Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tree Frog Vivariums 101 - part 2


(PART 2)

So the next few steps are a bit more fun if you are a right-brained individual (although I have read that some studies show this concept is untrue and that both hemispheres of the brain are active in both analytical and creative thought... regardless...).

STEP 4 - Prepare surfaces for the foam vines and 'bark' texture

The logic behind this must be explained I suppose.  The goal is to cover everything in a layer of 'bark' like texture.  This requires first a layer of wet silicone BUT I cannot apply silicone to an open metal mesh grid such as exists in the tree trunk frame... so I thought, paper mache!  It worked like a charm.

a.  Mix up some paper mache gloop, cut some strips of news paper and have at it.  If you have never done paper mache, there are a lot of different recipes.  The one I used was basically a cup and a half of water, a cup of flour and a tablespoon of salt (to inhibit mold growth).  Mix well, thoroughly wet the paper strips and start applying to the frame... then wait 24 hours for it to completely dry.

b.  You will notice two additional steps I took before snapping the above and below pictures.  First I applied a layer of clear 100% silicone to the back three walls of the aquarium using a putty knife.  This gives the expanding foam something to stick to (it doesn't stick to glass as well without the silicone.)  ***MAKE SURE you apply the silicone in a well ventilated area... the stuff has some serious kick to it.

c.  Next I cut some nylon window/door screen to match and slightly overlap the hexagonal floor.  The screen will keep the substrate (soil layer) from falling through the large plastic grid of the floor.  I actually made two layers and rotated one layer so the small grid of the screen would not be in alignment with itself (this makes the screen 'holes' even smaller so only fine dust will actually fall through to the drainage layer).  To secure the screen in place, run a small bead of silicone around the false floor's perimeter where the screen overlaps up around the edge, then press the screen into the silicone and let dry.  I used putty knives and some books to hold the screen tightly against the silicone'd wall while it dried. 

STEP 5 - Time to grow some jungle vines!

The next step involves a little artistic ability... not much but a little helps.  The idea is to create vine-like structures both on the tree trunks and the back three walls which will be covered with bark texture later on.  The foam I used is called 'Great Stuff' and is available at virtually any hardware store you go to.  Start off with a few test runs on a piece of cardboard if you aren't confident about it... once you get the knack then start working on your 'real' canvas.  I tried to cover ANY exposed plastic grid first and from there started making vine shapes both up the trunk and out and away on the walls.  **JUST BE CAREFUL you don't put too much foam behind the tree structures because you might block the drainage path for those three planters... you want water to be able to drain straight down to your drainage layer.

NOTE - the application of the foam will make the grid insert for the tree a PERMANENT resident so... makes sure it is placed correctly before that first spray of foam.

Notice some of my vines don't all go all the way to the bottom to meet the false floor... I will have 3" of substrate so it all gets covered up anyway.

Let the foam sit for at LEAST 24 hours before moving to the next step.  If you want to be extra cautious wait a couple days.

STEP 6 - Applying the bark layer

a.  The first step is to mix up some texture.  I used 1 part peat moss, 1 part fine coconut husk and 1 part coarse coconut husk (these last two can be found at most any pet store).  Mix all three together thoroughly.

b.  Next you will need some colored 100% silicone.  I used black but after the fact realized that brown would make more sense if you can find it.  That way if the texture starts to fall off at some point, you will still have a wood colored backdrop even without the texture.

c.  Before you start you'll need some latex gloves (probably several pairs since you likely won't get it all done in one go) as well a putty knife or three.  The idea is to coat a layer of the colored silicone on every surface of the back drop as well as the already silicone covered glass... so glass, paper mache and foam vines all get 'painted' with a fresh layer of silicone.

d.  Since the silicone will get less and less tacky as it dries over the course of about 7-10 minutes, you really have very little time to work so I recommend doing a section at a time.  Use the putty knife where ever you can but just use your fingers to get the silicone into all the cracks and crannies until an entire area is well coated.  THEN take the gloves off, grab a handful of the bark texture you mixed up earlier and start throwing it onto the silicone in a thick layer.  Carefully pat it down to make sure all the silicone gets covered with texture.  Give that a few hours to dry and then tilt the tank over to let the loose debris fall off and out (I used a plastic trash bag as a ground cloth to catch all the unused texture and put it back with the rest I had mixed up.)

e. Repeat this process until you have the whole thing covered.  I also had to go back a few times to touch up areas I later found I had missed OR the silicone had dried enough to not hold enough texture well.  Here is the final result:

Overall it is a pretty cool effect I think.  I read about it so I can't claim credit for the idea.  As I mentioned, the bottom section that looks a little sloppy doesn't matter because it all got covered by a layer of substrate.

STEP 7 - Adding the substrate and plants

Now for the most rewarding part... finishing it off with live plants.  I would recommend doing a bit of research here and then picking plants according to both your preference and also what works well for an amphibian vivarium.  There are tons of forums and websites with info on what plants are good choices for what type of animal enclosure.  I bought most of my plants online and again there are a TON of places to buy from at reasonable prices.

I got the substrate from here -

Basically from here you just place about 3" of substrate into the vivarium and begin planting.  I did a sort of sketch of where I wanted to put what before I got started.  After I got everything planted, I used pillow moss to fill in the rest of the surface area of the substrate floor.  The moss will spread out a bit so it doesn't have to cover 100%.

After that I installed a mister (The Exo-Terra Monsoon) which comes with a couple nozzles that are placed with suction cups near the top of the tank.  The two nozzles don't quite get the entire tank effectively misted so I am going to buy a third.  Anyway that is about it... below is the finished product.  After the plants get rooted in and seem healthy we will be adding a frog or two.

STEP 8 - Happy residents...

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tree Frog Vivariums 101 - part1


(PART 1)

So it's been far too long since my last post.  New job kept me distracted.  Anyway, my daughter and I have been working together on a vivarium as the future home to one or more red eyed tree frogs.  We finally completed it and now are just waiting a few weeks for the plants to settle in before we add the critters.  I thought I would go ahead and photo document the process in case anyone has any interest in doing this themselves.  I found some fairly scattered info online but no start to finish 'how-to' examples.  That is what I will attempt here:

STEP 1 - Picking an aquarium

In our case we already knew we wanted tree frogs and although my first attempt was in a standard rectangular 10 gallon tank, I've read several places that tree frogs do better in vertical tanks rather than horizontal ones AND you need 10 gallons of 'space' per animal.  We don't know how many we will eventually have but we found this 40 gallon hexagonal tank that I thought would work well.

This is the finished product:

I also commissioned my father-in-law to build a tank 'stand' I designed using Google Sketch-up.

STEP 2 - Build a false floor for drainage

Many terrariums and vivariums use some sort of drainage base with rocks, clay pebbles or even marbles without an actual drain hole in the floor.  This is fine unless you want to maintain a relatively high humidity level which requires fairly constant misting.  That means you are using a lot of water and eventually you are going to saturate your drainage layer and end up with a mini swamp.  To avoid this you can create a false floor and use an actual drain.  Since this was a hexagonal tank, cutting the floor was more difficult but with the help of my trusty Dremel tool it wasn't that bad.

a.  Basically I made some measurements and looked up the exact angles of a hexagon (120 degrees) and made a paper template to match the floor of the tank.  I then traced that template onto a ceiling light diffuser panel and cut it out with the Dremel tool (be prepared to get melted plastic all over your cutting wheel... had to constantly clean it off).

b.  Next I created some 'pylons' out of PVC pipe and notched the bottom of each pylon (so they wouldn't get filled with drain water) and then attached them to the false floor using epoxy (took me a few tries to find a good adhesive to attach PVC to plastic... super glue super failed!).

**Notice I had to cut the floor into two sections to make it easier to install.

c.  Cutting the hole for the drain required a diamond hole saw and then I installed a plastic bulkhead with a bead of silicon to seal it.  Just make sure you cut the hole in accordance to what the bulkhead size requires.  You can attach a drain hose to the bottom of the bulkhead and run it to a bucket under the tank.  Here is a great youtube showing how to cut that hole without breaking the glass --

**After the bulkhead was installed and I was ready to permanently install the entire false floor, I put the floor in place and, from the bottom of the tank, marked where each pylon stood with a sharpie.  Then I put some dabs of silicon on the inside of the glass bottom where I had marked to semi-securely attach the pylons to hold the floor in place.



I also cut a hole in the raised floor above the drain so I could reach in if necessary to clear out anything from the 'basement' after the frogs are in their new home.  You will see later that I have space inside the 'tree trunk' backdrop which allows me to reach in from the top and access the drainage layer.

STEP 3 - Design and build a backdrop for the vivarium

I saw a really cool example of a vivarium backdrop using 'jungle vines' made from Great Stuff expanding foam, silicone and a mixture of peat moss and coconut husk.  My idea was to form a wire frame for a tree trunk going up to the top of the tank with a couple smaller tree trunks as planters and then have these 'vines' growing on the trunk and on the walls.  *Three of the sides of the hexagonal vivarium would be completely covered by the backdrop and three sides would be clear for viewing.

a.  I started by created a base using the remainder of the plastic light diffuser panel.  This would hold the tree trunk and the two planters.  This was simply made by cutting the pieces using the Dremel tool and then super gluing the pieces together (super glue worked this time since it was just plastic to plastic).

I attached the pieces together WHILE inside the tank to make sure my wall angles were accurate (but being very careful to NOT superglue the base to my tank).  After it set and was somewhat sturdy, I removed it and then added the wire 'tree trunks' using a roll of metal mesh from the hardware store.  I bent it into the basic shapes and used small gauge wire to tie the frame onto the base.

The three planters I installed are actually regular cardboard planters painted inside and out with black 100% silicone.  I suppose you could buy plastic planters but I happened to have these already and had the silicone ready for the jungle vine project a bit later.  Make sure you have at least one pencil sized hole at the bottom of each planter for drainage.
*You might notice that the top of the tree trunk is slightly uneven and doesn't reach the top... I later created a lid of sorts to cover the top and also give me access to inside the backdrop for future maintenance if needed.

Well this ends PART 1... I will post PART 2 soon and show the rest of the process.  It involved paper mache, lots of silicone and foam and eventually live plants!