80ish gallon Semi-Aquatic Lizard Tank

Well, I'm back! For the time being at least. I've spent some time at work lately putting together a setup for our water dragons, and I've actually been documenting it pretty well with pictures. So, here's my attempt at an informative Build Log.

If you're here from Tails and Scales' Facebook page, please keep in mind that the language in some (okay, most) of my other posts is not really kid-friendly. The opinions presented in my other posts are entirely my own; they do not represent Tails and Scales, nor Nelson.

Okay! Just wanted to get that out of the way...

It seems like a good idea to start this off with a list of materials. Keep in mind that most of this was scavenged, and that you could pretty easily switch most of the fiddly bits out.

Gather Your Equipement
  • One 80ish gallon tank. 
    • 48"x14"x30ish" This is obviously easily switched, and could vary the amounts of material you need.
  • 3d Backgrounds made by Underwater Treasures. 
    • These things are great! I used them in my chameleon tank recently, and I've used them in a few small setups throughout the store. The foam is much more dense than the Exo-Terra background, meaning that your bearded dragon (or even leopard gecko, those backgrounds suck) won't tear it to shreds. Unfortunately, they've been discontinued, so the ones left in the store are the only ones we can get! You can also do your own background using expanding foam and quikrete, but you'll have to look that up elsewhere.
  • Some plastic Eggcrate.  
  • Insect Screening. 
    • The plastic kind. You don't want metal mesh rusting! This is another to have on hand for tank-building, and like the eggcrate, it's dirt-cheap.
  • Some PVC Pipe. 
    • I took mine from one of those HORRIBLE Exo-Terra mesh cages. It was great to get a large cage for such a price, but they opened terribly, and the mesh wore out quickly. Luckily, the PVC's been going to great use.
  • One good utility knife. 
    • Be careful! For cutting the foam.
  • One handsaw/hacksaw/something similar. 
    • Again with the careful! For cutting the PVC/whatever you use for supports.
  • Wire cutters
    • The easiest way I've found to cut eggcrate. If you know of a better method, please let me know! This is easy, but takes a long time, and is a little hard on the hand when you have to do a lot of it.
  • Silicone. GE I and GE II
    • LOTS of silicone. I've used one tube of clear, and three tubes of black. Go for GE I for clear, and GE II for black. There have been concerns voiced in the past over using any sort of GE II because of the added mildew resistant ingredient, but pretty much everyone is using it nowadays, and I've seen it used in dart frog enclosures, so I'm not concerned.
  • A filter for at least the amount of water you're going to have in the tank. 
    • Always go bigger when you can! I'm stuck with a filter intended for 40g, and using 40g of water. Ideally I'd like at least a 75g filter. This is part of the reason why I made the partition for the filter so large, so that I could replace it with a larger one when I can get my hands on it.
  • Exo Terra Plantation Soil
    • Zoo Med Eco Earth is basically the same stuff. I wouldn't suggest using regular potting soil, but any coco-fibre substrate would be fine.
  • Exo Terra Spanish Moss. 
    • This stuff looks like garbage in the package, but is incredibly nice looking once it's set up properly in a cage. We have some real spanish moss in the store, but it's too sensitive to be of any real use in cages. This stuff is great as ground cover or hanging in the tank, and it's especially nice at hiding seams in your backgrounds.
  • Sphagnum Moss
    • Any dry sphagnum moss will work. I used the cheapest, unnamed variety we have in the store, but there's also Exo Terra and Zoo Med available.

Getting Started

I was already starting with a partially-built tank. I had put in the background, always intending to do something more with it, but I had never gotten any further than that. Fortunately, I was inspired the other day, and relocated the water dragons, drained the water, and got to work.

An overview of the tank. The vertical PVC support
 was removed, and the plastic eggcrate was just there
because I'm messy.
After a good, thorough clenaing, I cut out the background from behind the filter partition. I figured I could use the background elsewhere, and it would also free up more space for the filter. This would have been MUCH easier to do if it wasn't already fastened to the back of the tank.

Then I glued in a few supports. Ignore the eggcrate, it was originally going to be the divider for the partition, but I changed my mind and went with the UWT Vine background. The vertical support of PVC was also removed, because it was in the way of the new, thicker background piece. I also put in a support pipe along the side of the tank that isn't on in this picture. 
Note that there's space between the horizontal support and the background, for the partition's lid to slide in.

The holes in the partition wall. These are not nearly so
obvious when you aren't looking up from underneath;
I had to get Damien to look 3 times before he noticed them.
For the partition, I took one full piece of the UWT foam background, lopped off enough of the top to accommodate the height of the filter, and cut holes in inconspicuous places around the roots. I used a drill to speed things along, and then a knife to carve out the longer channels.

Screen was siliconed on to the back of the piece. This will keep feeder fish and large debris from getting into the filter partition, meaning the fish will be easier to catch, and the filter will stay cleaner! I will have to rinse out the holes occasionally, though.  

The filter's output hole. This is much later in the build.
Ideally you also want to cut a hole for the filter's output now, too. I'm a moron and forgot to do it before I fixed the wall into place, so I was forced to hunch awkwardly over the tank's lip and cut it. Bleh.

 My filter has a pretty simple design, so I wasn't able to use a hose. I need to build a channel from the filter to the partition. I have yet to actually do this, so the full explanation of that will be in part II, whenever I get around to posting that.

The tank with the partition's wall and the skeleton of the top
in place. I forgot to cut a hole for the filter's output before
I siliconed it in. D'oh! 
So! Silicone in the partition wall. Use the black silicone anywhere that silicone will be visible on the glass. It looks much better than the clear silicone when an object is pressed up against the other side of the glass.

Fake Spanish Moss and dirt to disguise cracks and
break the monotony of the background.
Next is the fun stuff. I applied black silicone down all of the dividing cracks between the background pieces, as well as in a few nice-looking spots here and there to make it a little less obvious how evenly the lines were placed. Into this I pressed some Exo-Terra Spanish Moss, and some ET Plantation Soil. Make sure the Plantation Soil is completely dry! And press it onto the silicone well. I also used this method along the top of the partition, to camouflage it a bit.

Now, on to the partition's lid.

Some eggcrate, cut to fit. I should have taken into account the amount of bulk that the window screening and such would add. Then again, the snug fit means that it won't be going anywhere by accident!
Window screen ready to be folded over. I stacked some of the eggcrate
in order to create a little depth. If I were to do it again, I'd use more
eggcrate to add more variation in height. Probably at least 5 sheets thick.

Next, I wrapped the eggcrate in window screen, and slathered it in black silicone.
No pic of the silicone spread fully on. It should be completely covered.

And toss on a bunch of Plantation Soil.

You might be able to skip this step, and just do one
layer of the next step. Give it a try!

Next up, I mixed together a batch of sand, plantation soil, and dry moss. I covered most of the top with black silicone, and pressed on a bunch of the mix.

I covered the underside of the lid completely with clear silicone. This was mostly just to secure the screen a little bit better, but it will also help prevent any sneaky crickets which get on the underside from chewing through the screen.

Tah-dah! Crummy fake rock in the background.
I'm not going to use it.

 And finally, the tank with the partition fully in place!
An overview. I need to clean up the leftover soil on the bottom.
A nicer look at the partition. This will be the water dragons'
basking spot, as well as where we'll put the feeding dishes.

All I need to do now is install the channel for the filter's output and take some pics of the filter's holding. Plus add in all of the branches, greenery, and water ornaments. With luck I'll be able to get all of that done tomorrow, but it will still be a day or two after it's fully set up before I can add the water and test it out, as the silicone needs time to dry. It also would have been a good idea to put in a tunnel for the filter's power cable up the rear corner. It will squeeze up through the partition lid easily enough, but I'm going to need to disguise it under some hanging plants. Hrm... or I could cut out the background from the corner and use it put up a wall... We'll see what happens!

Check back for the finished build in the next few days!

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