Friday, March 20, 2015

Wood for Tropical, High Humidity, Wet Vivariums

Next to plants wood if one of the most important aspects of creating a naturalistic vivarium. It is great for the animals to climb on and hide under. Moss and epiphytic plants will grow on it, and vines will use it for support. It is important to choose the wood carefully, as the wrong wood my be harmful or not hold up well in the tank. Thankfully today there are many options choose from.

vivarium wood

vivarium wood

vivarium wood

vivarium wood

Cork Bark: A common accent wood, cork is often used in the vivarium hobby. flat sheets of it are great to use as a background for the vivarium. Usually, though, it comes in curled/curved pieces with are great as hides. It is also very light weight.

Ghost Wood: This is a beautiful light colored, smooth wood. Moss loves to grow on it, and it holds up very well in humid environments.

Grape Wood/Vine: It will not hold up as long as many of the woods on this list but it can work in a frog tank as long as it is not kept very wet. This means don't use it for tanks with water features and that get misted more than once a day. It has a great look in a natural vivarium.

Malaysian Drift Wood: This is a heavy, dark wood. It is one of the most popular woods in the hobby for it look and durability. It can even be used submerged under water.

Manzanita: This is a strong wood but it looks delicate. It is light in color and often comes with many long branches that are great for climbers. When used upside down in a tank it gives a branching root system look.

Mopani Wood (Also called Swahala): This wood comes treated (sealed) and untreated. Use the treated for dry tanks. For wet tanks only use the untreated (Some suppliers will call it "Safe for aquarium use").

If you are adventuresome you can use wild wood, though I don't recommend it since you might not know where it has been. But if you get it from deep enough in the wood then it should be fine. Some wild (I know all wood comes from the wild but you get what I'm saying) woods that hold up in wet environments are: elm, beech, and oak. Wild wood should be soaked in a dilute bleach water solution overnight, then soaked in plain water overnight, and then dried at 200 degrees in an oven for a few hours.

If you will be using your wood with a water feature you might want to leech out excess tannins. Tannins are found in the wood and can make your water dark, as well as lowering the pH. The animals usually don't mind but clearer water looks better. To leech out the tannins soak the wood in clean water (Changing the water everyday) until the water is almost clear. I say "almost" clear because you will not need the water to be 100% clear since the filter can handle the rest.

Most wood will mold when put in a tank. don't worry about it. You can scrape it off and eventually it will stop coming.

You can buy Mopani wood using the link below.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Culturing Springtails (Collembola): Poison Dart Frog Food


Springtails are very small insects in the order Collembola. They are found all over the world but most people will never see them. They are called springtails because they have a spring-like projection at the end of their abdomens that allows them jump ("spring") into the air. Because of their small size they make great food for poison dart frogs. They are also extremely easy to culture.

There are many ways to culture spring tails. All you need is some type of plastic container with, a substrate for them to crawl on, water, and food. Examples of food include rice, brewers yeast, fish food flakes, chopped mushroom, whole wheat flour, and oatmeal. I will outline 2 methods here.

Charcoal Method

Take a plastic container with a tight fitting lid and fill it half way with pieces of 100% natural wood lump charcoal (do not use charcoal briquettes). Then add water to a level of 1/2 to 1 inch (most of the charcoal should be above the water). Sprinkle a very tiny amount of food on top of the charcoal and add springtails from an established colony (they can be ordered from many online companies). After two weeks you can start harvesting them.

Coco Fiber Method

Take a plastic container with a tight fitting lid and add 1 to 2 inches of very moist coconut fiber substrate. Sprinkle this with a tiny bit of food. Add springtails from an established culture. After 2 weeks you can start harvesting them.

Feed your spring tails every other day or as needed with a tiny bit of food. You don't want to feed them a lot at one time. Open your cultures once everyday to let fresh air in.

You can harvest springtails by: Removing some of the substrate and adding it to your frog tank. Flooding the culture with water until all the springtails float (you can't drown them) and then skimming them off the top or pouring some the water out. Tilting the culture and blowing the springtails out. You'll most likely figure out a method the works best for you.

Your culture could last for months or years.               

Monday, March 16, 2015

Understanding Reptile Lighting: UVA and UVB Bulbs

Most reptiles in the wild bask in sunlight at some point during the days. This is important for their survival. If you are lucky enough to live in a warm climate you may keep your reptiles in outdoor enclosures. Here they will be exposed to natural sunlight and will receive the full spectrum of light needed for health and well being. Most people, though, must keep their reptiles indoors where they are only exposed to our artificial lights which do not provide a full spectrum like the Sun. This is why special bulbs must be purchased for reptile tanks. A mix of artificial lights is used to mimic natural sunlight.

The main light you need to worry about is UV (ultraviolet) light. Humans cannot see this light and reptiles can only see one type. There are three types of UV light: UVA, UVB, and UVC.

UVB: This is the most important light. For this you need to go to a pet shop or reptile supply company and buy a special bulb. All diurnal (active during day) basking reptiles require them. The UVB light penetrates the animals skin causing a chemical reaction that changes pre-vitamin D3 into vitamin D3. without vitamin D3 organs can fail, deformities can occur, and death will eventually happen. Nocturnal reptiles (leopard geckos, crested geckos, tokay geckos etc.) and amphibians (frogs, salamanders, etc) do not need added UVB light. They have adaptations that allow them to make do with less light. When buying a UVB bulb look for linear tube type. They are best.    

UVA: Reptiles can see this type of light. They use it to recognize other members of their species and food. UVA light makes reptiles more active and encourages breeding. It also helps with general well-being. Common "full" spectrum household bulbs, basking bulbs, and many UVB bulbs produce it.

UVC: This light is naturally filtered out by earths atmosphere. It is harmful and only used in industry to kill dangerous micro-organisms. You do not need to worry about this. I only mention it because it exists.

Basking reptiles will also need a basking or heat lamp. This simply provides warmth. A simple incandescent bulb can be used for this. It is important for the reptiles metabolism and because the animals body has to be a certain temperature to synthesize vitamin D3. The UVB bulb should be placed near the basking lamp.       

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Care and Breeding of Mealworms



1) Dry Food (examples in article)
2) Wet Food (examples in article)
3) Mealworms
4) 3 containers (at least one with a lid, size depends on how many mealworms you start with)
5) Paper towel tubes or paper egg cartons

Mealworms are the larvae of a species of darkling beetle (Tenebrio molitor). They have been a popular feeder insect for years. Mealworms are extremely easy (and cheap) to care for. The mealworm life cycle takes 3-6 months so plan ahead. Like most insects they go through complete metamorphosis (egg, larvae, pupa, adult beetle). If you use them often you should consider raising your own. It is an interesting and fulfilling experience for a herper.

Start with a smooth sided container with or without a lid for the larvae. Cover the bottom with about 1.5 in of oatmeal. This will serve as the bedding and dry food. To make it more nutritious you can add a little brewers yeast, wheat germ, whole wheat flower, fish flakes, or ground up dog food. To this add your mealworms (no less than 100 to start a colony, preferably 500 or more). They will need a water source. This will be provided by fruit and vegetable slices laid on top of the bedding. You can use potatoes, carrots (best), banana peel, cabbage, yam, and apple (worst).

Daily maintenance will include removing moldy wet food, adding fresh wet food, removing dead insects, and checking to see if any larvae have turned to pupa (they will look pale slightly curled and won't move unless touched).

Any pupa you see should immediately be removed and moved into a second container with a tiny bit of bedding (no wet food). Pupa must be separated from adults and larvae so they don't get chewed on. When the pupa become dark in color it means they are about to turn to beetles. Any beetles that hatch should immediately be moved to a third container that is setup like the larvae container. The beetle container should have a lid so they don't escape and you may also add paper towel tubes or egg cartons for hiding spaces. The beetles will mate and lay eggs in the substrate, and after a couple of weeks it should be full of eggs and tiny larvae. At this stage I have heard of people putting the substrate over a wire screen sat over another container. The idea is the tiny mealworms will burrow to the bottom of the substrate and fall through the holes in the screen to separate them from the adults. I just pick the beetles out and let their container become the new larvae container. The old larvae container can be cleaned out and used for the next batch of beetles.

Stage Durations

Egg- 4-19 days
Larvae- About 10 weeks
Pupa- 6-24 days
Adult- 8-12 weeks

The length of each stage depends on temperature and nutrition. Higher temperature will make them grow fast. More nutritious food will make them grow faster.