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Thread: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

  1. #1
    100+ Post Member MikeM670's Avatar
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    Default 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    This is the second vivarium that I have constructed and will be dedicated to a group of dart frogs. This time I decided to tackle an old 55 gallon aquarium that had been sitting under the basement stairs for over 20 years. I pulled it out and added water to a depth of four to five inches. It held water but the silicone was in poor shape. So I placed an order with the good Dr’s Smith & Foster for some aquarium silicone to repair the tank. Meanwhile I proceeded to remove all the silicone with a razor blade. The silicone was surprisingly easy to remove due its poor condition. Once the silicone was removed I repeatedly cleaned the glass to remove all the remaining residue. A day or so later the silicone arrived and I was ready to reseal the tank. Cleaning the glass a few more times I applied the silicone and set the tank aside so it would cure for a few days.

    Since I was building the vivarium in the basement of my home and not at the location it would be displayed I needed to keep the weight down. I settled on using a false bottom as a way of reducing the weight of the tank. I already had some florescent light fixture diffuser or egg crate on hand so off I went to construct the false bottom. The false bottom was constructed in two sections so it would fit into the tank. The bottom was cut smaller then the tank to allow sides to be added. I raised the false bottom up about three and one half inches from the bottom using some pvc couplers purchased at Home Depot.







    I did not cut any slots into the couplers for drainage and realized to late that I would need some. What I did was fill the couplers with foam to water could not accumulate inside them and become stagnant. I added a cutout for a water feature and lined the sides and front of the false bottom with more egg crate. The left rear corner of the false bottom was removed to allow the water pump to reach the water reservoir. I then boxed in this location with more egg crate to allow access to the pump if needed. Once I was satisfied that all the egg crate was properly in place I covered each section independently with plastic window screen and secured it in place with hot glue. In future builds I think landscaping fabric would be a better choice as it will keep finer particles from falling through.

    I was undecided on what type of water feature to make. A stream that runs down into a small pond or a waterfall/drip wall. After playing with several options including building a drip wall out of slate I settled on the waterfall type feature. The slate wall was made from floor tile that I had broken up and silicone together to make the wall. Two things I did not like we’re that it was extremely heavy and the edges of the broken pieces were sharp.



    The slate option was out and I decided to go with a Foam wall covered with a mortar mi. Using pink construction foam I cut it into pieces and glued them together with hot glue. I formed different layers and made an alcove near the bottom so the water could pool there before falling into the pond. In the top middle portion of the wall I set the foam so it formed a hidden reservoir. I cut small slits into the rock face where I wanted the water to flow out of and down the face of the foam. I then finished up the wall by cutting a hole in the top of the reservoir where the supply pipe would go into.











    To seal the foam I used a mixture of mortar mix and acrylic binder. The first layer was applied thin so it would seep into the cracks and form a surface for the next thicker layer to adhere too. The next layer I added some acrylic paint to give the mortar mix a slightly brown color to reduce the overall grey color. The final layer was applied a bit thinner. All three layers were applied using a brush and each layer was brushed in a horizontal layer to give the appearance of layered stone. Using acrylic patio paints which I thinned to various degrees depending on what I was doing colored the rockwork. Where the water would be flowing I added two different greens to indicated some algae or moss growth.





    Once the rockwork was dry, a heavy bead of silicone was applied around the hidden water reservoir and the rock structure was pressed into the rear glass wall to seal the chamber from leakage.



    I then added some foam around the water feature to build up a edge and to allow a climbing surface if needed. This too was covered with the mortar mix and colored.

    The water pump was purchased from Josh Frogs and I plumbed it with several different vinyl and plastic parts. To attach the line to the pump I cut a short length of clear flexible tubing. I inserted one end onto the pump and the other end into a small pvc coupler. I then measured and cut a piece of pex tubing for the riser. I added a right angle connector to this. I added a length of pex tubing from the riser to over the hidden reservoir. I finally added a second right angle coupler with a short piece of tubing inserted into the reservoir.

    To foam or not to foam! I really wanted to try the kitty litter method for the background. I went so far as to purchase some and place it into a 5 gallon plastic pail and mix it with water. After twenty-four hours I mixed it up some more but decided it did not look right. I’ve never seen what it really should look and feel like so was hesitant to try it. Also the weight of that much kitty litter would be prohibitive for an easy move. So I was left with the option of foam and settled on using the Great Stuff, Pond and Stone Foam which comes in the color black and is safe for fish and plants. I liked the idea of it being safe and the fact the foam was black, but the downside of this was each can cost twice as much as a standard Great Stuff. In the future I may only apply the Pond and Stone Foam where it would be seen and use the regular foam for hidden areas.

    I sprayed the foam where the water pump cage was and when it dried it was secured to the glass. I also cut a slit into the screen where each of the pvc couplers used to raise up the false bottom was and sprayed the foam into them. That should take care of the stagnant water issue.



    I laid the tank on its back side and began building the background with the foam. I first added a section of cork to the corner box that hides the water pump. I made this section by cutting a hollow cork log in half that was purchased at Petco or Petsmart, I don’t remember which.



    Foaming around the water supply pipe running along the back secured it to the glass. Using two different size peat pots for starting seedlings where I wanted to add plants.



    Once the back was completed I did part of each side. One turned out really well but the other one I went too fast on and the foam pulled away from the glass and built up making that end too thick. I should have cut it down right then and there but I just turned the tank on its end and added more foam to fill in the side. You can see that this really did not turn out well but I did not cut it back as I was out of pond foam and did not really want to go looking for more. Besides I think I already purchased all the cans in a 15 mile radius from my home. Once the foam had dried I cut back some of the foam to shape a few areas. I noticed that a couple of the peat pots were rather low in the background but decided if I could not plant something in them they would make some great hiding spaces.









    To cover the black foam I decided to try using Gorilla Glue as the bonding medium. The whole project took about 2 large bottles. I applied the glue and spread it with disposable foam brushes which you can pick up at any Michael’s or Hobby Lobby Store. Once the glue has set for a few minutes I misted it lightly with water and applied organic peat moss. Gorilla Glue likes a bit of moister to achieve a nice bond. I patted the peat moss in with a gloved hand. You don’t want to get Gorilla Glue on your hands. I worked small areas at a time and jumped around the background to give each area a chance to set before going back to an adjacent area. Some places the glue had been applied a bit too thick and as the glue cured it expanded and pushed through the peat moss. I just added more peat and patted the area down again with a gloved hand. When all areas had been covered I brushed off the remaining peat moss and touched up the areas missing the peat moss.







    To hide the false bottom, aquarium gravel was laid between the glass and the vertical portion of the false bottom.

    Now it was time to work on the substrate. First I laid down a layer of coco peat and followed this up with the ABG soilless mixture purchased from Josh Frogs.





    It was Time for plants and a road trip with the wife was in order to the local Lowes and Stein Garden store. Once there I promptly purchased more plants then could possibly use in the tank. I kept saying to the better half, they will fit or I might need to swap something out that works better. Even with all the extra plants I still had empty peat pots to fill. I just could not find the right type of plants. Most of the plants did not come with names so I won’t be listing them here.

    Well the state of the glass tops I had from the old aquarium setup left a lot to be desired. Back to the store for some new glass tops and possibly a new T5 Light Fixture. Returning home with only the glass tops I set about ordering the Zoo Med AquaSun T-5 HO Double Light Linear Fluorescent Hood from Petco. It was on sale with free shipping. I selected the Zoo Med T-5 HO Ultra Sun Super Daylight Fluorescent Bulb and the Zoo Med T-5 HO Flora Sun Max Plant Growth Fluorescent Bulb for my lighting.

    Ebay to the rescue for some moss! A few weeks ago I ordered some various moss types to add to the tank and they arrived while the tank was being constructed. I added the following types.

    • Feather Moss – Moist to wet conditions with standard florescent lighting
    • Stair Step Moss – Moist but well drained with standard florescent lighting
    • Sheet Moss ( Variety the seller calls Sheg Carpet) – Moist with good drainage and standard florescent lighting.
    • White Cushion Moss – Moist but well drained and standard florescent lighting
    • Unknown type that grows well where there is water runoff – Moist with standard florescent lighting.
    With the plants and moss in I added a few oak leaves and seeded the tank with tropical springtails which were purchased from Josh Frogs. I still need to find some suitable plants for the background holes but the setup is essentially finished for now. I have a temporary light setup that casts poor lighting for photography. I will post new pictures of the completed vivarium with the new light setup.

    1.2.0 Dendrobates tinctorius 'Azureus'
    1.1.0 Dendrobates Lamasi 'Orange'
    1.1.0 Dendrobates Ventrimaculatus 'Understory Line'
    0.3.0 Dendrobates leucomelas

    --------------------------------------------------
    As always your mileage may vary!
    I may or may not know what I'm talking about!

  2. 4 members thank MikeM670 for this post:


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  4. #2
    Moderator DonLisk's Avatar
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    Mike.... just amazing. Can't wait to see it running some water and the plants grown it. This is one awesome build. Make me want to drive to Home Depot for some waterfall foam and silicone ;-)

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  6. #3
    100+ Post Member MikeM670's Avatar
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    T'hanks Don for your kind comments. I hope to be able to post much better pictures of the completed vivarium when the new light comes.

    I will keep looking for the right types of plants to finish out the rear and side walls. I hope the moss takes off as I think it would look awesome with a nice mossy carpet. I see Josh Frogs has large sheets of it for sale and I'm tempted to get some.

    Now I just have to be patient before selecting the type of frogs I want. I am looking at a group of four Dendrobates azureus. With the way the weather has been I really am hesitant about mail order purchases. Not that there are any close vendors that I am aware of for my area.
    1.2.0 Dendrobates tinctorius 'Azureus'
    1.1.0 Dendrobates Lamasi 'Orange'
    1.1.0 Dendrobates Ventrimaculatus 'Understory Line'
    0.3.0 Dendrobates leucomelas

    --------------------------------------------------
    As always your mileage may vary!
    I may or may not know what I'm talking about!

  7. #4
    Moderator DonLisk's Avatar
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    Give it some time to left the springtails do their job and get the substrate going. As for lights, I did one 24inch 6500K florescent and thinking I need two at least. Gonna plan on adding another this coming week.

    I saw the moss on Josh's website and it looks like nice stuff.
    I'll try to call Black Jungle tomorrow and see what they know on adding additional nozzles to the Monsoon and I'll let you know what I find out. I miss some areas in my 20Long with just two nozzles.

  8. #5
    100+ Post Member MikeM670's Avatar
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    I have uploaded some new images of the completed vivarium with the new lighting package. Here is a overall shot of the tank.

    1.2.0 Dendrobates tinctorius 'Azureus'
    1.1.0 Dendrobates Lamasi 'Orange'
    1.1.0 Dendrobates Ventrimaculatus 'Understory Line'
    0.3.0 Dendrobates leucomelas

    --------------------------------------------------
    As always your mileage may vary!
    I may or may not know what I'm talking about!

  9. #6
    Moderator DonLisk's Avatar
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    Gotta love good lighting on a beautiful viv :-)

    Really nice Mike.

  10. #7
    Leefrogs
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    very good!!

  11. #8
    Founder John's Avatar
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    Having built a few terrariums I can honestly say that I envy your skills, energy, and artistry. Well done.
    Founder of Frogforum.net (2008) and Caudata.org (2001)

  12. #9
    clownonfire
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    Mike, once again, I'm in awe of the amount of work you put behind your viv, and the result. Kudos my friend.

  13. #10
    100+ Post Member MikeM670's Avatar
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    John and Eric,

    Thank you very much for your compliments. I can honestly say I enjoyed working on the vivarium and look forward to the next one. As I mentioned to Don the worst part is waiting out the settling in period.

    I have decided a group of four Dendrobates azureus would look nicely in the tank. Anyone please feel free to comment on my choice and if you feel this is too many. I'm just waiting for the weather to settle down a bit before ordering.
    1.2.0 Dendrobates tinctorius 'Azureus'
    1.1.0 Dendrobates Lamasi 'Orange'
    1.1.0 Dendrobates Ventrimaculatus 'Understory Line'
    0.3.0 Dendrobates leucomelas

    --------------------------------------------------
    As always your mileage may vary!
    I may or may not know what I'm talking about!

  14. #11
    clownonfire
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    I will be housing 2 azureus in my 25 gallons. When I contacted Understory Enterprises, they said you could easily house 4 of these in a 40 gallons.

    John is not a big fan of azureus. I think they are just gorgeous.

  15. #12
    100+ Post Member MikeM670's Avatar
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    I think they look great too. Also all the literature I have read states they make good beginner darts. So that is what I will start of with.
    1.2.0 Dendrobates tinctorius 'Azureus'
    1.1.0 Dendrobates Lamasi 'Orange'
    1.1.0 Dendrobates Ventrimaculatus 'Understory Line'
    0.3.0 Dendrobates leucomelas

    --------------------------------------------------
    As always your mileage may vary!
    I may or may not know what I'm talking about!

  16. #13
    100+ Post Member MikeM670's Avatar
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    I have uploaded a video to youtube of the 55 Gallon Vivarium. This is the very first video I have ever uploaded so be kind. I took the video with my wifes minoHD Flip Video Camera and used PowerDirector to edit the video.

    Hope you enjoy it!


    YouTube - 55 Gallon Vivarium
    1.2.0 Dendrobates tinctorius 'Azureus'
    1.1.0 Dendrobates Lamasi 'Orange'
    1.1.0 Dendrobates Ventrimaculatus 'Understory Line'
    0.3.0 Dendrobates leucomelas

    --------------------------------------------------
    As always your mileage may vary!
    I may or may not know what I'm talking about!

  17. #14
    llmoe
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    All I can say is "AWESOME" The time and planning is awesome.. GREAT looking!!!

  18. #15
    clownonfire
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    Frog valley productions! Love it!! Good job man!

  19. #16
    100+ Post Member MikeM670's Avatar
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    I have received the moss I ordered from Josh Frogs and put some into the vivarium. Here are some quick shots of the moss I put down.



    This is Mood Moss or Frog Moss.



    This is Sheet Moss.

    All the moss arrived in gallon baggies and once put in and watered seem to perk right up, I have a ton more for my next ongoing build.
    1.2.0 Dendrobates tinctorius 'Azureus'
    1.1.0 Dendrobates Lamasi 'Orange'
    1.1.0 Dendrobates Ventrimaculatus 'Understory Line'
    0.3.0 Dendrobates leucomelas

    --------------------------------------------------
    As always your mileage may vary!
    I may or may not know what I'm talking about!

  20. #17
    Member LauraCox's Avatar
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    Michael (and co.)

    Your tank is inspiring! Absolutely beautiful and as I enter into my own dart frog adventures and begin to build my first tank I have a quick question:

    Did the peat-pots in the foam inhibit root growth of the plant? I notice some people use the hydoponic mesh or plastic-net pots too, does anyone or yourself have experience with one or the other?

    Thanks so much!
    Laura

  21. #18
    100+ Post Member MikeM670's Avatar
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    Quote Originally Posted by LauraCox View Post
    Michael (and co.)

    Your tank is inspiring! Absolutely beautiful and as I enter into my own dart frog adventures and begin to build my first tank I have a quick question:

    Did the peat-pots in the foam inhibit root growth of the plant? I notice some people use the hydoponic mesh or plastic-net pots too, does anyone or yourself have experience with one or the other?

    Thanks so much!
    Laura
    Thanks Laura for you kind comments on my build. The peat pots won't inhibit the root growth as eventually the pots would deteriorate enough to allow roots to pass through. In this case since the pots were embedded in the Great Foam the roots won't pass through the pots and into the foam as it becomes a barrier. I have seen roots develop and grown outside the pots and onto/into the shallow peat covering the foam.

    I wish the plants looked as good now as before but some have gotten out of hand, some really didn't take but the frogs are thriving so I'm leaving pretty much alone. A few weeks ago I did a major trim job and things looked a bit better. I really wish I had added more creeping fig varieties as I like the smaller leaves and they don't tend to overpower all the other plants.

    These days I'm building tanks with either all clay, (Smaller ones) or a combination of foam covered with silicone and peat and clay packed in to the open areas. Mainly I just foam enough to cover and hole the peat pots in place and any areas I want to add support for the clay. I like the fact the clay readily starts growing moss and stuff.

    Good luck with your build and post lots of pictures and don't hesitate to ask questions!!
    1.2.0 Dendrobates tinctorius 'Azureus'
    1.1.0 Dendrobates Lamasi 'Orange'
    1.1.0 Dendrobates Ventrimaculatus 'Understory Line'
    0.3.0 Dendrobates leucomelas

    --------------------------------------------------
    As always your mileage may vary!
    I may or may not know what I'm talking about!

  22. #19
    BufoTheMiniToad
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    I do this all the time with my crabs! I love making custom backgrounds from my 55. I'm going to make one for my little toad's 20 gallon.

  23. #20
    Eric and Stitch
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    Default Re: 55 Gallon Vivarium Build

    So I'm a new member and didnt look around a whole lot before posting my own 55 Gallon idea
    http://www.frogforum.net/vivarium-te...tml#post146871

    I have a couple questions since you have tackled something this size already. how do you control temperature or just rely on room temperature? And with mine being stood on end with a very tall back ground, do I need to worry about great stuff pealing off and falling forward against the front glass, if so, how do I prevent it? strategic bracing 'branches' or silicone the back wall first? I like the idea of clay since it is rootable but fear it would be too heavy for this size project.

    This looks awesome and gave me a lot of answers to my my build questions.

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