Terrarium Plants: Best Hardy Houseplants for Reptile and Amphibian Tanks

House plants in terrariums

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When I first began keeping reptiles and amphibians a lifetime ago, the live plants at my disposal were limited to cuttings I could beg, borrow or steal from my green-thumbed mother. Today we are very fortunate in having an astonishing variety of available orchids, mosses, ferns and plants ideally suited for use with reptiles and amphibians. For those of us with wide interests, this diversity is a real pleasure…in fact, co-workers at the Bronx Zoo have at times accused me of expending more effort on my exhibits’ flora than its fauna! But in both zoo exhibits and at home, I frequently fall back on old favorites, especially several inexpensive and readily available house plants. If you are not skilled or interested in plant propagation, but wish to provide your pets with the many benefits that live plants confer, the following species should be of interest. The plants covered here are but a small sample…please post notes about your own favorites below.

 

Note: Please post below if you intend to keep live plants with herbivorous lizards or turtles, so that we can discuss any problems may arise if foliage is consumed. Please see the article linked below for information concerning pesticides that may be present on commercially-grown plants.

 

Wild Pothos

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Pothos or Devil’s Ivy (Epipremnum aureum)

This attractive, hardy vine is one of my favorite plants for use in terrarium and zoo exhibits. Widespread from India to northern Australia (and feral elsewhere), Pothos will grow equally-well in sphagnum moss, water, soil or gravel. If rooted in shallow water, it takes the form of an emergent plant, and thus looks well in bog terrariums. Grown as a floating plant, it will send out long roots, creating a dramatic effect and helping to improve water quality. Draped over logs and rocks, or left hanging, sinuous aerial roots will quickly form, lending an “over-grown” effect to your terrarium.

 

Many folks are surprised to learn that Pothos left unchecked can become quite large – I measured the leaves of some old specimens in Bronx Zoo bird exhibits at nearly 3 feet in length and 14 inches in width  (please see photo).

 

Peace Lily

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Kurt Stüber

Peace Lilly (Spathiphyllum spp.)

This very familiar house and office plant is another that can be used on land or in water. Much like Pothos, its root system is quite dramatic when seen below water, and will be used as a hiding and foraging site by newts, aquatic frogs, small turtles and similar creatures. I’ve written a separate article on its care and use…please see the link below.

 

 

 

 

 

Other Useful, Hardy Houseplants

Earth Star

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Chhe

Earth Star (Cryptanthus spp.): I learned about this Bromeliad from an arachnologist who kept spiders in unlit terrariums. It is nearly indestructible, and excellent for use with spiders, amphibians and other animals that prefer low light levels; the leaves flush red when exposed to light.

 

Jade Plant (Crassula ovata): A beautiful succulent, ideal for desert and semi-desert terrariums; the thick branches take on fantastic shapes.

 

Lucky Bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana): native to West Africa and not related to true bamboo, this popular plant is usually sold rooted in water. Kept so, it makes a nice emergent “swamp” type plant, or it can be planted moist soil.

 

Heartleaf Philodendron (Philodendron scandens oxycardium)

Arrowhead Vine (Syngonium podophyllum)

Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)

Miniature Wax Plant (Hoya bella)

Dwarf Columnae

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Franz Xaver

Dwarf Columnea (Columnea microphylla)

Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum variegatum)

Zebra Plant (Aphalandra squarrosa)

Asparagus Fern (Asparagus densiflorus)

Bird’s Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus)

Miniature Creeping Fig (Ficus pumila minima)

Hooked Strap Plant (Anthurium hookeri).

Coffee Plant (Coffa arabica)

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

Further Reading

The Peace Lily as a Terrarium Plant

Terrarium-Safe Plants: Avoiding Pesticides

Emperor Scorpion Care: Five Things New Scorpion Owners Should Know

Emperor scorpion

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It is with good reason that the Emperor Scorpion (Pandinus imperator) is so popular among pet-keepers and arachnid fans.   One of the largest of the world’s 2000+ scorpions, the Emperor exhibits complex social behaviors, is generally mild-mannered, and breeds readily. However, one should not embark upon scorpion ownership without understanding the nature of these fascinating creatures, and their specific needs. Unrealistic expectations will dampen the experience of both pet and pet keeper. Following are 5 critical points that the prospective scorpion owner should consider.

 

Please see the linked articles and post below for detailed care and breeding advice.

 

Scorpions are “Hands-Off” Pets That Cannot be Tamed

Like most creatures, Emperor Scorpions are capable of learning, and of modifying their behavior in response to captive conditions. However, they are mainly guided by instinct, and cannot in any way be tamed, trained or “trusted” – they will not bond with people.

 

Please ignore the foolish advice and videos so common on the internet and do not handle your scorpion (please post below for info on safely moving or transporting scorpions). Handling is a stressful event for any scorpion, although this may not be apparent from its behavior. More importantly, while the venom produced by the Emperor Scorpion is not considered as dangerous to healthy adults, children, the elderly, and people with allergies or compromised immune systems may be at risk.

 

Deathstalker Scorpion

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Ester Inbar

Important Note: Certain scorpion species available in the trade (please see photo) are dangerous, and have caused fatalities. Most are difficult to identify, and are sold under a variety of common names. Please post below for details.

 

Emperor Scorpion Threat Display

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Mike Baird

Scorpions are Nocturnal and Secretive

Well-adjusted scorpions will emerge to hunt by day, but they will otherwise remain in hiding until nightfall. In the wild, Emperor Scorpions construct long burrow systems. Providing them the opportunity to do the same in your terrarium will enable you to see a variety of interesting behaviors – much more so than would be possible in bare enclosures. The scorpion terrarium should also be stocked with a variety of caves, cork bark sections and other hideaways. They will not thrive if forced to remain in the open.

 

Fortunately, red reptile night bulbs will enable you to observe your pets after dark.

 

Your “Single” Female may Surprise You with Youngsters

Female Emperor Scorpions sometimes give birth a year (or perhaps longer) after mating. As there’s no way to know if your female has mated in the past, you may find yourself with more scorpion-related responsibilities than you bargained for!

 

Female Emperors give birth to live young, and carry them about on their backs until the first molt. They are usually good mothers, and in many cases may be kept with the brood long-term. However, captive conditions can be a stress to them, and cannibalism is common. Please see the linked article and post below for further information on breeding.

 

t204477Scorpions Need Live Food

While many captives learn to take canned insects from tongs (do not hand-feed!), live insects will form the vast majority of your scorpion’s diet. Many have been raised on crickets alone, but the best long term results will be achieved by providing a varied menu to which roaches, waxworms, silkworms, grasshoppers and other insects have been added.

 

The “It Doesn’t Do Anything” Factor

Ideally, the new scorpion owner will be interested in her or his pet for its own sake. But most of us also wish to see how the animal lives, what it does, and so on. Well-fed scorpions that are not in breeding mode are often about as active as the infamous “pet rock”…and are nocturnal to boot!

 

Fortunately, red light bulbs now enable us to watch them after dark. If you provide your scorpion with a large terrarium and a deep substrate into which it can burrow, you’ll have much of interest to observe. Maintaining compatible groups (they are social in the wild) and, of course, breeding pairs, is also an exciting prospect.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Emperor Scorpion Care, Natural History and Breeding

Scorpions as Pets: Overview

Rat Snake Care: the Russian Ratsnake – Large, Bold and Beautiful

Russian Ratsnake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Rvanbeusichem

Powerful and boldly-marked, the Russian Ratsnake (Elaphe schrencki)  is one of the largest of the robust constrictors commonly known as ratsnakes. Even those with a lifetime of snake experience (myself included), are awed by their first encounter with this impressive beast. To me, it’s always seemed somehow fitting that such spectacular creatures as the Siberian Tiger and Amur Leopard share the Russian Ratsnake’s range. Also known as the Amur Ratsnake, Siberian Ratsnake, and Manchurian Watersnake, it has long been hard to come by, but European and American snake enthusiasts are now producing captive bred animals regularly.

 

Rat Snake Description

An indigo to black background marked with bright yellow or white cross-bars renders the Russian Ratsnake a most striking creature. One of the longest snakes in northern Asia, it may reach or slightly exceed 6 feet in length.

 

Japanese Ratsnake

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Snowmanradio

A number of interesting color morphs, such as all-black, white-blotched, striped, and high-gold, as well as hybrids with Japanese Ratsnakes (E. climacophora; please see photo), have been developed by breeders.

Range and Habitat

The Russian Ratsnake’s range is centered in Siberia’s Amur River Basin, and radiates out to eastern Mongolia, northern and central China and Korea. An introduced population is established in Elder, the Netherlands (I almost instinctively typed “Florida”!). This group apparently originated from animals that escaped local greenhouses, where they are kept as a rodent-control measure. The government is studying their effects on local wildlife and eradication possibilities.

 

Russian Ratsnakes are usually found near a water source, and adapt to temperate forests, alpine woodlands, marshes, overgrown fields, brushy scrub, agricultural areas and a variety of other habitats. Like Texas Ratsnakes and other American species, Russian Ratsnakes often colonize farms, where they are alternately valued as rat-killers and reviled as chicken thieves. Excellent climbers, they seem equally at home on the ground or in trees.

The Terrarium

Those experienced with Corn Snakes and related species will find Russian Ratsnakes to be more active than their American counterparts. They should be provided with proportionally larger accommodations. While a 55-75 gallon aquarium will suit small adult, larger individuals are best housed in custom-built cages measuring at least 6 x 5 x 5 feet. Ample cage height and stout climbing branches will be appreciated.

 

Cypress mulch, eucalyptus bark and similar materials may be used as a substrate. In common with Indigo Snakes and other active, robust reptiles, Russian Ratsnakes tend to make a mess of the old snake substrate standby, newspapers. A dry shelter and another stocked with moist sphagnum moss should be provided.

 

Ambient temperatures should be maintained in the range of 70-76 F, with a basking site of 82 F.

 

Habitat type

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Grapetonix

Breeding

Captive breeding, although far from regular in the past, is becoming more common. A 3-4 month cooling off period at 50-52 F will stimulate reproduction.

 

Clutches range from 6-30 eggs in size, and are usually deposited in June-July. As an adaptation to the short summers in their native range, female Russian Ratsnakes retain their eggs for a time, and deposit them in a well-advanced state. At an incubation temperature of 82 F, they typically hatch within 40 days.

 

The hatchlings measure 11-15 inches in length and differ markedly from adults, being light gray in color and sporting black specks and reddish blotches.

 

Diet

The Russian Ratsnake’s appetite knows no bounds. Wild individuals take squirrels, rabbits, bats, gerbils, birds and their eggs, voles, chipmunks, and many other creatures with equal gusto. Pets do well on a diet comprised of mice and rats; large adults will accept guinea pigs and weanling rabbits as well.

 

Temperament: Most individuals are quite calm in demeanor once accustomed to their surroundings. However, as with all large snakes, one must exercise appropriate caution when they are handled.

 

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

Further Reading

Black Ratsnake Care

Keeping the Red-Tailed Ratsnake

Pet Newts: Spanish Ribbed Newt Care and Breeding

Spanish Ribbed Newts

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Peter Halasz

Newts of all kinds are very popular with amphibian keepers. Although most in the trade are quite small, one of the hardiest and most personable is a true newt giant. The attractive Spanish Ribbed Newt (Pleurodeles waltl) can reach 12 inches in length, and is stoutly-built. They are easy to breed – an important consideration as wild populations are threatened – and quickly learn to feed from the hand. And, as you’ll see below, they employ on of the animal world’s most unique defensive strategies (pets, however, become so tame that they never feel the need to defend themselves!).

 

Newts and salamanders have always held a special fascination for me. Beginning in childhood, I sought to breed as many species as possible, and I focused on their husbandry and conservation when I entered the zoo field. In time, I wrote a book summarizing my experiences. The passage of so many years has not dulled my enthusiasm for any of these fascinating amphibians, but the Ribbed Newt has always been a personal favorite.

 

A Note on the term “Newt”

The term “newt” is usually applied to small, semi-aquatic salamanders in the family Salamandridae. The group’s 80+ species range throughout North America, Asia, Europe and parts of North Africa. The Ribbed Newt may reach 12 inches in length, but most newts top out at 4-6 inches.

 

Ribbed Newt

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Peter Halasz

Description

Spanish Ribbed Newts are generally grayish-brown in color, but some exhibit yellow or green hues, while others are nearly black. Rows of yellow to orange “warts” (poison glands) line the upper edge of the body. Amazingly, distressed individuals will contract their bodies and force the ribs right through the back’s skin, directly over these glands. The toxins contained therein are thus in a position to thwart most predators.

 

Neotenic adults (bearing gills and totally aquatic, but able to reproduce) have been found in the wild and reported by hobbyists and lab caretakers. A strain of leucistic (white in color) Ribbed Newts has been developed by private breeders.

 

The largest Ribbed Newt I’ve encountered was built like a well-fed Tiger Salamander, and measured just over 12 inches in length. Most adults top out at 8-9 inches.

 

Two related species, rarely if ever seen in the pet trade, are classified in the genus Pleurodeles.

 

Habitat type

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Óðinn

Range and Habitat

The Spanish Ribbed Newt is limited in range to Spain, Portugal and Morocco, and is generally found in arid habitats. Highly aquatic, it favors temporary and permanent ponds, swamps, canals, and other stagnant or slow-moving bodies of water. In Morocco, Ribbed Newts have been found living in cave waterways 100 feet below-ground.

 

Behavior

Ribbed Newts are always nosing about for food, exploring, and interacting with tank-mates. They see well and may swim to the aquarium’s side when you enter the room, in anticipation of a meal.

 

Handle newts only when necessary, and with wet hands, so that the skin’s protective mucus covering is not removed.

 

Housing

Ribbed Newts are almost entirely aquatic, but do need a place to haul out and rest. The water in their aquarium can be deep, provided that egress is simple…cork bark, turtle platforms, and floating live or plastic plants all serve well as resting spots.

 

Newts are perfectly suited to aquariums stocked with live plants, and spectacular displays can be easily arranged. Plants help maintain water quality, and the complex environments they create make life more interesting for both newt and newt-owner alike.

 

Substrate

Smooth, rounded gravel of a size that cannot be swallowed is ideal; rough stones will injure the delicate skin.  Bare-bottomed tanks, which are easily kept clean, may also be used.

 

Water Quality

In common with other amphibians, Ribbed Newts have porous skin that allows for the absorption of harmful chemicals. Careful attention to water quality is essential.

 

An aquarium pH test kit  should always be on hand. Ribbed Newts fare well at a pH of 6.5 to 7.5, with 7.0 being ideal.

 

Ammonia, excreted as a waste product and produced via organic decomposition, is colorless, odorless and extremely lethal to all amphibians; a test kit should be used to monitor its levels.

 

Chlorine and chloramine must be removed from water used for any amphibian. Liquid preparations  are highly effective and work instantly.

 

Copper may be leached by old water pipes; a test kit should be used if you suspect its presence.

 

Filtration

Undergravelsponge,  and most other filters designed for use with fish, reptiles and amphibians can all be used in Ribbed Newt aquariums. Even with filtration, regular partial water changes are essential in keeping ammonia levels in check.

 

As Ribbed Newts are not strong swimmers, water outflow from the filter should be mild; plants, rocks and movable outflow attachments can be used to reduce current strength.

 

Light and Heat

Newts do not require UVB exposure. UVA light is not essential, but may encourage natural behaviors.

 

Ribbed Newts fare best when kept fairly cool, i.e. 60-68 F., although temperatures to 72 F are usually well-tolerated. Temperatures consistently above 75 F may weaken the immune system or cause other health problems. Temperature tolerance seems to vary among populations, and may be linked to the portion of the range from which the animals originated.

 

t246151Feeding

Zoo Med Aquatic Newt Food and Reptomin Food Sticks can be used as the basis of the diet. Freeze-dried shrimp, “gelled insects”, and frozen fish foods (i.e. mosquito larvae) should be offered regularly.

 

A variety of live foods will help ensure a balanced diet. Blackworms, bloodworms, earthworms, guppies, small crickets and similar foods will be eagerly accepted. Stocking the aquarium with live blackworms and guppies will keep your pets active and occupied.

 

Breeding

Ribbed Newts reproduce quite regularly in captivity, and provide an excellent introduction to amphibian breeding. Breeding sometimes occurs spontaneously but results will be improved if you manipulate water temperatures and day length somewhat. Unlike many amphibians, Ribbed Newts may even breed following a 1-day change in water temperature. Please post below for detailed information on inducing reproduction and rearing the young.

 

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.  Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

 

Further Reading

Please check out Newts and Salamanders, a book I’ve written on their care and conservation.

 

Newt Toxins: personal observations

 

Frog Facts: New Species Has Fangs and Gives Birth to Live Tadpoles!

Limnonectes with tadpoles

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Djoko T. Iskandar, Ben J. Evans, Jimmy A. McGuire

While working at the Bronx Zoo, I had the good fortune to breed Kihansi Spray Toads – an endangered species that gives birth to fully-formed toadlets – and the amazing skin-brooding Surinam Toad. Yet these are but two examples of the amazing diversity of odd frog breeding strategies, none of which resemble what might be called “normal” frog behavior! Among the world’s 6,400+ frog species, we find tadpoles that eat bark, their mother’s eggs and even their father’s skin, along with parents that carry eggs or young in skin pouches, vocal sacs and even stomachs. None, however, were known to give birth to live tadpoles. As you’ll see below, a herpetologist’s extremely lucky catch, at just the right moment, changed that recently – one can only guess at what will come next!

 

Crested Macaque

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Yi Chen

Strange Frog in a Strange Land

The Indonesian island of Sulawesi, located between Borneo and the Philippines, is home to some of the world’s most unique and (to most of us) unexpected animals. From invertebrates to mammals, the island’s fauna is “rule-breaking” and astonishing (take a look at the Sulawesi Black “Ape”, pictured here). So the UC Berkeley biologists working there recently were well-used to surprises. But when a herpetologist grabbed at a frog and came up with a handful of tadpoles as well, he knew that new ground had been broken.

 

Fanged Frogs

The frog in question, Limnonectes larvaepartus, had been collected before, but has only now been recognized as a new species. Endemic to Sulawesi, it belongs to a little-studied group known as the Fanged Frogs. Armed with sharp bones that project from the lower jaw (similar to the odontoids borne by Horned Frogs and African Bullfrogs), male Fanged Frogs battle one another, presumably for mates and territory.

 

Tailed Frog

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Mokele

Internal Fertilization and Live Birth

But where Limnonectes larvaepartus is concerned, peculiar dentition is only the beginning of the story. Following the timely capture of a female in the process of giving birth, it was determined that this new species also employs a new (to us, anyway!) form of reproduction. It is the only frog known to produce live tadpoles rather than eggs or small frogs. What’s more, fertilization is internal – a strategy used by only 8-10 of the world’s 6,455 frog species (including the USA’s Pacific and the Rocky Mountain Tailed Frogs; please see photo). The new species is described in the journal PLOS One (12-31-14, Iskander et al; see link below).

 

This discovery may help herpetologists to understand the evolution of the amazing diversity of Fanged Frogs on Sulawesi and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Many more than the currently described 62 species are expected to be found, and as with all creatures on Sulawesi, they likely hold wonderful surprises for us.

 

Habitat type

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Killerscene

Natural History of the New Species

We know very little about Limnonectes larvaepartus. There is some speculation that males may guard the tadpoles, but this remains to be confirmed. Females seem to rely upon small forest pools in which to deposit their tadpoles. This may be an attempt to reduce the threat of predation by larger relatives that inhabit nearby streams, but further research is needed.

 

Learning More About Amphibian Breeding Strategies

I can’t seem to stop writing about the amazing breeding strategies of frogs, caecilians and salamanders. Please see the articles below for more on wood-eating tadpoles and others. The article first describing Limnonectes larvaepartus is also linked.

Tree-Dwelling Tadpoles that Feed Upon Bark

Skin-Eating Tadpoles

Novel Reproductive Mode in a New Species of Fanged Frog

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio. I’m a herpetologist, zoologist, and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable. I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. Thanks, until next time, Frank.

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