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40B Ambystoma tigrinum Paludarium

Wy Renegade

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Hey All,

Over the course of the last couple of years, I've had one of my classes involved in putting together a 40B Turtle tank to build an ideal home for some native Ambystoma tigrinum (Tiger salamanders). We did a lot of initial research (including both the care sheets located on this site; Caudata Culture Articles - Tiger Salamander 101 and Caudata Culture Species Entry - Tiger salamander - both very helpful) which turned up the fact that A. tigrinum are a variety of mole salamander, and as such spend far more time terrestrially, then in the aquatic zone. Some research even indicated that the salamanders rarely enter water as adults, but spend the majority of the day burrowed down into the soil.

We found a great video series here on identifying, buying, keeping, sexing, and building habitats for tiger salamanders for anyone who is interested; Video: Types of Salamanders

As a result, the tank ended up being about 2/3 terrestrial habitat and 1/3 aquatic. To accomplish that, we divided the tank into approximate thirds using a glass pane and silicon. I'm pretty good with the aquatic side, but not so much with the terrarium side. I've spent some time browsing through the boards here over the past few years to get a few ideas, but thought I would get a thread going to ask some more specific questions and maybe get some better answers.



The front third of the tank, the portion in front of the glass divider, is a mix of aquatic, separated from the remainder behind a wall consisting of egg crate, river rock and Great Stuff black pond foam, and a bog type environment. The substrate in the aquatic portion is gravel, so if the salamanders go fishing (which they do), we don’t have to worry about them swallowing sand. The bog portion has a bottom layer of about 1 1/2" of large gravel covered with landscaping fabric, and the substrate on top is a mixture of peat moss and sand, which is consistently water-logged.



To create the rock wall, we did a backdrop of egg crate zip tied in sections so we could create the curve we wanted, then we siliconed and foamed the river rock into position. We did a lot of dry stacking of the rock trying to figure out exactly the arrangement we wanted.



Knowing that we eventually wanted to create a water feature in the terrestrial portion, we created a cave to hide our return pump.







We also figured on stream return from the water feature back into the aquatic portion, so we built the rock wall to provide a little waterfall feature as well.



It took a lot of looking, but we did eventually manage to find just the right piece of driftwood for the tank.



Even though our research indicated that the adult salamanders rarely enter water, but instead spend the majority of the day burrowed down into the soil, we wanted to ensure that if they did enter the water they could get out. So we sloped and stepped the stones on the side away from the waterfall feature.





That feature has proven to be fortunate, as we've had the salamanders "fishing" in the aquatic portion a number of times.

Prior to finishing the rock wall, we went ahead and drilled the dividing plate to provide a spot for our pump line.







We used a bulkhead to seal the hole, and then finished up the rock wall.



 

Chinadog

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I'm sure it will look fantastic when finished, these kinds of plaudariums always do, but there are a couple of things that might not work. Firstly If you must use a substrate in the aquatic section sand is far better than gravel. Sand will pass through salamanders without causing any problems, but gravel is well known for causing impactions if its to big to pass. Gravel is also a nightmare to keep clean compared to sand, but then the whole aquatic section will need daily water changes if the salamanders are in and out of there with dirt stuck all over them!
The other thing that I'd change is the "waterlogged" terrestrial area. Tigers do like a damp substrate that will hold it's shape when they dig their burrows, but waterlogged is way too wet for that.
 

Wy Renegade

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I'm sure it will look fantastic when finished, these kinds of plaudariums always do, but there are a couple of things that might not work. Firstly If you must use a substrate in the aquatic section sand is far better than gravel. Sand will pass through salamanders without causing any problems, but gravel is well known for causing impactions if its to big to pass. Gravel is also a nightmare to keep clean compared to sand, but then the whole aquatic section will need daily water changes if the salamanders are in and out of there with dirt stuck all over them!
The other thing that I'd change is the "waterlogged" terrestrial area. Tigers do like a damp substrate that will hold it's shape when they dig their burrows, but waterlogged is way too wet for that.

Thanks for the approval, comments and the input. I'll have to reconsider the gravel substrate in the aquatic section - we ended up using a native black substrate collected around the greater Yellowstone ecosystem that varies in size from sand to small gravel -0 but sounds like that might be problematic in the future. We're way over-filtering the aquatic section (running a AquaClear 30 on what is probably about 5 to 7 gallons of water), and thus far we've had no issues with soil build up. I have noticed that the salamanders generally hang out and burrow in the terrestrial area, rather than the waterlogged bog area, although they pass over that area without issue.
 

Wy Renegade

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The remaining 2/3rds of the tank is all terrestrial. The substrate is Organic Choice MG potting mix.



Once the foam was dry, we added a mixture of Coco Husk fiber and wood glue over the top of the driftwood, foam and rock. It was a messy job, but looked pretty good once we finished.





Now the hard part - how to build the waterfall/stream? To date, we've been working with 3D printing, but I'm becoming more and more hesitant, because I'm really not sure I like the look. I would hate the ruin the aesthetics at this point, by using a subpar waterfall/stream set-up.



Also, it is taking forever to design and print the pieces. Anybody have any suggestions for other methods you've tried or used?
 

Chinadog

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Why not use the method you used for the rock wall? You can also use a similar method with regular cement, but it will obviously need coating with the sealant you can buy for concrete Koi ponds before you paint it.
It would be worth searching build threads by forum member Niels D, he makes some stunning display tanks with expanding foam.
 

Wy Renegade

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Why not use the method you used for the rock wall? You can also use a similar method with regular cement, but it will obviously need coating with the sealant you can buy for concrete Koi ponds before you paint it.
It would be worth searching build threads by forum member Niels D, he makes some stunning display tanks with expanding foam.

Thanks, I'll check those out.
 

Wy Renegade

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Awesome project. :cool:

Thank you!

I got some temperate plants ordered from hydrophyte, as well as a culture of springtails and isopods which are scheduled to be in over the weekend or early next week, so I started messing around with the tank a bit in anticipation of getting it planted.

Collected some wood last night, and went through my stock of aquarium rock.

I'm pretty happy with how its turned out thus far . . .

I wanted a more "natural looking driftwood/cave piece. This one is a little larger than I was looking for, but I think it will fit the bill. Plan to raise the dirt level behind it a bit.


The salamanders started checking it out right away.










Added and watered down some additional dirt.




 

Wy Renegade

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They didn't like it much when I added the leaf litter and sprayed it down, they headed off into the water to avoid me.







 

Wy Renegade

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Started the planting process today. Because of the leaves, the salamanders were pretty hard to see, but once the light turned off they were out and about.



You can see one of the "trees" and a fern in the background here;


This guy was crawling through the debris;
 

Wy Renegade

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WOW! That is gorgeous! Out of curiosity, what species of plants are you using?

Thank you for the compliments and for the question. In all honesty, I can't tell you species on any at this point. The "trees" are a commonly available "bonsai" tree I found at Home Depot (I believe they are some type of fig tree, and they have done well for me in this type of tank before), and the ferns are labeled as "terrarium plants" and were picked up at the local nursery. The moss introduced thus far is a local terrestrial species that I'm sure won't last long term, but I'm hoping to get some emergent java moss established as well as a few liverworts. Once the ferns get big enough (if they do), I'll try and I.D. them. So at this point it is just kind of a hodgepodge. One of the main issues with trying to use temperate zone plants is that many of them require a dormancy period to survive long term, and unfortunately, the tropical zone plants typically used in terrariums aren't really suitable for this application. Those things that I know species of, I will indicate with species names as the thread progresses.
 

Wy Renegade

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Did a little more planting today, adding three of what I am pretty sure are liverworts that I obtained locally (anybody recognize them), as well as another fern and a second "tree."





With the addition of the trees, it is pretty obvious that the tank really isn't tall enough, which is causing an issue with the light, so I will have to either hang the light or extend the tank. I have a third tree that I was considering placing, but not sure about that now. Three would be better for ascetic appeal, but that third one might be too much. I have three more fern to place, but holding off until I'm sure of where I want them and waiting for the rest of the plants to come in, don't want to get too carried away at this point.





I'm really pleased with the cave area, as I think it looks pretty natural. I'm sure the addition of some mosses or small liverworts and some of the Dwarf horsetail will help as well.

 

Sarramy

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Wow. That is a gorgeous tank. I hope someday I'm able to build something even half as pleasing.
 

Wy Renegade

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The first of the orders, the Dwarf horsetail (Equisetum scirpoides) arrived today.



The hardest part was getting it out of the container LOL, and breaking it up into suitable pieces;


Then it was time to determine placement. I placed some in both the dry terrestrial areas and the soggy bog border, so we will see which area supports better growth.





Getting harder to see that cave mouth.


A little along the riverbank in the shade of the tree.


And a bit more along the riverbank, not in the shade;


Now if I can just get that other order in and start filling in the bare spots with some emergent moss or liverwort growth. Also looking forward to the sedge that is coming in, that should look pretty cool along the bank and growing out of the water.


I saved enough of the Dwarf horsetail to pot and try and grow out in the greenhouse as well.
 

Wy Renegade

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Got the second of the plant orders. This came from hydrophyte on the dendro boards, as a group of native plants he has had luck growing in temperate terrariums, so we will see how they do in this paludarium. I'm still messing a bit with the exact placement.

There were several of these that I was really looking forward to, and one of those was the sedge (Dichromena sp.) , not sure of the exact species, but if it takes off it should be a very welcome addition to the tank. I had enough of it that I did a little bit up in the boggy part . . .


and a bit in the water itself.


The salamanders of course had to get in and check it out, they seem to be enjoying it.




Got a couple clippings each of swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus),


and threeleaf goldthread (Coptis trifolia). The Coptis sp. has bright yellow rhizomes that should add a little bit of nice color. You can see it here, but not real well.


To the right of the 'goldtread' in this one, you can see a cutting of partridgeberry (Mitchella repens).
http://i260.photobucket.com/albums/ii7/rowlandr/Salamander%20Paludarium/IMG_2114_zpsr5pmum2j.jpg[/IMG]

I also got a couple downy rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens), which is a terrestrial orchid. They are not native to this area, but do fall within the salamanders geographical range.




More to come . . .
 

Wy Renegade

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I also got a couple of different ferns and several types of moss.

The rock cap fern (Polypodium virginianum) . . .


and the American walking fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum).


Several types of mosses as well, wishing I would have had bigger portions of a few of these, but its a start. In the picture above, to the right of the walking fern, you can see my favorite peaking out under the branch, which is the haircap moss (polytrichum sp). Here's another shot of it as well . . .


I also got a nice sized portion of rough-stalked feather-moss (Brachythecium rutabulum) which you can see here through the horsetail . . .


and also here . . .


and some log moss (Thuidium sp.) which I'm hoping will grow up onto my old log.


And a final shot of the evolving landscape.


I've noticed some yellowing in the horsetail, which is hopefully just a transitional issue :(.
 

Addicted

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Love it. Love looking at pictures and getting idea's for my build!!!!
 
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    Hey guys, its way too hot where I live right now. Temperatures 40 degree celcius outside, making it like 30 degrees inside. Ive got ice packs on my yellow spotted salamanders hidey rock, he acts like he hates it though. Am I keeping him too cold? I think my temp gauge might be messed up, or at least in the wrong spot. I put the tank temp gauge in the top left corner of his large tank, where it says its 80 degrees fahrenheit, which I am aware is too hot, which is what makes me put the ice packs on his rock at the bottom of the cage, but the bottom of his cage feels a lot cooler tha 80 degrees. Should I move my temp gauge down to the bottom corner where he hangs out the most? Should I get a soil temperature probe so I can tell what temperature the soil that hes laying on is?
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    Because his soil is certainly not 80 degrees fahrenheit, and I dont want to freeze the poor bugger with ice packs if he really doesnt need them. Hes been doing fine, but Im just so stressed because I cant get ANy information on how to handle this little guy. Theyre illegal to keep without a permit, but this one would not have survived without my intervention. So I cant call and ask anyone for help. If theres a betetr site than this one, I sure havent found it. But I never get any replies here. We are all just asking questions and getting none answered basically. Its really frustrating as I just want to help this little dude be happy and healthy. All I can get him to eat is potato bugs as well. I cant find anything else that he will eat. Is that even okay? :/ hes been eating strictly those since may first.
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    he was dying outside. SO SORRY i was nice enough to save him. can i even release him in wetaher thats 40 degree celcius? will he not just die outside because he cant dig through the hard ground?
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    The ONLY reason I spent 500 dollars on this thing was to keep him alive. thats IT. He was completely dry with cracked skin and couldnt walk and I nursed him back to health. Now I should just throw him outside on the hard baked ground where I found him? in my driveway? Really dude?
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    I am losing patienc ebecause I care. Because I cant get any answers in any length of time that will actually benefit him. He'll only eat potato bugs, I just want him to have good rest of his life. Thats IT. So dont act like I went out an dillegally trapped some poor salamander out of the wild for fun cuz I wanted one.
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