Vivarium lighting project

One of my initial customization projects for my frog keeping was vivarium lighting. I went through several iterations of lighting designs from a single dome fixture with a CFL, to Exoterra hoods with CFL’s, finally ending up with the design outlined here, Exoterra hoods with LEDs and cooling fans. I’m using this configuration for two vivariums. This page walks through the customization steps I followed.

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Dual 18x18x24 vivarium lighting

First up is the parts list:

  • 2 x 18″ Exoterra 2 socket fixtures
  • 2 x 9W JungleDawn LED screw in lamps
  • 1 x 13W JungleDawn LED screw in lamp
  • 1 x Repti Sun 26 Watt 10.0 CFL (10.0 was used due to the limited size of the holes in the top, the use of extra screening for fly proofing, and the depth of the viv)
  • 1 x blue LED strip lighting kit
  • 3 x Stanley 38245 TImerMax digital timers

My original configuration just had the two Exo fixtures laying side by side on top of the viv. They were relatively loose and moved around on the 1″ wooden strips I used to elevate them off the top of the viv. The 6500K CFL’s I was using ran relatively hot. Since we’re in the middle of the Texas summer, I figured I’d jump into LED lamps to reduce heat while creating a cleaner looking top.

This is the lighting durations for my frog vivariums, simulating a daily lighting schedule by using three timers controlling three sets of lights on side-by-side vivariums. Here is the sequence of lighting conditions the frogs experience:


Here is a visualization of the timer cycles that indicate how the three timers are used to simulate the lighting conditions summarized in the thumbnail view.





Blue LEDs only



Blue LEDs
2x9W JungleDawn LED

full sun


Blue LEDs
2x9W JungleDawn LED
1x13W JungleDawn
1x26W ReptiSun 5.0



Blue LEDs
2x9W JungleDawn LED



Blue LEDs only





18x18x18 Bakhuis lighting – custom hood

This is the lighting configuration from a build completed in June of 2013. This viv is an 18″x18″x18″ Zoomed cube that will ultimately house a group of Dendrobates tinctorius ‘bakhuis’. The lighting consists of 3 x 13W JungleDawn LED lamps with mini-mount fixtures from These daylight fixtures were combined with a moonlight LED fixture; each fixture was run on 4 timers. The lighting effect I was after was to simulate the path of the sun from East to West when facing the front of the vivarium. In this case I lit the fixtures in sequence moving from right to left. Each LED lamp was turned on and subsequently turned off in 2 hour staggered intervals. The visual effect is summarized in this view.

 A B C D E F A
bakhuis-lighting-A bakhuis-lighting-B bakhuis-lighting-C bakhuis-lighting-D bakhuis-lighting-E bakhuis-lighting-F bakhuis-lighting-A

The TIMER phases are detailed in the following table. Each column represents a specific timer and the hours that it is enabled. The right most columns indicate the phases illustrated above, identified by a letter. The blue and yellow squares visually represent the type and amount of light enabled during each phase:



Cool stuff. So how did we get here? This fixture was custom built out of wood. The hood was designed to match a pedestal stand.

Full tank shots

Here are the FTS. Now I had 4 x 13W CFL’s in here already and they were bright. My main goal with this project was to reduce heat, improve airflow, stabilize my rickety fixtures, and drop the hood to look a bit more clean. I also liked the idea of adding UV bulbs (thanks Todd!).

This initial image is of the original 4x13W CFL FTS. The photo was taken prior to a heavy pruning. The viv was quite healthy and growing well with the original lighting, but the hood still ran warm requiring the wooden spacers to elevate the fixtures. This yielded an unfinished look.
This image shows the subtle difference in lighting conditions with the new bulbs (2 x 9W LED in the rear sockets, 1 x 13 W LED front left, 1 x 26 W Repti Sun 10.0 on right). Overall the colors were more vibrant and slightly brighter than the original CFLs.
Finally the viv with the additional 3.5″ vent for light transmission and the sanded Lexan. It’s hard to tell from these photos, but the lights are slightly brighter, and the azureus seem to pop a bit more now. Maybe it’s just my wishful thinking, but it seems like the light upgrade improved the colors (don’t trust me though, I’m colorblind!).
And the final FTS including hood, vivarium, and custom built vivarium stand. This project originated from Shannon’s request to have frogs, so the entire vivarium concept was built around making the frogs accessible to the kids. To that end, I custom built a 12″ pedestal stand that placed the viv at kids’ eye level in their playroom.


Exoterra light fixture modifications

This was an interesting modification that I made to four Exoterra hoods; I added active venting and moonlights to both vivariums (2 hoods per vivarium in the dual vivarium project). The exhaust fans help keep the fixture temperature down which in turn  keeps the vivarium temperatures within their desired range. I also use vents in the glass canopy of each vivarium to aide in moving fresh air through the vivarium. The use of vented hoods also helps vent air more actively from the vivarium. Here are the hood modifications:

I used a blue LED strip kit to simulate moonlight as one of the original modifications. Two strips of LEDs were used, one running down the right side of each hood. They are driven off one power supply that is connected to a timer on a different schedule from the day lamps. The blue LEDs start up 30 minutes before the day lamps in the morning and stay on 2 hours after the lamps are turned off in the evening. The smaller fans and wooden stand offs visible here were replaced as part of the subsequent modifications documented here.
You’ll need to reorient you view periodically for these images. The hood is upside down on a table as the modifications are performed in this sequence. This photo shows the initial test fit of the directional LED bulbs from with the reflectors removed to improve air flow. The reflector for the full spectrum UV bulb was left in place to maximize light returning into the viv.
I picked up two Thermaltake ISGC Fan 8 (model AF0043) that include a speed controller, silicone mounts and mounting screws. Here’s the sequence of the installation of the exhaust fans, one in each ExoTerra 2 socket hoods. I removed the reflectors above all three LED bulbs that were installed in a previous post, and now I’m mounting a fan in the rear position of each unit. First up is drilling the mount holes around the existing grille.
Here’s a closer view of the drilled mount holes; the stock vent size on the Exoterra hoods fits nearly perfectly with a standard 80mm PC fan.
The mounting holes for the heat shields were just about 1/8 of an inch too large, so I shaved them back with a razor. The plastic mounts were relatively soft and easy to cut. I left enough plastic that the shields could be remounted in the future if I needed to revert the mods at some future point.
Here is an image of the fan being installed. I used the 4 mounting screws included with the fan. The fans were mounted so air would be pushed out of the hood.
Here is a view of the installed fan above the rear LED bulb. This image also nicely shows the directional screw in bulbs. Both the bulb and the fan fit quite nicely within the hood, providing a clean, stock look to the modification.
Here is a wider view of the full hood with the 4 new bulbs and 2 fans installed. If you look closely you can see the blue LED night lights installe on the left wall of each fixture.
Top view of the installed fans with the lights on. If you look closely at the center of the picture you can see the top strip of the three velcro strips I installed to attach the two hoods together. This modification was done to keep the fixtures from sliding around on top of the viv. The solution is much more stable without drilling or making any permanent modifications. If I ever want to break them apart again I can remove the velcro and clean up the glue remnants.
Finally here is a top view of the hood installed and lit. I have removed the 1″ x 1″ spacers I was originally using for improved cooling and viv heat control. The viv temperatures have been unaffected by lowering the hood after installing the new bulbs and fan. The fixtures are mounted front to back (Exoterra designed them to run side to side). I did this to keep the cords and switches against the back wall for a cleaner look.



Resources ::

Todd at LightYourReptiles was extremely helpful in designing a custom lighting solution for my viv. He provided email based consultation prior to the purchase and followed up on the sale. The quality of his products is excellent, and packaging for shipping was top notch. I’ve done follow up business with Todd for another aquarium hood project that I am starting, again yielding excellent results. All my future lighting solutions will involve Todd’s products.

DartDen ::

This is my favorite dart frog related forum. There is so much wonderful information on getting started in the hobby on this site. I highly recommend it to people interested in the hobby as a great resource for researching and asking questions about frog care.

Exoterra 18″ hoods

Exoterra makes excellent, easy to modify hoods that provide a clean, professional look. It may be odd to pair Exoterra gear with Zoomed (18″ x 18″ x 24″ single door vivarium) but it worked well for me.

Thermaltake ISGC Fan 8 (model AF0043)

These are excellent fans that come with a variety of optional parts allowing for a myriad of mounting options. The built in speed contoller is an added plus.

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