Paludarium planning questions

slowfoot

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So, I've finally decided that my three elderly newts deserve a nicer place to live. And, since my husband gave me the okay yesterday – he basically acknowledged that he couldn't stop me :p – I've started planning…

What I'm thinking of right now is a 40 – 55 gallon tall with a small land area in one corner. Ideally, the land area will consist of a natural wood structure, anchored with Great Stuff (covered in silicone and coco fiber), with a couple small areas for plantings. The same technique used by many people here, and in this link:

http://www.blackjungle.com/gallery2/main.php?g2_itemId=2108

I'm planning on trying to use cypress driftwood (the same wood in the link, above) because I can probably collect it from the rivers around here. I'll have to boil and dry it, of course. The look I'm going for is sort of a 'pond or swamp edge' type thing.

The inhabitants will be three Notophthalmus viridescens. I seriously doubt they'll use a land area – they've never shown any desire to leave the water – but I would like to enjoy the paludarium as well, and I want a land area. I think even if I use up a portion of the tank for the land, there will still be enough space for the newts. They've been living comfortably in a 10 gallon for a few years now.

I'm still not sure what to do about filtration. The current tank has one, but it's on for only an hour or so a day – the plants and tank creatures seem to take care of the cleaning, and the newts hate it. I'll have to research that further.

So I've read all of the threads on here, but I still have a couple of questions (if these were already addressed and I missed them, I apologize):

I'm going to be putting black silicone behind the Great Stuff to keep it hidden, but what if I get a little bit of Great Stuff on the glass? How easy is it to remove after it's dry?

In case I don't manage to find cypress, are there any other types of wood that would be resistant enough to rot to be permanent fixtures? Once they're glued in place, I'm not really going to be able to switch them out.

How do those little compact fluorescents compare to regular tube fluorescents watt for watt? Do they provide approximately the same amount of light?

Sorry for all the questions – I'm just excited :D
 

Agrippa

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Hi Slowfoot,

It seems you chose a good time to build a new paludarium- especially since PetCo should just be starting up its dollar per gallon sale!

Good luck getting the black silicone to spread evenly on the glass before applying the greatstuff. On my Dendrobatid tanks, I always followed the process described by blackjungle, but it was certainly a pain.

As for the GreatStuff, if you let it dry, it can be easily removed with a razor blade- especially if it's just a small spot. If you get a large amount of it in an area where you don't want it, you'll have to rip it out first before you can scrape it away. Otherwise, it's not too hard. The same process applies to the silicone, should you have an incident. :wacko:

As for types of wood resistant to rot, I have experience with Malaysian driftwood (pretty easy to find at most LFSs,) Manzanita, and Mopani.

I've used spiral compact fluorescents on a couple of my tanks, with mixed results.

Spiral Compact fluorescent bulbs burn hotter than standard Compacts and t5/t8/t12 fluorescents, due to their integrated ballasts. This means that if you have a lot of them, you need to keep an eye on the temperature of the tank that they're lighting. They are also not as efficient, because their spiral structure causes a lot of restrike, so, watt per watt (as compared to a standard compact,) they'll produce maybe 1/3 less light.

This may, however, be counterbalanced by the fact that they're quite considerably less expensive than other fluorescents, coupled with the fact that standard conical shop light reflectors (which work quite well for them) run for $6 at HomeDepot (versus the considerably more expensive fixtures for other bulbs.) Basically, if you don't need a huge amount of light, these are a viable, inexpensive option for you.

Well, good luck on your project.
I'm interested to see how it turns out!
 

slowfoot

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Thanks so much, Agrippa! That's exactly the sort of information I was looking for.

I've gotten my heart set on using cypress because, well, it's free... assuming I can find it. And I'm also really trying to go for the look of a habitat that would be natural for this species. The Malaysian driftwood looks nice as well, so I'll probably keep that in mind as an alternative.

Great information on the lights! I'll probably be going with the traditional fluoroscent tubes because keeping the tank cool has always been a problem, even more so now that I'm in Florida.

I'll definitely be posting pics as I go along. Everyone will get to enjoy my mess ;)
 

slowfoot

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Update time, plus more dumb questions:

I purchased a 29 gallon tank at Petco for a really nice price (thanks for the tip, Agrippa!). I'm not sure if it's considered tall or long - it's 19" tall. I also picked up a little internal filter (Fluval 10 gallon, I believe), thinking I might consider adding a very small water feature. Not sure about that yet.

Okay, now for the dumb questions. I didn't see these specific questions answered in other threads. If I missed them, sorry:

My land area will be very small, made out of great stuff, and basically hanging over the water. I'd like to put in one small plant for ground cover. How deep does the planting area need to be to accommodate a non-epiphytic plant? Also, how should I deal with soil drainage?

Dumb question number two: I plan on purchasing java moss (and maybe cultivating some more terrestrial mosses), but I know from experience that tap water can kill moss. The water my newts are in right now is treated tap water, but it's got all kinds of awesome pond life in it, and I'd really love to transfer it over to the new tank. Is tap water still a moss killer even if it's old? Would adding just a little (to get the good bacteria going) to fresh distilled water harm the moss?

And the last one: I'd like to have aquatic plants - actually it's pretty much a necessity for my guys - but the newts need low-ish temps. I already have a fixture that holds a single 24" fluorescent tube. The aquatic plants will be 19", at the most (more like 14"), from the light source. Is there a single fluorescent bulb that would produce enough light for these? I have only low-light tolerant species - java fern, elodea, etc. Do I need to upgrade to a two-bulb fixture? Would that produce too much heat?

Sorry for all the questions: these are just things that I never figure out until I try them...
 

Agrippa

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Congratulations on procuring a new tank. :)

As for your first question, the depth of the soil can be quite variable. Some plants are heavy root feeders and send their tendrils deep into the soil. Others, instead, spread out wide, shallow nets to obtain nutrients. For a low growing, humidity tolerant, lower-light plant, you may consider Baby's Tears. It's a little trailing plant that you can often find at nurseries. I believe it would be pretty happy with as little as 1-2 inches (approximately) of soil. It may grow a little more slowly, but that might not be an issue for you.

As for drainage, after the foam has dried and you've carved out the area that will serve as your "planter," you can simply use a skewer to punch holes into the area where you want the soil. That should provide sufficient pathways for water to escape. You may want to place a shallow (maybe 1cm) layer of gravel first, to help prevent soil from falling out and provide additional drainage.

As for tap water killing moss, I have not found this to be the case with aquatic species. Terrestrial species are negatively affected by the salts in tap water, but your java should not experience any negative effect, even with brand new water from the faucet (as, indeed, this is how I have always grown it.) Vesicularia dubyana is quite extraordinarily hearty, and is an excellent choice for a beginner plant.

Finally, with your current selection of plants, the single t8 bulb over the aquarium should suffice. You may see leggy growth on the elodea, and the moss will probably grow thinner and stringier, but they should otherwise remain healthy. Growth will be slow, but these plants are good choices for setups with low light.

Lastly, you shouldn't be sorry for asking questions! Without them, forums tend to stagnate, so feel free to ask.

Good luck.
 

slowfoot

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It begins...

So, after a few weeks of gathering needed supplies, and after encountering a few unexpected issues (why is it so hard to find a table that can support any weight?), I've started constructing my paludarium.

Materials:
1. 29 gallon aquarium
2. cypress driftwood, soaked and dried. It was actually bone dry when I got it, but I wanted to get as much of the tannin out as I could.
3. Fluval 1 Plus internal filter
4. 1/2" ID vinyl tubing, for a small water feature
5. All Glass Aquarium safe silicone, black. I actually found a really good deal on this - it ended up actually being cheaper than buying the GE brand at Lowe's.
6. Great Stuff
7. Coco fiber

My intention is to make the 'land area' really small, and keep as much underwater space as possible for the newts. I took a week or so just arranging the pieces of wood in the way I wanted them. Once I was happy with the shape, I spread black silicone on the glass in the areas where GS and wood would be attached:

DSC00571.JPG

Once that had cured for a few minutes, I attached the wood with more silicone:

DSC00572.JPG

It actually held together surprisingly well. I had to make a little brace out of tape and paper to support the larger log that's coming out of the back, but it set up very quickly.

Next, I put the vinyl tubing in place. The filter will be under the land area on the left, and the water will be coming out over the log that slants down from the right. I stuck a smaller tube through the large tube because I was afraid the GS might collapse it when it expanded:

DSC00573.JPG

And that's where I am. The next step will be to carve away the excess GS, clip the tube down to the right size, and cover everything with more black silicone and the coco fiber.

This little anole kept trying to eat a fly that had gotten trapped in the tank :D

DSC00574.JPG
 

slowfoot

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Update: The paludarium is almost complete. Now, I just need to add sand and rocks, the plants (both terrestrial and aquatic), and let it sit. I'm going to be taking all of the plants, some water, and the rocks directly from my current newt tank, so hopefully that will get everything started on the cycling.

Here's a shot of the thing right after I'd finished attaching the coco fiber to the silicone, the most stressful and messy step. Sorry for the blurry pics - I had to move everything inside:

tank1.jpg

I let that cure for two days, then did a test run with water:

tank2.jpg

I think it looks pretty good and everything ran perfectly. The water flow is very gentle, and will be fine for the newts. I have a couple of concerns. First, I wasn't able to make sure I completely covered the bottom of the GS with silicone. I came pretty close, I think, but it was very difficult to reach under the shelf and see what I was doing at the same time. If I ever do this again, I'm definitely going to build the background outside of the tank, then attach it once it's complete. Also, I'm concerned about my wood rotting away. It's cypress, but it's going to be damp constantly.

I'll update again once I've gotten all of the final touches done.
 

Mark

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I think it looks pretty good and everything ran perfectly.
I think it looks pretty good too and I'm looking forward to seeing the finished article. I like the way you've adapted a common pdf vivarium landscaping technique to make a natural looking island. The exposed great stuff should be ok but I share your concerns about the longevity of the wood. You could have used bog wood as a more durable alternative.
 

ferret_corner

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Oh Very pretty!!

Ok I'm jealous about the driftwood, what a nice piece!!!

Sharon
 

slowfoot

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Thanks for the comments!

Mark, it's actually cypress driftwood, which is supposed to be one of the 'good' wet woods. Still, I'm concerned about the piece that's going to be mostly submerged. Still, I suppose by the time it rots away I'll actually want to design a new terrarium anyway.

Got all the terrestrial plants in. I'm going with all local species because (1) they're part of the newt's normal habitat, and (2) they're cheap. Here's the completed land area:

It looks pretty much like I'd envisioned it, so I'm happy.

tank3.jpg

I've added resurrection fern, which is epiphytic, to the wall. This was actually pretty easy to do because it grows in very stable mats on tree trunks. I found a hurricane-downed tree and just peeled off a section of fern and roots. The particular ferns I used in my paludarium have been 'in captivity' for a little over a month. Resurrection fern needs to be humid, but also needs to dry out occasionally, so I suspect the lower ferns will die off. I'm hoping some of the higher ferns will survive.

I really like the look of these fronds. Plus, they stay this size:

fern.jpg

I took the mosses from my eft cage - they'd really gone crazy in there. I'd originally collected them from a creek near my house. There's also a small maidenhair-like fern that grew out of the moss. There are two types of moss: one that looks a little like sphagnum:

moss2.jpg

And one that's more lacy looking:

moss1.jpg

That's about it really. I wanted to keep the land area relatively simple. Right now, everything looks nice, but that's probably only because I haven't had a chance to kill it all yet :D

Next: water and aquatic plants.
 

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slowfoot

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It's finally done (actually for a few days now). And the newts are in it :D

This is probably the best it will ever look because I haven't had a chance to kill all of my plants yet. The terrestrial plants, anyway. All of the aquatic plants came from my newts' old tank, so they are used to my usual level of care. The lighting isn't as bright as I want it to be, but I don't think I can put in anything more powerful without increasing the tank temps too high. Please excuse my poor photography skills.

Here's the full set-up:

full.jpg
leftside.jpg

Here's the left side, with the land area and the filter (under the land area). Also, Please excuse my newt's extreme fatness, she always looks like that after she eats.

rightside.jpg

Here's a shot of some of the water feature and some water plants:

waterfall.jpg

And here's the whole thing. And the table we had to buy for it. That ended up being the most expensive (and hard to find) part of the whole process.

fulltank.jpg

Anyway, I'm very pleased with how it turned out, and I'm hoping everything runs smoothly for at least a couple of years.
 
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