A vivarium is an enclosed artificial habitat suited to specific forms of life. Typically, vivaria house live plants, reptiles or invertebrates. The vivarium can be a simple system made from an inexpensive 10-gallon aquarium, or it can be a larger and more complex attempt to reproduce the natural ecosystem of the life within.
In vivaria where plants are the primary inhabitants, many conditions must be met. The soil composition, heat, light and humidity requirements of the plants within vary according to specific plants. Desert-dwelling cacti, for example, require arid conditions while tropical plants will only thrive in humid conditions. In vivaria where live reptiles or invertebrates are kept, live plants may not be the preferable option. Reptiles who feed on fruits and vegetables may also dine on the leaves of vivarium flora. Live food, such as crickets, may also feed on or damage plants before they, themselves, are eaten. In vivaria where live plants may be damaged or destroyed by animals, artificial plants provide an adequate substitute. For a more realistic look and feel, avoid cheap moulded plastic plants and fill the vivarium with higher end artificial plants, such as those with leaves made of silk or other fabric.
The animals and plants in a vivarium need clean water to live. Still water can become stagnant quickly, and may house harmful bacteria or other microorganisms which harm other specimens within the vivarium. One method of preventing stagnation is by construction of a small artificial waterfall. Submerge a small, low-power aquarium pump in a pool and attach the pump's output to tubing. The tubing leads to a shallow, elevated pool which is constructed to channel the water's flow, directing it to a rock face which slants back down toward the pool below. For animals that may be vulnerable to drowning, place enough aquarium gravel or rocks into the pool to prevent the animals from going too deep underwater. Cover the pump's intake with a sponge or screen to prevent specimens from entering and being injured or killed by the pump's internal moving parts.
Aquarium lighting may provide all of the heat that some vivarium specimens need. Others, which thrive in hotter environments, may require additional sources of heat. Heating pads or artificial rocks with built-in heaters are one method of provided heat, but specimens may burn themselves by spending too much time in contact with these surfaces. To avoid burning, attach a heating pad to the vivarium glass on the outside. The heat will enter the environment through the glass and provide an area of ambient heat without the danger of direct contact between specimens and the heat source.
Nocturnal specimens will know when to sleep, hunt and eat by how much light is shining. Red-tinted lighting can be used at night to allow some observation of nocturnal animals without affecting their nighttime habits. During the day, use lighting appropriate to the flora and fauna within the environment. Red lighting can also be used as a heat source, and left on throughout the day and night, while incandescent white or fluorescent bulbs may be attached to a timer to assure that they turn on and off as needed.
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