How to Build a Vivarium

A vivarium is an enclosed natural environment created for reptiles and insects. Building a vivarium requires knowledge of the type of animal you plan to keep in it. It is extremely important to know the type of habitat your pet lives in when in the wild. The object of the vivarium is to re-create nature as closely as possible. What is included in your vivarium will vary depending on the reptile or insects you have as a pet.

Purchase a glass aquarium tank that is at least 20 gallons. A larger one is better. Look for inexpensive models, as the tank does not need to hold water. Sometimes pet stores or aquarium dealers will give away tanks that leak.

Clean the aquarium with a mixture of 1 part vinegar to 10 parts water. Do not use soap, bleach or detergents, as these can cause health issues for any reptiles or amphibians that will live in the vivarium. Allow the aquarium to air dry.

Soak the sphagnum moss in water while you start to build the vivarium. Rinse the decomposed gravel in a strainer. This will remove any dust. You can purchase decomposed gravel at most local home improvement stores. Add enough decomposed gravel to create a two inch layer in the bottom of the aquarium.

Place the sterile potting mix into a large pot or plastic bin. Add enough water to get the potting mix damp but not soaking wet. The potting mix is wet enough when it forms a ball when squeezed. No water should drip out when you squeeze the potting mix.

Add enough potting mix to create a four-inch layer on top of the decomposed gravel. Add the pothos plants. Arrange them in any manner that looks attractive to you. Plant the pothos plants directly into the potting mix.

Squeeze out extra water from the sphagnum moss. Add moss in a one inch layer around the pothos plants and completely cover any potting mix with the moss. Add decorative rocks and branches at this time. Keep an open area to place food and water dishes.

Place animals into the vivarium. Cover the vivarium with a snug-fitting screen lid. Place the UV florescent lighting on top of the screen. Place the infrared heat lamp on the screen. Plug in both the light and the heater.

Mist the vivarium once daily with plain water from a spray bottle. It should appear that a gentle rain occurred. Do not over water the vivarium or mould will grow.


This particular project is for animals that live in a humid, temperate to tropical environment. To create a vivarium for desert animals; replace the potting mix and sphagnum moss with sand and the pothos plant with cacti or succulents.


Some reptiles are very good escape artists, securing the screen lid with hook and loop tape may be required.

Things You'll Need

  • 20 gallon or larger aquarium
  • Screen lid for aquarium
  • Decomposed granite
  • Sterile potting mix
  • Sphagnum moss
  • Pothos plants
  • Decorative rock in various sizes
  • Plastic branches
  • UV florescent light
  • Infrared heat lamp
  • Anole or other small reptile
  • Spray bottle
  • Water
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About the Author

Lynda Altman started writing professionally in 2001, specializing in genealogy, home-schooling, gardening, animals and crafts. Her work has appeared in "Family Chronicle Magazine" and "Chihuahua Magazine." Altman holds a B.A. in marketing from Mercy College, a black belt in taekwondo, master gardener certification, a certificate in graphic arts and a certificate in genealogy.