VivariumVivarium setup refers to the different homes hobbyist construct to keep varied animals and plant types.

The name vivarium is of Latin origin, which translates in English as “A place of life.” It may be a closed or open setup depending on the needs of the creatures and vegetation.

Read about the vivarium, its types, how you can set up your homemade vivarium.


Hobbyist uses a vivarium for researching the behavioral traits of different kinds of animals and plants. However, some set up a vivarium for the aesthetically pleasing view and the company from the animals.

Types of Vivarium

  • Paludarium: a place designed for both aquatic, semi-aquatic and terrestrial animals
  • Terrarium: a place for land animals and plant
  • Aquarium: a place for aquatic animals like fishes
  • Riparium: like the paludarium but with deeper water depth
  • Oceanarium: a place for ocean animals like sharks and dolphins
  • Penguinarium: it is a place that imitates the penguins' natural habitats
  • Dolphinarium: a vivarium set up for dolphins
  • Insectarium: a place for various insect types
  • Orchidarium: space set out for orchids like Oncidium Hians
  • Aviary: a place for birds
  • Formicarium: it is a vivarium set out for any colonies
  • Mossarium: it is a place set out for moss-like Fern Moss and mood moss
  • Jarrarium: it is a vivarium in a jar! You can keep moss, reptiles, fishes, or plants

How to Set Up a Vivarium

When building a vivarium, it is essential to draw up a plan and execute it accordingly.

Below are a few requirements for a vivarium set-up:

1. Tank

For a medium-sized vivarium, you would need a tank size of about 29 gallons.

2. Vivarium Substrate

  • False bottom: you can construct a bottom from a mesh screen or an egg crate and half-
    inch PVC spacers.
  • The first layer of the substrate can be dry clay pellets
  • The second layer of the substrate can be sphagnum moss
  • The third layer, which is the vivarium soil, would be a different mixture of soil.

3. Vivarium Background/Decoration

  • Gravel slate
    Sheet moss
  • Cork bark landscape
  • Rocks
  • Plants
  • Pieces of Driftwood

4. Aquarium needs/equipment

Building a Vivarium

We would talk about how to construct two vivarium types: The regular homemade vivarium and the bioactive vivarium.

1. Homemade Vivarium

You can construct a homemade vivarium by following the steps below.

Step 1 – Building the False Vivarium Bottom

The false bottom is important because it permits the vivarium to have large water storage
beneath its substrate. The concept is to place a submersible heater into the reservoir to
generate enough heat for the setup. It also gives room to channel water for the waterfall or pond via a powerhead. The water storage is the smartest way to provide enough watering in such a compact space.

To begin the vivarium construction, gum the half-inch PVC connectors to the bottom of the
tank. Ensure they are firm and sturdy as they would be supporting a support base for the
vivarium substrate. You may place them, so they are straight or sloping, depending on what you want. Next, you can cut up your egg crates, then place them on the false bottom or use them whole.

However, if you decide not to cut the egg crates, remember to leave out a portion like a box for the powerhead and heater access. Afterwards, you should cover the egg crates with the mesh screen and glue them to the support base. Attach a hose to the powerhead to create your vivarium waterfall. Leave some wall space for the water to prevent the third substrate layer from plunging into the water.

Step 2 – The Vivarium Substrate

This step involves putting together the different substrate layers.

  • First layer: It is the clay pellet layer; you can put about two inches over the false bottom.
  • Second layer: It is the sphagnum moss layer; it comes in a compact, dry form. To return it to its normal size, place it in a strainer and run water through it. It would begin to show signs of expansion after a while, put it over the first layer. The sphagnum moss also covers the ramp to the point water flows, but the rest of the substrate is made up of soil mix.
  • Third layer: It is a mixture of soil. It is not actual potting soil; rather, it is a mixture of dirt and bark mix.

Step 3 – Waterfall and River

If you want the vivarium to look nice, the waterfall and river are nice features. You should use the gravel slates to construct the waterfall base. Then place the heavy-duty drop cloth under it; it would serve as a part of the riverbed. Use the rock and gravel slate to build the river bed, but you should make use of the cork bark for the top of the fall.

Step 4 – Background/Decoration

Plant the greenery you would use in the vivarium; orchids are nice but require a background wood base for support. Put water in your setup through the pump and turn on the heater. To regulate the tank humidity, use a screen and a glass hood in your vivarium.

Then leave the set up running for a few days, drain the water and add other items.
Now for the finishing touches, cut and compress your cork bark for the background. You can purchase a pre-cut square-shaped cork-bark alternative; it also comes compressed.

However, they do not look as flattering as cork flats, yet they are time effective, unlike you processing it from scratch.

Apply silicone seals behind the cork bark panels and attach them to the aquarium glass walls.

Finally, add your waterfall and any personalized touch you want.

2. The Bioactive Vivarium

The bioactive vivarium is a self-serving biodegradable habitat. As interest in vivariums has become popular, the need to simulate all true habitat features has become more pressing.

Keepers have developed strategies to make design, building and maintenance effortless.

They have considered factors like:

  • Keeping different species together in one vivarium. You can try such a set up in the
    paludarium and other vivarium types.
  • They have also come up with ways to mimic rain and humid weather. You can use a
    heater, a powerhead, glass hood and screen.
  • Then the bioactive vivarium is the next innovative idea from a hobbyist. It would mean
    the vivarium substrate has to be alive and actively part of the ecosystem.

There is no clean-up crew in natural habitat or wild forests or jungles, even when animals
excrete randomly or die and leave rotting carcasses. But in most vivarium setups, the keeper has to maintain the environment and even take out shed skins if there's a snake or crab in their tank. However, in the wild, biological matter from the animals would eventually decay after a while.

In some cases, the remaining living animals use it as food or release nutrients to the soil. These take place in biodegradable items as they either reconnect like a cycle or an active ecosystem.

Recreating the cycle is useful but not so easy as you need to think about every tiny detail. In some cases, some species of animals and biodegradable strategies can not co-exist. You may need to perform a series of tests to achieve the best bioactive vivarium.

Description of a Bioactive Vivarium

They look like nature, with lots of plants, animals and adequate substrate. However, it has an active substrate that contains fungi, small animals, soil minerals and essential bacteria.

The different parts of the vivarium ecosystem work together to decompose waste and dead matter.

It would impede any organic matter build-up and release important nutrients they have into the soil. Then the vivarium plant would tap all it needs through its root, which in turn creates a healthy cycle for all forms of life in the tank. Remember, the plants give off oxygen, and animals take them in.

With thoroughly designed vivarium plans, a hobbyist would allow all animal and plant waste to self-degrade. Whether it is a partial or complete bioactive vivarium, it is a safe and helpful way of doing things.

How to Build a Bioactive Vivarium Substrate?

Vivarium substrateHobbyist creates a bioactive substrate by combining the right materials and maintaining favourable tank conditions to survive different organisms. However, conserving the substrate, so it is renewable and self-serving is key.

The bioactive substrate is adequate for different animals and species but works more efficiently for smaller forest breeds. It is because they create less waste and are happy in small spaces.

These traits are useful for the hobbyist to try to create the ideal bioactive substrate.
However, we discussed a few common vivarium pet options and the best strategy to attain a bioactive setup.

Below are a few steps to create your bioactive substrate. Be open to series of tests as experimentation is essential to attain the perfect substrate.

Step 1: Drainage

You should construct the substrate’s first layer with items like gravel, river rock or clay pellets.

Irrespective of the item you decide to use, they all serve the same purpose. They create a
space beneath the vivarium to all water drain. However, not every hobbyist includes drainage in their set up. They are necessary to prevent a soaked substrate over time.

Step2: Bulk Layer

The bulk layer of several bioactive substrates contains large and sturdy materials.

Hobbyists use different bulk layers because of the various needs of the animal species. The best bulk layer suggestions are orchid bark, coconut husk, soil and cypress mulch. You can formulate a custom blend of bark mixed with soil, granite and sand.

Step 3: Leaves

You should add a litter of leaves over the bulk layer because it helps tackle substrate issues.

The leaves serve as home to micro-organisms and animals that help decompose waste. Some animals can eat the leaves. Nonetheless, gather different types of leaves for the varied decomposition stages.

A few of the leaves may be fresh and others beginning to rot, and the rest completely decayed. Scoop some forest soil matter and spread it over your vivarium substrate to create the perfect vivarium soil mix.

Step 4: Bugs/Natural Cleaners

When you have added the three substrate layers to the vivarium, it would also need natural
cleaners like bugs and other insects. They feed on the decomposing matter and are crucial for an active self-sustaining environment.

You may add them unintentionally when you add decaying leaves or logs to the vivarium.
Nonetheless, you need them; select a few for your small animal list and eventually add them into the tank.

Here are some bug suggestions you should add while building a vivarium:

  • Isopods
  • Springtails
  • Variety of Earthworms
  • Beetles
  • Millipedes

You can buy the bugs in an animal store, online or collect them from any greenery near you, like the woods. They are active cleaners and would eat any decomposing matter.

However, you should ensure they always have food or would harass your vivarium animals.
Due to their small size, the other animals may eat them, so monitor and replace them
constantly. Creating various hiding spots like rotting logs can help you regulate their population.

Below are some illustrations to maintain a bioactive vivarium for specific popular species. Each bioactive vivarium changes slightly due to specific species requirements.

1. Bearded Dragon Bioactive Vivarium Setup

The bearded dragon thrives in large spaces, so the tank must be big and the substrate
sufficient. When making a vivarium for it, it is crucial to remember that the bearded dragon
eats a lot and produces as much waste. In this case, it would help your tank if you take out
portions of the waste until it becomes self-sufficient.

Components of the Bearded Dragon Bioactive Vivarium

  1. Drainage: you do not need to build a drainage layer because the bearded natural habitat
    is dry.
  2. Bulk layer: to attain its perfect bulk layer, you need an equal blend of coconut husk,
    forest soil and sand.
  3. Leaf litter: leaf litter would serve as hiding spots for your critters. If your vivarium has
    some lizard species, you may not add millipedes because they are toxic to lizards. Also,
    worms need damp substrates to thrive, so the bearded dragon dry natured vivarium would not be conducive. Beetles are the best critter choice; put in a healthy amount to ensure a balanced system.

2. Corn Snakes Bioactive Vivarium Setup

The corn snakes produce biological wastes when climbing. To ensure they are decomposed properly, you must arrange their climbing surface(branches), so it is directly below damp, bug-enriched portions of the tank. This is because you do not want to move their waste to decomposition sites.

  1. Drainage: use rocks to set up their drainage because they need this layer. Alternatively,
    crusty sand would also serve as an ideal corn snake substrate.
  2. Bulk layer: the corn snake does not mind a mildly damp substrate, but it is not beneficial to their health. To balance the bioactive vivarium substrate’s moisture, make a blend of coconut just with cypress mulch.
  3. Leaf litter: they are a crucial layer to the bioactive corn snake setup because apart from their decomposition assistance, they give the snake numerous hiding sites. Throw in some pine straws because the corn snake natural habitat has a lot of pine trees.
    However, the bugs need enough food; some broad leaves plants can see as food to
    vivarium bacteria, worms and fungi.

3. Leopard Geckos Bioactive Vivarium Setup

The leopard geckos are small-sized lizards that thrive in small spaces. Like the bearded dragon, they are likely to eat millipedes even as they are toxic, so do not add them to their habitat.

  1. Drainage: a light layer of drainage would work effectively for the leopard gecko.
  2. Bulk layer: keep it simple like the drainage because you do not want their substrate too
    dry. The gecko needs moisture from the substrate to help it shed easily. Also, the
    decomposing bugs are more comfortable/on damp surfaces.
  3. Leaf litter: leaf litter are essential, and the leopard gecko needs a thick layer of it.


  • Vivarium setupThe vivarium refers to all artificial animal and plants setup such as aquariums and
  • They are easy to build but maybe time-consuming
  • There are self-sustaining vivarium is called the bioactive vivarium
  • The bioactive vivarium has an active substrate
  • The difference between the regular homemade vivarium and the bioactive ones is
    that the bioactive vivarium decomposes its waste
  • The bioactive vivarium requires bug and a balanced environment condition to
    remain active

However, building a vivarium is not necessarily complicated if you pay attention to crucial details. You should consider the comfort of all the animals. Why not read through this article and build the perfect self-serving home for your pet.

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