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How to vertically orient an aquarium for arboreal reptiles and amphibians

Depending on the species of herps that you choose to keep, you may find it necessary to provide more vertical space than horizontal space in order to allow the animal to climb. Many types of lizards, snakes and frogs have arboreal lifestyles and must be provided with the proper terrarium design to promote proper habits and behaviors. Following are some simple instructions and tips on how to take a standard rectangular aquarium and vertically orient, decorate, heat, light and secure the enclosure, yet making it easy to keep and maintain. For this example, we will use a 20 gallon long glass aquarium with the dimensions of 30 x 12 x 10 (LxWxH) that will house a pair of juvenile Gonyosoma oxycephala.

For this design you will need the following (besides the tank, lid and lid clips):

1. Drill
2. Glass drill bit (1/8 inch)
3. Screws
4. Metal washers that correspond with the screws
5. Phillips or flat head drill bit or screwdriver
6. 1/16 drill bit
7. Water
8. Some type of saw
9. Branches, mango root... etc. Whatever wood you want to decorate the tank with.
10. Artificial plants
11. Heat pad/Cable
12. Fluorescent light and fixture
13. Thermostat

First, any pieces of wood that you want inside the tank should be pre-cut to the inner width of the tank walls. Using a jigsaw, cut 3-4 branches of varying shapes and diameters to fit inside the tank's width with about an 1/8 of an inch of space on each side of the tank to allow it to be later screwed in without putting any stress on the glass. With the tank standing vertically, imagine and visualize where you would like the branches to be at. We suggest mounting branches several inches off of the base of the tank for two main reasons. First, it allows space to provide a hide box and second, it makes it easy to clean and replace your bedding or newspaper. "How should I place them?", "At what height should I place them?", "How far apart should I place them?" These are all questions you should ask yourself before you drill any holes. At this point, with a magic marker, place a spot of ink on each side of the tank so you know where to drill holes. It is a good idea to screw the branches in on both sides of the tank. If you only screw one side in, there will be a lot of stress on that piece of glass as only one screw is supporting the weight of the branch and any animal that may be perched on it.

(NOTE: The bottom of many tanks over 55 gallons are tempered and cannot be drilled. Please contact the manufacturer of your tank or look for any labeling before you drill holes.)

Once you are happy with how you want your branches mounted and your holes are marked, you are ready to start drilling. Lay your tank down on it's side so that the tank's top is facing you. Try to start drilling dry to keep the bit from sliding. Starting at an angle, and the drill on high speed, bring the bit to the glass and start drilling so that the bit goes in at an angle. By doing this, it will help to keep the bit from spinning and sliding off of your marked point. Once you have a decent start, slowly bring the bit to a 90 degree angle and continue drilling for about 30 seconds. Once you have your hole well defined, you MUST apply a small amount of water to the drill site to lubricate the bit and the glass. If the glass gets too hot in the drilling process, you risk breaking the tank. Because of the presence of water, it is safer to use a cordless drill. You do not need to put an excessive amount of weight on the drill as this may cause stress fractures or chipped glass as the bit gets closer to going though the glass. As you approach the completion of the hole, it is wise to put a towel or a cloth around the drill bit (not physically touching it however) as this will keep your drill from hitting the glass when the hole punches though. Repeat this for each hole that you need on either side of the tank.

Once again, stand your drilled tank up on end so that it is vertical with the open end facing you. Take one of your pre-cut branches and place it at the corresponding holes. Placing a magic marker or a pen through the holes, mark each end of the branch where you would like the screw to enter. Take the branch back out of the tank and drill a pilot hole with your drill bit (not the glass bit). Now place a washer on the screw and slide it to the head. Screw in one side of the branch, but be sure not to over tighten as you don't want excessive stress on the glass. Place a washer on the next screw, slide it to the head and screw in the other side. Repeat this for each piece of wood that you have holes for. Once all of your branches are mounted you can wipe the tank out and make sure it is clean of any saw dust, glass shards etc. Once you have your wood mounted inside the tank, feel free to decorate those branches by wrapping some artificial plant vines around them. Get creative. You can secure your vines and artificial plants by using cable ties. You may even choose to provide some arboreal hides by using cork rounds screwed into your mounted branches, or you may choose to mount a cork round directly to the glass. Use your imagination.

Now that the tank is decorated, you need to provide heat. Placing an incandescent light directly on glass will cause the glass to crack and/or shatter. You may choose to have the heat light shine in though the front screen. We prefer to use heat cable and heat pads. Heat pads can be taped to the back or the sides of the tank at varying heights. Heat cable can be taped on the sides, back, bottom or top. Some of them are water resistant and can even be wrapped around branches inside the tank (Drill a hole, run your heat cable in and wrap it around your desired hot spot). We strongly recommend using your heating element in combination with a good thermostat to ensure proper temperatures.

If used as previously mentioned, incandescent lights can be used, but we don't like to as they are in the way when you want to open the enclosure. Your heat pads and cable should provide proper heat gradients. The only reason for lighting is viewing and photo periods. For this, we use standard fluorescent lights. You can use tube fluorescent or compact fluorescent. Fluorescent lights can sit directly on the top glass (which will provide some heat as well) or they can be suspended above the tank. The choice is yours.

With your tank otherwise finished, it is ready to place. Vertically placing the tank on a flat surface poses a problem when you attempt to put the lid on. Since the molding of the tank is sitting on the stand or what have you, your lid will not slide on as it should. To correct this problem, glue 2 spacers (a piece of wood about 1/4 inch thick by the length of your vertical tank) directly to the bottom glass. The spacers are placed on the glass, flush with the molding of the tank. Depending on where you will place your lid clips, you may have to apply your front spacer in sections to allow your clip to latch to the molding of the tank. To secure the lid to the tank, we use two clips on the top and two clips on the bottom. By placing the securing clips on the top and bottom, you are able to put cages side by side and utilize one heating element to potentially heat two enclosures.

(DISCLAIMER: Reptaquatics is not responsible for any damage incurred to any aquarium during the drilling process. It is a skill that must be properly taught, learned and practiced. We recommend practicing drilling on pieces of scrap glass until one is comfortable in their skill.)