March 19, 2015

Within the reptile and amphibian hobby, there is a growing segment of hobbyists who are keeping natural terrariums, also called vivariums.
What is fueling the growth of these types of setups?

“In recent years, poison dart frogs, tree frogs and many of the smaller gecko species have become increasingly popular; with that, terrariums and vivariums have grown in popularity,” said Mike Rizzo, owner of Glass Box Tropicals, a Michigan-based supplier of plants, terrarium supplies and poison dart frogs. Many of these animals fare best when kept in elaborate, naturalistic habitats.

The Enclosure

An important part of a natural terrarium is the terrarium itself. While it is possible to create a vivarium in an aquarium, enclosures designed for reptiles are often superior.

“We have a reptile terrarium that has our patented BioBubble Dome on the top,” said Steve Berlin, vice president of sales and marketing for BioBubble Pets LLC. “It’s an elongated BioBubble that has vent doors on either side. It’s got a beautiful viewing zone in the front. It’s got a nice deep bedding tray on the bottom for mulch or dirt or plants.”

“We’ve also got a more vertical unit that we just call the reptile bundle. That comes with a screen top. We display all of these different units with arachnids, cactus, butterflies and moths and praying mantis,” said Berlin.

According to him, they would appropriate for leopard geckos, crested geckos and most other small to medium herps.

The popularity of chameleons combined with their special needs has lead BioBubble to create an enclosure just for them, the Chameleon Cantina.
“It’s a vertical unit with lights that shine from the top,” said Berlin. “We include pieces of wood and leaves to provide climbing spots for the chameleon.

You can fill the bottom with earth or mulch and grow orchids [and other plants] in it.”

Zilla also features a vertical terrarium.

“The Zilla Vertical Tropical Terrarium is number one for someone looking to start a realistic, natural vivarium,” said Ryan McVeigh, the company’s brand manager. “Front-opening terrariums lend themselves to a lot more flexibility when setting up a natural vivarium, as well as allowing for better plant growth due to being taller.”

UPG’s line of ReptoHabitat enclosure are also perfect for vivariums. For a rainforest or semi-aquatic setup, the Deluxe Repto Habitat offers “unique attributes, including sliding glass doors and a proprietary low-profile drain and plug,” said Nick Kornblith, senior product manager, UPG Aquatics.

Terrarium Supplies

It may seem like a lot of work—and shelf space—to start carrying products for vivariums. But it may not be as big of a commitment as it seems.

“Many pet stores may already stock items such as sphagnum moss; natural wood products, such as virgin cork, manzanita, Malaysian driftwood and rosewood; assorted rock products; ultrasonic humidifiers; hand mister bottles; and natural tropical mosses,” said Rizzo. “The water pumps they carry may be used to create waterfalls and fish tanks may be converted into terrariums or vivariums.”

However, there are definitely some specialty products that pet retailers should consider stocking if they want to cater to vivarium enthusiasts.

“To supply customers who would like to build a terrarium or vivarium, I’d recommend carrying the following basic materials: hydroton or Growstones to use as a drainage layer, fabric to use as a divider between the drainage layer and substrate, a suitable substrate for terrariums and leaf litter (typically live oak, southern magnolia and sea grape are used),” said Rizzo.

“In addition to those items, virgin cork bark (flats and tubes) and driftwood (manzanita and/or Malaysian) are popular decorations and are extremely long-lasting in vivarium conditions. Finally, stores should stock some micro-fauna such as springtails and isopods. These help to complete the ecosystem and are easy to culture and care for,” he said.

The substrate is critical because that is going to provide the medium for the plants. Rizzo recommends ABG substrate, a soil developed by the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. This material is available through online vendors, such as Glass Box Tropicals.

Of course, retailers can offer a variety of other substrates.

“Zilla Jungle Mix does an incredible job,” said McVeigh. “It contains a mixture of sphagnum moss, peat moss and ground fir. It holds humidity well, will drain excess moisture well and also allows for air to get into the soil, which is essential for plant growth.”

“Zilla Terrarium Moss can also be added to the surface for more moisture and humidity as well as to trap moisture in the Jungle Mix so that it doesn’t dry out quickly. Another option for bedding is the Zilla Coconut Husk Brick,” he said.

Making the Sales

The best way to drive sales of the natural terrariums and the products and animals that live in them is to have one on display.

“When possible, set up an attractive displays with live animals!” said Kornblith. “One of the displays that has been very successful for UPG is to set up a semi-aquatic environment with a running stream using our Viquarium kit.”

According to him, fire-bellied toads and fire-bellied newts do well in this type of setup..

Rizzo agreed that having a natural display is important.

“From my experience in doing business with pet store owners, it is to their benefit to set up a display tank for customers to see,” he said. “Many customers may not realize the possibilities that exist when it comes to terrariums. Seeing a display can help them realize both the range of designs and what a beautiful addition it could be to their home or office.”

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