Humidity Control is Essential with Amphibians and Reptiles

Filed Under: Reptiles, General Care

Collectors of reptiles and amphibians need to replicate the natural environment of their pets as close as possible. Humidity is an essential ingredient in the creation of a natural setting. Humidity affects all aspects of life and may affect growth, reproduction and even the general health of any confined species.

Acceptance of water depends in part on the species in question. Turtles, snakes and many lizards will drink from bowls. Turtles and snakes sip, while lizards will lap. Anoles, chameleons and day geckos lap from droplets sprayed or dripped onto foliage.

Dehydration may result when water is provided in an improper form or when inadequate humidity is provided.

The type of water offered is also important. Hard water contains bicarbonate and sulfate salts of calcium and magnesium and is safe for reptiles. Softened water which has calcium and magnesium being replaced with sodium may be of detriment in reptiles on sodium-restrictive diets. Distilled water has all the minerals removed and the lack of minerals in the water may result in a deficiency of essential nutrients. The safety range for fluoride in various reptiles and amphibians is often narrow and the function of fluoride is not always understood in these species.

One of the cheapest and easiest ways to increase humidity within an enclosure is to use a handheld water spray bottle. Interest in the enclosure may be enhanced through the placement of a waterfall. Not only do waterfalls add humidity, but may additionally serve as a drinking water source, which is important in those species preferring running water. Ultrasonic foggers and misting machines may provide humidity on a constant interval. Another inexpensive method of providing moisture to an enclosure is to place a water dish over a heat source such as a heating pad, thereby promoting evaporation and consequently humidity.

Some tortoises and certain snakes need enough water to soak in. This soaking enhances water uptake and stimulates excretion of waste materials.

Skin conditions may develop when humidity is too low or too high. Desert species of reptiles and amphibians may develop a constrictive dermatitis when the environment is too dry. The end result of such constriction may be the loss of toes or the tip of the tail. Owners may not realize that even desert species of reptiles may require areas of higher moisture. Although the ambient air in their natural environment may be dry, these animals will burrow in the ground or sand where the humidity is naturally higher during large portions of the day. Reversely, a humidity that is too high promotes the development of moist dermatitis and hyperkeratosis (thickening of the horny layers of the skin) with secondary bacterial and fungal infections that thrive in a moist environment.

A hygrometer should be available to calculate the level of humidity inside the pet’s enclosure.

Do not seal enclosures to keep moisture in. Air flow is important especially to avoid the buildup of bacterial and fungal infection and provide adequate levels of oxygen. Researching your pet’s natural environment is the key in determining moisture requirements.


Boyd, Darren. “Humidity Essentials”. Pet Product News International. September 2007. pp. 124-125.

Mader, Douglas R. MS, DVM. Reptile Medicine and Surgery. W.B. Saunders. 1996. pp.151-152.

Topics: humidity, water

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