If you plan on having any type of water feature then you will probably want to create some sort of false bottom. There are several ways to do this (using foam, hydroton clay balls, egg crate) but the idea is the same to provide a water collection area under the tanks substrate. For my build I will be going the route of egg crate because its cheap and easy to dismantle if I ever need to break the tank down.
Egg crate is also known as light diffuser and is normally found in the lighting section of hardware stores. It looks like this:
To make the false bottom I start off by cutting out the main platform. I have found that a pair of hedge clippers work best for cutting the egg crate. Once I have a piece cut out I use sandpaper to cleanup the edges. Now a false bottom wouldn’t be much of a false bottom if you just put the egg crate on the bottom of the tank, it needs to be supported by something a few inches off the bottom. Some people use more egg crate and create in essence a box out of the egg crate using zip ties to hold it together. I think it is easier to get some pvc pipe and cut supports. This is the path I have taken. If you do decide to go with pvc supports make sure to drill holes or notch the bottom so that water doesn’t get stagnant inside of them. This could lead to mold and bacteria growth. Below if a photo of my cut and drilled supports:
If you are planning a water feature you will also need to cut a hole in the false bottom to allow for the tubes running to and from the pump. The photo below is the false bottom in the tank with the access pipe in place. You can also see the basic skeleton of the waterfall I will be detailing in another post.
The last component to a false bottom is the barrier between the substrate and the egg crate. I am using nylon window screen as that barrier. To ensure that nothing slips through I am using two layers of the screen help in place with zip ties. To put the zip ties in I cut two small slits in the screen and feed the zip tie through the holes. Then I cut small squares of screen to cover the holes and siliconed them in place. I will add a photo of the screen soon.
Interesting pieces of wood are an important part of any vivarium. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere that has a lot of good hard woods then getting wood might be as easy as taking a walk through the woods. Otherwise I have found a couple great places to purchase wood online:
Sometimes you can find a good piece at a Petco or Petsmart but you will likely pay an arm and a leg. If you have any independent pet stores near you they are a great place to start your hunt. For my viv I am using three different types of hardwood. These are dense woods that do well in a moist environment and are resistant to molding and rotting. I am using
- Malaysian Driftwood
- Cork Bark
I purchased a few bigger pieces and also some tiny chunks just to add as accents to parts of the background. The photo below shows all the wood I will be using in this tank (if I can fit it all). The two big pieces on the left are the Malaysian driftwood, the pieces on top is mopani and the two pieces to the right are the cork bark. The small pieces are a mix of mopani and Malaysian driftwood.
Once you have found your wood whether it be from the woods or a store you should sterilize the wood to ensure you don’t introduce any foreign contaminants into your tank. Even if you don’t see any bugs on the wood they may be deep within or have laid eggs that will hatch and destroy your tank so don’t skip this step. The first step is to soak the wood in buckets of water for several days. This not only ensures that the wood won’t catch fire during the next step of sterilization but also helps remove the tannin that will turn any water in your tank brown. I suggest changing the water the wood is soaking in twice a day for a week or so until the water you pour out is almost clear. Once you are satisfied with the color of the water it is time to bake the wood. There are all kinds of numbers floating around the web for temperature and duration so its hard to know what is enough. For my wood I baked it at 270 f for 2 hours 15 minutes. Make sure you keep a close eye on the wood so you don’t burn down your place. The wood should be completely dry by the time you are done baking and hopefully nice and sterile.
Some people recommend soaking the wood in bleach but I don’t think this is a good idea. Firstly the bleach would never get to the center of the wood and secondly getting the bleach out of the wood would be a very long if not impossible process. I may be wrong but I think a nice long bake should be enough make your wood safe.
After seeing some really cool looking fake vines on the interwebs I decided to take a crack at it. I purchased some basic woven rope from the local home depot and then pulled it apart into its individual strands. Then I grouped several together to form the central vine and surrounded this group by several smaller strands. I used hot glue to tack the smaller strands in place. I covered the rope in black silicon about 5 inches at a time. The best method I found to doing this was just to put some silicon in my hand (glove covered) and work it onto all sides of the rope. Once the rope was covered I dipped it into a box full of eco-earth and sphagnum moss and pushed the mixture into the silicon. Then I moved on to the next 6 inches. I think it turned out pretty well, a few places I will have to go back and touch up. My biggest worry is the durability of the vines hopefully they will hold up in a humid environment.
Following the instructions on the NEHerp website http://www.neherpetoculture.com/custombackgrounds.htm I started my background by applying a thin layer of black silicon to the areas of the tank I would be building the background on. I used a putty knife to spread it but still found that spreading silicon is quite tricky and in the end I have several areas that I will have to touch up because I applied it to thin. For my tank (18x18x24) it took two 10 oz tubes of silicon. The silicon gives the tank a consistent look from the back and also provides more grip for the great stuff that will be added later. If you are doing a false bottom like I am make sure to leave some space down low that doesn’t have silicon. I used some painters tape to mark off where I wanted to stop the silicon layer. Make sure to do this in a well ventilated area because the wet silicon smells horrible and puts of some bad fumes. Also wear gloves and cover your working surface because it makes a mess.
One of the most complicated issues I have come across yet is what silicon is safe for vivariums. There is a huge debate over this question and lots of different opinions out there which makes it very difficult for a newbie to know what to do. The main concern is over the addition of anti-mold / fungal chemicals that exist in the majority of silicons sold today. If you only need a small amount then I would recommend going to a pet store that sells aquarium safe silicon and purchasing that. If however, you are like me and plan on using it for your background you are going to need a lot more than the small tubes usually found at pet stores. Of the bazillion threads I read about silicon it seems that almost everyone agrees that GE 1 for windows and doors is safe. It is important to note the 1 because GE also sells a silicon 2 which most people believe contains the anti-mold chemicals. As far as I was able to find out it is still not completely known how the chemicals found in GE 2 affect the frogs but there is some evidence that it inhibits the frogs from breeding properly. To be safe I suggest going with GE 1.
Unfortunately no home depot or lowes or still sold GE 1 in black only in clear and I needed black. I purchased two tubes online but quickly ran out and didn’t want to order more. After asking around it appears that DAP 100% silicon for windows and doors is also safe and that I found readily available at home depot.
The short story: After much reading I think that the safest bet when it comes to silicon is either GE 1 for windows and doors or DAP 100% silicon for windows and doors.
I have purchased an exo terra 18x18x24 inch tank for my first vivarium as seen below:
I plan on creating a background using GreatStuff foam, black silicon, and eco earth. I also plan on having a waterfall coming down the right side of the tank. For the waterfall I will carve the greatstuff and seal it using a product called drylok. My idea for the waterfall is to have several small pools that the water falls from. This tank will be housing dart frogs so it is important that there isn’t any deep pools that the frogs could drown in (they are not the best swimmers).