Vivarium Build!

Welcome to my latest obsession: Dart frog vivariums. I have created a tiny jungle in my home in a 29 gallon aquarium. No frogs yet, but here is an actual build post with pictures of almost every step! Shocking, I know!

So here we go:

April 2, 2017: Petco Dollar per Gallon sale started and I grabbed the last piece I needed, the tank.

I’ve been collecting plants and supplies since January. I did buy most of my plants at my local nursery and Lowes, but I grew almost all of them for several months outside the tank and all of them were completely bare-rooted and washed before putting them in the tank.

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April 3rd: my day off! I started the background build by siliconing these flat, pressed cork panels and pieces of egg crate to the sides and back. I got the cork panels from Glass Box Tropicals and the egg crate is sold in the lighting department of home improvement stores, it’s a lighting diffuser panel for commercial fluorescents.

Vivarium 04032017_2I used clear GE silicone I for this stage as it’s easy to source and less expensive than black aquarium silicone. Also after reading a gazillion Dendroboard build threads, I had plenty of evidence that it was safe for animals.

The false bottom is a 2 1/2 inch deep box built out of egg crate (with egg crate supports in the middle as well), covered with landscape fabric. I tested my fabric to see which direction it drained the best before wrapping the false bottom. I cut small slits and used zip-ties to attach. It’s smaller than the bottom of the tank because I decided to hide it with aquarium gravel around the front and sides.

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While it cured (it says 24 hours for full cure), I used painter’s tape to suspend the manzanita where I wanted to foam it. I glued the cork tube to the cork panels with some silicone as well. Cork tube and flat panels from glass box tropicals, large center manzanita branch from glass box, other two pieces from Josh’s frogs. Small extra manzanita was a freebie from Glass box.

It took a LOT of tape, but I had the branches exactly where I wanted them for foaming.

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April 4th: Let the foaming begin! I used Touch ‘n Foam Landscape foam after watching a half dozen or so of Grimm’s Youtube videos on his builds. I have to say, I found it very easy to control and it’s hard enough to carve in about 12-18 hours. It says 12 hours for full cure on the can, but I think some of my spots were thicker than the application the manufacturer was envisioning. I also ran out with just one can after the back and the left side were complete so I had to order another from Amazon and wait three days.

On the far right of the pic below you can see where I siliconed a 3/4″ pic pipe fitting slightly off the bottom of the tank, and a 1/2″ water pump pipe from Josh’s frogs. This lets me add water to the false bottom (with a funnel in the top) or siphon it out (by pushing airline down the pipe) if it gets too high. I’ve tested both and it works. I jammed a little square of aquarium filter sponge next to the pip to prevent any gravel from getting back under the space I’d left for water access.

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April 7th: The minute the UPS truck delivered my foam, I foamed in the left side. I’d already carved the back and right side on the 5th, so then it was just a matter of waiting until the next morning to carve the left.

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April 8th: Big vivarium work day! I got up early and carved the left side. It felt as dense as the rest of the foam now, so I went ahead and did the silicone and cocofiber step. I used black aquarium silicone for this (one tube and I still have some left), and coco fiber from Josh’s Frogs.

I foamed a small wall in the back left so I could add orchid bark to the ABG substrate to try to give the ferns a better spot to grow, we’ll see how that goes. It keeps their substrate a little more separate from the rest of it.

Orchid bark and ABG from Glass Box.

Added the aquarium gravel around 3 sides:

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Added more orchid bark around all three edges to provide a slight barrier between the ABG and the glass and gravel. My thought was this would prevent the smaller particles of ABG from falling into the gravel, so far so good. ABG was seeded with temperate springtails and dwarf purple isopods from Glass Box.

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Planted up!

Plant list: golden creeping Jenny, peperomia, fittonia, Tradescantia pallida, ficus pumila variegated, 3 ferns I’m not 100% on the ID, selaginella, genera aurantiaca, impatiens, and the two bromiliads are n. rubrifolia on the left and n. zoe on the right.

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For the lid, I bought a standard Aqeuon Versa Top and some no-see-em mesh. I cut an inch and a half vent out of the plastic strip that they include to modify for filters and such, and then I hot-glued it to both sides of the plastic strip covering the cut-out.

I used the GE I silicone and attached it to the front of the vivarium. Then I wrapped the entire glass part in wax paper and ran a bead of silicone around the rest of the lid. I pressed the glass top into the bead and wiped away any excess. After it had set up for a few minutes, I took the top back off, and let it cure. That creates more of a seal for the glass lid and fewer places for fruit flies to escape. It also lets me scoot the glass forward into the plastic strip for support and it won’t slide back without some pressure.


After one week: Lost a few leaves off the peperomia on the left and off the ficus, plus one whole ficus cutting, I replaced it with some creeping jenny cuttings on the right. One of the ferns looks brownish, but has new growth on the bottom, I knocked it over so I went ahead and swapped with with one from the back that was doing better, we’ll see if it makes it.

Humidity looks good, needs a misting every 1-2 days to maintain this level of fog on the glass. The no-see-em mesh actually prevents a good deal of air from escaping as compared with the open slit before the mesh had come in so I don’t foresee the need to cover that up.

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Top down, left side.

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Top down, right side:

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Complete part list:

Tank: 29 Gallon from Petco
Stand: 29 Gallon metal stand from Drs. Foster and Smith
Silicone: 1 tube GE I and 1 tube black aquarium silicone
Foam: 2 cans of Touch ‘n Foam landscape foam from amazon
Cork bark flats, net cups, coco-fiber, 2 manzanita branches, 2 feet of water pump tubing: Josh’s frogs
Cork tube, pressed cork squares, large manzanita branch: Glass Box Tropicals
ABG Substrat, orchid bark, bromeliads, springtails, and isopod: Glass Box Tropicals
Plants: sourced locally.
Lid: Aqueon Versa-top from Petco
Lights: 2 8 1/2 inch utility clamp lights from Lowes with 5000K daylight LED bulbs
Misc: power strip attached to wall beneath tank with Command strips, plastic putty knife to spread silicone, no-see-em mesh for vent, 1 egg crate panel, 1 3/4″ PVC pipe fitting.

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