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Most reptile enclosures these days come with some kind of background, whether it’s a slab of cork, textured foam, or just an opaque black/white wall. The cork and foam usually come with glass terrariums, and are designed to cover just the back wall. The black/white “backgrounds” are usually just a result of using an opaque material like PVC to build the enclosure. These are good…but there’s definitely room for improvement.
One-sided backgrounds are good for enhancing the visual appeal of an enclosure, but they don’t actually have much function beyond that. To succeed in reducing a reptile’s stress in captivity and increase their sense of security and overall wellbeing, three walls need to be covered, not just one.
Enclosures built out of opaque materials like wood or PVC are better in that regard, since the only see-through surface in the enclosure is the front — and possibly the top, if it uses a screen there. But these materials are terribly plain. They don’t necessarily detract from the enclosure’s aesthetic value, but they don’t really add to it, either. More importantly, these smooth, blank walls do nothing to increase the enclosure’s available space.
“Increase the enclosure’s available space?” you may ask. “That’s not what walls are for!”
We’re already keeping our reptiles in enclosures that are much, much smaller than the size of individual territories in the wild. Even if we’re keeping them in the acceptable “minimum” amount of space recommended by leading experts, or possibly even larger, the fact is that our enclosures can’t compare. So if there’s anything we can do to increase the usable space in our reptile enclosures, we should do it.
For arboreal and semi-arboreal reptiles, we can increase available space by taking advantage of an enclosure’s volume and filling that up with climbing materials like vines and branches.
But what about terrestrial reptiles?
Just because a reptile is categorized as “ground-dwelling” doesn’t mean it can’t climb. In the wild, an elevation change of 24-36” is routine for these animals. Rather on relying on just your enclosure’s floor space, using the walls can multiply an enclosure’s available space without increasing the amount of space it takes up in your home.
Introducing: 3D backgrounds. I’m not talking about cork bark panels or textured walls here. I’m talking about walls with ledges and crevices that terrestrial reptiles can feasibly use. Reptiles can use these ledges to climb, explore, bask, and increase mental wellbeing by giving them a comfortable vantage point to survey their “territory” from.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because I already introduced you to the concept last fall with the Custom Reptile Habitats Alice Springs 4′ Reptile Décor Kit. But today we’re expanding on that with another product exclusively from Custom Reptile Habitats: the Maximum Reptile Three Dimensions 3 Sided Reptile Background Kits.
I’m excited about the Maximum Reptile Three Dimensions 3 Sided Reptile Background Kit because it’s designed to increase your enclosure’s available space with attractive, naturalistic ledges, while also blending seamlessly with any of Maximum Reptile’s incredible terrarium backgrounds:
- Rocky Canyon 3 Foot Reptile Terrarium Background
- Five Ledges 3 Foot Reptile Terrarium Background
- Alice Springs 4 Foot Reptile Terrarium Background
- Kimberley 6 Foot Reptile Terrarium Background
That’s what their website says, anyway. And it seems pretty amazing at first glance, not gonna lie. But is it too good to be true? Let’s dive in and put it to the test!
- Lightly textured 22.5” x 22.5” endpieces, x2
- Artificial rock ledges, x2-3 (depending on specific kit)
- Animal-safe silicone sealant, x1
- Matte black paint powder
- Yellow ochre paint powder
- Light tan paint powder
- Paint mixing tray
- Disposable paintbrush
- Made from nontoxic materials
- Super realistic appearance
- Strong yet lightweight construction
- Easy to clean and sanitize
- Made in the USA
These kits offer four different ledge sizes. I received one of each as part of testing this kit:
- DIY Ledge 001 – 9″L x 6″W x 2.5″H
- DIY Ledge 002 – 11.5″L x 5.5″W x 4″H
- DIY Ledge 003 – 13″L x 5.5″W x 5.5″H
- DIY Ledge 006 – 18″L x 9″W x 5.5″H
Because I purchased the 3-Sided Reptile Background Kit in addition to a Alice Springs 4 Foot Reptile Terrarium Background, everything arrived in a HUGE box with an unimaginable, glorious quantity of packing peanuts. Seriously, SO MANY PACKING PEANUTS. I should have taken a picture of myself of myself sitting in a bathtub full of all the packing peanuts that came in this box (why didn’t I think to do that?). But they must have done their job, because everything arrived in great shape with no damage from shipping.
The good news here is that Custom Reptile Habitats uses biodegradable packing peanuts made from cornstarch, so you don’t have to feel too guilty about throwing them away.
Each Custom Reptile Habitats 3 Sided Reptile Background Kit comes with two or three artificial “rock” ledges to be adhered to the textured end pieces in the user’s desired configuration. In my case I received all four available ledge options for review.
Both the ledges and the end pieces are designed to match the color and texture of Maximum Reptile’s main terrarium backgrounds. This is intended to create a more cohesive-looking terrarium, and means that they look incredibly realistic! This also includes the paint powders, which are a selection of three colors (yellow ochre, light tan, and matte black) consistent with the colors already present in the background and extension kit.
Fun fact: the paint powders aren’t actually paint at all — they’re pigments made from crushed rock!
I received no installation instructions for the Custom Reptile Habitats 3 Sided Reptile Background Kit, but the good news is that the process is more or less straightforward: stick the end pieces to the sides with silicone, let dry, stick the ledges to the sides with silicone, let dry, and cover the silicone with paint to blend into the background.
If you are installing your 3 Sided Reptile Background Kit in a Custom Reptile Habitats enclosure, it’s unlikely that you will need to trim the end pieces to fit. However, in this case I was using them to repurpose an old Zen Habitats 4x2x2 enclosure, so I had to do some trimming. This took some work with a measuring tape, a Sharpie, and a laminate trimmer.
After trimming the end pieces to size, I started by tipping the enclosure onto its left side, globbed on lots of silicone onto the left side panel, placed the end piece on the panel, and then weighed it down with evenly-distributed heavy objects for several hours to help ensure a flush fit. After that, I tipped the enclosure onto its right side and repeated the process.
Once both end pieces were dry enough (I gave them 24 hours to cure), I used more silicone to attach two ledges to the right side since the enclosure was already on its right side. After letting those dry, I tipped the enclosure to the left and attached the other two ledges.
After letting the ledges cure for 24 hours, I flipped the enclosure back to its proper position and applied more silicone around the base of each ledge and along the corners between the background and the end pieces. If you cut the silicone cartridge’s tip at an angle, you can use it to help smooth the silicone as it’s applied, but you can also use a gloved finger to smooth it out manually. (You should be wearing gloves while you apply the silicone anyway.)
Once the final round of silicone was completely dry, it was time to paint. Since the silicone is clear, you can leave it as-is if painting really intimidates you, but paint is what helps the ledges and end-pieces really blend in with the main background and create a more natural effect.
A little bit of paint powder goes a long way once dissolved in water. Start with a tiny bit of water and add more if you want to dilute the color. Although you can pick just one color and use that to cover the silicone, you’ll get a better result if you blend and layer the paints. Although the paint dries quickly, it can be very time-consuming (I was nit-picking at it all day).
Alternatively, you can apply the dry paint powder while the silicone is still wet. I didn’t try that approach myself, but I’ve heard that’s an option.
Fair warning: The paint doesn’t smell pleasant, and the odor intensifies a bit after water has been added — if I had to describe it, I’d say it reminds me of morio beetle pheromone. If you’ve ever smelled an alarmed morio beetle, you know what I’m talking about. It’s not the worst, but it’s definitely distinctive.
The brush is cheap, but its uneven, natural-fiber bristles are great for applying the paint in a way that blends better with the surrounding material. The paint itself ends up with a gritty texture, but it didn’t seem to cause significant problems. In fact, the paint sticks really well to the silicone and not very well to the background or ledges, so you don’t have to worry much about making a mess.
Since the paint powder is water-soluble, I finished things off by applying a few layers of matte aerosol sealant to make sure it wouldn’t come off when exposed to water. Aerosol sealants have lots of VOCs, so if you decide to go this route, do so in a well-ventilated area and make sure it’s 110% dry and odor-free before introducing your reptile to the enclosure.
Excluding the time it took to trim and attach the Alice Springs background (which I used expanding foam for), installing the three sided background extension took around 4 days total. I ended up using more silicone than was probably necessary, and more than what came with the kit. Note: You will need a silicone applicator tool like a caulk gun for mounting the end pieces and ledges, which is not included with this kit.
Once installed, the Custom Reptile Habitats 3 Sided Reptile Background Kit looks really great. In terms of appearance, it really takes an enclosure to the next level.
It’s been two months since completing the build, and although that isn’t much time, the kit hasn’t budged or faded at all. Using extra silicone and taking my time to make sure things dried properly at each step seems to have helped with both appearance and durability.
It’s also been incredibly functional. My juvenile Uromastyx geyri absolutely loves the ledges provided by both the Alice Springs background and the three sided extension kit. Even though he’s just a 6” long lizard in a 48” x 24” x 24” enclosure, almost from Day 1 he’s been using every square inch of available space. There’s no doubt that the 3D background and three sided kit have significantly expanded the amount of usable space in the enclosure.
Things I Liked About the Maximum Reptile Three Dimensions 3 Sided Reptile Background Kits
- Incredibly realistic appearance
- The ledges increase available surface area
- Creates more cohesive habitat appearance than background alone
Things I Didn’t Like About the Maximum Reptile Three Dimensions 3 Sided Reptile Background Kits
- Paints have to be blended for best appearance, rather than already matching the kit
- Needed more silicone than was included
- Needed additional tools for the install
- The side pieces are a bit flat and boring, particularly compared to the main background
Conclusion: A Must-Have Accessory for Any Terrarium!
ReptiFiles Rating: 5 stars
Custom Reptile Habitats 3 Sided Reptile Background Kits offer a great way to increase the available surface area in a terrestrial enclosure, while also enhancing the total aesthetic. It has a few weaknesses — most notably that it needs more tools for the install than are included in the kit — but for the most part these complaints have more to do with my personal taste and preferences rather than actual deficiencies in the product.
Custom Reptile Habitats may be one of ReptiFiles’ sponsors, but the reason this product gets a 5 star rating is not because of our relationship. These 3 Sided Reptile Background Kits help reptile owners fulfill Mellor’s Five Provisions of Animal Welfare by more closely mimicking the conditions of an animal’s natural habitat, fostering good muscle tone, and encouraging wild-like behaviors. This is what makes Maximum Reptile Three Dimensions 3 Sided Reptile Background Kits amazing and worthy of a 5-star ReptiFiles Rating!
If I could change anything about these kits, I’d actually like to see kit options with up to five or possibly even six ledges. For the purposes of this review I ended up with more ledges in my kit than usual, and honestly I think I could have put more of them to use.
WARNING: Using ledges or a textured background DOES NOT justify using a smaller enclosure than the recommended minimum. Those established minimums are based on the minimum of what it takes to enable healthy thermoregulation and baseline exercise minimums in reptiles of a certain size. 3D backgrounds augment your enclosure beyond the bare minimum; they do not justify using an inadequate enclosure.
Which reptiles can Custom Reptile Habitats 3 Sided Reptile Background Kits be used with?
Small to medium-sized terrestrial and semi-arboreal snakes and lizards are most likely to appreciate the additional surface area offered by Custom Reptile Habitats 3 Sided Reptile Background Kits. For example:
- African fat-tailed gecko
- Ball python
- Bearded dragon
- Corn snake
- Hognose snake
- Kenyan sand boa
- Leopard gecko
- Milk snake
- Ocellated skink
- Rainbow boa
- Rosy boa
- Sudan plated lizard
Tips for Success
- Purchase ledges large enough for your lizard to fit at least its body (excluding the tail), or for your snake to coil up on.
- In addition to what’s included in the kit, you will also need a utility knife, caulk gun, disposable vinyl or nitrile gloves, and possibly a laminate trimmer/cutter. I also recommend purchasing an extra cartridge or two of clear GE All Purpose Silicone 1 Sealant. All of these are fairly cheap and can be easily found at your local home improvement store.
- Don’t try to rush the install. Give yourself plenty of time and you’ll get a better result.
- Do not mount ledges within 6” of a UVB fixture.
- If you need a visual reference, there’s a handy DIY video on Custom Reptile Habitats’ site.