20L Stream Terrarium

PS

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Hello,

I have not been very active on the forums yet but thought I would share some pictures of a tank I've been working on for too long now and get some input from more experienced folks.

My idea was to take a 20 gallon long tank and try to build a working stream/seep through it into a small pool at the end. I found a nice example of a terrarium with fake rocks made from foam and a thin cement layer on another website (60 Gallon construction - Page 3 - Dendroboard).

I read somewhere that water that contacts the cement may have a very low pH for a while but that it can be weathered or neutralized somewhat with a vinegar bath. The salamanders I have to occupy the tank are a two-lined salamander, ocoee salamander, and a red eft. They are all very small salamanders that will mostly remain on land even though they naturally return to water to breed.

Because I started using a pre-made tank, I bought the smallest possible submersible pump that I could find and used closed cell foam to begin making the pond and a small, connected reservoir behind it to house the pump. This area will be screened off from the salamanders but will allow more water volume to be kept in the stream system.

I have kept these same salamanders for 2 years now in a tank that has actual soil, plants, rocks, and a small log. Aside from the stream, I am planning to fill this new tank with soil as well to allow the salamanders to burrow, hide, and stay moist as much as they please (though hidden salamanders now emerge consistently whenever I open the lid to feed them).

In my new tank, I decided to use a light cover and some fine screening to make a false bottom. This may get silted in, but it should provide a place for excess water to drain to so it is not sitting at the bottom of salamander burrows. Here are some initial pictures from a good while ago.
 

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PS

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I meant to take pictures all along, but all I have is the current state of the tank, nearly 6 months later. I have built the stream and a rock face in a corner of the tank which I am working on covering with mortar. The water system is operational but on first test today, the stream overflows slightly in a few places.
 

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Yahilles

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Very interesting! I love the stream biotope and i created a stream-type tank myself, will post it here in some weeks.
I hope you prepared well for the pump cleaning (i mean, you planned it while constructing the fake rock wall)? In my experience, using internal pumps in tanks like that (with lots of "hardscape") is rather a bad idea, because it's hard to clean them and paludariums are kinda easier to make them dirty, than normal aquariums. I would personally use some small, cheap canister filter, but ok, you did your choice already.

I think your tank is pretty big for 3 such small caudates, i would personally go for more Eurycea and Desmognathus, and make a separate tank for the eft, because they're not really streamside dwellers. I am pretty sure the two plethodontid genera will make good use of the water part, too.
 

PS

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Thanks for the reply Janusz!

I had thought about the pump cleaning issue a little. I made the piping with pvc and some sections of flexible plastic tubing so that it can be lifted off the pump without moving the outflow. The pump is actually fitted to the pvc so that it can be easily removed for cleaning or replacement. That being said, I did just buy the smallest (and cheapest) pump that I could find and probably should have gotten some recommendations first. I am hoping to make a removable cover to go over the pump area but haven't totally figured out how to make it salamander-proof. I'm also hoping that the screen to exclude salamanders from the pump area will help keep larger debris from reaching the pump.

The area I want to keep salamanders out of is mostly a long rectangle. I was thinking that I could make the removable cover into a fake rock that had a strip of sponge or foam around the edge so that it would form to the edge of the pump area and keep salamanders out as long as it is heavy enough. Any thoughts on that plan? I'd love to see pictures of your setup when you get them up.
 

evut

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I'd say that the effect of concrete on water is that it raises the pH. Using vinegar to neutralise it might result in the material dissolving. You need to do a lot of water changes until the pH stabilises somewhere normal again. Some people use epoxy bonding (?) to seal the concrete I think.
 

Yahilles

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I don't think that stream-dwelling salamanders will be harmed by lots of calcium dissolved in the water. I guess using lots of bark and fallen leaves will help buffering the pH.
 

PS

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I had thought of using epoxy but would prefer the texture of the plain cement if I don't have incurable issues with the pH. Maybe I should start by filling the tank completely, running the pump, and making frequent water changes until the pH stabilizes. I would prefer to skip the hassle (and smell) of the vinegar baths if the tank cycling will take care of the low pH in time.
 

Yahilles

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How about silicone or epoxy covered with sand?
 

PS

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How about silicone or epoxy covered with sand?

I think that will definitely be my plan if the pH is an issue. I'm not in too much of a hurry and am willing to experiment a bit because my small salamanders still seem perfectly happy in a 10 gallon (though the Ocoee is getting big amazingly quickly), so I will probably at least give the cement a try.

Right now I am in the midst of coating most of the stream in black silicone anyways because of a handful of small leaks that I cannot seem to find on the top side of the stream. I thought my foam layer under the concrete was fairly seamless after all the silicone I used, but it turns out that I must have missed a few cracks. The drips that emerge are fairly slow, but I think coating the stream with silicone now and then covering it in another layer of cement should make it mostly waterproof.
 

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Well, the small leaks in the stream ended up being hard to find and seal off so I decided to air on the side of caution and coat the entire stream with a thick layer of silicone. I thought that the foam/silicone foundation of the stream was completely watertight but next time I will probably be even more heavy-handed with the silicone.

After this final waterproofing, the stream is leak-free and I'm just beginning the process of coating the stream with the final layers of cement. I'm also working on sealing off the pump area and the outflow to keep salamanders out. I'll post pictures again soon as I finish up the stream and begin doing some painting!
 

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Molch

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interesting project!

if I may ask, PS: what's that critter in your avatar?

.
 

Coastal Groovin

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Looks like Pseudotriton ruber vioscai
 
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PS

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interesting project!

if I may ask, PS: what's that critter in your avatar?

.

It is a red salamander but is actually the black-chinned subspecies, Pseudotriton ruber schencki, from western North Carolina. Here are a few more photos of this big critter.
 

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PS

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I am finally posting a few more pictures and a quick status update. After discovering that my stream still had a few leaks a few weeks ago, I applied a VERY thick layer of silicone to the entire stream. Thankfully, this solved my leak issue and I began reapplying cement to the stream and sculpted the rocks out of the wet cement. This time around, I tried to make more round, smooth rocks to look like weathered river rocks.

When I finished sculpting, I used craft paints to add some color to the cement. I started with a dark base coat and worked up to the light browns and grays. Once the paint had dried, I filled the tank completely with water and began cycling the tank until the pH neutralizes somewhat.

At this point, I may have run into a problem because the pH test kit I have only measures pH within a narrow range and my tap water already earns the highest reading possible (ph=8). Hopefully it is not a problem to have basic tap water? The species I'm putting in the tank are mostly terrestrial adults of stream-breeding salamanders, so I'm not sure how much the pH of the water will matter but I'd rather play it safe.
 

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Vort

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Hey PS, I gotta say I love what you're doing with this tank, I'm going to start a project to house a few two lineds pretty soon, and I'm most likely going to base it off your tank. But I was hoping you can answer a question or two I have about E. Cirrigera, one, are they fairly active? And two, how many do you think I could keep in a 20H?
Do you think a stream made out of Great stuff and supported by substrate would be feasible?
 

PS

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Hey PS, I gotta say I love what you're doing with this tank, I'm going to start a project to house a few two lineds pretty soon, and I'm most likely going to base it off your tank. But I was hoping you can answer a question or two I have about E. Cirrigera, one, are they fairly active? And two, how many do you think I could keep in a 20H?
Do you think a stream made out of Great stuff and supported by substrate would be feasible?

Hi Vort,

I hope you have fun with your project!

My two-lined salamander is a Eurycea wilderae and is not too active. She wanders around a bit and always comes out when I feed them. She sits with her head out of a burrow most of the time and is very fun to watch feeding. Still, my red eft and ocoee salamander are out and about most of the time and are much more active.

As for the Great Stuff, I did try to use it in a few places on my tank because it was much easier than shaping individual rocks with the closed cell foam. BUT, I had the most miserable time getting the cement to stick to the Great Stuff. I kept trying and the cement just kept sliding off. I tried scoring the Great Stuff, cutting the waxy outer layer off, and even cutting the waxy layer off AND scoring the Great Stuff some more and still I could not get the cement to stick. There are a few flat places where I got cement to stay on, but mostly I had to cut the Great Stuff out. Maybe if you are not looking for the texture of cement you could paint the Great Stuff without covering it with anything? I've never tried that though.

Also, I definitely learned to use at least 5X as much silicone as you think you'll need to seal your stream and to make sure there are no places for water to get through before starting to use cement. The biggest holdup for me was getting my stream waterproof (though I believe it still loses water very slowly).
 

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A few pictures of the landscaping!
 

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Paul112

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Really inspirational, thanks for sharing! :)

Best,
Paul
 

pms17

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Looks like a nice project!
But is it a 20Liters or 20Gallons terrarium? Cause you wrote 20L on the title.
 
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