By Jennifer Greene
Often, we get requests on YouTube, Facebook, as well as in our stores and at shows for tips on how to make a nice looking vivarium, terrarium, or even just a simple cage. When training new staff members, it is often one of the things most asked of more experienced staff – “Why do your cages always look so good?”
Vivarium designed by one of our most experienced cage builders, Jon Blakemore!
Designing a beautiful cage just isn’t something that comes easily to some people. In fact, for most of us, it wasn’t something we were just born able to do. Much like any other type of artistic ability, designing nice looking cages is something that you can get better at through lots of practice.
However, if you don’t have the opportunity like we do to build and take down cages every day, I’ll share with you a few tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years here at LLLReptile.
Tip 1: Put Tall Stuff in Back!
This might seem really, painfully obvious to you at first, but there’s more to this than simply “don’t block your own view”. Not blocking your view is, of course, the biggest reason not to put tall stuff in the front of the cage, but hopefully you don’t need me to explain that in detail.
However, there is more to it than giving yourself an open view. Notice it says “Put tall stuff in back!” not “IF you have tall stuff, put it in back”. You actually WANT taller things in your cage, and especially in the back. When building cages for climbing species, they’ll need the taller items to climb on and feel at ease, and even when building cages for terrestrial species – give them things to climb on! That measly little 18″ of cage height is nothing compared to the bushes, rocks, and other terrain irregularities found in the natural habitat of pretty much everyreptile.
More to the point of simply making something look pretty, putting tall things in the back of the cage provides visual interest. It gives your eyes a direction to follow, and makes the cage look deeper and fuller to have things of differing height.
Note the use of cork hollows and grapewood to use all of the vertical space in this cage.
Tip 2: Slope the bedding so that it is deeper in the back than the front.
This ties in with Tip 1, as it makes it much easier to add taller plants and items in the back snce there is already a bump in the substrate.
Tip 3: Use flat pieces of wood or corkbark to create “corner planters”
This is where you wedge a large, flat piece of wood in the back corner of a cage, fill up the space with your planting material (I prefer coconut fiber), and stick a nice plant back there. In shorter cages (18″ or less), I’ll use a pothos or similar vine type of plant, as it’ll spill over the wood and grow out in a sort of plant waterfall.
Some types of vines will climb up a textured background, making a great natural curtain that many frog and small lizard species love to hide in. The cage to the left uses both live plants and coconut hides to provide a pretty and functional environment for dart frogs at the LLLReptile breeding center.
The rocks and coconut hut hide the root base for both plants in the back of the cage.
Tip 4: Don’t be afraid to move things around!
Whenever staff here at LLL build a cage, we move things around pretty constantly. Any YouTube video we’ve put up on our channel has on average, at least 10 minutes of “I hate this! It looks awful! Maybe if I put this here… No, how about here… No, wait, here… No, no, I’m going to put it… Nope, that looks bad too.”
It’s okay to rearrange everything you want to put in the cage at least 5 times. You might want to rearrange it all a few more times, just in case. For example, check out this video of me building a Crested Gecko vivarium. It’s one of the first we ever put up on YouTube of building a vivarium, and I move everything I put in the cage at least twice before settling on where it’s going to go. And that’s totally fine! How else will you decide what looks good and what doesn’t?
Tip 5: Use a nice water bowl
Nothing makes a cage look like junk quite as fast as seeing a flimsy tupperware as the water dish, or a dirty dog bowl. Pick up a nice corner dish that you can easily clean, or for added coolness, try using a waterfall or bubbling fountain.
Tip 6: MOSS. Moss EVERYWHERE.
I am a firm believer in that there is no such thing as too much moss in a cage. Not only does it help with humidity, but somehow a cage just doesn’t look finished until moss has been added. Here at LLL, we’ll often keep a big orange bucket full of water and New Zealand Sphagnum Moss so that we can easily add moss to any cage we build.
You can also use green sphagnum moss to create a more natural feel to a cage.
Tip 7: Keep Practicing!
Pretty much the simplest, easiest way to get better at cage building is to keep practicing. Try new items, move things around, add new plants if you decide you don’t like what you put in there anymore. Your cage is not set in stone, and it doesn’t have to stay exactly the way you first set it up forever.
You’d be surprised at what items end up being preferred by your animals. Try these neat false Mushrooms on Rocks – they’ve got perfect little depressions in them that get small puddles of water. Dart frogs love sitting in them!