Vivarium Humidity – March 2014

By Curtis Pieramico

When setting up a certain cage for different species of animals you have to look at key points in that specific animal’s environment. One way to find these points is to look at the environment in which they come from. We can only try to mimic that environment to the best of our ability, and for a good portion of different species of frogs the best way to mimic this is by building a vivarium. A vivarium is simply described as a naturalistic, self-sustaining environment for your animals to live in. This would include proper lighting, substrate, foliage, moisture and climate. When dealing with the humidity aspect in particular, there are several different ways that will help you all having to do with the idea of a vivarium.

Tropical Vivarium setup for dart frogs

One of the very first steps you go through when building one of these style tanks is the substrate, and in humidity control your substrate will play a big role. A good way to start of is by using a bottom substrate such as Hydroballs or a crushed lava rock. After this layer you usually put a divider such as a mesh or polyfoam followed by the bedding that you are going to plant with. The reason you need these different layers is for drainage of the tank and moisture control with your environment. The simplest way of looking at it is when you plant something in a pot, the pot usually has a little hole on the bottom for the excess water to seep out of it.  This layer of rock or hydroballs is just acting as that drain hole, but without the need for drilling a hole in the bottom of your cage. Without this layer your tank would begin to fill up with water and start to smell very stagnant and gross. Another reason I like to use this layer is because it makes it much easier to regulate how much water you are adding to the environment. If the water hanging down in the Hydroballs is filling up quickly it is a good idea to mist a little less, and if the hydroballs remain dry you can probably mist a little heavier to help with plant growth and humidity. With these layers down you need to put down your substrate and there are a couple different ways of doing this when using live plants in your enclosure.  There are many different substrates from many different companies that you can use for the top layer of your vivarium and much of it just comes down to preference.

A Coco Soft or Eco Earth bedding usually suits the plants well and holds in moisture good but what you can always add on top of this as a little finishing touch is either a live pillow moss or a sphagnum moss. Both of these will help regulate the humidity in your enclosure and make the environment look very appealing as well.

Once you have your cage setup, the plants planted and watered, you have to start thinking of how you want to mist your cage to keep the humidity better regulated for both your plants and animals. This is one of the different aspects of a living vivarium, you are now taking care of both the animals inside the enclosure as well as the enclosure itself.

The two main misting systems are either automatic, or by hand. If you go with an automatic misting system most will have timers that either come with them or can be purchased separately.   This way, your cage is able to be misted at several different times of day instead of just when you are home. The advantage, in my opinion, of using a hand spray bottle or pressure sprayer is that you are watching the environment as you are misting so you are a little more hands-on with the vivarium. Lately, I have just been doing both so I can both watch the environment as well as keep the humidity up at multiple times throughout the day!

A majority of different species of frogs live in either damp environments or very humid environments, so the closer you can get to the climate that they live in, the better. A couple other ways to do this, besides misting the cage, would be to use different humidifiers and water sections in the vivarium. A humidifier in this type of setup is usually a fogger, and specialized versions for terrariums are made by a couple different companies. This you can also keep on a timer, which will pour a light fog into the cage, increasing the moisture and thus the humidity in the environment. The water section I am referring to is very interesting in a vivarium, this is like a built in water bowl for both your animals and to add additional water for your plants. You would incorporate this water section in the stages of putting your layers of bedding in and it can get as intricate as adding a man-made waterfall or feature to the water section.

One of the author’s dart frog tanks filling up with fog.

Everything I’ve said about different humidity techniques are all great ways to make sure you are getting the moisture and humidity that both your plants and animals will need to thrive. The key is to not just add all of the extras and make your cage as moist as it can be, but to find a good balance of both drier and more humid times of day that the plants and animals you have thrive in.

Although frogs and other species do not need to be kept in environments such as these vivariums it just seems to make it both a little more eye catching for everyone, and easier to maintain and keep your animals doing well. The biggest part of these vivariums that makes it a little easier to maintain is that you are not only looking after the animals but the environment as well. The cool part is these two bank off each other left and right making them perfect for each other. The more you water your plants to help them grow, the more humid the environment is for your frogs to help them thrive, and once you have the humidity down in the environment everything will just seem to come second nature.