Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Building a vivarium for your crested geckos

This is how I made a crested gecko enclosure out of a craigslist score piece of furniture. I looked intensely for a few weeks for something that would suit my needs. Solid, easy to open door, possibility of ventilation, lots of visibility, looked cool per my eccentric tastes, and fit on the tiny amount of wall space I have that isn't art covered. Ok- it is art covered, but I can make room for my geckos.

Mostly I looked at curio cabinets, glass shelves, hutches and the like. Then I happened on a gun cabinet that was close to fitting my needs but for way less money. So I searched my area craigslist for other gun cabinets and voila! Practically a curio cabinet but for less money. Why do people think they can ask for $600 for a broken piece of furniture they found in grandma's storage locker!? Whoever is paying $600 for such things- quit it. You're ruining everything. But I digress...

So I found this gun cabinet and brought it home. I fixed a few things cosmetically and considered what I needed for my geckos. The key to enjoying your nocturnal pets is keeping them happy so they don't hide ALL the time and creating easy visibility for yourself (and of course ease of care is a must)!

Ventilation. Resistance to water. Lots of visibility. Hides. Lighting. Comfort for them, visibility for me.

I needed to bring the substrate high enough so that it would be more in line with the view-able area (as in the glass areas). That way if the geckos were on the floor of the enclosure, they would be visible if I were sitting nearby. I needed lighting and I needed to decorate it in a way that provided multiple horizontal and vertical perches. Multiple geckos means you need to provide multiple places of safety or they might compete or fail to thrive in general.

STEP ONE: I made sure to remove anything dangerous e.g. exposed nails, staples, sharp wood pegs that did something useful in their previous gun cabinet life. I couldn't remove one of those pegs fully so I improvised. I sanded it down so be as small as possible and as rounded as possible.

STEP TWO: I wiped it all down with rubbing alcohol to remove any oils or unknown chemicals.

STEP THREE: Background. I couldn't decide what to use as the background. The background and the substrate are as important to the overall look of the enclosure as the decorations. Because HEY- they're visible.
I considered painting a mural and decided not to because it would be a pain to seal it enough to resist the daily water misting my pets require. I considered a few other options: fabric, tapestry, yarn streamers (they look very cool if you use thick yarn in a natural bamboo-like color). Then I went to the bathroom and BEHOLD! My shower curtain. My tacky-but-who-cares shower curtain depicting a photograph of a jungle scene. Perfect. Waterproof, easy, jungle-tastic. Like a scene straight from New Caledonia. Of course I had to replace my shower curtain in case I decided to shower sometime. 

I measured the area I needed to cover and then cut the shower curtain to fit. Added bonus, the fabric doesn't fray so I didn't have to hem anything. I assure you, I was feeling very pleased with myself and this is probably the pride that caused my later fall, which I will tell you about at the end.

I staple gunned my shower curtain to the back of the gun cabinet, using very small shallow staples. Easier to remove if necessary and less protruding pokey things out the back. In a few areas I used hot glue to insure there would be NO WAY for the geckos to get behind the curtain. People say mice can fit into anything, geckos are even better at tight squeezes. When in doubt, lash/glue/staple/stuff it so that the gecko won't hide there. They probably won't get stuck, but you certainly won't be able to see them.

STEP FOUR: Substrate. Substrate choice is very important for geckos. You don't want them to eat it on purpose or on accident. So to my thinking that rules out sand or small rocks or fine dirt. My solution is to use spray foam to build the height and interest of the ground. GREAT STUFF spray foam is aptly named (though I feel like an idiot when I ask for it at the hardware store, "I'm looking for great stuff!")

When using great stuff as a substrate you can use it to anchor your structural elements (like limbs) if they are not too heavy.

What I used:three large cans of Great Stuff, a serrated steak knife that I use for crafts, a thick plastic drinking cup.
I also stuck three dried limbs into the foam to serve as trees. (Only two pictured). I jammed the third one in after the foam had dried.

If you've never used spray foam before I suggest you do your research. It is very, very sticky. And it can dry very, very quickly or in my case with many layers, pretty slowly. It's paintable but do not bother sculpting, priming or painting before it is dry on the outside AND the inside. Not sure? Poke a pencil or something you can throw away into the foam forcibly. Does it come out clean or does it come out sticky? Or did any wet foam protrude from the hole? If in doubt, wait. If the outside is dry but the inside is wet and you prime or paint, it will expand and crack your work and leave ugly veining. Protect everything from the foam, especially the glass, the wood, the background. If it does get on something, try acetone (nail polish remover). I used wax paper to protect my background and the glass.

Ok- once it's definitely dry, you can sculpt. This part is a little (or a lot of) artistry and planning. Purely. For some this will be an intuitive and easy and happy process and for others, nope. Having a plan will help, being flexible will also help. Know what you need, what you want and what you're capable of.

Keep in mind during planning: 1. Geckos hide, you can design hiding places to work for YOU AND them. Avoid any unintentional hiding places. I caulked the edges of the spray foam area and the walls and glass. 2. Think about where you want the water dishes/food dishes/mealworms/crickets etc. to go.
I wanted a in-ground hiding hole they'd use that didn't prevent my viewing but satisfied their desire for safety.
I wanted to add natural elements like rocks and a built in area for a water dish. I also wanted an area to put a dish of natural substrate for any of my geckos that are gravid. So they have a comfortable place to lay eggs. (I used an old plastic planter dish and foamed around  the side. In the photo it appears in the middle of the substrate as a black square.

To make the hide I used a stiff edged plastic cup and cut a hole in the top and taped it in place then foamed around it, let that stiffen up pretty well then added more foam around and over it. I kept the open end near the glass so I could see inside. I cut a hole through the foam to the hole in the cup for access. (Note: I also left an area towards the front of the viewing area that would allow an additional way to escape just to prevent one gecko trapping another in there).
I didn't limit my foaming to the ground. I used it to add texture to the base of the limbs and to add a platform area like a nest and to mount two sticks together to create the 'Y' shape I wanted. (See more photos below).

So to recap this part. Have a plan, be flexible (because the foam isn't), protect everything from the foam, sculpt the foam to suit your needs. 

STEP FIVE: Prime, paint, seal.
I used black acrylic paint to primer because it is low odor and dries quickly. I water it down about 50% with water so that it more easily covers the foam. On foam that isn't sculpted and on the caulking you shouldn't water down the paint because it doesn't adhere well to the smooth surfaces. I did two coats for better coverage.White doesn't much occur in nature except wave-caps and snow so I tried to get rid of as much of the white as possible.
After the primer is dry, you go to town with color. This is NOT DIFFICULT. You do not have to be an artist. The rough edges of the foam lend themselves to creating a naturalistic look. After the primer I chose two browns (one dark and one light) and three greens (keep your background in mind) and dabbed them on. Don't let lack of painting skills stop you, it practically takes care of itself as long as you can bring the paint and the brush. I use the green to incorporate my "trees" into the ground, to make it look more cohesive. I blot it on to look like some sort of moss or lichen on the ground that is creeping up the tree.

Sealing is tricky. I'm terrified of fumes hurting my geckos. So that narrows my selection a lot. It was either shellac or elmer's glue. I chose Elmer's glue for two reasons. It stinks less for less time than shellac and I had it at my house at the time. I water it down about 50% with water and did about three coats. Letting each dry entirely. Picture is of my gluey brush. and the white all over the substrate there is the wet glue/water mixture.

Pictures of the cabinet with the doors opened and closed. 

The added fake plants were carefully chosen. The colors had to look nice together and the background. They couldn't be easily pulled apart or swallowed and they couldn't have little metal wires protruding. The vines are braided loosely together and were purchased for $3 at Hobby Lobby. I couldn't make them for cheaper so I didn't.

A close-up of the hidey hole made out of a plastic cup and the spray foam. It sits flush to the display glass except at the top left where a gecko could make an escape from the hole if necessary. Second photo shows top hidey hole enterance as well.

The platform I made out of foam and tree limbs. I spooned out a place to set one of the food bowls. Roughly inspired by a hummingbird's nest. 

And THIS. This is what happens when you get all proud about your own construction triumphs. You get distracted during foaming and stick your fringe into the hummingbird knock-off that hasn't finished drying. A few weeks later, it still isn't all the way gone. 
Good thing I'm too cool/lame to care.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Kid games

Some times kids are really good at playing together in make believe games and sometimes they're not. Some times they stop pretending themselves and just tell the other people to do all the pretending for them.

During those make believe games, playing becomes more like lazy, displaced, thinly veiled bragging. Most of those such games I witness or listen to contain one or more of the following themes (even if the exact wording is a little different):

A. "Pretend that I was the most awesome at what we are about to pretend to do and that you didn't know and that when we do do what we're going to do you are visibly surprised and delighted with how awesome I am."

B.  "Pretend you think that I died and that you're VERY sorry that I'm dead. But I'm not dead."

C. "Pretend there were werewolves/volcanoes/snakes/pirates/parents/wizards and that I saved you and you're grateful."

D. "Pretend that you underestimated me and then I greatly exceeded your expectations and everyone else's too... by a lot."

E. "Pretend that I hadn't eaten in several weeks and I was very hungry and bearing it with great stoicism despite my obvious discomfort. And you had loads of food the whole time and upon realizing the tragic unfairness you attempt to feed me some of your food." (Usually followed by theme B.)

F. "Pretend I killed you."

G. "Pretend my muscles bulge a great deal when I move even slightly."

H. Pretend that everyone can't stop thinking about how preternaturally gifted/strong/accurate/pretty I am.

There are more. So many more. But that's all I have for now.