How to Build a Vivarium
A vivarium is an enclosed, live ecosystem, containing flora and fauna that are typically tropical in nature. Done right, it can provide a burst of living beauty to your living room! Before building your vivarium, decide which single animal species you want to feature, then go about creating the appropriate environment for it. Lay down healthy, well-draining layers of ground cover, and buy and install moisture, heating, and lighting systems. After that, add appropriate plants and microfauna, then add your featured creature to complete your vivarium.
[Edit]Steps [Edit]Choosing Your Featured Animal and Enclosure Pick a single species to feature in your future vivarium. The featured animal species is the biggest variable and most challenging component of establishing and maintaining a vivarium. By limiting your vivarium to a single species, you’ll make things that much easier on yourself. Only experienced vivarium builders who know how to set up and maintain exceptionally large enclosures should try to handle more than one species in a single vivarium. Talk to other vivarium enthusiasts to get recommendations on species choices. Good species options include corn snakes, bearded dragons, poison dart frogs, monkey frogs, anoles, geckos, pygmy chameleons, green tree pythons, and emerald tree boas, among others. Plan your vivarium around the specific needs of your chosen species. Always build your vivarium to suit your featured creature, not the other way around. That way, you can recreate—as much as possible—the ideal natural habitat for that species. In turn, your chosen species will live a healthier and happier life in the vivarium. Use online resources and the knowledge of any vivarium experts you know to plan out the ideal habitat for your chosen species. Choose a large glass tank as the best enclosure option. In most cases, glass is the best option for a vivarium enclosure. It aids in moisture and temperature control, and is great for viewing inside the vivarium. If you need a more lightweight option, however, choose a vivarium enclosure made of sturdy plastic materials. The ideal size of the enclosure depends on the featured species. In most cases, though, aim for an enclosure in the range. A glass tank in this size range can cost $50-$200 USD. Cages make poor vivariums because of the difficulty in maintaining the proper temperature and humidity. [Edit]Adding Layers to the Vivarium Floor Put down a drainage layer of store-bought material (option 1). Shop at pet retailers or online and choose a vivarium drainage layer material—it’s often made up of small, lightweight plastic pellets or balls. Pour a layer in the bottom of the enclosure. As the name indicates, excess water in the enclosure will drain down into this bottom layer, preventing oversaturation of the earthen layers above. You can use aquarium pebbles instead, but your vivarium enclosure will be substantially heavier. Create a “false bottom” with hardware store materials (option 2). Buy about 12 PVC pipe connectors that are cylindrical in shape and about in length. Stand them upright and spread them over the floor of the empty enclosure. Then, cut to size and place a single layer of egg-crate material on top of the upright pipe connectors. Egg crate material is usually made of white plastic, about thick, and made up of a grid of hollow squares. You can find it online, or at hardware stores or some pet retailers. The pipe connectors serve as piers that create a gap between the bottom of the enclosure and the underside of the egg crate material. Excess water will filter down into this void. Add a layer of a mesh fabric screen separator. Choose a screening material that lets water and air pass through but blocks fine dirt particles. You can use weed-blocking landscaping fabric if you wish, but it’s better to buy a fabric screening material made specifically for vivariums—look for it online or in larger pet stores. Your choice of screening material is especially important if you’re adding microfauna (tiny organisms that will help keep the vivarium clean) to the enclosure. Vivarium-specific fabrics will let them pass through, while landscaping fabrics may not. The screening material comes in rolls that you can cut to size with scissors. If you're not using a screening material marketed specifically for vivariums, make sure it's labeled as non-toxic. Use a tried-and-true mix for your substrate layer. Don’t just use potting soil, compost, coconut fiber, or another single material. Instead, search online and consult with knowledgeable friends about the best substrate material for your particular vivarium. Lay of your chosen substrate on top of the screening fabric. One of the most common vivarium substrates is called “ABG substrate” and contains the following mix: 2 parts tree fern fiber, 1 part peat (or, in some cases, coconut fiber), 1 part charcoal, 1 part sphagnum, and 2 parts orchid bark. While you can mix up the substrate yourself, it’s easier to buy pre-mixed substrate online or at a pet retailer. Single-material substrates (like just potting soil) lack the nutrient diversity and varying textures that create a healthy and welcoming substrate for plant and animal life in a vivarium. Apply of “leaf litter” on top. For the top layer of your vivarium floor, use “leaf litter”—that is, dried leaves from tropical plants. You can buy leaf litter at retailers that sell vivarium substrate materials. Some vivarium enthusiasts prefer to use moss as the top layer for aesthetic purposes. However, leaf litter gives a more natural look and provides shading and hiding spots for the animals inside the enclosure. You can use a combination of moss and leaf litter if desired. [Edit]Completing the Environment Create a background, if desired, for aesthetic purposes. Some vivarium enthusiasts like to adhere a natural-looking background to the back wall of the enclosure. In many cases, this is done by using silicone adhesive to stick on pieces of rigid foam made to look like rocks, tree limbs, and so on. Such background materials can usually be purchased at retailers that sell other vivarium supplies. You also can cut and decorate background materials out of rigid foam yourself. Consult with other vivarium enthusiasts for advice on the best materials to use and procedures to follow. A background can help conceal mechanical equipment (for lighting, heating, moisture, etc.) placed behind the enclosure. Install a moisture system based on your chosen species’ needs. Most vivarium-suited species require humidity levels of at least 60%, and often over 75%. Check with vivarium equipment suppliers to find the best moisture control system for your chosen species and enclosure setup. Your setup may include, for instance, a humidity control monitor and a misting sprayer to add moisture as needed. You can help to maintain the right humidity level by using an enclosure lid that is part glass and part screening. In most cases, a top that is 75% glass and 25% screening will help maintain 60%-75% humidity inside. You may also want to buy and install a vivarium drainage system that uses PVC pipe drain lines to help you rapidly reduce the moisture level. However, in most cases, it's sufficient to adjust the humidity manually by increasing or decreasing the amount of screening on the enclosure lid. Control the temperature based on your chosen species. There are numerous heating options for vivariums, and it’s usually best to use a combination of them to get the proper balance of conditions inside the enclosure. Make sure you know both the ideal air and surface temperatures for your chosen species, and use thermostat- and timer-controlled heating elements to maintain the proper ranges. For example, you might use heating lamps to maintain the proper air temperature, and an under-tank heating mat to create a higher surface temperature in one section of the tank—this creates a basking area for your chosen species. As with humidity control, proper temperature control is vital. Consult with experts to get the right equipment for your vivarium setup. Use bright, mid-warmth lighting that simulates day and night. For aesthetic purposes, it’s best to go with lighting that’s in the 5000-6500 kelvin range, which is in the mid-range of the warm-to-cool lighting scale. In terms of light intensity, it’s very difficult to make your vivarium too bright for the health of the life inside it—so choose lighting that makes it easy to see everything inside the vivarium. Always make sure you use timers to keep your lighting on a day-night routine. Also make sure there is adequate shading—created by plant life, leaf litter, and other materials inside the enclosure—so the creatures inside can get relief from the lighting when desired. As with moisture and temperature control systems, a vivarium novice should consult with experts and buy a lighting system from a vivarium supply retailer. Only try to design your own lighting system if you’re fully confident in your abilities. [Edit]Filling the Vivarium with Life Add habitat-appropriate plants, but don’t overdo it. It can be tempting to pack your vivarium with 20 or even 30 different plant species to add visual interest. However, a vivarium can quickly look overly cluttered this way, and it’s also easier to maintain an enclosure that has only around 8-12 different plant species. Choose plants that are appropriate for the environmental conditions inside your vivarium, as well as for the featured species you’ve selected for it. Consider buying a pre-selected plant mix from a vivarium supply retailer. This is easier than buying the mix of plants individually. Follow the instructions for each plant type or plant mix for installing and maintaining the plants. In most cases, you’ll need to do very little once the plants become established in the vivarium. Add microfauna to keep the vivarium naturally clean. For most vivarium enthusiasts, the goal is to create an enclosure that is practically a self-sustaining habitat. To achieve this, microfauna—tiny critters that love to eat things like droppings, leaf decay, and mold—are essential. The most common microfauna options for vivariums are springtails and woodlice (also called isopods). You can buy microfauna at vivarium supply retailers or online. Simply add the recommended amount to the enclosure once the proper environment is established. So long as the proper environmental conditions are maintained, the microfauna will take care of themselves and you won't need to clean the vivarium so long as everything inside is healthy. If any plants appear diseased, however, or if one of your featured creatures dies of a possible infection or disease, you'll have to remove everything from the vivarium, sanitize what can be salvaged and replace what can't be, and re-create the habitat. Quarantine each chosen animal for 3 weeks. Before adding your first animal or any subsequent creatures to the vivarium, you should isolate and observe them for illness for 3 weeks. Doing so helps prevent the introduction of unwanted bacteria or illnesses into the closed ecosystem. For the quarantine period, set up a smaller enclosure with environmental conditions that match the vivarium as closely as possible. Your vivarium species supplier can help you get the necessary supplies for setting up a proper quarantine. Check on the quarantined animals regularly, and know what signs of illness to watch for in that species. Do not introduce them to the vivarium if they display potential signs of illness. Observe the animals closely for the first several days. The first 3-7 days are usually the most critical for the adjustment of your featured species to the vivarium. Watch for any signs of illness or distress, and remove any animals that appear to be ill. The care needs for the many vivarium-suited species varies widely, so it’s difficult to give anything more than very general care guidance. Make sure you know exactly what your featured species needs—in terms of things like food, water, environmental conditions, companionship, and so on—and make every effort to meet those needs in the vivarium. With the proper setup, your vivarium will offer a spectacular display of flora and fauna in realistic habitat for years to come! [Edit]Things You’ll Need Glass enclosure Drainage layer material Mesh fabric screening material Vivarium substrate mix Leaf litter mix Moisture control system Heating control system Lighting control system Habitat-suited plant life mix Microfauna Habitat-suited single animal species Rigid foam background materials (optional) PVC pipe connectors and egg crate material for “false bottom” (optional) [Edit]References ↑ http://www.reptilesmagazine.com/Reptile-Health/Habitats-Care/Designing-And-Building-A-Vivarium/ ↑ https://www.terrariumquest.com/vivarium/rainforest-vivarium/ ↑ http://www.reptilesmagazine.com/Reptile-Health/Habitats-Care/Designing-And-Building-A-Vivarium/ ↑ https://www.terrariumquest.com/vivarium/rainforest-vivarium/ ↑ http://www.neherpetoculture.com/vivariumconstruction101 ↑ http://www.reptilesmagazine.com/Reptile-Health/Habitats-Care/Designing-And-Building-A-Vivarium/ ↑ http://www.neherpetoculture.com/vivariumconstruction101 ↑ http://www.neherpetoculture.com/vivariumconstruction101 ↑ http://www.neherpetoculture.com/vivariumconstruction101 ↑ http://www.reptilesmagazine.com/Reptile-Health/Habitats-Care/Designing-And-Building-A-Vivarium/ ↑ https://www.terrariumquest.com/vivarium/rainforest-vivarium/ ↑ https://www.terrariumquest.com/vivarium/rainforest-vivarium/ ↑ https://www.terrariumquest.com/vivarium/rainforest-vivarium/ ↑ http://www.neherpetoculture.com/vivariumconstruction101 ↑ https://www.terrariumquest.com/vivarium/rainforest-vivarium/ ↑ http://www.reptilesmagazine.com/Reptile-Health/Habitats-Care/Designing-And-Building-A-Vivarium/ ↑ https://www.terrariumquest.com/vivarium/rainforest-vivarium/