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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Have any of you guys tried to make a biotope vivarium or paludarium?
I want to experiment with making my setups as biotopes of the environment that my future frogs will come from. I haven't decided on what variety of frog I want yet but I want to replicate their environment as much as possible. I want to feature plants from their region and make the vivarium as similar to their wild environment as possible.

I have actually done this for my aquariums but I'm not sure if anyone has tried this for frogs.
 

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Paludariums are not recommended for dart frogs. If you search "biotope" you can find some great builds, here are two recent ones that I really liked:

 

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If you want a paludarium frogs in the genus theloderma are all semiaquatic and should be kept in paludarium type tanks, also the firebelly toads. I highly recommend theloderma if you are like me and love the look of running water. Also there are many cheap and widely available south Asian plants (around Vietnam, Indonesia) so making a biotope would be easy.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
If you want a paludarium frogs in the genus theloderma are all semiaquatic and should be kept in paludarium type tanks, also the firebelly toads. I highly recommend theloderma if you are like me and love the look of running water. Also there are many cheap and widely available south Asian plants (around Vietnam, Indonesia) so making a biotope would be easy.
Well I mostly said paludarium as an example, I'm actually just setting up terrariums. I'm undecided on what I want yet.
 

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A couple years ago I went to a temporary traveling exhibit called "Frogs!" at a local museum (here's someone's blog with some photos). The species they had on display were pretty common, but that's OK (one problem with being in exotics hobbies is that a person gets really hard to impress, species-wise), and the informational placards were minimal but interesting nonetheless.

The thing that made it far, far less than it could have been was that every exhibit was essentially the same design -- all the vivs were basically the same shape and size (this is memory speaking, but roughly 2' x 2' x 4' tall) and the same 'scaping, just "generic tropical rainforest". Not only did the displays not really show how the frogs live in very basic ways such as whether they're arboreal or terrestrial (and of course they did not suit the frogs' needs in ways that would get a lot of criticism here), but missed very valuable opportunities to teach how the animals interact with specific plants (such as Ranitomeya -- which I don't recall them having -- with Heliconia, and this could be contrasted with a nearby display of D. leucomelas in a half scrubby trees half grass exhibit to show how they sometimes live on forest edges). Just so much educational opportunity missed on a crowd that actually went out of their way to learn about frogs. It would have made the exhibit more valuable for the more knowledgeable viewers and not taken anything away from people who just want to see random frogs (since they could ignore the non-frog differences between displays).

I did this viv based on an actual forest feature used by the species (there's a link in the thread to the study that described the feature). The plants are not locale-appropriate (but then, neither is the substrate or leaf litter species), so this only goes so far. A person could do better with the plants and substrate, for sure, and for a different species of frog there are Peruvian leaf litter species available on the market.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 · (Edited)
A couple years ago I went to a temporary traveling exhibit called "Frogs!" at a local museum (here's someone's blog with some photos). The species they had on display were pretty common, but that's OK (one problem with being in exotics hobbies is that a person gets really hard to impress, species-wise), and the informational placards were minimal but interesting nonetheless.

The thing that made it far, far less than it could have been was that every exhibit was essentially the same design -- all the vivs were basically the same shape and size (this is memory speaking, but roughly 2' x 2' x 4' tall) and the same 'scaping, just "generic tropical rainforest". Not only did the displays not really show how the frogs live in very basic ways such as whether they're arboreal or terrestrial (and of course they did not suit the frogs' needs in ways that would get a lot of criticism here), but missed very valuable opportunities to teach how the animals interact with specific plants (such as Ranitomeya -- which I don't recall them having -- with Heliconia, and this could be contrasted with a nearby display of D. leucomelas in a half scrubby trees half grass exhibit to show how they sometimes live on forest edges). Just so much educational opportunity missed on a crowd that actually went out of their way to learn about frogs. It would have made the exhibit more valuable for the more knowledgeable viewers and not taken anything away from people who just want to see random frogs (since they could ignore the non-frog differences between displays).

I did this viv based on an actual forest feature used by the species (there's a link in the thread to the study that described the feature). The plants are not locale-appropriate (but then, neither is the substrate or leaf litter species), so this only goes so far. A person could do better with the plants and substrate, for sure, and for a different species of frog there are Peruvian leaf litter species available on the market.
This has got to be one of the best replies to me yet.
And yeah, I understand the feeling, it's kind of frustrating when zoos or reptile and amphibian houses use a default "forest" display then a display that features plants and structures actually similar to the environment.
Now, I'm a bit more finicky with the plants and animals I keep seeing as I'm trying to focus on extant cretaceous species and cretaceous biomes, but I still try to replicate their environment today as well just featuring plants both from the region and time period. I actually have aquariums that I make into biotopes too. I have an south american clearwater biotope in my animal room where I feature ferns and fish from the local rivers there.
edit- corrected errors.
 

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I will caveat my answer by saying I’m in the process of building 2 biotypes and do not have frogs in them. I have coupled research with observations on holiday in Costa Rica (sadly coming to the end of the trip right now) that has given me lots of inspiration and ideas. I also have a Borneo-inspired biotype aquarium currently growing in with plants and CUC, likely Chilli Rasbora to arrive soon.

It seems surprising biotopes/biotypes aren’t more commonly used in the hobby, not necessarily in terms of species, but more so in terms of layout. Dendrobatidae is a massive family and the species inhabit really different areas throughout the americas.

the climate and habitat of the frogs is very important in a lot of ways. The contrast between frogs that live in a cloud forest vs a rainforest could be quite high for example - cloud forests tend to be cooler, more humid and have a more open canopy - this leads to increased plant growth on the forest floor and understory (leaf litter would still be ever-present), plus presence of more moss and orchids. A rainforest might find its lower strata more dry in comparison, and less light, with far fewer plants able to grow from the ground (this can be also due to soil composition).

it has been mentioned earlier that some species will primarily inhabit the forest floor,in contrast to some species that have strong parental care, with a male guarding a territory on the ground and a female tending to tadpoles in epiphytic plants on tree branches above. the behaviour (breeding and “regular”) of the frog species you want can go a long way to direct the viv layout.

For each of my vivs (I plan to have 3 long-term, but as we all know that can change) I’m either trying to replicate the habitat in terms of a specific snapshot of the forest understory or create a bonsai ecosystem. The understory would require certain elements, such as egg-deposition sites for appropriate species, that may not naturally be present.
The bonsai ecosystem could for example replicate a tree with branches and bromelia attached to said branches, using surrogate species of miniature versions of the plants. 2 examples would be small neoregelia instead of a massive Guzmania species that might be found in nature, and a dwarf philodendron instead of the large-leaf versions that at full maturity would be larger than many Vivaria themselves!

In terms of sourcing plants that come directly from the regions of the frogs, I wouldn’t be surprised if it bore no positive effect on the animals at all and is more for owner-enjoyment - but I couldn’t see it having any negative effect. So long as the frogs have their needs in terms of feeding, breeding, sleeping etc. met them I’m sure any plant species would work. That being said, I love to try and source plants as accurately-as-possible, it makes it a fun challenge. This might not even be possible, as while x frog species might use y plant species to breed in the wild, the older forms of these plants might be far too big for our vivs, and the younger forms wouldn’t have the structure for holding water. Also, many frogs prefer Petri dishes and film canisters in the our vivs to other plants. But this is going towards answers that experienced breeders would know much more about.

Also worth noting that the world and the climates are changing, so a habitat of a frog now vs when research was conducted on it in the 90s may be quite different. Some frogs’ behaviour is dependant on environments, which can be altered by us to present more of said behaviour. E.g. 1 leucomelas are known to regulate their own temps as their habitat has a very wide range, but a keeper may want to only keep the range that sees the frogs active and breeding. They may conversely want to replicate the seasonal changes. E.g. 2 Granulifera seem to be more active at crepuscular times in the wild, so an owner might choose to replicate low-light environments for longer periods of the day.

I guess this is a massive jumbled ramble, but tbh this topic is so so broad and complex and it really depends how far one wants to take it. My biotype will be different to yours, which will be different to the next person etc. and I’ve just found it a really fun and rewarding process to go through while tank building. We have a whole host of input variables that go into creating a habitat in a glass box, so there’s a huge scope for being as specific as we want to be.

Hopefully there’s some ideas above you want to take further and good luck on your build.
 

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Although a terrarium will never fully emulate all the conditions of a wild setting, I think biotopes with location specific plants and animals is a fun exercise as a keeper. I have built two biotopes, one based on the Anchicaya valley in the Departamento Valle del Cauca, Colombia and the other of a muddy riverbank in Northwest Ecuador. I did a build video on my YouTube - https://youtu.be/oEfcImNe948 - but I haven't uploaded a thread to dendroboard yet (I took photos for a build thread just havent posted it). In the video it shows how I used GBIF to cross reference plant species I was interested in adding and those commonly available in the hobby. Usually, I would start searching by genus and then narrow down to a few individual species. For this build, I wanted the mimic a steep hillside with tons of epiphytes clinging to the rocks and roots. I only went as far as researching plants, climate, and topography of the region, but I'm sure you could emulate the microfauna, leaf litter, and substrate from the same location with enough digging.

Plant Houseplant Terrestrial plant Fixture Aquatic plant


You mentioned paludariums, and my other biotope project was a smaller paludarium for glass frogs. I did find it rather difficult to source location-specific aquatic plants. In this case, I bent my own biotope rules a bit (with advice from a local aquascaper) and replaced a few aquatic plant species with other species of the same genus to fill the same niche. I did this with a Spathiphyllum sp. I could not identify. I knew that Spathiphyllum were common in the area i was emulating but I could not determine the species I have. I did the same with a species of Helanthium. The only occurrences I could find were of Helanthium bolivianum but I could only source Helanthium tenellum. So I decided to use the latter to fill the spot of the species I couldn't find. If you're interested in aquatic biotopes, definitely check out @biotopiatai on Instagram.

Overall, biotopes have been a fun way to extend the planning phase of a build. I spent hours researching which plants to include and looking at images of the landscape to determine how I wanted to construct the hardscape. I think it encourages you do extra research about the habitat of an animal you are planning to keep which hopefully will be an added bonus to your husbandry skills in understanding how that animal lives in the wild. As another poster mentioned, captive bred animals won't be able to tell the difference between plants native and nonnative to their natural habitat, so ultimately building a biotope is more for the keeper.

Next up... Pantanal wetlands biotope for a Brazilian Rainbow Boa.
 
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