I’d love for this to become a thread sharing tips or tricks for enclosure builds and design for a range of species. If this becomes popular and needs to branch off into threads for specific species design needs, that would be super cool.
I’m interested in one day partly or fully constructing my own enclosures for the following species:
-BCI boa constrictors
I’d love some advice from seasoned pros on here, even if you don’t have experience doing everything yourself.
Some topics that would be fitting:
Best places to find hardscape materials, sediment, or bulk plants for a reasonable price
Loopholes or shortcuts (while maintaining safety for us and the animals!)
Things you wish you knew back when you started building terrariums/ripariums/bioactive enclosures
Little nuggets of wisdom (when is heat tape best v. other methods, etc)
Basically, if it relates to building a mansion for a sticky frog, danger noodle, or any other herp friend, feel free to leave your little tips and tricks here as a resource for others!
For hardscape material and bulk plants I usually get mine from my backyard it’s free the only down side is that not everyone knows what plants are safe or how to treat branches, moss, rocks, etc.
Steam treating rocks, branches and moss is super easy and isn’t too time consuming, then after a steam treating, I’ll soak everything except the moss and branches in rubbing alcohol. That kills anything the steam treating didn’t kill.
As for loopholes and heating, the one thing (that is common sense 101 but sadly lacking for a few people I know personally) UTH (under tank heaters) are amazing if used correctly. They are for putting under the tank/enclosure with substrate above it to provide a barrier between the hot glass/plastic, etc and the reptiles (I personally use coconut matting directly over the UTH) I use 1 large coconut mat in the entire enclosure for a experiment to see what is easiest for cleaning and shedding… so far, I’ll be definitely doing it for all my enclosures) the mat is super easy to pull out and scrub, disinfect and steam treat, wring out excess moisture and put back in the same enclosure. It also helps with keeping humidity.
I use a XXXL plastic dog bowl with notches in 2 sides and put it over the UTH and mat, this provides a perfect hide and water source while improving humidity in larger tanks/ enclosures.
Yeah, they are easier to keep clean than actual branches and all they took was a little bit of sanding down any sharp parts, steam treating and alcohol soak… that and it’s hunting season, so figured to theme out their enclosures. I’ll be giving them Christmas trees and present boxes in 2 weeks,
I’ve got a question that perhaps someone can answer…what sorts of glues/adhesives are safe to use for enclosure builds? Like if I wanted to secure wood/bark to the back and sides for a background, or if I want to secure other hardscape pieces to each other. I see a lot of people recommend hot glue, but would hot glue withstand the 60-70% humidity I’ll need to maintain?
I’m not a long experience Herp keeper but what I used to do is crafting at a Pro level, and I know a little about materials.
Hot glue is a silicone based stuff and while I can’t vouch for it being fish safe (Fish are touchy, who ever knows what’s fish safe. Not me.), it’s safe for your pets so long as they don’t ingest it. It does not offgas and if you don’t use it in Hot Spots it won’t remelt. Use a glue stick with Non TOxic on the package and that ought to do you.
I’d use a regular instead of the common Low Temp glue gun, just because the regular temp is a quite high temperature and few hot spots will ever get warm enough to cause it to soften. Check your brand of glue stick, YMMV but comparing Melt Points on a thing’s Material Safety Data Sheet is a handy thing to do with a lot of materials. For example I make sure my PVC and ABS enclosures are safe from any heating elements I use. I don’t have certain types of heat elements in those enclosures for safety concerns. Just on the side of caution.
The other thing I use is Aquarium grade Silicone, by LocTite, and while it does off gas like mad so do it outside or in a garage, with a mask on, once it is cured it is entirely safe for pet tanks. Roughing up/sanding a little on surfaces it is meant to join can be helpful, but isn’t often necessary. I use this stuff to seal my PVC enclosure’s joints.
That’s great info about regular vs. low-heat glue guns, I wouldn’t have even considered that! But it makes perfect sense now that you’ve said it. I think the glue gun I have is low-heat, so maybe I’ll try to find a regular one. I honestly don’t think that even a low-heat one would soften much if at all at the temps needed for this enclosure (the hot spot will only be about 85F), but I think I’ll have more peace of mind knowing the glue I used has a higher melting point.
I know aquarium silicone is popular and safe once cured, but it’s not my favourite thing to work with because of the off-gassing fumes you mentioned. I also don’t like how much time it takes to fully dry/cure, and when I’ve used it in the past, I’ve always kind of struggled with applying the right amount (I always seem to use not enough or TOO much) and it ends up looking awful, so I was hoping to avoid it if I can.
Yeah, being candid, I think I’d be comfortable using a low temp gun for my own enclosures, but I try to err on the side of caution when advising other people- I haven’t had decades of work with reptiles, I only have decades of work with these materials, after all.
The “Regular” type glue gun is hot enough to really burn and blister skin if you touch the hot glue too early, so the low temp is more commonly sold and easier to work with. In my experience the Regular ones have a better hold with their glue, but I kind of like how easily the low temp glue can be picked apart for some uses. Your use depends on what you want, hold or convenience or so on.
Silicone is indeed messy as heck, and working with it neatly takes a lot of effort. It reeks too, I agree, so I have only used it when necessary for sealing edges, and very occasionally for stuff that hot glue won’t bond to.
Awesome, I had no idea hot glue could be a safe alternative with a few safety checks! That would for sure be easier for me because I’m not a huge fan of working with things that give off a ton of fumes, so working with silicon was a storm cloud on the horizone for me.
just to add: One thing I cannot guarantee is that hot glue will be as watertight as proper caulking/aquarium silicone , especially for bioactive or other more damp enclosures.
Now I kinda of want to do some bench tests to see how that’d work, dang my low energy! Let us know if you try it out. One could build a box of acrylic or PVC panel scraps, fill it with water, leave it overnight or for days, and see if it leaks.
In order to avoid breathing fumes when working, the minimal PPE (or protection gear) required is a properly fitted organic vapor Respirator, which is the kind of respirator mask with the high rated filter cartridges. They have to be reputably made, and rated to a level to filter out vapors, and regularly replaced.
If you want one of these- and I think everyone who can should own one, they are super useful- ask for a PPE expert at your local hardware store. I wear mine and work in ventilated space for the brief times I have to deal with fumes.
Double sided tape or Velcro works really well if you are applying textures to a tank enclosure. When it comes to branches and arboreal decor, I use hooks through the mesh and a natural wool yarn to tie up the branches and vines. Strong enough for them to climb, push, pull,etc. and safe if you can do a safety release knot.
Aquarium silicone would be another idea, but it can be smelly.
I use gorilla glue as seen in clint’s DIY Bioactive video: DIY BIOACTIVE ENCLOSURE | Step By Step With Links - YouTube
It works well, and when it comes time to remove or upgrade, it actually comes off pretty clean.
I haven’t had any issues with fumes, and water helps set the glue initially. In all of my time working with it, it had withstood the test of time, animal usage, and humidity.
That’s great info, thank you! I was wondering about Gorilla Glue. I’ve used it in lots of non-animal applications and have found it very effective, but I wasn’t sure if it was reptile-safe. It didn’t seem to give off any smell when dry (and very little when wet), and seemed to be resistant to moisture, but I’m always reluctant to use anything around my animals unless I know it’s safe. Good to know Gorilla Glue is an option! I think between that and hot glue, I should be able to avoid the dreaded aquarium silicone.
The first thing I will note is that you are looking at three radically different setups here, so what will work for one will likely not work for the others. In fact, I am not even sure it is feasible to execute a naturalistic enclosure for a tegu indoors, short of dedicating an entire room to it. And for a BCI you are looking at something on the order of 2.4m high and wide, which is about a decent sized closet
Hardscape I tend to acquire from outside. Preferably from places that I know are free of pesticides and chemicals and the like (e.g., not the side of the road or the edge of a farmers field)
Lots of people will advocate cooking or chemical treatment of hardscape, I do not bother as I like to have as much beneficial biota as possible. This might mean you sometimes get weird interlopers in your cages so you may need to keep an eye out for things like ants and roaches and ticks. Deal with them as you see fit
Another alternative is to sculpt/model/build your own. There are many media you can use for this and all have their quirks. If you go this route I recommend spending many many hours reading/watching methods from experienced individuals and also talking with some of them. And also, expect to fail miserably your first few times trying. I will note that Zoopoxy seems to be a newer trend in the hobby that shows merit. I would check out Mike’s Monitors to learn more about that
Honest answer - DO NOT SHORTCUT ANYTHING
Think of a bioactive/naturalistic as being like a salt-water aquarium, it takes a good amount of time to get it fully set up and ready. The faster you try to push it all together, the higher the likelihood something will go wrong and bork the whole thing
Plumber’s cement to chemically seal the joints around the bottom of the cage is an order of magnitude more secure than using silicone. And it does not break down over time. Disadvantage? You cannot take the cage apart after that
If you do not want to use plumber’s cement, run a generous bead of silicone across the edges that are being screwed together while you are assembling. The excess will squeeze out and you can then smooth it out along the corners and the outside. This creates a significantly stronger moisture barrier than just running a bead across the inside corner
Think long and hard about your lights. Imagine how easy/difficult it is going to be if you have to replace the entire unit in six months/one year/five years when the cage is the bottom one of a stack of five cages. It is a glorious pain to have to pull four 2.4m cages full of dirt and rocks and branches down because you need to use a drill to remove the top of the bottom cage in a stack to replace a crappy light fixture
Smart outlet powerstrips. Turns one outlet into three or six and each outlet on the strip you can program independently. Want lights to come on sunrise to sunset? You can do that. Want to have a UV or heat source that randomly turns on/off over the course of the day? That is available
Castors or furniture dollies. Make sure your cage has something on the bottom to facilitate easy movement. When an escapee decides to hide behind an entire wall of cages, you want to be able to simply roll the cages forward. Those little felt/plastic furniture sliders are utter ■■■■
If you want a naturalistic wall that does not require a huge investment in funds or the skill of building something, I advocate treefern panels. You can cut them to size and puzzle piece multiple together for larger cages. Added benefit is that they retain moisture well and will act as an anchor point for some species of plants so you eventually end up with a “living wall”
As has been noted above, aquarium or kitchen/bath silicone are viable options. I have also had very good luck with gorilla glue.