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Easy Awesome Vivarium Design

smashtoad

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Aug 9, 2010
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Hi All,

Sorry if this post may ramble, but I have had a lot of coffee and am excited about the prospect of setting up a vivarium for Tylototriton kweichowensis...if I can ever find any babies, that is. Any help would be appreciated.

Anyway, the reason for my posting is that I think I have a suggestion that will benefit many of you that utilize siliconed-in glass dividers in the name of creating land / water areas for your newts. My suggestion is...dont do it. Here's why...

The Basics

All aquaria colonize nitrifying bacteria over time. The amount of bacteria depends on the amount of food for the bacteria, essentially. These bacteria turn ammonia (very toxic) from waste and uneaten food into nitrite (also very toxic) and then into nitrate (much less toxic)...we then remove nitrates with water changes and are aided by live plants as well. This is known simply as "biological" filtration.

The traditional undergravel filter, that looked to most of us like, uh...nothing, utilized the aquarium's gravel bed as a filter, circulating oxygenated water thoughout the gravel, which colonated nitrifiers. A lightly stocked tank could get by just fine on this type of filtration alone.

The Vivarium

When I went to set up a viv for my Phyllobates terribilus, I read all about how dudes were building these intricate false bottoms, and posting progression threads that were as varied as they were confusing. Not only this, the bottom several inches of the viv was EMPTY, when it could be used to colonize nitrifiers!

Instead of installing a glass barrier to flow, or using a false bottom, just use very small aquarium gravel (or pea gravel) to the desired depth (2 to 3 inches, roughly), then use big river stones to build your wall, securing them in the gravel floor. Then pile more gravel behind them. When you get to the top, put more big river stones down, and so on and so on. Sure, some gravel will slip through, but who cares. Eventually you will be able to fill to the desired height, and will have created a natural water / land barrier.

I know many of you will be concerned about gravel injestion, use long fiber sphagnum moss to cover the gravel on the land side, and pack it down tight. Then pack more a little looser, and then more looser. Eventually you will have enough to plant most viv plants in, and if you provide adequate cover, hopefully the newts will not feel the need to dig all the way to the gravel.

Water Quality

Here's the kicker...before you begin to fill the tank with gravel, on the land end, get a small aquarium circulation pump, and an appropriate length of tubing. Wrap the pump in black fiberglass screen, and then zip-tie the screen around the outflow tube and also around the pump cord. Then bury it with the tube going to the water end. This can be used to create water falls, bubbling brooks, whatever.

The point is this: The entire length of your vivarium's bottom will be turned into a big biological filter, with oxygenated water flowing through it freely. So why would you put in a piece of glass that is only going to restrict flow, causing the bottom of the gravel side to become stagnant, if not septic?

Below is a picture of my terribilis viv. This tank has no false bottom, just gravel and sphagnum, and a screen wrapped pump. The sphagnum has long since lived and died, being replaced by an awesome species of volunteer moss that has carpeted almost everything.

I believe this method of viv design would work awesome for the more terrestrial Tylototritons, and could be modified to suit the more aquatic species as well. The only drawback is that it may be difficult to use if you desire really deep water, like 8" or more. The taller your tank is, the more leeway you'll have in design.

It's all about moving water. Moving water is the key to viv health, in my opinion. That, and not overstocking the tank. That's why this method works so well for dart frogs.

Sorry about the crappy phone pics, but you get the idea. First pic is Oct08, when the tank was built, the second pic is today. I hope this post will help somone build for their animals a viv so beautiful that their wife won't mind it being in the living room!

P.S. An Oak canopy helps a lot when it comes to pleasing the wifey...ha


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  • Shane_Yogurt:
    its around 3 small pieces in the tank. Since i've just moved homes, my axolotl is still at my old house. Yesterday i fed him bloodworms and he missed a few. I couldnt get them out without a turkey baster and decided to let them sit because i was gonna move him to the house tomorrow. But now its late and I dont have a car and my dad wont drive me. Will he be fine?
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  • melon:
    I would think so i would just try to get them out tomorrow
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  • Shane_Yogurt:
    yeah, im heading over tomorrow morning to move him to this house and feed him. Thanks for the help!
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  • Shane_Yogurt:
    So my axolotl tank cycle just crashed and while i was in the middle of a water change my bucket overflowed and spilled water all of the ground in my brand new home. This is going super well 👍
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  • the:
    ooff
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  • the:
    good luck recycling the tank!
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  • Roach:
    do the classifieds still exist?
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  • Roach:
    nevermind! off my game tonight
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  • Shane_Yogurt:
    Im so frustrated right now. My axolotl WONT eat and my tank still isnt looking too good. Some extra stress i needed.
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  • John:
    Sorry to hear that Shane. Did you post about it?
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  • Shane_Yogurt:
    No, I havent. Im not really sure why he wont eat. Hes in a 1 gallon tub and still a juvenile. When i offer food he swims away from it. Does he need some extra time? or is this something I should be worried about.
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  • JulMl:
    Hello everyone! I’m new in this world and i need some advices please! I have 2 axolotl babies and currently the water from the tank is from bottled water ( all parameters are good) but i want to change 50% of the water with city tap water. My question is how to change it? Do i need to get axis out, do the change, add the prime, wait (how much?) until its dechlorinated or i can add the tap water directly into the tank with axis in it, and add the prime conditioner? Thank you!!
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  • Asmold1:
    1. You dont need to take them out of the tank to change the water as long as you pour it in slow as to not rattle them around too much
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  • Asmold1:
    2. add the prime to your tap water, for most conditioners the consensus is 5 minutes of waiting time
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  • Asmold1:
    3.After 5 minutes it should be safe to add
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  • JulMl:
    Thank you so much !!
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  • Asmold1:
    I private messaged you a bit clearer instructions just in case
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  • tammyaxie:
    Where can I get blackworms?
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  • John:
    Ebay or Eastern Aquatics
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  • noahc808:
    Does anyone know someone who can ship axolotls to hawaii? I recently did a water change and my axolotl died and there are no axos for sale right now.
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