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Arboreal Enclosure Conversion

How to convert an aquarium - fish tank into and arboreal enclosure

Converting For Arboreal

This is a standard 20 gallon aquarium that was converted for arboreal species using a small piece of glass. Large doors and vents can be easily constructed, or purchased. The original screen cover can be secured around the front of the enclosure using bungee cords.


Cork Bark
Drift Wood
GE II Window And Door Brand Silicone-Clear and Black
Great Stuff Expanding Foam
Glass cut to size
Fiberglass window screen


Mounting Decor and Securing Glass Partition
Applying Foam
Applying Substrate to Foam Using Silicone

Make sure that the tank is sterile before beginning. Prepare the top lip of the aquarium for securing the glass using a razorblade and sandpaper to remove any dirt or blemishes. Put a small bead of silicone on the lip and place the glass into the groove. Silicone the inside groove to insure a water tight seal. If the tank is going to have a good amount of water it is also important to make sure the black trim is water tight, a small bead on the inside groove will insure this. Once the silicone has dried (24 hours) give it a water test with a few gallons of water, if there are leaks allow it to dry and apply another bead of silicone, retest and repeat if necessary.

Once the glass is in place arrange the background decor (cork, driftwood, rocks) and silicone them in place, allow to dry.

Arboreal Enclosure Conversion

Applying Foam

When working with expanding foam make sure to wear gloves and eye-protection. Apply the foam in single layers and allow to dry overnight. If a larger structure is desired apply a second layer and repeat if desired. Wire, used to support the expanding foam, and foam sheets can be used to create crevices and rock/wood structures.

Arboreal Enclosure Conversion

Applying Substrate

Silicone can be applied directly to the dry foam and smeared in using a rubber glove, the chosen substrate is placed directly on top of the wet silicone and firmly pressed in. Make sure the substrate is DRY! For the most part I use straight peat moss or coco husk, both can be sifted in a colander if desired to produce a fine powder. A mix of the two gives a nice texture and the straight peat moss has twigs which also give it a natural look. Gravel, sand, clay, moss, and top soil can also be added to the mix to give it different textures.

Another approach is to shape the foam using a steak knife to give it ridges or indentions. A "V-shape" groove can be cut out and used to conceal wires and tubes the foam is then replaced and secured in place using toothpicks. Film canisters and small pots can be pressed into cut holes or wet foam to hold plants or act as an egg deposition site for some species.

Arboreal Enclosure Conversion

Adding Substrate

Substrate is one of the most important aspects to vivariums.
For this vivarium I tried something new to counteract what was happening in most of my other vivariums. The roots from the plants are almost unstoppable, they can cause serious chaos to some setups and in others just prove a nuisance. This is not my first time setting up this vivarium, but this method was by far my favorite. I chose to use clay (kitty litter with no additives) as a substrate divider and root blocker. The roots of most plants wont be able to penetrate the dense clay thus they will only consume the area they have. The main component of this vivarium is a large manicured Ficus benjamina. I used bonsai techniques to make the tree look older and larger than it actually is. Also, and I didn't notice this until I tried, by adding leaf litter the F. benjamina produced lots of buttress or tabular roots which were a nice effect.

Vivariums Substrate

2 Part Coco-fiber
1 Part Sand
1 Part Coco-husk
1 Part Leaf Mould
1 Part Milled Sphagnum Moss

Arboreal Enclosure Conversion


Leaf Litter - Magnolia and Oak
Coco-husk, Leaf Mould, Sand, Coco-Fiber, and Milled Sphagnum Moss
Kitty Litter/Clay
Fiberglass Window Screen


Secure any epiphytes to the driftwood, rocks, corkbark, or foam backdrop. This vivarium has a large F. benjamina, Hoya rubra, and several tillandsias. The lighting is a large clamp light with a 13w 'cool white' spiral fluorescent. When purchasing lights for vivariums make sure that it is at least 6500K color rating.

Arboreal Enclosure Conversion


Author: Cody Wiggins
Images - © Cody Wiggins