Can You Turn a Fish Tank Into a Reptile Tank?

  • By: Craig Winters
  • Date: November 7, 2022
  • Time to read: 5 min.
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Many of us who love our pets have at some point kept fish. So it makes sense that if you are looking to bring a reptile into the family you’ll be considering an old aquarium or fish tank as a suitable reptile home.

Fish however have very different requirements to reptiles. The question then becomes “Can you turn a fish tank into a reptile tank?” Well, let’s find out.

Yes, it is possible to turn a fish tank/aquarium into a reptile tank for smaller reptiles. This article will describe the differences between the two tanks, and how to convert then prepare the reptile tank for your pet.

Differences Between a Fish Tank and a Reptile Tank

Boy looking into a Fish Tank full of Fish

There are quite a lot of differences between fish and reptile tanks. One of the biggest differences is the thickness of the glass. 

Fish tanks have a very thick glass and are better for cooler environments, which can make it difficult for some reptiles to self-regulate their temperature. Reptile tanks typically have thinner glass and are easier to maintain the proper temperatures.

Another difference is that fish tanks are designed to hold water. Reptile tanks are not designed to hold water and are designed to promote air circulation.

Fish tanks do not always have a lid or they have one that would not be appropriate for a reptile tank. Reptile tanks need to have a mesh lid that can be secured to the tank and allow for the flow of air in and out of the tank.

Transforming the Fish Tank into a Reptile Tank

There are a few things you need to do to transform the tank so that it will be a safe home for your reptile.

  • Clean the fish tank. You can use a gentle cleaner and hot water to clean the tank thoroughly. Make sure all the soap is rinsed off and allow it to dry completely.
  • Choose a hot and cold side of the tank, either on the left or right side. This will make it possible for the reptile to self-regulate their temperature.
  • Make or buy a mesh lid that will allow for airflow and fits your tank.

Creating a Lid

The lid can be bought as a conversion kit, depending on what the reptile is and the orientation of the tank. You can build one using one-quarter inch mesh and a wood frame.

Measure from side to side and the length on the inside of the tank lip to determine the size of the tank. To make your own, check out this video.

Make sure you can clamp the lid in place so that the reptile cannot escape and that there is space for your cords to go through if you’re using a heat lamp inside the tank. Ensure that there are no sharp areas that could injure your reptile.

Choosing a Substrate

The substrate you choose for your reptile will depend on the type of reptile you’ll be housing in the tank. This could be an alfalfa based pellet, a variety of mosses, bark blends, and coconut husks. 

Some are better for those that need more humid environments and others are better for reptiles used to a drier, less humid environment, like the desert. 

The substrate will need to be changed as it gets dirty so choosing one that is easy to replace will make your life easier.

Heating the Tank

The most important thing to remember about reptiles is that they self-regulate their body temperature from the environment, which is why choosing a hot and cool side of the tank is essential.

If they need to be warm, they will move to the hot side. If they need to cool down, they will seek the cool side.

There are many options for heating the tank. You can get a heat lamp, heat mat or pad, heat panel, heat tape, or heat cable to help control the heat in the tank. 

Depending on your reptile, you may only need a heat mat to maintain the temperature in the tank. Talk to the pet store staff to determine what is needed for your reptile.

Make sure you choose a heat source based on the species. Reptiles that come from the desert and tropics need to bask in higher temperatures, while reptiles from temperate areas need less heat. 

There are a variety of lamps that have lights or no lights. Choose the one that best suits the reptile’s needs but also matches your needs.

Use a thermometer to measure the temperature so that you can make adjustments as needed to keep your reptile’s enclosure at the right temperature. There are a variety of options that will allow you to choose one that fits your style and needs.

Decorations for the Tank

Decorated Reptile Tank

The decorations you use in the tank can include live and artificial plants, treated wood from the pet store, half logs, ramps, netting, caves and fun resin decorations like you’d find for fish to give your tank a special theme. 

  • Make sure you buy a few decorations that will provide a safe place for your reptile to hide, especially as they are getting used to their new environment. 
  • Don’t add so many decorations that your reptile cannot easily move around the tank. 
  • Include an appropriately sized water dish to provide a source of fresh water for the reptile at all times. It will need to be cleaned regularly so make sure it is easy to remove.

Creating a Holding Container

Your reptile tank is going to need to be cleaned regularly or maybe you decide that it needs to be redecorated. In any case it is a good idea to have a place to safely hold your reptile while you’re cleaning the reptile tank. 

  • You could use a rubber or plastic tub large enough for the reptile to move around freely.
  • Cut air holes that are too small for the reptile to climb through and make sure there are enough to allow for good airflow.
  • Make sure there is a lid so that your reptile cannot escape its temporary home.

Final Thoughts

Your reptile can live a long and healthy life in a fish tank that has been converted to a reptile tank as long as you take care in creating the new home specifically for the reptile who will be living in the tank and maintain it to keep it clean and free of anything that could damage the animal.