I have one vivarium, a Zoomed 18″ x 18″ x 24″ that houses 2 Dendrobates tinctorius azureus (blue dart frogs). It’s heavily planted, and one primary focus throughout this project is to continually improve the plantings. The vivarium serves two purposes, first to provide a safe, thriving environment for our two frogs, and second, to be a visually appealing addition to our home that represents a slice of nature (albiet a small, artificial one that is not true to the biotope). This post walks through the construction of the vivarium from the substrate, through the hardscaping and finally recommendations on vivarium planting.
I followed great advice posted on a dart frog related forum at www.dartden.com. I used hydroton as a drainage layer (a porous foundation to the tank that collects excess water and allows for the vivarium to maintain higher humidity) followed by fiberglass screening to prevent the upper layers of the substrate from falling into the drainage layer, then soil, and finally sphagnum moss. The soil is a mix of charcoal, moss, and plantation soil.
Being new to the hobby I wanted to maintain flexibility of the vivarium design, so I opted to create my background using pre-fabricated foam ledges from Pet-Tech Products. These ledges are held in place with magents fastened on the outside of the glass. They are easily moved within the viviarium providing flexibility in the tank design. An added benefit was when my first vertical vivarium sprung a leak at the base of the front door I was able to quickly relocate ledges, plants and animals to a new vivarium with minimal disruption to the inhabitants. I used the following ledges during construction of this vivarium:
1 x Magnaturals Small Mushroom Ledge
2 x Magnaturals Gecko Ledge (Earth)
1 x Magnaturals Mushroom Ledge Terrarium (Medium)
1 x Magnaturals Food & Water Ledge (Earth)
2 x Magnaturals Small Worm Feeder Ledge (Earth)
1 x Magnaturals Medium Planter Ledge (Earth)
1 x Magnaturals Small Planter Ledge (Earth)
I probably shifted these ledges around half a dozen times during the first 2 months after the vivarium was initially setup. I have not moved them much since, and several of the vining plants are now rooted in across multiple ledges. I suspect future ledge moves will be a bit trickier now.
My choices in vivarium plants have evolved over time. I was heavy on vining plants and bromeliads for my first viv, but I have slowly migrated to more interesting ferns and Selaginella in the second version.
Time series vivarium images
Plants that did not work out
The description on this sounded really neat – an aquatic floating fern. It turned out to be more of a fern “paste” that melted away in a wet portion of my vivarium. It was also crumbly and difficult to deal with – had I really understood this I would not have purchased it. The pictures from the vendor’s website look awesome though.
Cryptanthus – “Sunshine”
I ordered this and had 2 other earthstars substituted. Neither of those earthstars worked out. One was fairly beat up with unattractive leaves, and the second (unnamed) had a giant roach in it (yuck) and was too massive in scale for my viv. I have officially given up on earthstars.
I planted a few cuttings from this small vining plant. It was quickly overtaken by more aggressive vines. I lost track of it and it has been absorbed into the vivarium with no trace of it 4 months later. I do recall that it was somewhat fragile when planting initially, shedding leaves to the touch. I suspect either way it would not have lasted long with two fairly large frogs romping around the vivarium.
Victoria Bird’s nest fern
This was a heck of a lot bigger than I expected. It’s now in a planter outside the viv. Perhaps if I had a 100 gallon tank this would work out.
Wandering Jew ‘Red’
I hated this plant. It’s flowers were beautiful, but I found the leaves unattractive. It was also a tremendous grower and, frankly, invasive in a vivarium. I ripped it out and tossed it.
Selected vivarium photos
DartDen :: http://dartden.com/index.php
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.
Pet-Tech Products :: http://www.pet-tech.com/
Source for the magnetic ledges that I used for hardscaping. Though their products are quite expensive, I’m quite happy with the look and the flexibility of the vivarium. The owner was great to work with as we worked through issues with a falling ledge. We ended up using higher strength magnets which he sold to me at a discount.
Black Jungle Terrarium Supply :: http://www.blackjungleterrariumsupply.com/
They have a wide selection of interesting plants. I have purchased plants from them in two rounds, slowly displacing the original vines and bromeliads that I purchased from Josh’s Frogs. I prefer the look of a well pruned and structured vivarium plant design, and Black Jungles selection is great for finding the starting points for a variety of plants that suit that need.
Josh’s Frogs :: http://www.joshsfrogs.com/
I bought some initial plants to get the vivarium started. I focused on broms and vining plants, and in the end I pulled broms to make room for the plants above and to cull back some of the pups. The broms were ok but took some time to pink up in the higher portions of the viv. This site is good for what I would consider “starter” plants, but the variety does not compare to what is available at Black Jungle.