Garrett and I have a vivarium that we established last year in March. We both grew up in tropical climes and despise the cold and dark wintery days, so the vivarium is one way we keep our home summery and cheerful year-round. The vivarium is home to four precious poison dart frogs, each smaller than a fingernail. The frogs, which are nearly extinct in their natural habitat, are living the dream, and they let us know they’re happy by chirping and making periodic appearances.

Above is a picture from April 8, 2016 when the vivarium was fully set up after weeks of work. The project had started with Garrett building the cabinet that the vivarium rests on; the cabinet houses the controls and reservoir for the water system that mists the enclosure throughout the day. There is also a fogger to simulate morning fogs. Above the vivarium hangs a light system that provides full-spectrum light and is programmed (by Garrett) to simulate sunrise and sunset, and LED strip lights on top to add effects. 

We ordered the front-opening enclosure from Josh’s Frogs and sculpted and designed the interior with mixed media to create a base for life to cling to and grow in. The entire back wall and most of the sides was built up and now holds moss, vines, bromeliads and tillandsia among other plants. The forest floor was built up with a substrate that layers stones for drainage under organic mixes. Over everything was sprinkled small live oak leaves, leaf litter that I painstakingly collected from my grandmother’s yard in St. Augustine. The four frogs also came from Josh’s Frogs.

What we have in our living area is a little slice of life, a bright cube of the rainforest, a living, thriving, self-contained ecosystem. I love hearing the little frogs’ trills, and it’s a delight to see one of them. They’re yellow and black, with striped bodies and leopard-spotted legs like they’re wearing leggings. Despite being enclosed, they can tell when the weather in Mountain Home is rainy or stormy–it makes them excited and they chirp like crazy and become very active.

The vivarium is just over a year old now and remains a delight to us and a focal point in our home. Apart from initial startup costs to establish it, the only expense has been distilled water for the water systems, food for the frogs and a recent lightbulb change, and of course the electricity the enclosure requires. Little maintenance is required, but recently we decided to change out the substrate because it was holding too much moisture. We spent half a day working on redoing the forest floor in the vivarium, which is why I write about the vivarium now…

More to follow later.

4 thoughts on “Vivarium

  1. Beautiful imagery! Well written! I wish I could see and hear them.

    But I can’t get past…..POISON. And a young ‘un in the house soon to start exploring everything.

    I’m sure the snake farmer in the Orlando area who recently had his highly venomous 2-foot long cobra escape felt the same about his creature and its…? herpetarium. But it’s still on the loose, and just one of its eyes is probably bigger than any of the dart frogs!

    Just sayin’.

  2. They’re not actually poisonous in captivity. They have the ability to be toxic in their native habitat because they eat certain insects that cause them to produce defensive toxins (that were, in some cases, used by natives to make poisonous blow darts, thus giving the frogs their name).
    If they were to escape, they’re so tiny they would dry up and die pretty quickly (sad thought!)–if the cats didn’t find them first. Frogs are very sensitive. The baby poses a bigger danger to the frogs than they to she–but by the time she’s big enough to access the vivarium (as an older, taller toddler) she should also be able to understand not to mess with it. That’s if they live that long! They reportedly live only a few years in the wild and it’s not yet clear how long they might live in captivity, and ours haven’t successfully bred yet and might never produce viable spawn.

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