Vivarium Construction 101

  • Add 1.5-3 inches (dart frogs 2-3 inches, crested geckos 1.5-2 inches) of HydroBalls (expanded clay pebbles) as a drainage layer in your enclosure. You can also use PVC, cut to fit or pre-cut to 1 - 2 inches, lava rock, or recycled glass (GrowStone). The function of a drainage layer is to hold any excess water that flows through the layers of your vivarium. It also keeps the substrate layer from becoming saturated, helps to sustain a healthy microfauna population, and keeps humidity stable within the enclosure by allowing moisture to accumulate and disperse through the bottom layers. A drainage layer helps ensure that a moist or wet enclosure stays properly drained, balanced, and healthy.

  • Layer your screen mesh over the drainage layer and below the substrate layer. We recommend using non-toxic vinyl window screen A substrate barrier is necessary to allow for air, water and microfauna movement, but prevents your substrate layer from mixing with the drainage layer. (Note: refrain from using cheap metal screening as this can rust and may have a negative impact on your vivarium).

  • Pour in your pre-moistened FloraBoost Vivarium Substrate or FaunaReady Bioactive Mix to achieve a depth of around 1.5 - 2 inches. Our vivarium substrates are formulated to sustain and promote plant growth and healthy microfauna populations. Our substrates are also 100% inorganic fertilizer free, pesticide free, and optimized for drainage. Our substrates also will take a very, very long time to break down, to ensure your vivarium’s long-term success.

  • Complete your vivarium with a nice layer of leaf litter! Leaf litter offers a realistic and natural ground cover that provides smaller inhabitants hiding spots within the enclosure. Over time, the leaf litter will begin to break down in a vivarium, which will provide small amounts of nutrients to the plants, as well as food for the beneficial microfauna. New leaf litter will need to be added on occasion. There is no set time for how long the leaf litter will last. The time varies and is generally determined by the type of leaf, humidity in the enclosure, microfauna population, and the type of flora and fauna. We recommend using both a hard cuticle and soft cuticle leaf in your vivarium. Soft cuticle leaves break down quicker and gives your vivarium a jump start; providing food for the microfauna and nutrients to the plants. These leaves are most oaks, beech, Indian almond, and maple. Hard cuticle leaves break down much slower to help keep your vivarium up and running, providing active laying sites, and reducing stress of your inhabitants by protecting them from being irritated by the substrate layer and providing shelter. As tempting as it may be to save money and use the leaves you find in your backyard, the potential for contamination with plant pests as well as various bacterial & fungal pathogens greatly outweighs the savings. All of our leaves are sorted for purity and cleaned to ensure they are safe for your vivarium.

  • Adding plants (flora) is a very important step to a proper vivarium. Live plants recycle waste and nutrients and promote healthy oxygen levels for organisms to thrive. Additionally, many dart frogs will lay eggs on thick leaves. Your inhabitants will feel more secure when large amounts of foliage are used, so plant away! FrogDaddy has an incredible selection of plants and easily purchased and optimized plant packages.

  • Adding natural decor such as seed pods and coconut huts / hides helps keep your inhabitants feeling secure and your enclosure looking amazing. We have a variety available. A natural hardscape (wood products and backgrounds) also increase your vivarium’s usable surface area and overall aesthetic. Contact us at sales@frogdaddy.netto learn more.

  • Plant disclaimer: Although we do not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides in house, we always strongly suggest that the end user process all flora before introducing it to a vivarium. This is an important step that should not be skipped; regardless of where the plants are from. For example, if a grower uses no pesticides in house (like us), the chance of experiencing common plant pests inevitably increases. If a grower uses chemical pesticides & fertilizers in house, the chances of introducing a potentially dangerous chemical or fertilizer increases. Either way, plants should always be processed to be safe.

  • A partial glass top is important to maintain a tropical environment in your vivarium. To achieve 70-90 percent humidity on a regular basis, you'll need a partial to full glass lid that's cut to fit the top screen portion of your terrarium. The percentage of screen you cover or replace with glass depends on the ideal relative humidity level required for your inhabitant. Generally speaking, we cover about 75-80% of the top for species requiring 60-75% humidity, and 90-95%+ of the top for species requiring 75%+ humidity. Many hardware stores sell & cut glass for cheap. Ventilation is mostly important for higher temperature environments as frogs and other organisms thermoregulate.

  • Selecting the appropriate microfauna for your vivarium is important step and should not be skipped. Microfauna or cleanup crew (CUC), helps ensure the vivarium performs at the highest capacity. Microfauna help to break down decaying flora (springtails and isopods), eat fungus & mold (springtails), and vivarium inhabitant's waste (isopods). For many vivarium herp species, the right microfauna can greatly reduce cleanup for the owner. We always recommend spot cleaning your vivarium if you are housing a larger animal like a crested gecko (you will want to clean urates as well). We do suggest using captive bred microfauna only, as wild caught microfauna can carry countless pathogens directly into your vivarium. All of our microfauna are captive bred to ensure your success.

  • Springtails are a common hexapod used in vivariums to reduce mold population. Isopods tend to aerate the substrate as well as clan up larger waste in your vivarium. Both of these will be beneficial, supplemental feeders to dart frogs.

Tips and tricks:

  • House one species of animal per enclosure. Also, if considering dart frogs, only one morph / locality of the species per tank: i.e. D. tinctorius “Azureus” is NOT tobe cohabited with D. tinctorius “Cobalt” even though they are the same species.

  •  If you are housing an insectivore who is at risk for impaction when diving for food, consider offering insect prey items in a deli cup placed in the vivarium temporarily. This helps keep food in one place, prevents insect damage to plants, and also minimizes risks of impaction.

  •  Reverse osmosis water is an excellent choice for misting, since it won't leave water spots on the glass and is generally better for your Animals and plants, including bryophyes and lycophyes (mosses, etc) as they do not have vascular tissue and uptake any hard chemical nutrients.

  •  A little mold after the vivarium is first set up and cycling is completely normal, and so long as proper vivarium building techniques are used, this is usually not a problem. It will go away on its own in time, and until then it will act as a food source for springtails.