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How to Build a Salamander Vivarium or Terrarium

I love raising salamanders in my vivarium. They really like scurrying all around the walls.

Here are a few tiger salamanders enjoying their vivarium home.

Here are a few tiger salamanders enjoying their vivarium home.

What Is a Vivarium?

I’m often asked about the single major difference between a vivarium and an aquarium by beginners. It's simple: Instead of being filled with water like an aquarium, a vivarium is land-based and must be filled with various fauna for the particular type of flora for which you’re building a home.

Because of the wide range of rocks, substrates, plants, and soil available, you get to add an artistic, personal touch to the vivarium you envision. It's a creative process that has the added benefit of allowing you to watch the salamander (or other amphibian) interact with an environment of your making. Many people attest to how fulfilling this is; perhaps it's time you try it!

How to Construct Your Own Vivarium, Step by Step

  1. Research Animals and Plants
  2. Choose the Right Tank
  3. Add a False Bottom
  4. Create the Ecosystem
  5. Add Plants and Maintain Moisture
Master vivarium tank.

Master vivarium tank.

1. Research Animals and Plants

If you're just starting out in the community of newt and salamander lovers who want their own little ecosystem, you'll need to start with research. It's important to research the type of salamander you plan on putting into your vivarium once it's completed, because different plants can be more beneficial and homely than others.

Check out popular reptile forums online to see what people are saying; there are a surprising number of experts on building vivariums, terrariums, and even pint-sized nano vivariums for all manner of fauna.

2. Choose the Right Tank

Both aquariums and vivariums start out with the same thing: an appropriate-sized tank. For members of the order Caudata, you want a good-sized tank for a reasonable approximation of their natural range, with a generous allotment of perching stones and general foliage submerged and serving as little islands above the water.

Important Specifications: Size and Covering

Any aquarium of dimensions 24 x 12 x 12 or larger will do nicely for any landscape you eventually construct; although 18 x 12 x 12 can also work well.

Be sure the covering is either a gauze or aerated lid with slits that are always open, with a light hood at the top. This isn’t so important for fish, who get their oxygen from the water and plant life; but for the species of salamander with lungs, it’s absolutely necessary.

Here's a tiny vivarium.

Here's a tiny vivarium.

3. Add a False Bottom

Next; be sure to create a false bottom using easily-acquirable materials from the same pet shop from which you got the aquarium (it will become a vivarium once you lay the hardscape and other natural building materials in the desired arrangement).

The false bottom is glued into place using silicon, which is harmless to the environment of the vivarium.

The Importance of Nutrient Makeup in a Terrarium

The actual nutrient makeup of the ground can depend to some small extent on the suborder of the main salamander order Caudata (if you want to get really technical), but a substrate of organic peat moss will do for all members of Caudata—it simulates the forest floor quite well.

Here's a lush, green vivarium.

Here's a lush, green vivarium.

4. Create the Ecosystem

From here, you should liberally sprinkle in some more elements of the jungle or wetland.

Soil and Hardscape

Hydric soil can be used to support water lilies and cattail plants; with pieces of bark and moss littering the semi-aquatic environment. Personally, I like to take this opportunity to be a little artistic with the chosen arrangement, constructing the kind of hardscape that my salamanders can crawl up out of the damp soil and mini-ponds of the spacious wetland floor.

Waste Recyclers

After all this, remember that you intend for it to be an ecosystem; which means finding a way to recycle the waste. I recommend woodlice, earthworms, and snails. Good moss will function largely to soak up the nitrates anyway, making your vivarium easier to clean and lessening the amount of time you need to change the water pump.


As for prey, salamanders accept a large and varied dish of:

  • slugs,
  • insect larvae and eggs,
  • crickets,
  • leeches,
  • tadpoles,
  • spiders,
  • mealworms,
  • maggots,
  • small fish
  • and even frogs.

If it’s small enough and moves, a salamander’s sticky tongue will likely flash out and try to make a go at it.

You want your vivarium to display both healthy plants and animals.

You want your vivarium to display both healthy plants and animals.

5. Add Plants and Maintain Moisture

Once you’ve filled your new vivarium with plants that thrive in high humidity and have a good mister, because moisture is essential to the continued health of a salamander, you will have a vivarium worthy of display with full, healthy green plants and animal life.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2012 Zaton-Taran


The calamander on October 07, 2018:

I need to make a tiger salamander tiger tunnles. Any advise?

Jure on October 28, 2017:

You do not understand the terms yourself. Aquarium ('aqua' means water) is a type of vivarium for aquatic animals and plants. Terrarium (terra means soil, land) is a type of vivarium for terrestrial animals and plants. Vivarium is the name for all kinds of tanks (aquariums, terrariums or aquaterrariums) that replicate the natural habitat of the species you are keeping.

Zaton-Taran (author) from California on February 04, 2015:

Thanks a bunch, igniabel! I certainly will take a look at "a year in my garden." War with the Newts had the same impression on me - it was an incredible work by an incredible author I learned about in a science fiction class i took in college. Thanks for stopping by!

Igniabel on January 20, 2015:

I loved "War with the Newts". I read it at a very young age, just after reading Jonas by Jens Bjf8rneboe. Both of those books made a ltsiang impression on me.If you like Karel Capek and gardening, you should read "A year in my garden". Your salamander is very cute!Have a great holiday.