Southern Angle Headed Dragon Enclosure Complete (This is a long story!)

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Sparky85

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Hey Guys

So I finally finished my SAHD's enclosure. Not working flat out on it, I'd say it took me about 3 months all up. The basic set up includes a 4ft aquarium with a custom "hood" which I built, a pond area with waterfall, a land area and a home-made rock background.
I thought I might share a bit of info of my experiences of building my first rainforest-style terrarium, with you guys.

First of all the occupants: A male and a female Southern Angle Headed Dragon named Ryu and Lupe
Ryu and Lupe.jpg


As they were small, i initially had them housed in a storage box set up with a cut out in the lid covered by mesh. I ended up not having the UV light in the box, but built a temporary lamp holder (which you will see later. Also I am an electrician so I have the know-how to do so), which sat on top of the mesh. I didnt want the light to damage their eyes, as I decided it would be too close in the box. I added the basics- a branch, water dish, some foliage, a spare hide which I had laying round and a hydrometer/thermometer. I sprayed them once or twice a day with a spray bottle to keep humidity up, stuck a 14w heat mat and a probe thermostat on the side of the box to keep the temps adequate (as it was winter and cold and their preferred temp range is around 16-28 degrees celsius) and fed them some small crickets every day. Usually about 4 or 5 each and a few more just running around so they could eat whenever they wanted. I kinda like the idea of them having to "hunt" for their food. I do the same with my Green Tree Frogs. Plus it is entertaining to watch.
Initial Set Up.jpg

So now that I had my critters, I wanted to make them an awesome habitat. I had always wanted to make a nice display enclosure so decided that these guys would be my first project. I had researched as much as I could about this species, and although I found a few articles, there is not a hell of a lot of information out there. In the end I concluded on the following:
-They are rain forest dwellers
-They require a humid environment
-They like to climb
-They are diurnal (active during the day)
-They require UV lighting
-Have an i deal temperature range of 16-28 degrees celsius
-Are not known to bask so dont necessarily require a heat source

Now my knowledge is not gospel and also not limited to the above, but from the best of my research abilities I decided that meeting the above requirements as a minimum would result in a suitable environment for SAHD to live (Feel free to post any of your own knowledge and/or suggestions). Keeping this in mind, and already having access to a 4ft aquarium with stand, I drew up some basic plans. These plans went something like this:
-Rain forrest inspired enclosure
-Section off one third with a piece of glass to create a pond area with a waterfall to maintain humidity
-The other section would be land with coir substrate
-Plenty of branches and faux plants/vines/bushes (plenty of greenery)
-A rock back ground
-Customised hood to accomodate lighting and for easy access to the enclosure
Basically what Im saying is that I recommend having a plan as to what you want to achieve. You can easily make changes and tweak things along the way, but some research and a rough blue print makes life a lot easier!

The first thing I did was design and build the canopy. It consists of two pieces:

A "box" section at the back to accomodate the lights and heat lamps (although it is not detrimental I decided to add a little heat source to the enclosure as I am in Melbourne and temps can get quite low here). It is a simple set up of a few blue 40W party globes, from bunnings, in the centre and then a 13W UVB 2.0 lamp at either end of the box. I still have to wire in the UV lamps but the heat lamps are all sorted. The animals are protected from the heat lamps by a custom made mesh screen which is fixed over and around the lamps with velcro. The heating and lighting (and also pond pump) all run off the same timer and turn off at night as now it is a little warmer and temps dont drop below 18 degrees at night.

The front section is a simple rectangle frame made from 19mmx42mm pine. Its hard to explain but I firstly constructed a rectangle which was braced in the centre with a cross bar and measured the same length and half the depth of the enclosure, with the timbers in a flat position (42mm side down). I then used some more cut to size lengths and attached them around the front and on two sides of the rectangle, only this time they were positioned on their sides (19mm side down). This effectively provides a lip around the edge to prevent the lid from sliding off. The same lip exists around the light box. I then lined the under side of the rectangle with fly screen mesh for ventilation. I fixed this on using a staple gun. I would also recomend sealing the pine with varnish or something to prevent water damage from humidity. I havent sealed mine as it will probably only be temporary. Everything is fixed together with liquid nails as well as real nails. I was going to fill all the gaps and sand it back before varnishing but I just couldnt be botheres in the end. Hopefully from the pic below you get a better idea of what i am trying to describe.

Far view of set up.jpg

Next I decided to create the rock wall back ground. It should be noted that I have ZERO carving, sculpting or painting abilities. But despite this, I actually was genuinely happy with how my backgrounds turned out.
There are plenty of videos and information online and on this site as to how to go about it. But I will give a little bit of detail as to how i went about creating mine.

Firstly I got a few sheets off polystyrene from building sites I worked on, as well as from packaging. I then went about cutting them, roughly shaping them and then sticking them together with liquidnails. I made sure to measure the length and height of my aquarium first to make sure that they would fit. I worked out that i would need to make two separate pieces to be able to get them inside the enclosure, past the bracing of the aquarium. This worked out in my favour as the glass i uesd to divide the cage fits perfectly between the two sides of the wall. Once you have your shape sorted (by sticking random pieces together it is easier to make ledges and rocks etc and get that uneven rocky shape) you can start carving the rocks to add more character and give it a more realistic look later on. Take your time with this. Use a knife to gash, chop, stab etc a rock shape. Pick at it with your fingers, melt it with a flame (be sure to do this in a ventilated area and wear a mask) it doesn't matter what method you use. Just take your time and be creative. If you have gaps, fill them with expandy foam. This has the advantage of being easily carved and shaped too. The only thing to be aware of is not to be to intricate at this stage. Make your detail large and deep as once you add your mortar mixture later, any fine details will be covered over. Here is what mine looked like before carving and shaping:
Background stage one.jpg

So once I got the basic layout and was satisfied with my shape and detail, I then moved on to coat the wall with several layers of cement. I decided to use a mixture of grout (the type you use for bathroom tiles) pva glue and of course water. The pva glue helps to add "elasticity" to the grout, as by its self it would be to brittle and have no give. Some people choose to use render or a mixture of sand and cement, but I chose to use grout as I found that the mixture was a lot smoother and easily covered all the nooks and crevices. This is from my experience anyway- each to their own.
I also found it useful to add some coloured oxide to the mixture. This helps to see that you have covered every part of the rock with every coat. It also helps later on in that you dont have to paint the entire background to get it "rock" colour. I just used a burnt yellow colour with a small amount of black.
For the first coat, I made the mixture very runny and thin. I did this to make sure I covered the entire surface and so that the first layer would adhere to the polystyrene. After that I thikened it up gradually to the point where i could make soft peaks in the mixture, like when you beat an egg white. This helped later on because I could shape and mould the mixture as I coated on each layer. This helped a lot to add shape and definition. I applyed each layer using a amall, cheap, flat paintbrush. I would dolp it on each area and spread it around. The brush helps to add texture. After about 10 minutes of drying time, I would go back with the brush and "stab" the bristles in all over the surface. This was great for adding a rough texture as the grout goes on smooth. I ended up doing about 4 coats over a couple weekends. Its important to let each layer dry for about 24hours. Here are a few examples of the different coats:
20130129_160539.jpgSecond Coat Different Colour.jpg

The third photo is the roughly the colour of the final coat. I ended up with something of a light browny-grey colour. So my next step was to add some paint and make this thing look a little more natural and realistic. Now as I mentioned before, I have had no experience with art/painting in my life. So again I did a little research on the subject. And it turns out that with a few easy methods, you can make your rock look pretty good.

Firstly I got a few different earthy coloured non-toxic acrylic paints from the cheap shop. Burnt sienna, browns, green, yellow etc and black and white to mix in for different shades. Something I did after the final coat of grout was to make a few small batches of slightly different coloured grout and randomly put dabs in different spots. This gave the effect of my rocks not being completely the same shade every where. As for the paint, I found a great technique where you use a dip your paint brush in your desired coloured paint, then you wipe off 80-90% of it on a piece off newspaper. Then with the remaining paint, you lightly brush over all the ridges and peaks of your rocks. Because there is little paint on the brush, only a small amout brushes off on the rough and uneven surfaces. I did this firstly with a darker brown colour and hen again with a really light brown colour. This was great for highlighting the texture of the rock and turned it into quite a natural looking rock.
Next I took the dark green and blotched it on various parts of the rock- anywhere that I imagined water could trickle down or pool, especially down the end which would be by the pond. I then mixed some yellow into the dark green to make a bright yellowy green and used the 90% whipe off method ontop of all the dark green patches. This was a really effective way to achieve a mould/moss look.
Finally in some of the cracks, corners and darker looking areas I dabbed a little black colour. It almost gave the impression of dirt and also more effectively highlighted corners and defined individual rocks. I took this picture when I was close to finishing the paint. It was hard to get the detail in a photo. Again I took my time and every day that I looked at it, I added extra highlights, moss or colour. Dont rush the paint. It pays off in the finished product.
Painting Phase.jpg

When I was satisfied with my paint job, I was ready to make it water tight. To do this, I chose to use a pond sealant from Bunnings. If it is safe to use with fish, then I figuer it will be safe to use in my enclosure. Last thing I would want is for chemicals and contaminants to leach out into the water.
I used a wide paintbrush to apply the sealant, but I had also seen a video of someone using a spray bottle which is much faster. I just wanted to make sure I applyed it evenly and in every corner. I simply followed the application instructions, and added one more coat at the end to be sure. As each coat was drying, I sprinkled a small amount of sand over the rock. This helped to make the rock less shiney and added traction to the surface for my dragons. With the sealant added, the colour of the rock become a little darker and almost had a wet look- which is perfect for a rain forrest environment. It was probably once I had applied the sealant that I was fully happy with how the rock looked.
View attachment 296263

Once the rock wall was finished, I could then use it to measure out my water vs land area. I used aquarium grade glass silicon to fix a dividing piece of glass in the aquarium. This stuff stinks, so you need to give it a few days to cure and air out before adding anything else. I decided to use a variety of different sized rocks to form the pond area. I used some large rocks as kind of a damn for a mixture of medium and smaller rocks. I pilled them up to create a bank at the edge of the pond which gradually descends into the water. Because the water needed to be deep enough to submerge the pump for the waterfall (70mm), I also scarttered a few large rocks which stuck out above the water, for my lizards to climb out on. A number of branches and vines and plants also dip into the water so as to provide multiple ways to exit the water. I also used the silicon to stick a few rocks together to form a wall which i rest against the dividing glass on the land side of the enclosure. This was my idea to disguise the division between the water and land. Finally i also scattered some of the smaller pebbles in the deeper part of the water to cover the glass floor.
For the waterfall I went to Bunnings and i bought one of their smallest pond pumps. It was cheap ($15) but the downside is that it has no filter. So I guess Ill see how that turns out in a few weeks!! I then got a piece of cork bark from my local reptile shop. This stuff looks really cool and water trickles down it really well. I chose a slightly rounded piece so that water would flow down in multiple directions. I then drilled two holes at the top of the cork bark- one to accomodate a hose from the pump (the hose inserts into the back of the hole, then the water flows out the front of the hole and down the face of the bark) and the other hole is to support some foliage which hides the hose and the pump and cables at the back of the enclosure. Then I just leaned the whole thing against the wall and Voila- a waterfall.
Pond view.jpgPond.jpg

Finally I could place in the rock wall. I played around with the layout of the plants, vines and branches . I used peat coir as substrate on the land side and provided plenty of places to climb and also hide. I turned everything on and there was one last thing to do- introduce my little guys to their new home, then sit back, relax and enjoy!

Pond first impressions.jpgChillin.jpgThe wall.jpgComplete.jpg

So there you have it. I had heaps of fun doing this. It was at times challenging, but well worth it in the end. Thanks for taking the time to read. Hope you enjoyed it. Happy herping to you.
 
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Sparky85

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No need to read. Just look at the pics. And if you wanna know more, then read through my poor grammer and spelling!
 

dabigjhemzehh

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That was more reading than I've ever done for university.

Excellent work mate, really impressive.
 

cridon96

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No need to read. Just look at the pics. And if you wanna know more, then read through my poor grammer and spelling!

Got to admit I only skimmed through it reading the sections around pictures lol. Nice work tho I have been looking at getting some angle heads so is nice to see what others are keeping them in.
 

wildthings

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Amazing, that looks fantastic and very professional :D bet they love it in there.
 

Lawra

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I read it all and I love it! Should be another sticky in DIY. You've done amazingly :D
 

Reptiles101

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Bloody awesome read, your so creative and the enclosure looks absolutely amazing! Super job mate you should be so proud.
 

NathanT

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This is fantastic! Really Impressed, makes my store bought enclosure look like crap now. I was wondering, and you might have covered this in the spiel, but what are your future plans for the enclosure? Your dragons look quite young but as they grow my experience and reading tells me they appreciate height greater than width? Do you plan to build a new tank or just amend the current one?
 

MANIAC

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how long should you leave your uv light in for your southern angle headed dragon and what voltage?

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Boiga

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That's probably not high enough for adults. They will climb higher in to trees the hotter it gets.
I keep all of mine in 3 foot high enclosures and they use every bit of it.

Looks good though.
 

butters

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how long should you leave your uv light in for your southern angle headed dragon and what voltage?

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Voltage would most likely be 240 depending on what country you are in. :)

Rainforest species don't require a great deal of UV and I know people that keep angle heads without any at all.

if you keep highjacking peoples threads you will find that everyone just ignores you.
if you want to know something start your own thread.
 
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