vivarium size versus design

I’ve seen way too many people on soap boxes blasting posters about minimum enclosure sizes while losing sight of a far more critical component to husbandry – hardscape design considerations for the species you are keeping.

The general start to a caustic post goes something like: “You cannot house that animal in anything less than blah“, followed by a stream of negative comments, without a single thought being expressed on design and utilization of the space. I’ve seen negative posters simply rattle off their ROTs (rules of thumb) on minimum dimensions for a species, typically followed by “and cover all the walls so they can climb.”

I ask, what about the middle of the vivarium? It’s all space – how do you leverage that?

design concepts – use space

This all started for me in the frog hobby, and spilled over into the reptile hobby. If you participate in online forums, you WILL run into THAT person. They are all high and mighty spouting their rules of thumb, but none of these people will EVER talk to you about proper vivarium design. I refuse to engage with these folks because, well, it’s useless. They are not out for a discussion, rather they are out for an internet fight.

So, let’s talk design and the utilization of space.

If you know your animal and it’s habits, you can construct a thoughtful design in a small space. I’ve had froggers tell me you cannot house a trio of D. tinctorius in an 18″x18″x24″ vivarium because it’s a terrestrial frog. And that would be true if you don’t provide climbing opportunities for them. A thoughtful, tiered hardscape design allows for bigger bodied, less agile frogs to leverage the upper portions of the vivarium.

The extensive use of foam and cork flats and tubes allows for overlapping use of the normally unused central portion of a vivarium. The additional benefit of a complex hardscaping design is you provide a variety of microclimates in a small space that can provide a spectrum of lighting, temperature and humidity levels so your animal can move to an area where it is most comfortable.

Here is an example of an intricate 10″x10″x16″ vivarium design for a micro-gecko:

This particular gecko rarely leaves that central basking location. He waits there for his fruit flies to come to him, and he retreats into his cork tube when startled. He has a variety of microclimates to choose from.

Wait what? Microclimates in a 10″x10″x16″ footprint?


This vivarium has a layered design, with a bright upper section of the vivarium, long tubes in the central portion, and a shadowy vivarium floor. There is a temperature gradient from 76F on the floor of the viv to 82F at the top of the viv. Yes, a 6 degree spread in about 12 inches (subtract out the 2″ false bottom, and about 2″ of substrate). There are a variety of humidity conditions as well, not to mention the variety of lighting and shade conditions available to the animal.

All this was accomplished in a very small, well designed space.

Always choose the biggest vivarium you can for the space you have. But more importantly, please choose to spend the time investing in your hardscape design and construction, as a well thought out usage of air space can provide a terrestrial animal with a much more enriching and stable environment for their long term success.

And don’t be a know-it-all online, sometimes you can learn something from a dialog rather than spouting off tired old ROTs.

Back to the main dart frogs page at

Back to the main lizard page at