Splitface Vivarium

This is a vivarium built for poison dart frogs in the dendrobates genus in a 18x18x24h exoterra enclosure

The materials:

Exoterra 18x18x24 Enclosure
Exoterra 2 light hood
8 - split face slate backsplash tile from Lowes
3 - 12x12 inch slate tile.
1 - 1"x4"x6' board of mahogany from menards.
0.5 cubic feet cliff stone from a landscape place that goes with the theme better that common drainage materials.
1 - Egg crate louver
3 inch PVC pipe
GE silicone 1 clear
West systems epoxy
    105 epoxy resin
    206 slow hardener
    406 silica filler
ABG Mix 2 gallons
Dried leaves (mostly oak and maple)
Platanus occidentalis (Sycamore) bark (naturally shed)
Ciccus amazonica
Anoectochillus chapaensis - Need variety
Impatiens hawkeri - Need variety
Philodendron - Need species
Peperomia prostrata - Unsure on species
Pellionia pulchra
Begonia serratipetala
Syngonium podophyllum - Need variety

The top:

I took the screen top that came with it and wanted to cover it with glass and have a vent. I looked at a lot of options and bought a ton of stuff not knowing which one would work well that ranged from building a complete top from scratch to trying to work in the existing top. Ultimately I ended up returning most of the stuff. I pulled the rubber screen retainer out of the whole top, it was glued in which was a pain. Then I pulled out the screen from both halves. I used a thin blade from a hack saw to cut the center support carefully out at both ends.

Then I pushed it forward so it left about an inch or so for the screen vent and measured the remaining area inside the groove. From there I took a piece of privacy glass I purchased at home depot (I think) and scored it and broke it. The first break went well, which was a shock given it was probably my first ever time doing it with glass. The second one did not go so well (beginners luck), it split out. I could not get it to break in a way I was comfortable with so I took it and put it on my wet saw and cut it the rest of the way. That actually worked really well so if you have a wet saw you might want to use it.

Then I positioned the glass inside the top frame and used a dremel with a barrel bit to cut 2 slots in the plastic that would allow the screen retainer to pass through.

Then I took some fine screen I purchased at Menards cut it to size and started carefully pushing the retaining rubber I had pulled from before into it to hold it in place.

Once it was all in place I got some GE silicone 1 clear and put some in 8 places, the corners and half way down each side of where the glass would go. Then I put the glass in and put a smaller bead of silicone all the way around. Let it dry overnight.
The good parts of this method are it reuses a lot of the top and saves money. Total bill of materials was just $6 for screen, $13 for glass, and $8 for the glass scoring device (1 time fee) The glass can build another top and the screen will probably last my whole life, so if you do this over multiple tanks its going to be about $7 / tank. Also the exoterra has a couple of features to key the top of the encolusre so it goes on the right way and these would add complications to a new top built from the ground up, using the existing top avoids these problems.
The bad is there is no door on top, and nothing other than the silicone actually holds the glass in. Maybe a bit of it will catch on the ledge of the top of the tank.

The pool:

I cut out some pieces of the split face tile to form into an L shape to form the sides of the pool / water access and retain the drainage stone. I was unable to get them all to hold in place with gravity alone so I had to just epoxy the first 2 layers on one day. I used some scrap pieces of the stone to stabilize the second layer. This adds unneeded weight, but it saves time since those scrap pieces were the exact same size as the bottom layer.

After the epoxy cured I used egg crate louver to support the third layer.

The bowers:

The bowers are built similar to the pool. Except they will be enclosed. They would not balance well so I had to use masking tape to hold them in place while the epoxy dried. One is going against the back wall so it does not need a back.

Each unit is made to accommodate a 10 cm petri dish. They will also have slate roofs that can be removed to check for eggs or anything else.

The background:

I put the enclosure on its back and supported it with some foam. Then I laid out the tile and cut it to size to fill most of the background. Then I selected and cut out some of the half height tiles to be replaced with mahogany. The mahogany was cut to size then split into varied thickness pieces along its length with an axe and hammer. All of it was fixed in place with silicone and allowed to dry.

I also added a couple of small tubes of PVC to support from the bottom, I have no idea how well the silicone will hold up long term to the rock and it is fairly heavy.

The Floor:

I cut out 4 3 inch PVC pipe sections to support egg crate louver and I added some cuts to the bottom of them to allow water to move freely through them. Egg crate louver was cut out which would fill the center of the vivarium and notched to accommodate the PVC supports for the background, this will create the false bottom. Then I made some retaining walls out of egg crate louver, these go vertically all the way to the top of the substrate and fixed them in place with zip ties. I did this so only the drainage stone would be seen on the outside of the vivarium and the egg crate would create a sort of pot in most of the middle of the vivarium. This will make sure no one sees weed block or ABG. I am also hoping I might be able to grow some plants that need drier roots right in the drainage stone. I covered the egg crate with weed block.

This is the stone I will use for drainage. On the outside.

The pool was placed in the vivarium and 3 small 2x2 egg crate louver pieces were placed under it to allow water to drain into and out of the pool easily. Everything was held in place by silicone dabs on the bottom but not the sides of the glass. Then the false bottom was placed in and the outside was filled with drainage stone. A thin layer of drainage stone was placed in the pool. Next ABG mix was filled into the center supported by the false bottom and retaining wall.

Finally some slate pieces were cut to cap off the pool and reduce the amount of dirt that might fall into the pool.

Hard Scape:

I placed a layer of leaves on the bottom trying to cover up much of the ABG. Then I put in some sycamore bark. I placed bowers in with egg deposition sites which are currently mixed petri dishes or shallow small ceramic dishes. Then I put in a bunch of tadpole rearing pots. Both the pots and dishes will be experimental I do not know if they will be utilized but they look much better than the alternatives.

This is a picture of how the privacy glass masks the light housing and anything else that goes above the vivarium.

The Plants

Most of the plants were planted in the ABG mix. The vines (Ciccus amazonica and Pellionia pulchra) were planted in the back to climb the wall. Anoectochillus chapaensis was planted with some sphagnum moss right in the drainage rock near the front. I tried to put some large leaf plants near the front so they would provide cover and hopefully the frogs will not just go hide in the back or stay in the bowers.

The pots holding Peperomia prostrata on the back wall were cut with a wet saw to allow them to drain.

I also added spring water to fill about 2 inches in the bottom. I mist by hand for now with distilled water. I added both tropical and temperate spring tails as well as dwarf white isopods for micro fauna.

The Stand

This stand was built with mostly scrap materials. For this reason it is not particularly interesting to catalog the build since most other people would never want or need to use these same materials. Most of of the blue painted parts are actually horrible materials for a finished peice of furniture, OSB, plywood, rough 2 x 6 treated lumber. The only points of interest are that the stand is much taller than most stands which allows an adult to stand upright and view the vivarium. Every part was scrap materials from my garage except the hinges, adjustable shelf brackets and stained trim wood.

The Hood:

Unlike the stand the hood is actually very interesting, in fact I have never seen a hood built like this ever before. It of course is made with trim that matches the stand. Most hoods for vivariums have a fan system which takes the hot air from the lighting and pushes it out the top, sides or back of the hood. However what makes this hood unique is that it has a built in ventilation system that takes the hot air from inside the hood and pushes it out and down over the outside of the 2 exposed glass faces that are used for viewing. The cool air is drawn in from the back near the walls. By doing this the warm air acts exactly like the front defog in a car. And in addition it does not heat up the inside of the vivarium any noticable amount. So far it is working very well and my vivarium has crystal clear viewing for most of the day without the need for any internal fans or unsightly euro vent system. The only exception is when the misting system actually deposits water droplets on the glass. In the spirit of the hobby I call it Sloup defog. The other unique aspect of this hood is how dense it is. In practice for a future product I decided to try to keep as much as possible in the hood. So everything, the lights, outlets, fogger, misting, fans and so on are in the hood which is about an 18x18x6 inch space. The only parts not in the hood are the 3 gallon water reservoir and the pump.

This is the slot where the air exits the hood down toward the display faces of the vivarium. You can also see the weather stripping used to make sure air is not drawn from above the hood and air from the fan does not go back into the hood area.

The hood has a removable cap made of OSB and painted.


This tank contains a dual humidity system. Powered by an Aquatec CDP6800 diaphram pump. This pump draws water from a 3 gallon bucket in the stand and pumps it up to the top where the water can be sent either to the misting nozzles or the ultrasonic fogger. The misting nozzles are controlled by a normally closed solenoid valve. When activated the valve opens and 80 degree misters put water all over the tank. The misting heads were actually the very difficult to find and I am not sure if they will stay. I wanted short out of the way 45 degree misting nozzles but no one anywhere produced such a product that I could find. So I had to do some custom work with 45 degree stem to push connect adapters and using a 1/8 NPT tap to fix the misting nozzles onto a cut in half push connect fitting. It works and is sealed but I am still looking to reduce the profile in the future.

The ultrasonic fogger is also controlled by a normally closed solenoid valve that feeds into a custom made acrylic box. The box has a reservoir the ultrasonic fogger sits in. Water enters the reservoir and is kept at the correct level by an adjacent overflow reservoir. The over flow reservoir drains back to the 3 gallon water reservoir in the stand through a 1/2 inch bulk head. The ultrasonic fogger turns on at the same time and fog goes up and over a wall and then spills into the vivarium through an area that was meant for cords to run into the exo terra vivarium in the back corner.

Electrical Controls:

Everything in the vivarium is controlled from this great power strip that is pretty powerful. It allows me to turn on lights, foggers, misters and fans and I can control them all to just about any time I want. Currently the lights come on for 12 hours per day 7 days a week. The fan is set to go on with the lights and has speed control so I can tune it. The misters come on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday a single time. And the ultrasonic fogger comes on 5 times per day 7 days per week. The electrical wires are currently a mess but I will clean them up when I get some cords in from monoprice.com.

All content copyright Rudy Sloup July 2013 till forever.