leave the water completely when resting or basking (i.e. Musk, Softshelled and Mud Turtles, Snappers, Newts, African Clawed Frogs). It also serves well as a “staircase” for hatchling turtles, many of which weaken quickly when force to swim to the surface for air in deep aquariums. Please see Part 1 of this article for detailed information on these topics.
Driftwood can be used on bare-bottomed tanks (this simplifies the cleaning of turtle aquariums) or those with a gravel substrate and, unlike most woods, will not stain the water by leaching tannins. An endless array of shapes and sizes is available, so most any tank depth or species can be accommodated.
Long, sloping lengths of wood make ideal basking platforms, while bases with multiple pieces attached provide a variety of levels for your animals to experiment with. If a dry basking site is needed, you can arrange for part of the wood to break the water’s surface (please see photo of Painted Turtle resting on wood)…weathered wood is gentle on turtle plastrons and amphibian skin, and much preferable to rock.
Live Plant Possibilities
Driftwood looks wonderful when interspersed among live plants. I love to create shoreline aquariums by using driftwood as an anchoring site for Pothos, Peace Lilies and other emergent plants. As you can see from the attached photo, thick beds of plant roots draped over driftwood can be used to create a naturalistic and beneficial resting area for small turtles, frogs, metamorphosing tadpoles and newts.
Aquatic and Semi-Aquatic Amphibians
Newts, Green Frogs and other semi-aquatic species usually rest while partially in water in the wild, and will readily utilize pieces of driftwood that rise to, or just below, the water’s surface. Fully aquatic frogs and salamanders may also benefit – I’ve even seen African Clawed Frogs clamber onto a sloping wood ramp to snatch a cricket (as surprising to me as those films of killer whales beaching themselves when chasing penguins)!
I’ve also found driftwood to be very useful when rearing tadpoles…most species will rest just below the surface very frequently as they transform, and will then climb out of the water as their tails shrink.
You can use rocks for the purposes described above, but they take up a great deal of “swimming room”, may leach harmful minerals, and most are rough on turtle carapaces and amphibian skin.
Sinking African Mopani Wood can be used as a submerged compliment to upright pieces of Driftwood.
Notes on Snapping Turtle Basking Behavior, in and out of water.