Setting up a Vivarium

By Pat M. a regular on the sites message board.


  I’m about to begin the construction of my second vivarium, and thought I’d share it with everyone. I had a lot of fun with the first one, so I guess I’m just giving everyone food for thought for another tank (as if everyone doesn’t have enough tanks to begin with ) I’m beginning construction tonight, so the first set of pics and stuff should be up tomorrow. Here’s a pic of my first setup (20 gallon high)


Ok, first of all, here is everything I’ll be using:

  • Tank:
  • 29 gallons for the false bottom:
  • plastic eggcrate
  • mesh screening
  • 1/2 inch PVC connectors
  • Substrate:
  • 1st layer- dried clay pellets
  • 2nd- spaghum moss
  • 3rd- soil mix from T&C vivariums
  • Background:
  • right now I’m thinking cork bark landscape: river rock gravel slate driftwood pieces lots of plants (I’ll let you know what I use when I get to this step)
  • sheet moss
  • Other equipment:
  • Rio 600 pump (wouldn’t recommend Rio, but it’s all I had lying around)
  • 100 watt submersible heater (you could definitely use anything as low as 25 watts)
  • heavy duty plastic dropcloth lights-
  • I’m using 65 watt PC’s silicone sealant (100% silicon w/ no mold and mildew inhibitors)

I believe that’s about it




Step 1- False bottom

I’ll be using a false bottom for this project. All it does is allow a reservoir of water under the substrate. The major reasons I do this are because I’ll be using a submersible heater as the lone heat source, so I’ll need space to put it, it allows room for a powerhead to power a waterfall or river, and it allows for the most water in a confined space.

First, you need to glue the 1/2 inch PVC spacers to the bottom glass, these will be supporting the entire substrate. For my first project, I glued them straight up and down, but for this one I desired a sloping effect, so put them on their sides at the front and up and down in the back. After this you’ll have to cut your eggcrate to appropriate size to lay on the spacers. Ideally, you could use one big piece with the exception of a space where you would construct a box to hold the powerhead and to access the heater.

I used several smaller pieces solely because I was using leftovers from the last project. It made things considerable more difficult.

When you have your eggcrate cut to size, you should cover it with the mesh before you glue it onto the supports. I did these out of order so you could see how the eggcrate was placed and then how it looks with the mesh

Here are the pics

You can see the box for the powerhead and heater is in the back left. The hose it attached to the powerhead to power what will become a waterfall. You also notice there are little walls around where the water will go. This is to keep the bottom layer of substrate from falling into the water. Well, there’s step 1.

Step 2- the substrate:

Next step is to lay down the layers of substrate. First is the clay pellets. I use about 1.5 -2 inches.

Second is spaghum moss. This stuff comes dry and compacted in plastic bags. You have to put it in a strainer under water, and it will expand, and this is what you put in the next layer. On top of that I use a soil mix (which isn’t normal potting soil, it’s more like a bark mix, with little actual dirt.

The spaghum moss is the stuff you can see on the ramp to where the water will go. The rest of it is covered with the soil. NOTE- All the substrate I used was bought at T&C Terrariums just in case you are looking to but any of this stuff.

Step 3- river and waterfall base:


I decided I wanted to include a really nice water feature, unlike the simple water wall I used in the 20 gallon. So I used slate to create the base of the fall, and used the plastic dropcloth underneath. The dropcloth is also used under the riverbed which will be constructed with river rock and gravel. I have not gotten the corkbark for the background yet, so I cannot set up the top of the fall


NOTE: If you are interested in building a vivarium, check out the T&C Terrarium link as well as Black Jungle. Black jungle has lots of nice plants, and that’s also where I’ll be ordering my cork from. They have a ton of nice things there. However, don’t overlook your local Lowe’s, Home Depot, or even Wallmart. All three have some nice terrarium plants. At Lowe’s I got some orchids and stuff for $1 on the clearance rack. There wasn’t anything wrong with them, but they mark them down if they’re not in bloom. A great deal of my plants this time around will come from these three stores.

Step 4- Almost done:

As I said, I don’t have my background yet. I have gone ahead, however, and planted most of the plants I have gotten. As you can see, I haven’t planted the orchids yet, as they shouldn’t be planted in soil, rather they should be attached to the background or on wood or something. I have also added water and fired up the pump and heater. On top I am using a screen with a glass hood over it to regulate humidity. I will leave it like this for a couple days before draining it and adding the final touches.

Next step:

Now I have to put on the background. I’m using pre-cut and flattened cork bark. It comes completely flat in squares. It doesn’t look quite as nice as the regular cork flats, but they save me a whole lot of time cutting and flattening, etc. It’s up to you, if you have the patience, go with the regular cork bark, it looks amazing. However, if you are not good with tools, or lack patience, go with the pre-cut flats. Anyways, silicon the back of the panels and stick them on the glass.

Here is the tank now, later I will add the finishing touches like finishing the waterfall.


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