Mitch's Vivarium Building Tips (and yours too!)

Vivarium Plan design, "Build Journals", DIY, Viv Maintenance Issues.
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Mitch
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Mitch's Vivarium Building Tips (and yours too!)

Postby Mitch » Mon Jun 06, 2011 5:02 pm

Hello,

I'll start off by saying that I'm no self-proclaimed expert. I've been in the hobby for about a year now and have 6 vivarium builds under my belt (not that many, I know). From these builds I've learned a lot. I'm here to tell you what I've learned so hopefully you can take these suggestions into consideration and not make the mistakes that I've made. Now, let the list begins:

1) Okay, My first and foremost thing I'd like to say is to not skimp on anything. If you put the money and time into the build I think you'll be happier with what you did in the end. Of course a vivarium can be built cheaply, but that doesn't mean it needs to look bad. That brings me to my second suggestion.

2) Don't be lazy. When I built my first vivarium I skipped a few steps in the building process. For example, I over great-stuffed and then was too lazy to carve the foam down. I also left a ton of cracks and crevices in the great stuff that could have been rid of if I had carved the great stuff out. This left me with areas where I could not silicone, so when the tank was done there were areas with bright yellow great stuff showing through. Sounds ugly, right? It was...

3) Invest in good lighting from the start - That is, if you'd like your plants to thrive. I've seen tons of people put a single compact fluorescent bulb over their viv and then complain about how slowly the plants grow and how the bromeliads have no color. This is due to poor lighting. My favorite type of lighting is T5, specifically T5 HO (high output). T5 lighting stays fairly cool and gives off a very good amount of light. I prefer to use 4 bulb fixtures over my tank but you can get away with 2 bulb fixtures. Plants will grow better with better light, and that's plain and simple.

4) ABG mix is my favorite substrate out there and it's pretty cheap. If you're getting hard-to-raise Pums then I'd suggest a clay mix, but that's a whole different ball game. ABG drains well but stays moist too, making it great for plant growth. Alongside leaf litter, ABG mix can support a nice microfauna population which is great for your tank.

5) Lots of leaf litter helps to maintain good microfauna populations and it looks nice too. Moss likes to grow on leaf litter in my experience too. Smaller sized leaves are better suited for smaller tanks - I like to use Sand Live oak. Larger sized leaves look awkward in a small tank, in my opinion. It looks more natural to have smaller leaves because it's a small tank.

6) A good drainage layer with a drain is very important to keep the plants and microfauna thriving. I'd suggest a 2 or 3 inch hydroton layer with weed block on top. A false bottom works just as well. Just make sure that there is some way to get the water out of the drainage layer, because you don't want the water to fill up so high that it saturates the substrate, defeating the purpose of the drainage layer.

7) Creating a sense of depth is what makes or breaks the looks of a tank, in my opinion. Using smaller leaved plants near the front and larger leafed plants in the back helps to create the depth. Also, having driftwood branching out of the background creates a 3D sorta feel and looks great. The frogs will like to perch on it too and you can mount orchids and such on it. A nice piece of driftwood can also be a good focal point in the tank.

8 ) This is what I regret most about not doing in my past vivariums... internal air circulation. I'm not talking about having a vent, I'm talking about having a small computer fan in the viv to push the air around. It does wonders for ALL inhabitants of the viv: especially the plants and frogs. Again, think about it... in the wild air doesn't just sit there and become stagnant, there's generally a little air movement to provide fresh air to everyone. It does wonders for the plants and it can also keep the front glass clear, with no moisture on it. You may find your frogs to be more bold and your plants to be more healthy with a little internal air circulation. If you do a search on it you can get DIY's on how to do it.

9) A water feature is just a waste of space in most vivariums. Many (notice how I said many and not all) dart frog species won't make use of it - it's just a waste of floor space. Now, if your tank is larger and has sufficient space, then go for it. The water feature is most likely for you, not the frogs. I'd never put a water feature in a vivarium less than 30 gallons.

10) Nice broms go a long way in making a tank look great. Bright, red broms often complement the green foliage in a tank, which can look great.

11) Using just a few species of plants over a bunch looks much more natural then 30 crammed into 1 tank. Think about it, if you looked at just a small slice of forest, you only see a few different types of plants... Not 52.

12) "Sterilize" whatever you can before it goes in the viv. A mild bleach solution will do this trick on most plants, and will prevent you from getting slugs, snails, and nemerteans... amongst other pests. I hate nemerteans. Baking/Boiling leaves, wood, and soil will do the trick too.

13) Seed with springtails and isopods right when you set up the tank. They are the janitors of the viv, and are also a great source of food.

14) Use appropriate viv plants... using a bonsai tree WILL NOT work and looks horrible, in my opinion. That's just one example, but you see what I'm getting at.

15) Plant lightly in the beginning. You will be able to control growth better and your viv will look much nicer in the long run if you don't cram it with plants in the beginning. It takes time to get a nice, grown in viv. Don't try and get that look right away, because you most likely can't.

16) A misting system is always nice to have but is not completely necessary, in my opinion. But, I wish I had drilled my tanks in the beginning so I could install one.

17) Mosses are great viv plants... but only use viv suitable mosses. That moss in your lawn will not work (unless you live in the tropics). Even if you do live in the tropics you'd risk bringing in "nasties" into your tank with the moss. If you live anywhere where the seasons change then the moss will most likely require a cool, dry period in order to thrive.

Those are most of my suggestions to anyone building a vivarium, newbie or veteran. I'm sure I forgot a few things but that's most of it.

Now, feel free to add your own suggestions or comment on mine. If we can get enough collective information maybe this could become some sort of vivarium building bible that all should read before taking the plunge. :lol:

Thanks!
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Mitch
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Re: Mitch's Vivarium Building Tips (and yours too!)

Postby Mitch » Sat Jun 11, 2011 4:10 pm

Like I said, if anyone has any construction/setup tips, feel free to add them!
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Re: Mitch's Vivarium Building Tips (and yours too!)

Postby Philsuma » Sat Jun 11, 2011 4:42 pm

Forget moss. Not only is moss not readily found in most any Dart Frog wild habitat - but it precludes using the more appropriate and useful -leaf litter.

Leaf Litter (Magnolia leaves, for our purposes because they are "waxy" when dry and hold up without the more rapid deterioration like other leaf types) is found in most all wild habitats and allows for layers of humidity / hides and micro fauna refuge.

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Re: Mitch's Vivarium Building Tips (and yours too!)

Postby Mitch » Sun Jun 12, 2011 11:03 am

Yes, I should have elaborated... a carpet of moss isn't as beneficial as a layer of leaf litter. But where did you get the idea that moss isn't readily found in most dart frog habitats? I was in both Costa Rica and Panama this summer and saw darts amongst the leaf litter and moss covered wood, rocks, etc. Both pumilio and auratus, too.
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Re: Mitch's Vivarium Building Tips (and yours too!)

Postby Philsuma » Sun Jun 12, 2011 12:15 pm

Oh it's found there (moss) - anygiven tropical jungle area, but it really doesn't have the relationship with the frog, like the leaf litter does. Sorry I wasn't clear with my opinion in the above post.

The frog doesn't "make use" of the moss like it does the litter.

I think people are used to the media / posed photographs that appear to be in-situ, of a frog or a toad on a bed of moss, and they say to themselves, ' not only is it real habitat, but it looks visually appealing and striking - the lush green contrasting with the colourful frog. I think green wins out over brown (leaves), in visual appeal.

You made a great thread though Mitch...not trying to nitpick, just keeping your thread going.

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Re: Mitch's Vivarium Building Tips (and yours too!)

Postby dynekevin » Fri Jun 17, 2011 4:08 pm

I guess i could chime in a bit.

- When going to build your first vivarium i would recommend practicing the great stuff method on a spare tank. There
is a craft to it. I made a few mistakes putting in a ledge and pots the first time around.
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Re: Mitch's Vivarium Building Tips (and yours too!)

Postby Mitch » Thu Jun 23, 2011 10:39 pm

dynekevin wrote:I guess i could chime in a bit.

- When going to build your first vivarium i would recommend practicing the great stuff method on a spare tank. There
is a craft to it. I made a few mistakes putting in a ledge and pots the first time around.


Yup, this is a good idea. I wished I had practiced before making my first tank. The second time around was MUCH better. I don't think you need to waste a perfectly good tank on this though, doing it in a cardboard box or something could work fine for practice.

Thanks to whoever put the main points of each paragraph in bold. Makes it easier to see the point!

Let's keep this thread going!
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Re: Mitch's Vivarium Building Tips (and yours too!)

Postby Mitch » Thu Jun 23, 2011 10:40 pm

Philsuma wrote:Oh it's found there (moss) - anygiven tropical jungle area, but it really doesn't have the relationship with the frog, like the leaf litter does. Sorry I wasn't clear with my opinion in the above post.

The frog doesn't "make use" of the moss like it does the litter.

I think people are used to the media / posed photographs that appear to be in-situ, of a frog or a toad on a bed of moss, and they say to themselves, ' not only is it real habitat, but it looks visually appealing and striking - the lush green contrasting with the colourful frog. I think green wins out over brown (leaves), in visual appeal.

You made a great thread though Mitch...not trying to nitpick, just keeping your thread going.


I agree, leaf litter is completely more functional than moss. But that's not to say that a little moss can't spruce up a tank and make it look nice. Growing moss on a piece of driftwood or somewhere where there can't be leaf litter would be best.
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Re: Mitch's Vivarium Building Tips (and yours too!)

Postby Philsuma » Thu Jun 23, 2011 10:43 pm

Oh my yes tropical moss...some java, is always nice.

Again, not nitpicking your nice Thread.....just providing some dialogue and discussion.

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Re: Mitch's Vivarium Building Tips (and yours too!)

Postby phelsumaman » Sun Aug 21, 2011 9:28 am

Can I add TAKE YOUR TIME. Its amazing how many people think they can knock together a viv in no time at all. If you plan out what you want to achieve & how you are going to do it you stand a much better chance of getting excatly what you want & more importantly whats best for the frogs. Dont be afraid to discuss ideas on furums like this, people with experience will only be too happy to give advice on what works & what dosent.

Also I know its not viv building but get your fruit fly cultures going in plenty of time before you get your frogs, its probably a good idea to start this before you even get to the viv building stage.

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Re: Mitch's Vivarium Building Tips (and yours too!)

Postby frogfreak » Sun Aug 21, 2011 11:02 am

Very nice informative post, Mitch!
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Re: Mitch's Vivarium Building Tips (and yours too!)

Postby Stu&Shaz » Sun Aug 21, 2011 1:08 pm

Great post Mitch,and so agree with Ben on "chill..." think and take your time. I'd like to add for those whom can't get to actually see with their own eyes,try to find as many pcs as possible of the habitat where your chosen frog is found,and study them.Speak to as many folks as possible, whom keep your chosen dart,ask them why they set their viv up like they have. on the subject of plants,i guess we under light our vivs compared with some folks here,but i think that might be the way to go. So the big thing for me is where i actually place that plant relative to how much light that said plant needs.So we tend to put our broms right up top,shadowy areas are loved by ferns etc,so tailor that planting.

When using silicone soak a bit of softwood in soapy water. Shape the bit of wood so it looks like a chisel. Have a variety of sizes kept soaking,you can actually cut wet silicone with these tools,and as long as they are kept wet/damp when using the silicone won't stick to them,no mess !!

This last bit is real important, PLEASE wear safety glasses when using expanding foam. I have used this stuff for years,i use a gun,and an acetone cleaner,this summer i had just made a lot of foam planters for our vivs. I washed through the gun with the cleaner unscrewed it took off my glasses and relaxed,a good job well done. As i put the gun away,i checked the screw end,and opened the trigger.....the gun was pressurised,i filled both my eyes with cleaner,my eyelids stuck to my eyeballs,as i screamed for help and tried to get to our bathroom,the thought crossed my mind,what if i can't see again. That was horrendous,I'm ok just think what that would be like if it was the actual foam. as it was i got a trip to hospital,and around 5 days of hell. I've used various nasty tools all my adult life,I'm well prepared,but i relaxed just a few seconds too early.PLEASE be careful guys,wear those safety gloves and those glasses. Trust me you don't want to go there !

take care guys
Stu

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Re: Mitch's Vivarium Building Tips (and yours too!)

Postby EntoCraig » Tue Oct 11, 2011 1:10 pm

While these are so basic, re reading them really helped clear a cloudy decision in my mind! Its nice to revisit the basics and remember what works best and why! Great post!

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Mitch
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Re: Mitch's Vivarium Building Tips (and yours too!)

Postby Mitch » Wed Nov 02, 2011 11:28 pm

Wow, never knew this became a sticky. I feel honored! Thanks for the posts guys. I'm sorry I haven't been posting here much lately. I'll start posting more now. :)
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