimal reptile environment.

See our Group Friends at the bottom of this site, and my groups for discounts with retailers across the world for such equipment.

So many of these keepers do have little beds made and other actual doll-house furnishings within.
It’s important to realise much of the keeping of a reptile/amphibian is about the enclosure. So, you get that right, and the occupant inside has every chance of thriving.
Ultimately, you are keeping an enclosure, more so than the occupant. As everything they require must be adhered to within that said set-up.
They have absolutely zero choice on anything you provide for them. Not one bit of input.
Provide enrichment via the options to do what the said reptile does naturally, like, digging, burrowing, and climbing.
A dragon, for example, will simulate the activity of digging regardless of what substrate is used. It’s in their DNA. Its why they do it when they have never even seen sand or soil before in many of these setups.

So providing an actual substrate to “live” in provides that resistance, and allows those muscles to strengthen in the process. And also provides them with an activity to keep them busy doing what they are literally born to do. Far healthier don’t you think?.

Some snakes will burrow down into aspen. Which is fine if that is what the snake is provided with. But is it providing the needed natural enrichment? Is it thriving, or just,……being?
A natural composition of soil, sand, moss, leaf-litter would not only be far more enriching for the snake, but will aid shedding via textures and the humidity it holds.
It allows the snake to behave much more naturally.
This will be the case for most ground dwelling reptile species.

Real or fake?:

The real or fake decor is another thing I witness all too often.
Don’t get me wrong, I use fake vines and foliage within my set-ups and even have a ZooMed hammock in one of my dragon enclosures. But it’s important for these things to be reptile-safe and appropriate first and foremost, and not there purely for human aesthetic appeal.

So you see. It all about giving the Reptile/amphibian what THEY need. Not what you want to look at, or what you want others to see when they look into an enclosure.

Take the hammock for example. Its practical. It serves a purpose. And more than that, it comes from a branded reptile supplier, which guarantees its safely and has had it tested to withstand the conditions of our enclosures (Heat. Humidity. Damp).
I see people make their own hammocks, which if done appropriately can be fine, but by using the man-made polyester/nylon material of an old pillowcase, it’s not a good choice. It will get dirty and could potentially be a fire hazard. As well as unhygienic.It may look all pretty and have a great pattern on it. But the reptile cares nothing of this at all.

It’s just a case of being practical; maximising stimulation, and emulation of its original habitat, while creating a safe environment.
So you see. It all about giving the Reptile/amphibian what THEY need. Not what you want to look at, or what you want others to see when they look into an enclosure.
These are lives we have in our hands. Living and breathing in a world which YOU have created for them within the restriction of a vivarium/tank.

The reptile/amphibian has no choice in what you provide, all this is down to your research and creativity
But that creativity must be directed to a natural set-up which allows the animal the exhibit natural behaviors, enriches their lives, and does so safely.
All can be achieved with a mix of real and fake looking natural/naturalistic looking items.
But let that pet herp be a dragon…be a frog…be a gecko, which is something it is never going to be able do with a Barbie bed in its way.

Remember…….”Replicate, Emulate, Stimulate”. And spread the word!

– Pete

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.