How To Set Up Rack Systems for Reptiles

If you only own a single reptile of any sort, and you’re not a reptile collector, odds are you might not have even heard of a rack system. So, we’re going to preface this article by explaining exactly what a rack system is…just in case you’re unfamiliar.

When reptile enthusiasts and hobbyists speak of rack systems, they are referring to what is essentially a shelf filled with reptile “cubby” habitats in the simplest of terms. It is a specially designed shelf lined with bins that are heated to support reptile thermoregulatory habits and tend to be most useful to breeders or hobbyists who keep many reptiles.

How To Set Up a Leopard Gecko Rack System

First, we’ll tell you a little about using a rack system when breeding leopard geckos. We’ll outline what you need, how to set it up, and even include a brief video tutorial to explain how to set up our rack systems for leopard geckos at Backwater Reptiles.

leopard gecko rack system
Leopard geckos like this super snow morph, thrive in rack system set ups.

Items needed for a leopard gecko rack system set up
Plastic bins or tubs. These are used to house individual animals within your shelving unit. They function as lidless mini “cages.”
Shelving system to stack bins. Obviously you’ll need the shelf system in order to accommodate the bins your leopard geckos are living in. These units can be purchased online from specialty retailers or, if you’re handy, you can build your own.
Heat tape. Rather than hook up many pesky individual heat pads and wind up with a bunch of bulky electrical cords and ultimately, an electrical hazard, you should use heat tape to make sure the temperatures within your leopard gecko’s bin stays within the proper range.
Appropriate substrate. Just like with any other enclosure, your leopard gecko rack system bins will each require an appropriate substrate. You can use sand, paper towels, or any other substrate suitable for leopard geckos.
Water dish, food dish, and vitamin dish. Leopard geckos will need three kinds of dishes within each bin. Each dish’s purpose is pretty obvious based on what it will hold.
Egg laying bin or box/Hide space. Because most people using a rack system with leopard geckos intend to breed them, it’s necessary to have a hide space with dirt inside so that the females can lay their eggs when the time is right. The egg laying box also functions as a hide space for when your geckos feel like being secretive.
Drill. Each individual bin will need to have air holes drilled into the sides to allow for proper ventilation and moisture retention. You will only need the drill to poke holes in the sides of the plastic bins.

How to set up a leopard gecko rack system

As we’ve already established, a rack system will house numerous bins with various geckos living separately in each bin. The best strategy for success is to make each bin the same. In other words, follow the instructions below and replicate for however many number of bins you have in your shelving unit.

Step one – Drill holes in each leopard gecko bin. This is fairly straight forward. You should have at least ten to fifteen holes on each side of each bin. Spread these holes out evenly.

Step two – Hook up your heat tape. You’ll want to make sure that each bin that will have animals in it is properly heated. If you need some guidance using heat tape or setting it up, we’ve got an entire blog article dedicated to this process.

Step three – Line your bins with substrate. As we’ve mentioned prior, there are several substrates known to be appropriate for leopard geckos. Simply choose your favorite and line the bottom of each bin.

Step four -Set up your leopard gecko’s hide box. We use plastic shoe boxes with lids. You’ll want to put organic, chemically untreated soil inside and cut a round hole in the top so that the geckos can exit and enter easily.

Step five – Prepare your leopard gecko’s dishes. You will need three dishes, as previously mentioned above. The largest dish should be used for water. The mid-sized dish should contain mealworms, reptiworms, or whatever type of insect you will be feeding to your gecko. And lastly, the small dish should contain vitamin powder.

Voila! You’ve set up bin number one! Now all you need to do is repeat the process for each breeding pair of geckos you wish to house.

Leopard gecko rack system video tutorial

In the video below, we show you a physical example of how we set up our leopard gecko bins that we use within our rack systems.

How To Set Up a Snake Rack System

Items needed for a snake rack system set up
Plastic bins or tubs. Again, these bins or tubs will be home to a single snake. They will be “cages” without lids.
Shelving system to stack bins. As we discussed with leopard gecko rack systems, you will need a shelving unit to organize your snake bins. Shelving units can be purchased from specialty retailers or you can always make your own if you prefer.
Heat tape. This is the alternative method used to heat rack systems as it’s much too cluttered and unsafe to use individual reptile heating pads when working with so many animals.
Appropriate substrate. The preferred substrate for most species of snake (but not all!) is aspen bedding. You can use whatever substrate works best for your particular species, but always avoid cedar bedding as the fumes given off are toxic to snakes.
Water dish. Unlike leopard gecko bins, which require three dishes, a snake’s bin will only need a single water dish. We recommend one that is sturdy enough that the snake can’t tip it over.
Two hides. Ideally, snakes should have two hide spaces available to them, no matter what type of cage they are housed in. One hide should be on the warmer side of the cage and the other hide should be on the cooler side of the cage. This allows the snake to thermoregulate while still feeling safe and secure.

How to set up a snake rack system

snake rack system
Snakes such as ball pythons do quite well in rack systems.

Just like with the leopard gecko bins, once you’ve set up one snake bin, all you need to do is replicate the process for the remainder of the bins. Uniformity works well when it comes to rack systems.

Step one – Drill holes in each snake bin. Just like with leopard gecko bins, snake bins will require “breathing” holes. These holes aren’t so that the snakes can breathe, but rather so that their miniature ecosystems can. The holes will allow moisture to exit and will allow air to circulate better. As with leopard gecko bins, ten to fifteen holes per side should suffice, unless you are housing very large snakes in very large bins. Use common sense and space the holes evenly for best results.

Step two – Hook up the heat tape. Again, this process should be exactly the same as with the leopard gecko bins. Although we’ve already given you this link above, just so you don’t have to scroll back, here’s the link to the article we wrote discussing the ins and outs of how to set up reptile heat tape.

Step three – Place your chosen substates within the bottom of the bin. A thin layer is fine. Don’t overfill the tub/bin. You should have just enough to absorb any spilled or collected moisture and snake waste.

Step four – Set up a hide box on each side of the snake’s bin. One should go on the cooler side and one on the heated side.

Step five – Place the snake’s water dish inside the bin. It’s not really that important where you put it, but be aware that if you place it above the heated side, you will create more moisture in the environment due to more rapid evaporation. If your snake likes humidity, this is great, but if you have a species that prefers a more arid, dry climate, then it’s probably best to put the water dish on the unheated side of the bin.

Guess what? Your snake bin set up is now complete! All you need to do is repeat the process for each pet snake you have and finally…add snakes!

Setting up a snake rack system video tutorial

In the video below, we walk you through how we set up our individual snake bins used in the rack systems at Backwater Reptiles.

Reptile Rack System Frequently Asked Questions

-How do I heat a rack system?

Hopefully if you’re invested in reptiles enough to need a rack system, you’re aware that they need a source of warmth in order to thermoregulate. But because rack systems are not set up like normal cages and you can’t place a heat lamp on top of the cage or attach a heat mat to the bottom of the cage, how then, do you provide heat to all the individual bins?

The answer is simple really. At Backwater Reptiles, we use reptile heat tape. This allows us to control temperature and is also safe and convenient for both humans and animals alike.

As we’ve previously indicated, we actually have an entire blog article tutorial complete with video instructions on how to set up heat tape. Click here to read the entire article.

-Do I need UV lights when using a rack system?

Luckily, most of the species that thrive in rack system set ups (i.e. leopard geckos, corn snakes, ball pythons, etc.) don’t require UV lighting.

You can always take each animal out individually or in groups and expose them to natural UV light by taking them outdoors, but due to the way rack systems are set up, there’s really no way to provide a consistent source of UV lighting.

Ultimately, this means that reptiles that require UV light in order to process vitamins and maintain healthy bones and immune systems cannot be housed in rack systems. So do your research before your invest in a rack system for any particular species.

-How many animals can live in each bin?

This is a question with variable answers. In reality, the answer will depend on the species you are housing as well as how large your individual bins are.

With leopard geckos, generally a breeding pair or trio is acceptable. A single male with one or two females tend to get along just fine in the amount of space provided in a single bin within a standard sized rack system.

We don’t recommend keeping more than a single snake of any species within a single bin. The bins are just too small and the snakes will end up feeling stressed and competing for resources.

-Don’t the animals escape since there are no lids or screens?

The short answer to this question is yes, the animals can escape due to the more open nature of the rack system.

Because the plastic tubs or bins that house individual animals don’t usually have lids, some more tenacious and stubborn reptiles can and will find ways to climb over the edges of the bins and out into the real world.

There really is no guaranteed way to avoid this other than keeping a close eye on your animals and making sure that all their needs are met so they have little to no reason to seek outside stimulus.

We recommend checking each bin at least twice daily if not more. And as you learn the personalities of your individual animals, you will learn to watch out for the trickier ones who might be more inclined to be escape artists.

Conclusion

Rack systems are efficient for serious reptile hobbyists who intend to keep many animals or start breeding projects of their own. They take up less space than keeping multiple large cages would and they give convenient and easy access to the animals all in one place.

We hope this tutorial on setting up reptile rack systems has proved helpful. If there’s anything we didn’t cover or if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments!

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