Creating a Tropical Terrarium

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How to Make, Furnish & Equip a Woodland or Rainforest Vivarium

Which reptiles and amphibians need a tropical environment? Pet owners should carefully research housing needs of their specific animals but some common herps that need to be housed in a humid woodland or rainforest terrarium include:

  • Lizards – Anoles, some geckos, chameleons and other tropical species.
  • Snakes – Brown and red-bellied snakes, smooth green snakes and emerald tree boas.
  • Salamanders – Terrestrial, adult salamanders do well in tropical woodland tanks such as marbled salamanders or tiger salamanders.
  • Frogs – Red-eyed treefrogs, fire-bellied toads (also enjoy an aquarium situation), bumblebee poison dart frogs and more.

Temperature and Lighting Requirements for Tropical Terrariums

The temperature ranges listed can be adjusted as needed for specific pet requirements. In general a temperature gradient is needed to allow your cold-blooded reptile or amphibian to maintain his own body temperature. This is easy when you use more than one light to create an overall tank temperature, a warmer basking spot and, for some, a cooler nighttime temperature.

Create an overall tank temperature of about 75-80 degrees using a good, UVA and UVB producing light for optimum herp health. Another, more focused lamp, shining on a top corner of the tank will create a basking spot up to 90 degrees and your herp will move into this warmer spot whenever he wants to heat himself up. Some species can take night temperatures down to 60 degrees and you can simply turn out the lights in the evening, however other species need warmer night temperatures and you’ll need to provide a red heat lamp. This non-visible light will create the needed warmth without disturbing their day/night cycle. Use at least two thermometers to ensure proper heat gradiant.

Substrate and Water for a Tropical Terrarium

Many woodland environments can have a base of pea gravel to hold extra moisture and then bark for reptiles or sphagnum moss – especially for the amphibian species who will burrow in the moist moss to keep their skin damp. Sterile soil is another inexpensive substrate choice good for all herps.

Amphibians may prefer a small pool of water buried into the substrate to create a natural watering hole. Be sure to check specific animal requirements since other pets, like the green anole, do not drink standing water but lap up dew drops so daily misting should be provided.

Plants for a Woodland and Rainforest Terrarium

One of the best parts of creating a natural and authentic environment for your herp is to provide live, tropical plants for your pet to climb on and enjoy. Be sure to match the plant to your pet’s size and activity level so a more active reptile doesn’t tear up a more fragile plant. Many plants can have their pots buried directly into the substrate and will just need to be watered regularly.

Common Woodland Terrarium Plants:

  • Miniature Ferns
  • Jack-In-The-Pulpit
  • Trout Lily
  • Violets
  • Dwarf Wild Strawberry
  • Spotted Wintergreen

Common Rainforest Terrarium Plants:

Other Habitat Considerations

The lid of the terrarium can be either a screen or glass top depending on the desired humidity level, water availability and ventilation needs. You may need to wipe down the glass walls in the front of the tank once a week or so to allow better visibility if the glass gets water spots on it.

If your pet is arboreal be sure to provide branches and vines for him to climb on and hide on. If your herp stays mostly on the ground be sure he has a suitable hiding place and his other needs are met.

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