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How to set up different types of tanks from 10gal to a 40gal tall and the kinds of pets that can live in them.

The only difference between a terrarium and a vivarium is a terrarium is specifically aimed at keeping plants, while a vivarium (including its plants) is built around keeping an animal.

The tanks below are a generalized environment many different types of animals can find comfort in. They're basically what I've come to use in making tanks from tropical, semi-aquatic to dry. Very user friendly, anyone including children could make some of these tanks themselves to keep their critter. I've included a list below each type of set up of the types of animals you could keep in it just more or less as examples. My information is fairly generic and I highly recommend researching all you can learn about the animal you want to keep and making their tank a week before you actually get them.

*If you have children please do not own a potentially dangerous pet. While there is always the threat of contracting salmonella from a reptile or amphibian cleaning poop or not washing hands, there are even greater dangers for small children in those that are poisonous or constrictors. Cages and tanks should at least be locked for both critter and child safety.

Special Note

If you'd like to build a vivarium and put critters from the backyard, it really isn't much different from buying one. You need to know the species, what they eat, what kind of environment they like to live in best and what conditions they like most for breeding if at all.

You still have to calcium and vitamin powder their food like crickets, how large can the food be before it's too big for them to eat. Generally nothing bigger than their own mouths, and if you see poop, they're eating. You should feed them live food at least once every other day and if you see more than two or three insects left after the next day, you've given them too many. Never put a predatory insect like spiders or mantids in your tank with your animal.

As a backyard wildlife, you need to catch them while they are a very young age, as adults are more apt to die even in a perfect vivarium just for being homesick. Make sure they are a species that can tolerate the presence of another male in their territory and make sure if you get more than one that their environment is not too small for their numbers. Such as you don't want to go any smaller than a ten gallon tank for any small, backyard animal, any smaller tank would be fine for a single insect or as a temporary 'quarantine' tank. Always handle small creatures such as a frog like a fire belly toad to a tree frog with an aquarium net for their own safty and minimum stress.

Any animal living in a tank is going to be living with a certain amount of constant stress. Too much stress can kill them among other factors such as disease, parasites, lack of vitamin/mineral supplement, the wrong environmental conditions and competition if they share the environment with another. Never mix different species of animals together, they could make each other sick, fight each other or even eat the other.

Any time you handle an animal like a reptile or amphibian there is always the danger you could be exposed to something harmful yourself, such as salmonella. Always wash your hands.

The biggest problems within the pet trade itself is species such as reptiles and amphibians being captured in the wild for sale, many times they do not survive captivity or they are an endangered species and depleting because of the pet trade. Sometimes it actually helps a species in danger because they're loosing habitat but it isn't always the case. As a rule of thumb, please don't tank an endangered species, even if you intend to re-introduce the young to your backyard. At least make sure you are very capable of having successful breeding and check with Wildlife Services to see if you would need a wildlife license for a permit to raise the particular wild animal(s) for rescue and re-introduction. There are still plenty of other common or introduced species to 'bring home to mom' and raise successfully for their natural life span.

Supplies Needed
For a 10 gallon tank basic terrarium set up

*Ten Gallon Glass Tank
Depending on the animal you get, how many and their adult size, you may want to invest in expanding their comfort with taller and/or larger tanks from 15gal up.

*Thermometer and Hygrometer
To monitor temperature and humidity. For most critters and vivariums, the ideal temperature is 70-85 and the most ideal humidity is 70-90. A glass enclosed tank with plenty of water in the bottom will pretty much regulate both without ever needing a heat pad. For a desert style the humidity will most likely be around 40-70 and 80-90 day temperature with a drop at night to 70-75%, with at least an under the tank heater.

*The False Bottom
Usually comes with a new 10gal tank. This is optional but prefered for pretty much all types of tanks with the exception of the desert scene, just to minimize the amount of gravel for the bottom vs the volume of water to condense through the soil and create the humidity. This or any false bottom such as plastic egg crate, is essential if you want to make a semi-aquatic tank. The false bottom makes the base of the land portion that will rest above the water.

*Aquarium Gravel Mixed with Aquarium Carbon
Active carbon basically helps break down waste materials faster and reduces smells. I prefer aquarium gravel of small, uncolored river rocks. Eventually the coloring chips off of colored rocks and I don't think that's a good sign. Optionally you can go for larger, lighter rocks like marbles and fired clay balls is best for larger, false bottom tanks. Also known as LECA or Hydroton

*Tank Screen Cover and Hood Covering
Even with the covering hood you still need the screen cover under it so critters won't escape. Even if you think your critter won't, his crickets and fruit flies will. The only solution to escaping fruit flies I can offer is tightly glue a mosquito mesh netting to the under side of the screen cover with aquarium silicone glue. The only disadvantage to adding a mosquito mesh netting is it would make the rays of fluorescents and incandescents that much more difficult to penetrate into the tank. I don't know if heat lights would actually burn or melt the mesh but going with a galvanized wire cloth version would likely be best.

A glass covering would do just as well without needing a screen cover or worrying about fruit fly escapes, but don't normally come with a 10gal. Some set ups would be better off with just a screen cover without a hood, depending on the animal and/or humidity desired.

*Tank Hood Lighting Fixture
With a full spectrum daylight UV fluorescent bulb. You can get away with fluorescent fixtures meant for greenhouse gardening but reptile specific have more colors in mind for your critter, not all spectrums are the same, even when they say full and 'dim' lighting doesn't necessarily mean it's not doing its job. Fluorescents may not all be bright, but they will begin to flicker when they're no longer viable. Replace bulbs before 12mo's as they begin to loose colors in the spectrum from dying out. Many of these particular rays not present in a regular household bulb are beneficial to plants and herps alike from photosynthesis to UVB rays providing a herp (reptiles and amphibians) vitamin D3 - which in turns helps them metabolize calcium. This is one particular reason most vivarium animals need calcium supplements with and without D3, because not all bulbs provide UVB, or enough of it for a long period. I prefer full spectrum fluorescents because it is a 'cool' light, rather, it doesn't get hot with a high color index to mimic sunlight (UV) and has at least some UVA and UVB.

The best sign of poor lighting is plants that grow too thin and tall and most herps not 'basking' at their full potential of greater coloring. Just for an example, I have my anoles in a 20gal tall tank and I'm using both reptile, and a greenhouse full spectrum fluorescent bulbs. Basically, one for the lizards and one to reach in its rays far enough to the tank flooring to get to the plants. The anoles pretty much enjoy both and are much greener on the plants with even darker and redder browns against the bark than I could get for them with just one light.

*Distilled or Rain Water
You still have to distill bottled water. Most of the time when I gather water from a rain barrel I let it sit for a day or two as well in jugs just to minimize the amount of algae. With bigger tanks you may want to consider misting systems but with a 10gal, keeping up with a spray bottle will do. Be certain water changing and spray bottles are at least 70 degrees. Drastic, sudden temperature drops can cause shock and stress enough to lead to deaths.

*Neutral Substrate Soil
Do not use outside soil or potting soil as it may harm your animal in this enclosed environment with the chemicals, bacteria and fertilizers they contain. Of the host of things you can use for most set-ups, I prefer either orchid mix or making my own with peat moss, perlite and sphagnum moss. Other 'dirt' or humus alternatives to peat moss are coco-peat or coir and eco-earth.

I don't particularly care for vermiculite, it contains asbestos, sticks to critters, is a bit too absorbent and breaks down in substrate enough to become a compact mush that doesn't provide oxygen or absorb irons from the water. I don't think it's anything I'd want my animals to swallow, much less handle myself. I like perlite much better if I'm going to use something that's light, absorbent and oxygenating.

The most typical accessories are pieces of wood like bark, cork, grape vines, cholla and large stones to sand stone slates, hides, water dispensers and dishes. The accessories and how/where to place them in the tank greatly depend on the type of animal and set up. Do they climb? Are they good at climbing or have falling risks? Do they hide on the walls or on the ground? Do they dig, bask, swim/soak, leap, run, stay out allot or hide allot? Change colors? How about prey, do they chase it, wait for it to come to them or have a prehensile tongue? Occasionally eat veggies/leaves/flowers? How many are in the tank compared to how much room each individual needs? These sort of factors depend on how high or far apart or even quantity of different things you might use from sticks, water bowls to plants. In a 10gal, a piece of cholla or grape vine is more than enough to provide an elevated area and can be used as a point for burrowing or making wall-side hides with additional bark depending on the critter. As an example, my fire belly toads have coconut shell hides and love to get under anything with enough depression to allow it, while my hyla tree frogs have coconut shells that are turned upside down and partially filled with water, hiding behind set up bark and the nook between tank top and screen covering.

*Driftwoods and Leaf Litter
Things like driftwood, cholla, coconut shell, Brazil nut pods. I'm just making a special note here because some folks prefer to try to treat woods before putting them in a tank either to sterilize them or preserve them from rotting in the moisture. Even though there is a chance untreated wood and leaf litter from the back yard could bring in unwanted parasites, I think some of the expectancy to treat or sterilize them is a bit over rated. For the most part, I usually buy woods that are pre-treated or gather leaf litter and barks from my back yard and don't do anything to them. Another thing to consider is I don't pesticide my yard either, unless I'm killing ant beds or leaf chewing bugs have become more popular than my assassin bugs, tree frogs, anoles and other yard critters can keep up with them in very specific areas or plants. I know I'm still taking a large risk of 'under-kill' most people would like to avoid, but I also think some of the emphasis, like bleaching a piece of driftwood, is a little more on the over-kill side. Generally, there are some critters to do with decomposing woods and leaves that I want in a tank with my frogs. Woodlouse, springtails and snails in particular eat on the decay while the frogs may eat them in turn and terrarium plants will gather nutrients from the wood decay as well.

Plants should go in around the same time as accessories and the tank given at least a week before animals are introduced into it. The best kind to look for are slow growing plants that like low level lighting and moist soils.

Tall ones for shade, vine and leafy ones for resting, low to ground ones for non-climbers who like hiding like fire belly toads, American toad, pacman, newts and skinks. Particularly moss, but it's hard to find any besides live sphagnum moss that will survive beyond foresting a piece of wood. Fern is ideal too.

I've experimented with all kinds of plants from those for vivariums to garden varieties to wild 'weeds' like false strawberries, Johnny jump up and I'm recently seeing how sorrel will do. Thus far my best vivarium specific plant that has survived, flourished and grows really slow is Syngonium Erythrophyllum.

*Under the Tank Heaters and Heat Lights
In some cases such as the example of the desert vivarium, an under the tank heater, heat lights or incandescents are used to provide critters who need up to 85 temps in the day with cooler, 70/75 nights. With a 10gal you don't need a heat/incandescent bulb any greater than a 15 watt. You'll want the tank to be cooler at night so chances are you won't need both at the same time, as long as night temperatures in the tank do not drop below 60 degrees at the most minimum.

I like under the tank heaters over incandescents or heat lights, things do not dry out or burn, especially the animal, and I can place it under one side of the tank to give them the other side as a spot to cool down, or on the side for a wall crawler.

As far as other tanks like the tropical and semi-aquatic, I don't think heating is necessary as a glass hood will provide enough heat and humidity within, and many other critters do fine at room temperatures. I don't think just because you have a herp, you automatically need something like an under the tank heater or incandescent light. For example, my leopard geckos require an under the tank heater on one side of their 30/40gal tank in a desert set up with a screen lid, alternating a blue 40Watt fluorescents (daylight) bulb. But, my anoles are in a semi-tropical and are fine with a screen lid and 18" 15Watt fluorescent tubes, but no further heat source.

The Tropical Vivarium
Starting with a ten gallon glass tank

*False Bottom and Aquarium Gravel
This is just my own basic sort of set up. Place the false bottom into the bottom of the tank and cover it with the aquarium gravel for about an inch to 2 inches high. If the false bottom came with the tank, including a tube, add the tube, so you can use it to pour water into the gravel later. Fill this with the distilled or rain water just so it covers the gravel.

*Neutral Substrate Soil
What I do is mix peat moss, perlite and crushed sphagnum moss together while it's very slightly damp but you can use orchid mix too. As damp, fill it over the gravel and press lightly for about 2-3 inches or finger length. Make sure it's level though you can add slopes to one or two sides for variety. Over this place a thin layer of damp sphagnum moss and/or dead leaves.

Add things depending on how the animal likes to live, hides, bark, sticks, stones and water bowl.

I've gotten plants down to some very basic simple guys who are living well in my tanks and look fantastic like a jungle. I haven't done well with the fancier terrarium plants like pitchers but after some experimenting these are thriving well. I also have some varieties of wild plants from my yard in a couple of tanks doing well.

Caladiums - grow thin and tall and need to be trimmed if they're hitting the top, I have caladium aaron in mine but there are other suitable varieties like Arrowhead and Heart Fern.
Bamboo Palm - or Chamaedorea, very slow grower with a thin, sturdy stem and palm-like leaves, best grown to a diagonal direction. You could also use ferns for something bushier without the long stalk.
Bromeliads - a very small one which might do well or just die, so far my only survivor is in my wettest soil tank. If I could figure out what I'm doing wrong for their conditions, I'd rather have neorgelia at least for the tree frogs.
Chinese Evergreen or Hosta's - Nice foliage plants with big leaves.
Elf Umbrella Tree - Or Arboricola Tree, I like this plant in particular because it does very well, grows really slow and makes a nice jungle look.
Prayer Plant - nice large leaves, even slower growing, it doesn't like having direct light from the bulb so it would be best to shade it with a taller plant or bark/sticks or it will burn. It's been about 6mo's since I tried a bunch of it and my two survivors who took are perhaps a little taller but haven't expanded.
African Violets - tollerant of low lighting and a very pretty flower. I haven't tried any yet myself but might this spring.
Mosses - aren't that easy but I've been successful with live sphagnum moss in wetter tanks and some I can't identify that came with getting some potted bromeliads in moist tanks.

Some Helpful Bugs
After all that I like to add a few critters who would be interested in decomposition like fingernail sized snails and isopods - woodlouse, depending on what you want to call them. In a tank without any other animals in it as potential predators they can be fairly interesting, in of themselves, as a pet or alternative feeders with a vivarium home. The only disadvantage to the snails is they'll eat plants too, so there goes any shoots such as irises, but frogs will eat snails in turn.

Putting outdoor insects in your tank for another animal isn't usually recommended because of the dangers of introducing pesticides the pet could swallow eating the bug or become infected with more unwanted tinier critters like mites or other harmful organisms and parasites.

Set Up Note

Finished - White Mold
After your tank is finished, turn the light on, preferably plug it into a timer so it will turn off by itself at night. Before introducing any animals allow the tank to settle for at least a week. You may notice a white mold begin to grow which is perfectly harmless. You can let it go away on its own or just spray it with a mist bottle.

After a while you may notice some introduced critters in the tank you didn't expect, they most likely came with the leaves you gathered outside. Such as in an over turned coconut shell that remains constantly moist or with water, little white dots jumping around. These springtails are a good feeder source actually and nothing to worry about. You want them. Keep them in moist wood with a piece of potato with most of the peel and they'll remain in the tank even when you don't see them, hiding throughout the sphagnum moss, substrate and under the wood where it is moist in the soil.

Misting and Humidity
To keep a vivarium, jungle tank, mist it with the spray bottle of distilled or rain water once every 3 days or so for humidity and a bit of an extra resource of something to drink for the critter. I don't do it everyday because it drenches the plants and critters can still drink from a fresh water bowl or the humidity build up on the sides of the glass.

The water in the bottom of the tank in the gravel will keep humidity up as well and the soil moist. Depending on how much water you fill the gravel in the bottom, after it has depleted will determine how 'wet' or 'dry' your terrarium/vivarium is. To refill the bottom use the aquarium tube rising from the false bottom or just syphon the water through a hose from a jug into the gravel, pushing it through the soil.

Carbon Monoxide and Temperature
Keep the hood closed so the precipitation and humidity do not escape but open it at least once a day to allow fresh air. Especially with a glass hood, carbon monoxide will eventually build up in there. Temperature will remain a fairly steady, normal 82 degrees with humidity up to 90 or greater. You can use a thermometer and hygrometer to monitor them. Ventilation is the cooler, humidity is the warmer, and if you need a fan, you should try a screen cover first.

Basic Cleaning and Maintenance
Every month or so for my frogs and anoles, I use a q-tip and misting with a spray bottle to clean poop. For my false bottom 20gal tall tank, I change the water in the bottom out with syphoning and refill it, by then it's a pretty dark tea color. After a year it's about time to add a little more substrate to the dirt and change out the UV ray bulbs. I don't completely start over while nothing's wrong with it because the soil is rich by now and probably teaming with springtails as well as plant decay. If I was worried enough about it building a gas like methane for bog conditions, I could always toss in some red worms to go to work before considering wiping out the whole mini-eco system going on in there.

The tank and critters should be monitored daily at least once for conditions, feeding, health, cleanliness and trimming plants from touching the top of the hood.

Over Feeding Crickets
Particularly in getting to know a new animal and feeding him crickets, you should keep a close eye on left over crickets and give them a slice of potato and fish flakes rather than try to catch them and stress out the whole tank. If anything, they might lay eggs and cricket nymphs emerge while you're waiting for them to get eaten, but you don't want the tank to constantly overrun with crickets as they'll start chewing on plants and pets for food. If the pets just aren't eating the crickets at all, they may be too big. Alternating some fruit flies or other feeder until the crickets are gone would be better than waiting to see if the pets get hungry enough to eat remainders after two days.

There are 250 different species of pesky mites. They are a pain to condition out of a tropical tank because the only real best way is to start all over again, wash or boil the accessories and re-do the substrate, but there are pump spray applicators for reptiles you can try first and if the animal is infected it will have to be used on them for sure or cleaning the tank is pretty useless and visa versa. Put them in a 'quaranteen' tank until they are free of mites and their original home has been done over.

Tropical Vivarium: Semi-Aquatic
The false bottom tank

This semi-aquatic false bottom tank is the same principle as the ten gallon above. It would work best in a taller tank such as a 20gal tall with the option of creating a water fall but it can be scaled to a 10gal or long tank.

Using the false bottom plastic sheeting, raise it above the bottom of the tank by an inch or two, depending on how far above the bottom you want it to be. You can make the island half a side or complete with one corner cut out for a water pump. Fill the bottom with distilled or rain water just short of meeting the false bottom sheeting.

Build the top of the false bottom sheeting as described above, starting with a layer of large aquarium pebbles, river rock, marbles or clay balls. Cover that layer with a generous layer of damp sphagnum moss, lightly pressing, adding leaves over that is optional, it will act as the filter between the false bottom and substrate. Then add the substrate soil of humus/peats with perlite and a little more sphagnum moss mixed in or orchid mix by at least 2 or 3 inches. Over this layer add more leaves and a layer of sphagnum moss as the flooring. Ideally, live sphagnum moss. You can use woods or rocks for borders to keep soil from spilling into the water off the sides.

You can use a standard water or air pump to keep the water in the bottom flowing to prevent it from stagnating, or you can get a small pond pump like a micro jet and make a water fall with a tube leading from it to the 'pond' on the land. The pond or stream should be a clear, gravel filled spot free of substrate and fast draining. There are other varieties of water falls with natural rock or tree looks but they have a tiny pump in them I've never been very pleased with as far as lasting.

You can also use a water filter that can work in an inch of water and pump like a fall, usually intended for turtles like a Whisper or Tetra and often comes with buying a 10gal tank with full accessories. I like this one best for semi-aquatic vivariums with a half land.

Semi-Aquatic Tanks
Half land, half water. False bottoms and land building

Water filter
Like a Tetra or Whisper, sometimes comes with buying a 10gal tank with full accessories. It can work in as little as an inch of water and acts like a fall. The pump itself is easily removed from the filter cartridge holder.

Aquarium Gravel
and/or river rocks, marbles, fire clay balls

Semi-aquatic tanks are half land and half water with a small variety of ways you can make one. There are some options here where you can make it a false bottom tank with a half side as land, a slope with gravel or a divider between water and gravel. I've tried the gravel slope and found having a false bottom land side more desirable.

In my particular set up my hubby brought me some small, foldable plastic crates from work that could lay flat or make a shallow box like the plastic egg crating some use for false bottoms. In a 20gal tank that is 30"L, 13"W, the false bottom is 4"H ,20"L, 12"W with slightly more than 9"L for water side.

The top of the land is coated in gravel with sphagnum moss over half side of that, well away from the water side. A strip of bark, clam shell and coconut shells provide hides. Large, oddly shaped rocks provide a little surfacing in the water as well as making a spot easy to get on land by and cornering my water pump from sucking up the little bit of moss ball I have left to try to grow in here. I have 5 bombina's who absolutely love it and spend allot of time in the 4" deep water. Now that they have enough room, I could get at least 2-3 more females to take some stress off the other females. Two are constantly hounded by my two males and the third is my first, a really old lady at 13yrs age. I didn't go with making the false bottom to where they could get under it because I worried too much about them getting stuck under there and drowning.

Land and Water
Even a semi-aquatic depends on the type of pets being kept. Some animals may prefer more water than land to deeper or shallower water. Some require high maintenance water changes like turtles and hermit crabs, while others might need it every week or two, particularly with critters that have a slightly irritable skin like fire belly toads and some salamanders. Depending on how many you have in what amount of water, depends on how often you need to change it before their own natural toxins become a danger to themselves.

Land Plants
I haven't been able to do much for land plants with my bombina's because I use sphagnum moss that remains constantly wet. Live sphagnum moss and plants that like being soaked would be best in my case or you can make a land surface the water side can't get to, to control the moisture of the land substrate. One I may try as soon as I can gather a piece from what's growing is Syngonium Erythrophyllum other possibles are irises (high acid requirement) and/or water celery

Water Plants
Even with a ten gallon tank set up you can add an aquarium plant like java moss, lace plant or nymphaea zenkeri. My fire belly toads like to rest on the large leaves of the zenkeri in particular. A favorite of mine are moss balls (Cladophora aegagropila) which can make a ball or carpet the flooring of the water side like a moss and are very slow growing. They're like natural filters, making a ball of themselves if they are moved around in the water, collecting particles. As a ball you can take it out, squeeze it and put it back in like sponging some of the particles out of the water. When the ball is large enough you can break it apart and have two. I've had this stuff survive in as little as wet sphagnum moss with next to nothing in lighting.

The Dry Vivarium/Terrarium
Keeping a desert scene

A screen cover lid
In this case don't use a covering hood or glass, just the screen.

Thermometer and hygrometer
Desert style vivariums may normally require 40-70 humidity and 80-90 day temperature with a drop at night to 70-75%, particularly leopard geckos which I will example here.

Heat, Pads and Lights
To keep temperatures up I've recently switched from using just an under the tank heater during the day to using it during the night with a 40watt fluorescent, cool white bulb in a dome on the other side of the tank during the day. My next bulb will be 'daylight' blue bulb though because the brightness irritates them and they won't come out and bask. I also have sand stone slates throughout the tank which retain heat well.

The geckos are able to pick and choose from one side of the tank or the other on if they want to warm up (bask) or cool off day or night. I keep the heated areas alternated, as well as the light away from my substrate box, with the under the tank heater keeping the bottom of it warm to humidify.

I don't particularly care for the incandescent lights, they're hot enough to dry things up a little too much and don't provide UVB rays, which provide a reptile VitD3. The amount of watts you need for a heat light depends on the size of the tank. No greater than 15 watts for a 10gal, all it has to do is maintain at least 70/75 degrees, so may not even be necessary.

Reptiles in particular need D3 to be able to absorb calcium. I mostly think VitD3 Calcium supplement can do the job but the option of lighting can brighten their days up a little as well as provide for any possible plants.

If anything, the best result to look for is something like a (15W for 10gal) 20-40watt fluorescent cool white or blue 'full daylight' bulb for a dome light fixture. It can provide daylight/UVB, as well, a 40watt gets hot enough in a 30/40gal tank for 80temp without heating the entire tank. Alternating the under the tank heater as the night shift allows the lighting side and general air to cool off while the bottom remains warm and humidity may rise a bit.

Unless you have a big tank, I don't think incandescents are really all that needed with using an under the tank heater to specifically get high day temps. But, that's just the kind of thing to research and figure out for yourself.

Substrate box
A substrate box is basically a container an animal can get into that has moist humus. This substrate box helps keep the desired humidity as well as provide the pet a place to moisten molts for shedding or even lay eggs. It should be placed on the same side of the under the tank heater to remain warm and humidify. Lighting dries it out faster, especially if it's right over it. You can use any variety of plastic containers. I got tired of mine for my leopard geckos and made them what looks almost like a bird house lined with plexiglass inside it and a plexiglass bottom and lid from spare bits of other projects, edges sealed with aquarium silicone glue. The bottom is lined with 2" gravel with straight peat moss on top by 3". I fill the gravel level with water and occasionally mist it.

I became fairly frustrated with my substrate box always drying out too fast, even with coco-peat. Allot had to do with the light as well as the absorbency and depth of the substrate itself. Misting it as most sites recommend only took care of keeping the surface moist, to dry out by the next day or two. When coco-peat dries out, it takes just as much water to moist it again and the geckos sometimes like to dig it around and spill it out, making it even more shallow. The deeper it is, the more water retention. I just flat out couldn't keep up with it. I kind of went Tim the tool man, but it's holding up and still moist and warm after 5 days. Better than the tupperware.

There are a variety of substrates you can use in a tank like this, from sand like calci-sand for reptiles or playground sand for others unlikely to ingest it on purpose, humus peats, coir fibers, orchid bark, river rock gravel, to more flat surfaces like artificial turf, slate and barks, like compressed cork panels can be flooring or for walls. It takes some consideration, if your animal can ingest substrate or feeders with substrate on them without becoming impacted, to if surfaces are too rough, sharp edged, uncomfortable or even toxic.

Such as cedar chips are toxic with sharp edges, causing injury and respiratory and skin irritation even to a gerbil, much less a reptile. Iguana artificial turf would not be suiting for a leopard gecko because the 'grass' could wound their toes and is basically like laying on a bed of nails for someone so small and thinner skinned, while a tarantula would like orchid bark, but a skink suited to a tank temp and humidity like this would dig and rummage better with humus.

With my leopard geckos I use newspaper slightly sprayed with provent-a-mite and large pieces of sand stone slate on both cool and warm sides. From the under the tank heater, the slate remains warm even after the heat pad has shut off and it's rough enough to help them shed. It's also easy to just take out and wash with warm water and dish soap. The only disadvantage is sharp edges and pointy ends but they can be sanded smooth if they're worrisome enough.

Hides are basically anything that isn't clear and has a hole in it to get into. My geckos have a variety of hides and caves from long, bulb looking ones, one that looks like a chip of rock, another one looks like a smooth slope and for a while I had the half side of a clay plant pot in one before I put all four geckos together. They basically have at least two hides on the 'day' side and two hides with the substrate box on the 'night' or under the tank heater side.

To provide my geckos more room in their 30 or 40gal wide tank, I made a three sided box to fit one side of the tank at its width, with an 11" length and 4" height. They can go inside it with plenty of room or on top of it where another cave/hide, a piece of sand stone slate and the water bottle reside.

Optional grape vine or logs of drift wood or cholla cactus wood. A water bottle bowl, usually meant for reptiles with a mesh between bowl and bottle to keep crickets from sucking into it. A food bowl and a shallow bowl to fill with calcium powder that does not have Vit-D for such a requirement. My own geckos have a large and thick twist of grape vine resting from the top of the substrate box where another hide is, to the large platform hide I made. A little leg of it kind of kickstands down to touching the bottom of the tank.

That's about it for them though, I optimized wandering around room over trying any plants. Air plants like tillandsia would work but can also poke and abraise. Aloe vera might work in a pot, providing more moisture for humidity. Even with a pot plant, their substrate should be humus mixes or orchid bark instead of potting soil as the pet may still dig in it.

I use a very small office fan that can fit in my hand to occasionally aerate the tank and cool it as well as mist with a spray bottle. These are only once in a while, like every week to ensure a little fresh air and a bit of a humidity increase like a mild drizzle. Particularly if someone is molting the humidity should go up to make it easier for the shed skin to come off. Leopard geckos eat theirs which gives them a boost of vits and nutrients.

I change the newspaper and clean the accessories once a month. Leopard geckos usually poop in one designated spot and I can put a smaller, extra fold of news paper here and just pick it up and replace it every other day or every cricket feeding. If crickets eat it and then the pet eats the cricket, they may become infected with a parasite.

The substrate box should also be tested with a finger at the same time and possibly misted, the soil should be warm on top and usually it's cooler deeper in, but should be moist/damp all the way through. Substrate only needs to be changed out every month or even longer so long as there are no signs of a development of molds, left over skin bits of moltings, or any smells coming from it. Then it should be changed immediately.

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