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Adventures In Herpetology: Happiness & Excellence In the Face of Doom
by Jeff Fullerton

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

Oh boy. Where do I begin?

On a Saturday evening at the end of another busy day and week between Dream Land and Covid Land. And very little time to tell my story which sort of overlaps a bit with the Norseman’s Diaries which is starting to get interesting again and may get even more so in the coming days and months as winter sets in and the forces of Nature and human folly could brew up the perfect storm to destroy everything we hold dear. When I have more time I plan on writing a final entry to the Diaries for the year. For this evening I focus on the latest hobby related accomplishments.

There have been many.

As you recall back in the early part of October I hit a tipping point epiphany with the placement and idea for converting a quartet of tall fish tanks—probably 30Hs (24" x 12" x 20" high) into front opening cages to accommodate Mexican Alligator Lizards and some other species of arboreal herptiles.

Well this week I finally got started and have successfully built the first cage and am currently working on the second one.

It was a very intense and arduous process designing and building what people in the hobby refer to as a Euro Style terrarium or vivarium with a substrate dam and a narrower strip of “vent glass” across the front with a screen and track for sliding glass doors. This is the culmination of several months of studying three YouTube videos and various options for conversion kits before ultimately deciding on building from scratch because that was the easiest and cheapest option.

After stripping and resealing three aquariums this season I felt pretty confident in my ability to take the next great leap of faith and remove the front pane of glass off one of my tall tanks and take the glass to a mom and pop hardware store in Scottdale and see if they could cut it into various sized strips to get the pieces needed to form the Euro style front vent and a vented glass top similar to the designs in the three videos.

The first cuts were a nail biter like many a Steelers game because I was not sure they would be able to cut it—after a previous attempt to cut some thicker glass they had on hand in the back room with the manually operated glass cutter. That was some scraps of tempered glass left there by another patron that would have yielded the perfect dimensions for the divided canopy for the 40 Breeder tank with the center brace. However it would not cut so I ended up defaulting to 1/4" plexiglass for a temporary fix despite Ray’s advice that it would likely warp from the moisture. Which it did. But on to the Tall Tank conversions.

It was a gamble that paid off. These tanks were not made with tempered glass because the pane scored and broke easily. I actually considered doing it myself with a hand held cutter and towel and broom handle like in one of the videos but I’m not that brave yet.

And so I had the glass needed to do the job and got it done in one evening working late onto the night. It was kind of a sloppy job but there’s a learning curve with this stuff and the second one is proceeding a little more slowly and carefully. In removing the top rim of the first tank I cracked the upper back corner.

That was fixable with some tape and silicone on the inside and will be hidden by the background that will be crafted from a combination of insulation board, Rock on a Roll & spray foam. And I did much better on the second tank.

I mastered the use of a variety of scrapers and a thing called a feeler gauge to remove silicone and separate the front glass. The videos show the assembly of the cage from either custom cut glass or an aquarium that is taken apart completely and put back together- but why the hell do that and endure the frustration of more things slipping or falling—not to mention added risk of breaking something when it’s so much easier to leave the rest of the tank intact. So call me lazy if you will. I’m still proud of my effort and the outcome. In addition to learning new skills I’ve saved a helluva lot of money. A front opening glass cage of similar dimensions made by Zoo Med or Exo Terra costs about $200 and I’m using some old tanks that have been in mothballs for years and just paying to have the front glass cut and for the thinner 2" glass for the siding doors and some of the other material.

And today—Saturday evening I’m juggling the second one while putting together this article AFTER a busy afternoon emptying the last of my outdoor fish tubs and a trip back to the hardware store and then on to Elmer’s Aquarium in Monroeville that was something of a newsworthy adventure.

Had to go to the store again because I screwed up and didn’t think to have one of the 4" pieces cut to fit between the two side panes against the glass spacers that hold the substrate dam. Discovered that lovely oversight late night when I had just laid down beads of silicone and attempted to set the dam into place!

These are the spacers cut from one of the 2" strips that were originally intended to go between the dam and vent glass but the two inch wide footprint was ridiculous for a 12" wide tank so I put them behind the dam instead to solve that problem without having to have the glass cut into smaller pieces. I am the King of Jerry Rigging!

In addition to getting the substrate dam cut to the proper width I also took my plexiglass pieces from the center brace tank along and had same sized pieces cut from the same thickness of glass as the front panes of my tanks that I discovered they also have on hand and got two birds with one stone!

And saved a lot there too.

Glass canopies for aquariums are a bit pricey too and divided ones for center braced tanks are next to impossible to find locally. I’ve just discovered the utility of DIY and the importance of networks with skilled craftsmen secondary to networks of hobbyists and professional breeders that are essential to support and advance the hobby.

This is the Productive Class here. Builders and dreamers who do useful things with their hands and minds.

Under dreary skies I set out for the pet shop in Monroeville in hope of getting a back strip to go on my new glass canopy and maybe some other hardware and dry goods—plus more frozen cubes of bloodworms and Mysis shrimp to lay up a good supply in the likelihood anther major lockdown is coming. It’s starting to get bad where I work in Covid Land and it could get even worse. Especially come Inauguration Day.

I practically flew to my destination listening to some upbeat music on the radio. Trying to be upbeat in bad times. It’s hard. I fear my friend Ray in Wisconsin is on the verge of drowning in even deeper despair than I am from it all. I hope he doesn’t give up on the his equally awesome accomplishments. This is the only thing keeping us going.

Made it to Elmer’s on the Miracle Mile.

Traffic not too bad yet between the holidays. A lot of people are probably staying home and shopping online. Or not shopping because the times are bad. It’s sad that we cannot live as carefree as we did just a year ago when this damned thing was just getting stared. Yet even in a pandemic life must go on. Were I not up against a hard break I’d probably have included more commentary on the long hard days and the ugliness in the newsfeed. Even Elmer’s is affected. There was a line of half a dozen people waiting to get in when I got there. Occupancy limits in effect. Were it not so far from home I probably would have tried again another day.

But it was not too long in waiting.

They did not have my back strip so I’ll just have to order that online along with handles for the canopy and cage doors. I did get some odds and ends. More worm feeders (plastic cones with holes for feeding live black worms and white worms and thawed frozen bloodworms to fish) and sponge filters plus several nice pieces of spider wood on slate mounts to start decorating the newer tanks. Those were pricy.

However my holy grail cork log that I’m looking for to cover the metal column and improve the view through the window into the Florida Room continues to elude me. Will probably have to try an online specialist because perfect pieces cork bark have been hit or miss at pet shops and reptile shows even “B.C.” Before Covid.


I tried the PetCo across the way and came up empty for that and the back strip so I decided to call it a day and hightail it for home. Didn’t even want to bother with trying some other pet shops along the way or grocery shopping for that matter. Would rather not bother with having to carry in and wipe down the packaging late in the day. And I wanted to get started on this article which even so is taking longer than expected and may not make it this week—thought I’ll be grateful if it does!

Things always take longer and are often harder than expected. And too often it comes down to doing vs writing about it.

Got the pieces of my new glass canopy sanded and put together and placed on the tank.

And the dam and vent glass on the second cage to set up while I wrote the and then made dinner with the aim of putting on the vent screen and door track afterward. I’ve yet to do the latter and I’m getting hungry. Probably better to forgo the catfish dinner in favor of something more spartan and quicker to make this late- like microwave chicken nuggets. The sacrifices I make for the things that drive me forward in pursuit of happiness and excellence in the face of doom! So many details I wish I could have included along with the philosophical and existential concerns in regard to what this all means to me. The hobby and what it’s all about.

In regard to the current situation in the Nation I’m sure there are those who think what I do is useless or even hallmark of a criminally inefficient lifestyle. I’m sure the Green New Dealers who are champing at the bit to pick up on wrecking the American way of life—even before the Coronavirus pandemic runs its course- would think so. Like the commies during Mao’s Cultural Revolution who declared pets to be a decadent bourgeois luxury. But Man does not live by bread alone and damned if I’m going to give up now after all I’ve put into it and having gotten so close to my goal.

I’m deplorable to my core, but I’m not interested in fighting another civil war. But if someone takes a wrecking ball to the product of my life long accomplishments- I’m going to be major league pissed off and it’s going to be something like that commentary about when the people who just want to be left alone get involved. If you remember the old guy sitting in a chair a few issues back.

This and the final outcome of the build will be worthy of a decent postscript.

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