Building a Salamander Vivarium or Terrarium
I’m often asked about the single major difference between a vivarium and an aquarium, by beginners who are just starting out in the community of newt and salamander lovers wanting their own little ecosystem.
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.
Up above and to the right is a picture of a few (happy?) tiger salamanders enjoying their new vivarium home.
It's important to research the type of salamander you plan on putting into your vivarium once its 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 and terrariums - and even pint-sized nano vivariums for all manner of fauna.
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 being able 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!
Do you think building a vivarium is a worthwhile effort?
That said; they both 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.
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.
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 hard-scape 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.
Importance of Nutrient Makeup in a Terrarium
The actual nutrient make-up 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.
Constructing Your Own Vivarium
From here you should liberally sprinkle some more elements of the jungle or wetland. 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 hard-scape that my salamanders can crawl up out of the damp soil and mini-ponds of the spacious wetland floor.
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, meal worms, 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.
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.