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Using Undergravel Filters in Reptile and Amphibian Aquariums and Terrariums

Eastern Newt Undergravel filters were considered to be indispensible pieces of equipment when I first began setting up marine aquariums decades ago.  Encouraged by success in using them with creatures ranging from seahorses to octopuses, I began to experiment with herp enclosures.  I eventually came to rely heavily upon undergravel filters in my own collection, and for large zoo exhibits.  Though now out of favor, this highly effective tool deserves a second (or first!) look by herp-keepers.

Getting Started

I’ll refer you to a great article on That Fish Blog, Using Undergravel Filters to Their Full Potential (please see below), for details concerning set up and maintenance.  The points raised there are essential to understand if you are to successfully use an undergravel filter.  I’ll focus here on my experiences and some fine points I’ve picked up along the way. Read More »

Inexpensive Homes for Sliders, Painted Turtles and other Semi-Aquatic Species – Part 1

Black Knobbed Map TurtleFrom simple, easily-cleaned habitats to complex environments, herp enthusiasts have many options when it comes to setting up terrariums for reptiles and amphibians.  Today I’ll cover everything you’ll need to create an ideal habitat for semi-aquatic, basking turtles, including Red-Eared Sliders, Painted and Map Turtles, Cooters and others.  With a bit of modification, your set-up can also accommodate largely-aquatic species such as Musk, African Mud, Snapping and Soft-shelled Turtles.  I’ll also mention money-saving alternatives to certain products, along with non-essential “extras” that can be added if you wish.


Surface area, to allow for swimming and bottom “prowling”, is a more important consideration than water depth for most species. Read More »

Using Driftwood as a Resting Site for Aquatic Reptiles and Amphibians – Part 2

Basking Map TurtleWhile usually sold as a decoration for tropical fish aquariums, driftwood that has been anchored to a slate base also makes an excellent sub-surface platform for those herps that do not usually

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.

Using Driftwood

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.  Read More »

Using Driftwood as a Resting Site for Aquatic Reptiles and Amphibians – Part 1

Pieces of driftwood attached to slate bases have long been used to decorate tropical fish aquariums.  However, their important value to folks keeping certain semi-aquatic turtles, newts, frogs, crabs and other creatures is often overlooked.  Today I’d like to highlight some interesting herp-oriented uses for driftwood.

Submerged vs. Exposed Basking Sites

While a dry basking site is important for most semi-aquatic turtles, many species prefer to use structures that are at or  just below the water’s surface, and rarely expose themselves fully.  Included among these are the various Mud and Musk Turtles, Common and Alligator Snapping Turtles, Softshells and many Snake-Necked Turtles (Chelodina spp.). Read More »

Artificial Bromeliads as Poison Frog Breeding Sites – Part 2

artificial bromeliad In Part 1 of this article I introduced Hagen’s new Smart Plants, an exciting line of realistic artificial plants (Bromeliads and Scindapsis) that contain small water-holding pools at their bases.  When properly positioned in a terrarium, they provide naturalistic sites into which female Poison Frogs can deposit their tadpoles.  Today we’ll see how other amphibians and reptiles can make use of this new and much-needed innovation.

Arboreal Reptiles

In the wild, most highly arboreal snakes and lizards find all the water they need without ever setting foot or belly on the ground.  Captives, especially high-strung or wild caught individuals, may be stressed if forced to do so.   Read More »

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