TERRARIUM SETUP IDEAS
Setting up a terrarium for your sub-adult or adult dart frogs can be done many different ways, with various levels of complexity. In this discussion I will go over a couple of techniques which have worked for me.
I have found it to be simplest if the substrate of my tanks is composed of the small aquarium gravel. Soils tend to rot or sour, and foul the tank. If necessary, for a particular plant, the soil can be kept in a small pot and sunk into the gravel. However many plants do suprisingly well in water and gravel, especially tropical plants.
In the first, most simple design, the bottom of the tank is simply filled with gravel, and the gravel shaped to form the desired landscape. A recession can be formed in one of the front corners to create a pond. To cover the gravel I use sheet moss. This product can be obtained at garden supply stores or nurseries. It is dried moss, which has been pulled from rotting logs and the ground in moist areas. If provided strong light and high humidity it may begin to grow again. Otherwise you should be prepared to replace it every six months or so, since it will rot. A superior product for covering the floor of the tank is live moss, available from a variety of terrarium supply companies. You may also be able to collect this moss yourself. In some cases I also leave the floor of the tank without any cover, and spread dead leaves around the tank. Oak, or magnolia or some other larger leaf, which will not rot too quickly, would be best. I rinse these in water, and collect them from a site, which I am confident, has not been contaminated with pesticides or other toxins. A misting system can be incorporated, or hand misting, to clean the leaves, and provide daily showers. The excess water will accumulate in the pond, where it can be periodically siphoned off. Please note that one possible consequence of having almost any body of water in the tank would be the possibility of having a frog drown in the water. In particular the tinctorius group frogs have been known to drown, especially when there are two females in the tank. Females pin one another to the floor, and then sit on their rivals' head! When this happens in a water feature the loser usually drowns.
Another variation on this design includes a pump, and waterfall. When I began building terrariums I fought with water, trying to enclose it and keep it contained in a certain area of the tank. This inevitably led to leaks and problems with water where I didn't want it. Now I allow the entire bottom to be the reservoir, and use either a false bottom or a container to hold my pump. False bottom tanks involve elevating the substrate off the bottom of the tank. The bottom of the tank then serves as a reservoir for water, which can be picked up with a pump and delivered to a water feature in the tank. This is a good system, and has its advantages, but it has one drawback that I didn't like, which is the appearance of the supports and the other components in the bottom of the tank from the outside. It also can make the substrate layer to deep, using up space which plants and frogs need. I have found that the same effect can be achieved by using the thick layer of gravel, as in the first design I described, and putting the pump in a container submerged in the gravel. One combination, which works well, is a large margarine tub, and a Mini-Jet pump. Punch several holes (one half inch diameter) around the base of the tub, and cover them with pieces of fiberglass insect screen, which should be attached with silicone caulk. Now cut two holes in the lid, one for the power cord for the pump, and the other for a hose from the pump. You will need a length of hose to fit the output side of the pump. You will probably want to take the pump to the hardware store and get a two foot or so length of hose, the clear type is best, and a clamp to attach it to the pump. Make sure the holes are tight, and if not, use some more of the silicone to seal the holes in the lid tight.
Now you are all set to place the tub into the tank, and position it however you wish to achieve the affect you want. In general, I have found that the back corners work best. You can then proceed to fill the tank with gravel, and shape it to your preference. Now by adding about two inches of water to the tank, you will have a nice stream of water from the hose. Cork bark tubes and flats can be used to make waterfalls and streams, or any number of things can be done with the water flow.
Some additional tips involve the lid and the back. I use quarter inch glass for the lids of my tanks, which I have cut to fit the top of the tank. I have the lid made in two pieces, one smaller long piece for the front, and a wider piece for the back, and to set the lights on. I silicone a wooden knob on the front piece and use it for a lid. As far as the back goes, I cover it with coco mat. This product may be obtained from me cut to size, or you may find it in nursery supply stores. I silicone this to the back, and it can then be used to hide your supply hose for your waterfall, or the electric cord. Plants will root to it, and small orchids and bromeliads can be mounted to it. You will probably need to replace this every two years or so.
One key to a good long term tank set up is good lighting. Most plants will not do well with out a fairly high level of light. In particular the bromeliads and orchids will not do well unless offered high light levels. Aquarium light strips definitely do not provide enough light for these plant types. In experimenting myself I have come across the compact fluorescent lamp as a good light source. Check with Ahsupply.com for some good light fixtures, in easy to install kits.
Happy Frogging! Patrick