Guide to setting up a vivarium

Thursday, 11 December 2014  |  Sally

Reptiles are ecothermic this means they use the environment they are in to control their body temperature for example after eating they may want move to the warm end of the enclosure to bask and digest their meal. This is why when setting up an enclosure for any Reptile you must provide them with a warm end and a cool end in the vivarium.

 

Heating 

To achieve the correct temperature for your Reptile you will need to provide a heat bulb at one end of the vivarium ( all heat bulbs or mats should never come into contact with your Reptile, heat mats should never be used inside an enclosure and bulbs should always have a protective heat guard covering them)
Temperature must  be controlled by a suitable thermostat. If using a bulb which emits light then you should use what is called a dimming thermostat, when using a bulb that does not emit light such as a ceramic bulb the use of a pulse stat is required.
Thermostats are a very important part of your setup, without this you can never control the temperature in the vivarium and could over heat your enclosure which could have a detrimental effect to your Reptile.
Place the probe of your thermostat through the back of your vivarium at the bottom underneath your bulb. 
This is where you will need to experiment with your thermostat to ensure the correct temperature (remember your thermostat does not know what size bulb it is controlling and what size of viv the bulb is in) Slowly  turn up the dial on the thermostat to the desired temperature at this point you need to place two thermometers one at each end of the enclosure, these are what you will use to ensure the temperature is correct. 
If the bulb is constantly heating and not getting to the desired temperature you will need to pull the thermostat probe a little bit further away from the bulb until you get the desired temperature. Once you have reached the correct temperature for your animal then you can fasten your probe. This now should be left alone as the thermostat will control the temperature for you.
Make sure that the thermostat sensor/probe cannot be covered over by any substrate or decoration, as this may cause your enclosure to overheat.

Lighting

Depending on which Reptile you have will determine which UVB light you will need. 
Reptiles such as Leopard Geckos, Snakes, Amphibians and Arachnids do not need UVB light due to them being either nocturnal or eating whole vertebrate prey, so for Reptiles in this group if you wish to provide lighting to give a day/night cycle then you may use a UVB of 2%. 
Reptiles that are generally considered as forest dwelling such as Green Water dragons, Green Iguanas and Chameleons etc need a UVB of at least 5%. Reptiles that live in the desert such as Bearded Dragons, Chuckwallas sect must be provided with a UVB of 10%+.
All UVB lighting should be no further away than 10 inches from the animal, the further away it is the less effective it is.
Reptiles need UVB lighting to help them produce vitamin D3, this then helps them absorb calcium. 
This is why Foods should be dusted with a suitable calcium powder. 
UVB tubes should be changed every 6 - 8 months, after this time even though they emit light the UVB rays will have depleted. 
If you do not provide UVB and calcium dust your food your animal could end up with MBD (metabolic bone disease) or in the case of females could become egg bound. 
For dusting live food we use calypso calcium powder 5 days a week with most reptiles, and Nutrobal which is a calcium balancer/multi vitamin 2 days a week.

Substrates

All Reptiles require different substrates depending on the environment they are from. 
Amphibians for example need a moist substrate so we normally use Forest bed as this retains moisture very well. 
Forest animals will normally have Orchid bark or similar for their bedding, and desert animals should be on a substrate of desert sand or calci sand that is wholly edible, Cheaper calci sand should not be used as the grains are usually quite large and can contain large amounts of dust.
These larger grains cannot be passed through the animal and can be the cause of impaction. 
Substrates should be cleaned for any soiling daily and then totally replaced with new every 4 - 6 weeks.

Decoration

The decoration of an enclosure is also very important not just to you and how it looks but mainly for your Reptiles well being, Plenty of hiding areas at both warm and cool ends of the enclosure should be provided so your Reptile can feel secure and safe, If no hiding areas are provided then this will cause stress to your Reptile which in turn can cause feeding problems and so may not thrive. 
If your Reptile is arboreal (like to climb) then you must ensure there are plenty of climbing areas, Using dense planting is also a good way of helping to make sure your Reptile feels secure.
Dense planting also helps with animals that require humidity by lightly misting the plants, this also provides droplets of water from which they can drink.