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My tropical terrarium

Discussion in 'Enclosures' started by BlackJack, Oct 4, 2004.

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  1. BlackJack

    BlackJack Subscribed User Premium Member

    Hi everyone
    Since there hasn't been any news in this section recently, I thought I'd add something.
    Here is the terrarium I set up for my Brazilian Rainbow Boa, "Talyn". It's a plexiglass/glass construction, custom-made by a company here in Switzerland. Mine is 5ft long, 2.5 ft deep and 4 ft high. I have to cover some of the ventilation holes at the top, but otherwise it holds the humidity well. Av. 75-85%
    I have a heating pad on the right side bottom of the cage with and a heat lamp (on a regulator) above that. The temp gradient stays between 70 and 85. She tends to go to the warm side at night and spend the day on the cool side. I have a large pool in the center for her to soak in, if she wants to (haven't seen her in it yet) and a smaller water bowl on the cool side.
    She also has a hide box on both the warm and cool side. (I now have a protective mesh cage for the heat lamp, but I want to paint it cuz it kind of ruins my backdrop painting.) and I have a zoo med night light (red bulb on the left side. I can't tell yet if she is bothered by that or not.
    The plants are artificial (except the branch: cork oak). I made the backdrop myself out of construction foam and mosquito netting then carved and painted it with acrylic paint. (completely washable and able to be sterilized with bleach if necessary.
    I use a mixture of terrarium soil and repti-bark as substrate. Misted daily at least once.

    Attached Files:

  2. kenman1963

    kenman1963 Moderator

    Looks really nice Blackjack,,,you seem to have all the bases covered....great job on the painting too !!!
  3. venus

    venus Founding Member

    I love the backing, it looks so realistic. Great job. It looks awesome. :D
  4. Merlin

    Merlin Administrator Staff Member Premium Member

    VERY nice job. I too really like the background!
  5. wolfwood

    wolfwood Elite Member

    That is a great looking tank...^_^
  6. Mark

    Mark Elite Member

    This is a really cool little cage you have, and I am curious about the backdrop. I am drawing on my theater design and production training here with these questions. Did you "chunk out" the foam and layer netting over it to keep the foam from further breaking loose or do folds and wrinkles in the netting provide texture too? Did the netting get a "Elmer's glue bath" before hand to secure it to the foam? How many coats and of what did you use to seal over the acerlics? Do you think it is strong and secure enough to be climed by a smaller lizard (lets say the size of a large gecko up to an adult bearded dragon) without destruction?

  7. BlackJack

    BlackJack Subscribed User Premium Member

    My background and terrarium furniture

    Thanks for asking about the backdrop. This was just an experiment and I wasn't sure it would work at all but I'm happy with the way it turned out.

    This is how I went about it:
    I measured the size I wanted and put a simple wooden frame together about an inch bigger all around(to be removed later) Then I bought some polyester mosquito netting from the hardware store and stretched it over the wooden frame and attached with a staple gun. (Not too tight and not too many staples, but just to hold it in place while I worked.)
    Important: if you don't want a disastrous mess -- put plastic down under and around your working area. I recommend wearing a painters coverall, have LOTS of disposable rubber gloves on hand (excuse the pun!) and wear protective glasses -- you do not want that foam stuff on your skin or in your eyes!!!!!!!! (or on any furniture for that matter.) The only thing it doesn't stick to is plastic: well it sticks to plastic when it's wet, but falls right off when it's dry.
    I bought canned insulating foam (the kind used to seal around windows during construction). For my backdrop (about 5 ft by 4ft). I needed about 5 large cans.
    Shake the can and attach the nozzle. Hold upside down and squirt the foam all over the netting. I did it in rows, horizontal then vertical then diagonal, etc. Because mine was so huge (I did one half at a time.) Spraying the foam lightly with water will increase it's volume and the drying time faster.
    Now here's the really icky, messy part: I used a mason's trowel and when the foam started to dry a bit, I pressed it flat and tried to smooth it into and over the netting. I'm not sure it was necessary at all, but I was trying to get good coverage... most of it ended up sticking to me, or the trowel.) As this stuff dries, it swells up and it looks like a bunch of sticky half-melted marshmallows spread over the surface.
    I repeated the process with each layer, making sure all of the netting was covered. At the end, I squirted the stuff out in the general form of a tree trunk and branches and left that to swell up.
    After it completely dried, I took a carpet knife (X-acto .. the kind that allows you to extend the blade far) and carved the surface of the tree and some of the rest. (Be careful!!! -- you need a sharp blade and -- on my current project using the same stuff, I slipped and sliced into the back of my thumb! ouch -- needed three stitches!!!!)
    Anyway this stuff is like styrofoam when it's dry and can be sliced away fairly easily: (cut off thin slivers). If you slice off too much or decide to add something, you can just get another can of stuff and squirt it on, let it dry and carve some more.

    Then I painted it, using acrylic latex paint. (You can put a ground of gesso over it first if it's really porous to help seal it. -- I didn't do it on this one.) I didn't use oil based paints because I was not sure about the toxic elements and didn't want to wait forever till they dried! I used paint out of the cans and slapped it on pretty thick (front and back to seal it all over.)
    Next time I would put a sealant on it, and then spray paint (with water-soluable acrylic) the general colors I wanted. Then use the canned paints for more detailed work. I finished it off with a clear (matt) acrylic spray paint (thin coats 2-3 cans) You can then cut it off of the wooden frame with the x-acto knife to the size you need. It was great because I had to cut an area out for the light fitting etc.
    The end result is something similar to a plastic/foam board. Somewhat flexible, but also breakable. I screwed it to the back of my terrarium (you need to use washers or you'll just sink the screw straight through it. You can also drill holes through it for cables, etc.I think small lizards and geckos would be able to crawl over it without problems. The thicker the paint on the surface, the more resistant it will be to claws. I wouldn't use it with any animal that could chew on it or really dig claws into it. Basically, if they could claw through acrylic painted styrofoam, they could damage this. I wouldn't want them swallowing pieces scratched off either.
    It seemed like an ideal thing for my Brazilian rainbow boa since her terrarium is hot and humid (and she has no claws to rip it to shreds!)
    I originally bought her a cork-oak hide and within two weeks, it was growing fungus! So I decided to make her new hides out of this same foam stuff. (I wanted something that would look nice and natural, since she's usually nowhere to be seen!!) I made two tree stumps and a higher tree house so if she wanted to be up closer to the heat lamps or just up higher, she could. (This one has a wood and metal framework structure underneath.) The others are just foam.
    They're not yet completely finished, but I'll attach some photos. They'll look better with some moss hanging off of them and some fake plants around. I also thought about attaching some of those plants that can grow without roots to the sculptures. I made all of mine to look like a rainforest scene, but you could also carve and paint this stuff to look like rocks or other stuff...

    Well this is getting LONG !! Let me know if there's any more info I can give you. I was thinking I should make a business out of making things out of this stuff... it's pretty fun to do!

    Attached Files:

  8. Bitis Gabonica

    Bitis Gabonica Elite Member

    Absolutely beautiful tank BlackJack! I wish we were able to make all of our set ups like that, but with 50 animals it would be a little time-consuming and make cleaning time so much longer! :p It's a gorgeous set up though, well done on creating it.

    Just a concern though - you said your average humidity levels are 75-85% ..for an adult BRB that is too high. You need to keep it nearer 60%, no higher than 70%. You certainly have provided your BRB a lot of space!! - it will think it's in the wild! :D
  9. BlackJack

    BlackJack Subscribed User Premium Member

    PS -- The tree stumps are hollowed out underneath to provide a place to hide. Here I put a plastic sheet over a construction helmet and sprayed layers of foam over and around it. When it dried, it came off the plastic easily and had the hiding place set up. All I had to do was carve the top into a shape I wanted, make entrance and exits and paint it!
  10. BlackJack

    BlackJack Subscribed User Premium Member

    Humidity levels

    Thanks Bitis
    I'm going to scale back on the humidity as soon as she finishes her shed... hopefully tonight or tomorrow! (She cleared up yesterday, so I think it'll be soon.) Everything I've read on BRBs say 70-80% humidity, but I'm going to take it down to 60-70% and see how she feels with that. As far as temp goes: I read that she should have a gradient from 70° to 90°F; (21° to 32°C), I've got it usually between 21 (cool side) and 28C (warm side)... is that OK? She seems to spend most of the day on the cool side and the early mornings (late at night after exploring) on the warm side.

    After her shed,I'm going to clean out everything, wash it down well and then re-decorate with her new furniture!
    I know I've gone really overboard with the decor, but she's the only pet I have and since we hardly ever see her, I need to make this giant tank something attractive to look at: it's taken over a huge part of our living room! :D
  11. Mark

    Mark Elite Member

    Here I thought you were using foam board insulation -- usually light pink or baby blue in color. The spray foam, like the Great Stuff product, should hold up very well to a smaller lizard -- it is more of an adhesive than foam. Some types of windows are actually installed with this stuff and if you are not careful on how much you spray in you will bow the wall or break the window as it expands.

    You could also use some light fabric like muslin front and back. When you trowel it out and shape it lay a sheet over it and press down. The fabric will them adhere to the foam providing a smooth surface for painting and preventing chip off and flaking -- no that it is much of a problem with a claw-less snake. If you make another a sarrated knife, especially an electric carving knife, is a safer alternative than the long brake-off matte knifes and cuts through it with no problem.

    Ever consider adding these to your website and selling them as gecko and snake back drops?
  12. BlackJack

    BlackJack Subscribed User Premium Member

    Now that I'm more familiar with this stuff and working with it, I can see that what you said was true about adding the muslin fabric over it while it's wet. There might even be sturdier, artificial fabrics that would hold up better under stronger claws...
    I'm sure there's a way to make these backdrops and hides even more durable and better. I'll keep working on perfecting the process! :D
    I'd like to offer to do them for interested herp-collectors... I'll have to figure out how much the material costs, etc. are to work out prices. I suppose I could put a herp-accessory page on my website and offer these. Aside from the feedback from this site, my homepage hasn't attracted that many herp-enthusiasts.... yet!!!

    Ps -- Good tip about the serrated knives and electric knives. Those razor blades are REALLY dangerous!!! Thanks!
  13. Bitis Gabonica

    Bitis Gabonica Elite Member

    Your temps are fine - BRBs need it cooler than other boas, and a warm spot of 85f is perfect. The humidity definately needs to be lower than it is - too high can cause respiratory problems. While she is in shed though the higher humidity is fine - she should shed within the next couple of days, pics when she does!! You know the rules!! :p

    It is an elaborate tank - it's gorgeous. Fancy joining Chronic in his trip to ours so you can both decorate our tanks?? :D You've done a great job! :)
  14. Mark

    Mark Elite Member

    This may work as a jump off point: when we were putting on a production of Into The Woods we had 6 large trees on the edges of masking flats -- half round trunks about 16' tall about 3' diameter at the base then branches coming out of them about 10 feet off the ground (Interlochen Arts Academy 1997/1998 if there are any IAA grads out there). The shape was initially given with a chicken wire frame then covered in burlap which had been saturated with a diluted Elmer's Glue solution. When all was said and done you had to press rather hard to change its shape.

    Couple this technique with your foam idea and the right paints and sealents and you have an incredably strong product.

    I may have to give this a try...

    PS -- I will no longer use a break off utility knife, they are too dnagerous as you never know when they will break. I carry a classic Stanly matte knife in my tool belt and a Benchmade or CRKT liner locking kinfe in my pocket at all times.
  15. Toadie78

    Toadie78 Elite Member

    that is a cool tank i like it alot it has partially inspired me to do something relatively similar for my leo tank but in a desert motiff instead.
  16. BlackJack

    BlackJack Subscribed User Premium Member

    Toadie78: glad you were inspired! I'd love to see pics when you've finished!

    MAR: I've got chicken wire that I've used for papier maché sculptures, and I'm sure it would add stability to future projects. I really like your idea of adding some sort of material to it when the foam is wet. I'm going to keep my eyes open for different textiles that might work. (My key issue is that it HAS to be able to be sterilized with bleach and water and rinsed thoroughly) For my snake it has to be humidity resistant too. For drier tanks, that's probably not such an issue... but it still needs to be washable.

    Bitis...I'm already working on lowering the humidity (opening up some of the ventilation and not misting as much.) I definitely don't want Talyn to get any respiratory problems!!! Thanks for the info on that.

    I'm not informed about Chronic's trip... (or was that a joke?) I'm located in Basel, Switzerland and so not that far from the UK and could probably manage a trip up your way... would love to meet you sometime and see your amazing collection.
    When you said you'd love to have all your animals' portraits done (different thread); I had an idea of one large painting with a "collage" type look and packing them all in... sort of "see who you can find" type of thing. I've never painted anything like that, but I've had some initial visions of it and think it could be cool... not easy, but potentially cool! :cool:
  17. Bitis Gabonica

    Bitis Gabonica Elite Member

    :D Yes, it was a joke (although if Chronic ever wants to visit he can do! - i wanted him to come to the UK to decorate our tanks in the same way he has his crested's!), but feel free to visit us anytime you can! - that would be wonderful!

    Your painting idea sounds fantastic! What a brilliant idea!, only problem is we are getting more and more animals all the time!! :p Before Christmas we will be getting a chameleon and an egyptian royal diadem rat snake! We just can't stop .. they're addictive!! :D *thinking maybe I need to enter the 12-step programme..* :eek: :D
  18. BlackJack

    BlackJack Subscribed User Premium Member

    New Furniture

    OK, so it's finally finished (at least till I get bored and decide to change it) :p

    I cleaned the whole terrarium thoroughly and put in the new hide-boxes and tree house.

    Here are some pics:
    See New Furniture1.JPG and Talin in tree house
    (I put Talyn up in the tree house and she hung out there for a while last night before coming down and hiding under her new stump on the warm side. I'll be interested in seeing if she ever goes up there on her own) PS -- this is the day after her shed, so she's looking particularly nice, I think.

    Bitis: I don't know if they have any 12-step programs for this type of addiction, but if you wanted to start a self-help group, I think there are more than enough members here... LOL ;)

    Attached Files:

  19. Bitis Gabonica

    Bitis Gabonica Elite Member

    It, and she, look great! I am so jealous!! Your set up is beautiful. Well done! :)

    :D Anyone want to sign up?? :p
  20. CodyW

    CodyW Elite Member

    Black you can do half of bitis' tanks and Ill do the other ;)

    Ummmm, I have a few concerns and pointers I have also learned alot and been inspired by this thread. :) I give it five stars.

    First- Great Stuff the expanding foam has been known to leech chemicals into water supplies as well as substrates and on a few occasions has caused deaths due to the toxicity. It doesn't kill everything but has been known to be responsible for at least one fatality, I believe its particularly dangerous for frogs but its convincing enough for me not to use it. There is an alternative, however I do not have the brand name with me at the time. The expanding foam can be covered with fine wire mesh, this will help to hold whatever is going to be applied on top in place. I would also seal most of the foam with a silicone sealant.

    Second- The foam can be covered with mortar/grout. Normal grout will work however is not recommended. Several companies sell a non-toxic product that also works for aquarium use, it dries light grey but can be colored through several methods. One method is to add paint and a little less water to the mix to get a consistent color, food color will also work. Or once it is applied to the foam sand can be spread or dropped onto the wet grout to give it a natural texture.

    Third- A neat trick is to take the foam and cover it with black 100% silicone then apply dry coco husk to the wet silicone. Work in small sections and apply the foam sparingly. Once dried lighty vacum and a natural and textured wall will be left. Bromeliads and tillandsias can then be fastened to the foam underneath.

    But I love your backdrop. Its very original and inginuitive ;)

    I just wanted to share some insight :)
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