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Let me first start by saying, I'm no expert on this. Some other recent threads have had me thinking about tank design (use of vertical space (https://www.dendroboard.com/forum/showthread.php?t=356338 and plants versus wood use https://www.dendroboard.com/forum/showthread.php?t=356178

I wanted to share a few thoughts that I have on tank design from my observations of my frogs over the last year.

1. Maximizing the useful space in the tank
2. Lighting
3. Object placement
4. Leaf litter


First thought: maximizing the useful space in a tank

Since frogs aren't like fish and don't use "empty" space I try to find ways to make the empty space more usable. I have done this through a couple of different ways.

One way is to use wood to create additional levels in the tank so that there's extra useable "floorspace" elevated in the tank, this can be through ledges on the sides, mezzanine-style levels, or a combination of the two.
This is a 36x18x18" tank with a semi-second story built in with cork bark.
View attachment 282240

This is an 18x18x24" with a ledge and a second story built out of cork bark:

View attachment 282242

Another way is to use plants to create this space (particularly useful for Ranitomeya species, in my experience). In my Ranitomeya sirensis tank I have setup bromeliads all along one vertical wall, the frogs use these as their beds at night, as perches for the males to call, as resting areas and as hopping off points to go to other places in the tank. This same approach can be done with other plants that have leaves that will stick out into the negative space, pothos plants are useful for this if trained to grow along the wall.

In this vein of maximizing useful space, there are things that many people do in building their tanks that are, primarily, using up the useful space. Examples: waterfalls, ponds and other water features, moss on most of the horizontal surfaces,

These types of design elements detract from the useful space available to the frogs. Personally, I avoid these.

Well placed ledges can also produce shadowy areas that are, in my experience, frog havens.

Thought 2: lighting

I have found much more active outgoing behaviour from what are regarded as fairly shy frogs (Ranitomeya sirensis, Dendrobates auratus "microspot", Ranitomeya amazonica "Iquitos") by using less bright lights. Particularly for the R. sirensis, I switched to a much dimmer light and the change in behaviour was very apparent. They went from shy frogs that hid in their bromeliads all day, to frogs that are active and explore and forage for food most of the day.

There's a drawback to dimmer lights, which is less plant growth, so you'll need to choose plants that will do ok in low light, pothos do well in this condition for me.
Putting plants that need more light higher up and closer to the lights is also a great strategy (and creates wonderful shadows for the frogs!)

This isn't saying to use really dim lights, more just saying that there's a trade-off, in my experience, between light intensity and frog activity levels (which I use as a proxy for frog happiness / comfort).

Thought 3: object placement

Ever found that perfect piece of cork or other wood to make a great "centerpiece" for your tank, and build it and then have the frogs sit on the other side of the piece so you can see the wood but not the frogs? Ya, me too. When I build a tank I design the tank with the lights farther towards the back of the tank than the front, creating an area in shadows nearer the front. You can accomplish this with wood, with broad-leafed plants, with haphazardly thrown in leaf litter, all designed to present the frogs with a shaded area that's in prime viewing position for you. All of these pictures were taken directly through the front door of the terrariums. (I'm not a great photographer sorry)




Placing the lights farther towards the back than the front sets up a natural shadow situation giving the frogs the sense of security while still being visible.

This is counterintuitive for most people who want to light up the portions of the plants that are visible from the front of the tank, so that the plants "pop", same for pieces of wood, the focus tends to be on lighting up the objects in the tank.

This combined with lighting, can create great shadowy spots on the ground level (planted won't grow there well usually) where a thick layer of leaf litter will give the frogs a great space to frolic and be active while feeling secure.


Thought 4: leaf litter

The importance of leaf litter cannot be understated. Leaf litter is, all at the same time: food source for the cleanup crew, hiding area/refuge for frogs (and cleanup crew), and a foraging/food location for frogs.

For leaf litter, I'm a fan of magnolia leaves, the natural curl in the leaves creates crevices that smaller frogs will see as potential getaway places and as small ground-level perches. Other leaves like oak, live oak, etc. also work well as leaf litter too, but most can't replicate the curl found in magnolia.
 
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