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Terrariums

Refurbished Snake Tank Terrarium

When I lived at home with my parents, I went through a phase of keeping some reptiles. I think it started with a chameleon, and later (after it died), I tried keeping snakes.

At one point, I captured a mid-sized brown garter snake from our backyard. What I didn’t know was that it was a pregnant female and later it would have 13 babies. The tank we had (from the chameleon) was not really appropriate for one mid-sized snake, let alone a brood. It did not go well.

I was feeding the mom and babies with crickets, and at one point even got a white mouse to feed to the mom. Eventually the snake babies cannibalized themselves. I think the mom may have even ate some of her own brood. The mouse ended up becoming a last-minute pet instead of someone’s dinner, but after that I don’t remember what we did with it. It was a mess. We eventually let the mommy snake go.

Suffice it to say I was not educated enough about snake keeping. I still feel bad about it. Since that time I have not had the interest (or time) for pets of any kind. I’ve stuck with plants, and have done quite well. They require a different level of commitment, but are far more forgiving.

Fast forward 30 years when I am now into terrariums…

I have no intention – even now – of keeping anything beyond cleanup crew insects and terrarium critters. But I thought that the tank from back then – if intact – could be a good challenge to scape and setup.

The first issue to solve with the old tank was that a crack had formed on what used to be the front.

The crack got worse within the first day of moving the tank from my paren’t place. Since I had no plans to fill the tank with water, this crack was not a complete show stopper, but obviously it had to be addressed.

After some web research, I opted for a multi-pronged approach. I checked the tank for leaks, and there were none. So after drying out, I resealed the entire bottom with silicone as an extra precaution. Then I used a gaffer tape on the crack on the outside, and applied superglue to the crack as best I could. After the glue dried, I also smeared silicone over the entire area of the crack.

Once dry, the front of the tank (which looked like crap) became the rear of the tank, and I designed everything with the idea of hiding that entire area.

The next issue to address was the lid. When I was keeping reptiles, they needed a lot more air, so the original home made top was plywood with a screen center. Since I wanted a closed terrarium, I had to either replace this lid completely with something else, or rework this lid. Since large pieces of plexiglass are expensive and hard to cut, I opted for the rework option.

After removing the screen, I sanded the lid down a bit and repainted it. Then I found an 11 x 14 piece of plastic that was easy to cut, and set that in place with silicone. The plastic is frosted a bit, which isn’t ideal, but it is all that was available.

I knew that this was not going to be the most beautiful tank. But I wanted to give it a shot. I think it came out OK considering the thing is 30 years old and was sitting in an attic for most of that time.

The next issue was finding a good place to put this thing. After a week or more on the dining table, I finally found a space for it what worked better.

Beware halogen lights… read on…

I found an unused halogen light in my collection, and thought it would be perfect for this application. That turned out to be a mistake.

The first day the light was in use, I noticed how hot it was getting, and knew I’d need to replace it eventually. The next day, after the light was on for a few more hours, I noticed the heat from the light had begun to warp the plastic installed on the lid. This spurred an emergency lid repair and I took the halogen out of service. Another trip to IKEA for a proper light!

This project was a lot of fun, despite the setbacks. I planned everything out over a couple weeks to be sure I had time to think things through. This build used everything I learned up to that point about terrariums, and it felt good to finally see the tank used again rather than have it rotting in an attic.

The dragon stone is from Ebay, and the drift wood is from Amazon (boiled for a couple hours to remove tannins). The moss is all locally sourced. The large, darker ivy branch is from our yard, and it appears to be taking root.

I want to let it stabilize for a few weeks before I tweak anything.

May 25, 2021