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How to Setup a Naturalistic Vivarium

Updated on February 18, 2011

Vivarium Design and Construction

Vivariums are tanks that contain live plants and animals. They are very beautiful, and surprisingly simple to make. Below are the steps needed to construct a naturalistic vivarium. Such a vivarium could be used for poison dart frogs, mantellas, or other small tropical amphibians.

  1. Begin with a ten gallon tank (best to start small if this is your first vivarium), with a screen top and light hood. The hood will help maintain humidity, and provide light for the plants. Use a bulb in the hood that is designed for plant growth, like "sun-glo".
  2. Purchase a cork bark panel and cut it to fit the back of the tank. Attach it to the back of the tank with silicone sealant. allow this to dry for 24 hours. This step is not necessary, but a background will make the tank look better.
  3. A drainage layer must now be added to the tank. You can use gravel, clay pellets, or featherlite. I use the featherlite, because it doesn't add much weight to the tank. Featherlite can be purchased from Black Jungle Terrarium Supply. The drainage layer should be 1-1 1/2 in thick.
  4. On top of the drainage layer place some damp sphagnum moss and press it down firmly. This will act as a separation layer to keep the soil from falling down into the drainage layer. this should be no more than 1/2 in thick.
  5. Now apply 2- 3in of substrate. Coco-fiber works well. To help with plant growth it can be fortified with compost.
  6. Now position any rocks, wood, water bowls, and hide-spots you are using. Note that the best woods for vivariums are cypress, cork, and ghost wood. These handle high humidity and moisture well. If mold grows on the wood scrape it of and eventually it will stop growing.
  7. Now you are ready to add the plants. Start with low growing plants and mosses first. Make sure the moss you use is of a tropical variety. Then add the taller plants. Be creative with the plants. This is your own private rain forest. Good plants include ferns, tillandsias, creeping fig (very easy to grow), philodendron, and bromeliads. Choose plants that grow slow, or respond well to trimming.

Daily maintenance will involve misting, and turning the light on for at least 8 hours a day. It is likely that one or two of your plants will die before you find the best ones for your tank. Once the tank is thriving it should last for years without having to be taken apart.             



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    • Brandon21 profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      Thank you. I'm glad the info was useful. I owned a fire salamander for years. If you have any questions about them feel free to ask.

    • zaton profile image


      5 years ago from California

      Really good vivarium tank hub. I learned quite a bit for my own future plans to construct one for a fire salamander - or two. thanks for sharing!

    • Brandon21 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thank you. I'm glad you liked it.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 

      7 years ago from Northern, California

      The images and information are both outstanding. I would be freaked out having poison-dart frogs around, so maybe some other less volatile critter would be my first choice! Thanks for nice instructions on how to construct a vivarium.



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