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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've got a giant vivarium I'm making, not for frogs but I'm not certain which herp I'm going to put in it, either. Anyway, I'm planning to build an "island" in it, or two connected islands, and the frame of those islands is going to be made of several rectangular blocks of eggcrate covered in mosquito netting. They will be sort of built upon each other, so that they look sort of like this in the front view:

https://i.imgur.com/wQEviUy.jpg

And like this from an angle:

https://i.imgur.com/9jcCT6X.jpg

(Forgive the drawing quality, I am no drafter.)

I'm going to be decorating them with a lot of rocks and plants where there is horizontal space to set them, but as you can tell from the picture, this is a largely vertical structure. My question is: What do I do about the sheer vertical faces of this structure, when I can't set rocks or other stuff on them? Do I just GS the side of it and press a typical particle mix into silicone, or is there something I can do that will look more realistic and convincing than that? After all, if I just do that, it's just going to look like dirt walls along the sides... Is there some way to shape rocks and other debris into the side of the walls?

Thanks for your consideration. I'll supply a picture of one of the eggcrate blocks when I get a chance.
 

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Interesting idea! The thing I would worry most about with this idea is getting it to look natural (if that's even a goal). One idea would be to build it in hexagons and paint/epoxy it to look like columnar basalt (think Devil's Tower). You could plant broms and other epiphytes in what would be seams between the hexagons. I will be interested in seeing what you come up with!

Mark
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
Thanks for the info! Basalt structures like the Giant's Causeway were certainly part of what inspired me to do this, although I suspect that to make it look faithfully like a basalt structure would involve less greenery than I plan to put into this terrarium (I have like 10 different plants I'm waiting to restock at Glass Box Tropicals). That is a really cool idea, though! I'm going to pocket that away and probably use it for a smaller viv.

I took a pic of the structure as it stands right now, about 50% complete. This is what it looks like:



It's somewhat misleading, because there are going to be tall structures in the back that haven't been made yet, but it's the basic "isometric building" idea.

EDIT: Also, what should I use to cover the egg crate itself? I was thinking mosquito netting or hygrolon, although I'm not very familiar with the latter.
 

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It looks very "high-rise" right now. If you want to clad it in natural materials, but not all GS and coco, you could try cladding some of it in slate. I have been using slate in a couple of builds for a natural rock look. Nothing looks more like rock than rock. If you get a rock chisel you can split it vertically into very thin sheets. This gives the same look as a slab but with a lot less weight. It can also be cut easily with a wet tile saw, which you can rent from Home Depot or some other DIY store.
There are lots of threads on how to make a rock texture, and those techniques are also an option.
If you want to go more organic on your structure- GS foam and carving would be the way to add curvature to your form. Cladding with Cork Bark is an option as well. You can do all of the above!
"Rock On" as they say, keep us posted.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 · (Edited)
Thanks for the information! I hadn't thought about slate. It would look realistic, have a flat(ish) surface to put against the structure, allow plants to climb (I think?), and be great for helping a snake shed its skin (if I do put a snake in it).

I had passed over the idea of cork panels, but now that I think about it, it wouldn't look unrealistic on the type of skellig-like island I'm trying to make.

Here are updated photographs:





Back:


Also, is there a way to collapse or "spoiler" images so that they don't take up a huge amount of space as a reader is perusing a thread?

EDIT: One more thing, I am having trouble figuring how to attach slate pieces either directly to eggcrate or to whatever I am going to cover eggcrate with. I don't think fast-setting superglue would be strong enough, although I could be mistaken?
 

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Fuzeit is a polymer construction adhesive that is non-toxic and fume free. You could use that to attach the slate.
Gorilla glue would work as well, but with the scant points of attachment, I'd recommend filling the tower with Great Stuff after it has set to get a really solid bond. That might be a good idea with Fuzeit as well. It would eliminate the potential gaps your critters (or their food) could crawl into.
Just an aside: I keep wanting to see a gold "Trump" of the side of your structure somewhere. Just a joke people- no offense intended.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
Ha, I may have to put that on the back side of the island now, where it isn't visible!

Thank you for the adhesive advice. I did buy some Fuze*It (or however they call it), although it occurred to me that if it isn't a dark or black color I may have to find some way to mask it after the slate is on. I may just end up using black-colored GS foam or black aquarium silicone, because there has to be something between the mosquito netting (or bare eggcrate) and slate pieces that hides the pores of that mosquito netting / eggcrate.

Does that make sense? It is hard to describe.

EDIT: Does anyone know if it's possible for an adhesive to stick to Flexseal liquid painted onto a wooden structure? I need to know because later I need to attach a wooden top rail to the ceiling of the vivarium so I can run sliding glass doors, and I can't really attach it any other way except by gluing it, as far as I can tell.

While I'm at it, is there any herp-safe way to paint over Flexseal? I already know from experience that water-based paint seems to not actually stick to it (which makes sense, given what it is), and I've been told oil-based paint continues to exude fumes even after it has cured.
 

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Greetings,

I see you've put in a good bit of work already so I understand if it's a bit late to recommend against the eggcrate structure you've built.

Your vertically-sided structure it going to be immensely difficult to cover with slate as you're considering and I don't think slate is especially conducive to epiphytes. The slate will also be a hazard glued to so many vertical surfaces - if the glue fails you'll have slate daggers falling toward the bottom of the viv.

Have you considered styrofoam (polystyrene)? You can get a huge slab of it at a hardware store cheaply; it's easy to cut, shape and stack into almost any form; you can easily cover with silicone, wicking farbric, cork, etc.

The nicest feature of building with it is the entire structure can hold nails, skewers, wire or toothpicks to anchor plants later. Take a look at an old thread of mine where I show the build:
http://www.dendroboard.com/forum/members-frogs-vivariums/273393-new-vivarium.html#post2623481

I think working with styrofoam will give you more options for your island(s).

Obviously, anything that need to sink in water will be better build from a different material - but you could use eggcrate for the submerged base of your island and then styrofoam for the portions above the waterline.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 · (Edited)
kimcmich,

Thank you for your input. I've been considering the ups and downs of what you suggested for the last hour or so.

First, I don't think it's too late for me to back out of using eggcrate, aside from that I don't know what I'd do with the eggcrate spire I've already made. It only took 3-4 hours, so it's far from the most time-costly part of this project even at this point.

There are two reasons I didn't use styrofoam / EPS foam in the first place:

1) I'm likely to have "gullies" or depressions of some form for terrestrial plants that collect water in the substrate and don't drain through styrofoam, and I don't want to redesign the spire to have no places in which water doesn't drain. Eggcrate + Mosquito netting doesn't have that problem (unless I'm careless with whatever I put over it).

2) More importantly, there are a lot of things about paint / epoxy / mortar / cement that I don't understand in relation to styrofoam. I have a lot of experience with spray foam, silicone, coco/peat backgrounds, eggcrate, and netting, but I really haven't been able to find out how to use other substances well. (I did read your link, but I had trouble understanding some of the concepts. I don't quite understand, for instance, how epoxy and styrofoam pearls could ever be combined into something craftable.)

If I could address those issues somehow, I'd be more than willing to switch to styrofoam; I even have a supply of it in reserve right now. But there are many things that I can't really visualize adequately. Can I just use superglue to attach layers before I carve them? Can I carve them with just a sharp pocketknife, or is there some method even better? How do I texture trees / roots / rocks / an islandscape like this? What kind of paint is realistic-looking?

Again, thank you for that information. I'm certainly willing, if not yet able. I'll re-read your link and see what I missed.
 

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Greetings,

I built the setup I linked to with both styrofoam slabs (panel insulation from Home Depot) and the pearls + epoxy method. Most the of the structure was solid styrofoam and the pearls were just the surface (and I could have done without them).

Gluing styrofoam: Silicone will adhere to roughened styrofoam just as well as it does to spray foam. Solid styrofoam is easily glued with epoxy* or gorilla glue or spray foam (FYI: gorilla glue and spray foam are the same material with different expansion ratios). I used West System epoxy and gorilla glue to glue the layers of styrofoam together. The glue is much tougher than the foam - so ideally you want to do your carving mostly before you glue it together and avoid thick layers of glue between pieces. You can still cut and shape it when glued, too - but not as easily. I carved with a steak knife and a box cutter - most any knife or saw will work.

Note: I put an asterisk on the mention of epoxy because there is always a chance, when mixing plastics, that they can react. Always test your epoxy with whatever materials you want to use BEFORE you go all-in on building with it.

Drainage: As for your water-draining concern, you can easily build a drainage channel (or drill drainage holes) into your styro-stack. You could dover the hole or channel with screen to prevent it from clogging. Given their shape, I don't think drainage will be much of a problem for your spire-islands.

Pearls + epoxy: As I mentioned, this was a surface treatment and was not really necessary. I mixed a couple of gallons of styrofoam pearls (you can get them as beanbag filler) with a half-cup of epoxy. The resulting material is a super-light-weight "paste" that you can apply with gloves and paper towels. It took some practice for me to get used to working with it and I think I could have gotten a similar result by carving the styrofoam slabs more. Given the effort and all the time breathing through a ventilator (to avoid epoxy fumes), taking more time to carve the styrofoam would have been a better use of my time, I think.

TL;DR: You can use all the materials you're used to (silicone, peat, netting, spray foam) with styrofoam slabs and they will be much easier to shape into a natural surface shape that will readily take a surface treatment like silicone+peat or even spray-foam + cork pieces.

The best part of this material is that it becomes a very strong pin cushion. It makes attaching bromeliads, clumps of moss, and even small branches very easy since you can use barbecue skewers or stainless steel pins to anchor stuff anywhere on the structure.
 

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Styrofoam may not be the safest material to use in our vivariums. See the following thread:

http://www.dendroboard.com/forum/beginner-discussion/2000-safety-styrofoam.html

This is a pretty old thread that I managed to find, but I seem to remember other threads more recently still referring to sytrofoam as something to be avoided. I seem to remember a different thread that said that other kinds of foam (the pink or blue stuff?) might be safer. I'm no chemist, so I don't know the difference in the different foam products. I am also skeptical that styrofoam could be completely sealed that it can't interact with the rest of the viv at some point. I would do a bit more research before using styrofoam.

Mark
 

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Encyclia brings up a good point to consider. I have a few thoughts:

1) The studies concern styrene monomers and trimers - not the long chain polystyrenes of which styrofoam is built. Polystyrene is non-biodegradable but it can be degraded by sunlight. Even sunlight degradation, however, leads to small bits of polystyrene - not styrene itself. I think the concern over styrenes are more an issue of pollution from plastic manufacture rather than a problem with polystyrene itself. I will admit, however, that I have not found what I would consider to be "hard evidence" one way or the other.

2) Many things are made of polystyrene - including egg crate. Unless you are going with an all-natural materials viv (+ silicone and glass of course!), you may not be able to avoid polystyrene and concerns about leachates from plastics generally.

I feel a bit like someone telling a pregnant woman that smoking one cigarette isn't going to hurt her baby: A single cigarette won't hurt her baby, it's true - but what will she think of me if she her baby is born with a a birth defect after she has that one cigarette?
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 · (Edited)
Thanks for information again, everyone. I don't know if my snake (pretty sure it's going to be my red-tail green rat snake) will necessarily be drinking the water that touches the island in the water layer; I'm not even sure if these will be true islands with mostly water underneath them or will have 90% sand (or some non-harmful substrate). But if there is a reasonable possibility that styrene will leach into water or elsewhere, I'll at least do some research on it. (EDIT: Just re-read and saw that you mentioned eggcrate in conjunction with styrofoam in order to interact with the water layer. My mistake.)

I wouldn't begrudge anyone for an infinitesimal chance of danger like that even if it did come true --- I am related to many veterinarians and even worked for two of them, and between them I could get some idea of what killed my pet, or if not from them, from an exotics vet they know. So I wouldn't spend sleepless nights not knowing.

I suppose I can get marine epoxy from a West Marine store and paint epoxy from a Sherwin-Williams?

And if I may ask, how do people make colors / textures like the terraria / paludaria in these photographs? Not that all of them are "island spire"-like textures, but they will all be helpful to me eventually (EDIT: changed most of them to attachments below):



Thanks again for your consideration.

Natural landscape Nature Water Water resources Waterfall

Tree Wood Branch Plant Art

Tree Window Room Branch Plant


EDIT: Last question for now: Can I just cover the entire eggcrate structure with spray foam and work it like a foam structure from there? It may be less work at this point and besides, I have a store of like 10-12 GS Pond & Waterfall canisters.
 

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These are also good points. I bet if we knew everything that we put into vivariums that are "bad" for our critters, we would be very surprised... I guess I just try to avoid anything that I know is a possible health risk, especially if there might be other, safer options that can be used instead (GE Silicone II falls into this category for me). I like your pregnant woman analogy. Every keeper of animals has to make numerous decisions that come down to this inconvenient truth. Every keeper likely comes to different conclusions, too. I like to think that we all want what's best for our animals. We do bear a burden to do our research and decide what is best. I appreciate you acknowledging that it might be a problem and folks can make whatever decision they see fit. Me, I am going to go look at the frogs in the 20ish tanks I have with egg crate in them ;-)

Cheers,

Mark

Encyclia brings up a good point to consider. I have a few thoughts:

1) The studies concern styrene monomers and trimers - not the long chain polystyrenes of which styrofoam is built. Polystyrene is non-biodegradable but it can be degraded by sunlight. Even sunlight degradation, however, leads to small bits of polystyrene - not styrene itself. I think the concern over styrenes are more an issue of pollution from plastic manufacture rather than a problem with polystyrene itself. I will admit, however, that I have not found what I would consider to be "hard evidence" one way or the other.

2) Many things are made of polystyrene - including egg crate. Unless you are going with an all-natural materials viv (+ silicone and glass of course!), you may not be able to avoid polystyrene and concerns about leachates from plastics generally.

I feel a bit like someone telling a pregnant woman that smoking one cigarette isn't going to hurt her baby: A single cigarette won't hurt her baby, it's true - but what will she think of me if she her baby is born with a a birth defect after she has that one cigarette?
 

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Encyclia brings up a good point to consider. I have a few thoughts:

1) The studies concern styrene monomers and trimers - not the long chain polystyrenes of which styrofoam is built. Polystyrene is non-biodegradable but it can be degraded by sunlight. Even sunlight degradation, however, leads to small bits of polystyrene - not styrene itself. I think the concern over styrenes are more an issue of pollution from plastic manufacture rather than a problem with polystyrene itself. I will admit, however, that I have not found what I would consider to be "hard evidence" one way or the other.
Leaching and degradation aren't the same thing and degradation isn't required to get leaching. Regardless of the polymeric materials, your never going to get 100% of the material reacting to form the ideal end molecule. It is these shorter molecules that can end up leaching and you don't have to have degradation to release these molecule from the end product. Now the point here is that materials like non-food styrofoam and egg crate are forms of polystyrene and since they aren't for food usage, there is less oversight on how much those materials may leach styrene and other molecules.

Leaching from long-chain polystyrenes is well documented in the literature.


See Ahmad, Maqbool, and Ahmad S. Bajahlan. "Leaching of styrene and other aromatic compounds in drinking water from PS bottles." Journal of Environmental Sciences 19.4 (2007): 421-426.

Soto, Ana M., et al. "p-Nonyl-phenol: an estrogenic xenobiotic released from" modified" polystyrene." Environmental health perspectives 92 (1991): 167.

Rani, M., et al. "Leaching characteristics of hexabromocyclododecanes (HBCDs) from expanded polystyrene buoy in water." Organohalogen Compounds 75 (2013): 691-694.

Sanagi, M. Marsin, et al. "Determination of residual volatile organic compounds migrated from polystyrene food packaging into food simulant by headspace solid phase microextraction–gas chromatography." The Malaysian Journal of Analytical Sciences 12.3 (2008): 542-551.

I feel a bit like someone telling a pregnant woman that smoking one cigarette isn't going to hurt her baby: A single cigarette won't hurt her baby, it's true - but what will she think of me if she her baby is born with a a birth defect after she has that one cigarette?
The problem is that it is a statistical event and as a result you can't really say that one cigarette is going to hurt the child... if you could be sure the audience would understand it,you would be saying the chance one cigarette would hurt am unborn child all other risks normal, would be approaching zero. So while it is unlikely but there is always a chance that someone could get the bad draw/roll. Now this also means you can't point at what looks to be the bad roll and say it was definitely caused by smoking...

To some extent this is why I suggest that people use flow through systems where the water is drained and flushed from the system and discarded....

some comments

Ed
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 · (Edited)
To some extent this is why I suggest that people use flow through systems where the water is drained and flushed from the system and discarded....
Could you elaborate on this, or direct me with a link to what sort of thing you are talking about? I am trying to picture such a system.

EDIT: Also, regarding creating realistic rocks out of foam pieces, which sort of substance do you cover it with? I've tried Quickrete, and I didn't find that much good. I see the recommendation of Drylok, but I don't know which type to use.
 

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Now the point here is that materials like non-food styrofoam and egg crate are forms of polystyrene and since they aren't for food usage, there is less oversight on how much those materials may leach styrene and other molecules.
Thanks for the literature refs. At least 2 of those refs concern food packaging and water bottles. So even "food grade" polystyrene materials that may have increased safety oversight still leach styrenes. This would suggest that all polystyrene objects have a leaching problem and hence egg crate is also a material of concern.

To some extent this is why I suggest that people use flow through systems where the water is drained and flushed from the system and discarded....
There are SO MANY advantages to a flow-through/drain-out system (substrate moisture control, minimizing anoxia and avoiding tannin/salt buildup) and this is another benefit of that design.

Embrace the fully draining false bottom!
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Considering the place my vivarium is going to be placed, it will be almost impossible for me to construct an adequate drainage facility unless I decide to remove one of my existing vivaria. I may have to resort to the less sophisticated method of just removing it manually with a turkey baster once in a while.
 

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Could you elaborate on this, or direct me with a link to what sort of thing you are talking about? I am trying to picture such a system.
The simplest version of this is that there is a limit to how how the water in the false bottom can become before it automatically drains into a sump or other container for disposal.

EDIT: Also, regarding creating realistic rocks out of foam pieces, which sort of substance do you cover it with? I've tried Quickrete, and I didn't find that much good. I see the recommendation of Drylok, but I don't know which type to use.
Many institutions use a form of hard plaster over sculpted styrofoam to simulate rocks and other materials. These are typically then stained/painted and then sealed with epoxy.

Here is one method that resulted in an enclosure that is still up and running more than a decade later http://www.dendrobatidae.org/Portals/0/activeforums_Attach/1424223459371.pdf

some comments

Ed
 
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