Custom Vivarium


New Member
I have designed and built a corner unit style vivarium for “Darwin” our 6 month old Mitsio Panther Chameleon and I thought I would share this with you all for those that are interested.

First of all I would like to thank Nick, the carpenter who helped me build this new cage. Although I designed the unit I unfortunately am not blessed with the kind of skills required to complete the project to the standard that I was looking for. I do not think either I or Nick appreciated the amount of time this build would end up taking. We both anticipated around 18-27 man hours but in the end, it took up over 72 man hours! This was largely due to the angles involved with the corner design and the time consuming details I seeked to achieve.

Let’s get started….

What I wanted from this build is a cage that not only exceeded Darwin’s requirements but one that could be easily maintained and would not look out of place in a family home. I also wanted Darwin’s environment to be as natural as possible.

I could have saved a lot of time and effort and gone with a Vivexotic or Flexarium type enclosure. Although these work well in their own right (usually with some tweaking) and look great in a reptile room for example, they tend to look out of place as a single unit in a living room.

Furthermore I wanted to create uninterrupted views of Darwin in his enclosure. I often spend hours just watching him going about his daily business and I really didn’t want to look through mesh to do so. This then led me to choose a corner style cage.

By having a corner unit it allows me to fix mesh to the sides of the enclosure that face the walls, and fit glass to the front. This then achieved the ventilation Darwin requires and the uninterrupted view of his environment that I was looking for.

From this I drew up a quick sketch.



I wanted the cage to be as tall as possible to provide as much climbing space as I could for Darwin. The cage would be 2.5m high and therefore unmanageable as one single unit. After speaking with Nick we decided to make the upper and lower sections separate so that the cage could be moved easily into position and removed again when needed. I really did not want to break the cage down into bits when we next moved house!

The live plants that I am using will be kept in pots, I did not want see the plant pots so I made the base of the top section lower than the line of the glass, so that when you looked into the cage you would only see the plants and not the pots.

I wanted the view into Darwins cage to be as clear as possible. So I removed any vertical timber framing from the front face and left the glass to be butt jointed where they meet. This then left a problem of how I would hinge the door. I thought about using normal glass hinges but these are quite ugly and would have interrupted the view into Darwin’s enclosure. We decided to incorporate pivot type door hinges into the top and bottom tracks which hold the glass in place, more on this later.

When choosing the materials to use I decided to use 18mm Oak veneered MDF panels to form the sides and 50x50mm Oak to construct the framework. I could have used laminated panels however imo they never look as good and are not as durable as real oak. I want this cage to last a long time!

After more lengthy discussions with Nick we began the build….

Day 1 – Start lower half of the cage
50x50mm Oak frame


18mm Oak veneered MDF side panels fitted


Once we were happy with all of the joints and margins we completely dismantled the unit, and reassembled, gluing the joints as we went. We then braced the unit to allow the glue to set in the correct position.


Day 2 – Remove excess glue and sand down the joints from the lower section.
It decided to rain so Nick was set to work in the small amount of space we had in the garage.


We then started on the top half of the unit. All glued, braced and left to set.


Day 3 – Sand down top section


Begin the drainage system.


I need to mist the cage heavily at least twice a day; this creates a fair amount of water which needs to be drained. To achieve this, we fitted timber at an angle to the inside of the cage around the edge to form a funnel for the water to flow down into a bucket below. We then needed to form a base for the plant pots to sit on. The base is made from slats of timber to support the weight of the plant pots (see photo below) and covered in mesh to allow the water to drain into the white bucket. The mesh also acts a barrier to stop anything other than water passing through i.e Darwin or feeders.


After a very long day, the timber slats were cut, the drainage systems was complete and the cupboard door was fitted. This was all glued and left to set.

To aid the overall drainage of the enclosure we took the edge off of the timber framework where applicable to allow the water to drain down to the bottom of the enclosure and to stop the build-up of standing water.

Day 4 – Yacht varnish, 1st coat – one coat of yacht varnish was applied to the inside of the unit.

Day 5 – ditto day 4, 2nd coat. Then left for 2 weeks to allow yacht varnish to completely dry and odour to go.

Day 6 – The glass was fitted to the two side panels and door. The glass was glued in place using aquarium sealant.


You can see from the above photo the glass door on pivot hinges is slightly open.

All internal joints were sealed with aquarium sealant to stop any ingress of water between the timbers. This is very important to stop rot and the subsequent build-up of bacteria.

Day 7 – Fit mesh & move into the house


We used 3 different types of mesh on the cage.
1. The back and base of the cage was covered in a fine black plastic insect mesh (2mmx2mm gauge)

2. Due to the heat from the lights, the top of the cage was covered in an aluminium mesh (similar to the exo terra’s)

3. The inside of the cage was covered in a green garden type mesh (20x20mm holes). There are a few reasons for this, firstly this mesh is great for chameleons to climb on and they seem to enjoy doing so. It also stops Darwin climbing on the black plastic mesh behind, which is harder for him to climb on and there is also a risk he could catch his claws on it. As a precaution, I not only fitted the garden mesh to the back of the cage where the insect mesh is but also carried the mesh down to the bottom of the enclosure (where the plant pots are) so in the event that Darwin falls/decides to go to the bottom of the cage he has an easy way to climb back up. This also applies to the feeders.

Finally the cage in position.


The top and bottom halves were sealed together with aquarium sealant and left to set.

To give you an idea of size, the timber looking cage to the left is a 3ft vivexotic.

Day 8 – final touches & plants

With the plant pots situated lower than the glass I realised I would struggle to gain access to the bottom of the cage to undertake the general cleaning. We then decided to fit a small mesh faced access hatch to provide the access I needed.


You can see in this photo the small access hatch at the top of the cupboard, and the base of Darwin's enclosure where the plant pots will be. Although you cannot see it (bad camera angle) the timber funnel is just below the base. You can also see the precautionary garden mesh that continues right down to the bottom of the enclosure.

The lowest section of the cupboard is used for storage only.

Next add plants


Then of course add Darwin.


One more of Darwin in his new home


Darwin moved into his house a month ago and we are incredibly happy with it so far. The level of craftsmanship is outstanding and this vivarium would not look out of place in a high end department store. More importantly though, Darwin seems to be happy too.

I hope this was of interest to some of you and if you have any questions or would like to make a comment please feel free to do so.

Thank you for reading.
Really well thought out and executed design bro. Loving the glass doors while still maintaining the screened back & sides. You have the best of both worlds. How hard is it too keep the glass clean for viewing though? Are you constantly wiping down water spots? That would drive me nuts. I love the look and high end quality, great work...
Nice setup. Im glad you didnt go full glass.
Ive heard if you use RO water for misting that you wont get water spots. But im not sure if that is true.
BY FAR, one of the very few BEST DIY cages i've seen on here. great job sir, it looks amazing.

i thought the tree in the sketch made the whole thing look awesome, but seeing the finished product.. WOW :eek:..:p
Thanks for your comments guys :)

We used tap water on our Exo terra vivarium and it literally ate into the glass and the marks could not be removed. We started using mineral water and the glass has remained spotless ever since. :D

We also used toughened low iron glass on the new cage which is clearer than standard glass but I am not sure if this would make a difference with the water marks.
I really commend you for making such an awesome enclosure for your cham. I LOVE the glass/mesh design.
That is fantastic!! I was just talking to Sean about building something that can go in the corner for our Melleri once he starts to get really big. But then we realized if we did that, we'd have no place for a Christmas tree when it's Christmas haha.
Amazing setup! For $ reasons, I just ordered a 2x2x36 DIY cage and light hood, but when I get some income I will be doing something like that! Great job, ty for sharing
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