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Can you use an aquarium for lizards?

Using an aquarium to house lizards is possible but there are some important considerations to keep in mind. The main factors when deciding if an aquarium is suitable are the type and size of lizard, aquarium size, proper heating and lighting, substrate and decorations, and mitigating issues like low humidity.

Quick Answers

Here are quick answers to some common questions about using an aquarium for lizards:

  • Small, tropical lizards like anoles, geckos, and skinks can often thrive in an aquarium habitat.
  • Aquariums need to be an appropriate size – at minimum twice the length of the adult lizard.
  • Proper heating and UVB lighting are essential for the health of lizards.
  • The aquarium needs a substrate suitable for the species, like reptile carpet or coconut fiber.
  • Decorations like live or artificial plants, rocks, branches provide enrichment.
  • Low humidity can be an issue with open-topped aquariums – this may limit suitable species.

Suitable Lizards for an Aquarium

The most suitable lizard species for an aquarium environment tend to be smaller, tropical lizards that originate from rainforest habitats. Some good examples include:

  • Anoles
  • Geckos
  • Skinks
  • Swifts
  • Day geckos
  • House geckos

These types of lizards often thrive in the warm, enclosed habitat an aquarium provides. The glass walls maintain heat and humidity much better than screen-sided reptile cages.

Larger lizards like iguanas, monitors, tegus, and bearded dragons usually require a custom-built reptile enclosure. While you could use an adequately sized aquarium, the lack of ventilation can be problematic for these species.

Aquarium Size

Size is a major factor when selecting an aquarium. A good general rule is the enclosure should be a minimum of twice the adult length of the lizard. This provides enough room for a proper temperature gradient and furnishings. For example:

  • Anole – adult length 6 inches – minimum 12 gallon aquarium
  • Leopard gecko – adult length 8-10 inches – minimum 20 gallon aquarium
  • Blue-tongued skink – adult length 12-24 inches – minimum 40+ gallon aquarium

Avoid overcrowding as it can cause stress. Only house one adult lizard per aquarium, unless it is a proven pair/colony species like anoles.

Heating and Lighting

Heating and lighting is crucial for lizards housed in aquariums. The glass readily conducts and loses heat. Reptiles are ectothermic and rely on external heat sources to regulate their body temperature.

There are several heating options for an aquarium:

  • Under Tank Heater – Adheres to the bottom outside of the tank. Provides a hot spot for basking.
  • Ceramic Heat Emitter – Screws into a lamp fixture. Emits heat but no light, good for nighttime.
  • Daytime Basking Bulb – Incandescent or halogen bulb for daytime heating.

Use a thermostat probe to regulate the heating element and prevent overheating. Position the heat source at one end to establish a thermal gradient (cool end to hot end).

In addition to heat, lizards need UVB lighting. Standard aquarium hoods often block UVB rays. Use a UVB bulb designed for reptiles and make sure light can penetrate the tank.

Substrate and Decor

The substrate and decorations in an aquarium lizard habitat serve several purposes:

  • Substrate – Provides footing and burrowing/hiding spots. Use reptile carpet, coconut fiber, cypress mulch, etc.
  • Plants – Live or artificial plants help recreate tropical environments.
  • Branches/logs – Climbing and basking opportunities.
  • Rocks/caves – Provide hiding spots and sense of security.
  • Water dish – Necessary for hydration.

Choose substrate and decorations suited to the species. For example, an arboreal anole needs more climbing plants and branches than a terrestrial skink.


Low humidity can be a drawback of using an open-topped aquarium. Species adapted to tropical environments generally require between 50-80% humidity.

Ways to increase humidity in an aquarium:

  • Use a screen or glass cover (allows for lighting).
  • Mist the enclosure daily.
  • Use a humidifier or vaporizer near the tank.
  • Provide large water dish and pouring water down back/sides.
  • Use substrate that retains moisture like cypress or coconut fiber.

Avoid drastic highs and lows in humidity level. Invest in a hygrometer to monitor humidity in the tank.


Aquariums can make suitable homes for small, tropical lizard species. The key factors are size, heating and lighting, substrate and decor, and humidity. With proper setup and maintenance, an aquarium habitat can thrive. Always research the specific needs of the lizard when using an aquarium enclosure.