Sunday, November 4, 2012

Research into Custom Natural Habitats 3: Growing Moss

My black silicone came in, finally!  So now that I've started putting substrate to the foam, I'm looking into my next step; growing moss.

Since my attempt at transplanting moss failed epically, I'm trying the 'moss paint' method.  There are a couple different recipes I came across: moss and beer, moss and buttermilk, moss and plain yogurt.  I chose yogurt as it was cheap, it came in a small format, and to me it would have a more paint-like consistency over the other two options.

I also read and interesting idea on (a forum for caudata enthusiasts) that involves using fish emulsion fertilizer to jump-start the moss' growth.  After doing a little searching, I found that one of the local types of fish emulsion is Muskie 5-1-1 fertilizer.  I had a hard time pinning it down in stores, most likely because it's November.  Finally found some at Marlin's Orchard; a very nice orchard and garden store just outside of town.

The recipe I used is as follows:
-1 cup of plain yogurt
-3/4 cup of moss clumps
-couple pea-sized globs of fish emulsion

Blend thoroughly and apply to surface. Mist daily and keep in a cool, shady spot.

I also went one step further and decided to apply some fish emulsion as a base before pouring on the mixture.

See here is what the mixture looked like once blended.  I think I may up the moss ration; the mixture was pretty thin.
 Just as an experiment, I applied it to four different surfaces, coating half the surface with fish emulsion and leaving the other half bare.  My four materials are a piece of fire wood, a flat stone, a brick, and a plastic cover.  This way, I can determine what my moss will grow on, and if pouring it over fish emulsions will make it grow faster or not.

Not shown is the plastic cover experiment.
Note: I've read that mould will appear, but that it doesn't mean that the moss is ruined.  I guess the moss will grow in after.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Future Aquisition

I've been looking into what I want to get after I move Rocza to his new tank.  It's probably going to be arboreal and tropical, since that's what I'm set up for.  In truth, I'm not looking to break the bank on this critter either; it will most likely be a pair or a trio of anoles (Anolis carolinensis or sagrei), depending on how much space they require.  Anolis carolinensis is the typical green anole while Anolis sagrei is the brown or "bahaman" anole.  These are the little guys that first sparked my interest, or at least the first herp I tried to get when I was a wee little lad.  I never ended up getting one, probably for the same reasons I can't own a frog or a turtle now.  In all fairness to my parents, it's very likely I would have accidentally killed the thing after a week, but I didn't see it that way back then, obviously.

Image from
According to PetSmart's pamphlets, crested geckos (Rhacodactylus ciliatus) is beginner level shit.  These guys are at least on the same level, if not lower.  Maybe it's just because I've seen them for years, but I just feel like they're very easy to raise.  Anoles have been in the pet trade for ages, after all.  You always see them in these huge groups at the pet store, just chilling out; brown and green anoles living together in their little utopian society.

Well, maybe not quite so technicolour, but still.

I wouldn't mind a mix, myself.  It would add a little variety to the tank.  The only iffy thing about it is that they are exclusively carnivorous, so I would have to leave crickets in the tank.  This frustrates me, since they can get behind the foam backdrop and stay tucked away, chirping into the wee hours of the morning.  The only saving grace is that the crickets will probably have to be smalls; too young to be able to chirp.  Then again, I'm probably just over thinking this.  A war-band of fleet-footed anoles is surely a match for a couple small crickets.

I have also been putting some thought into making an aquatic/terrestrial hybrid tank.  I've drawn a couple sketches for a vertical hybrid tank, but... I can't get frogs with my current living condition, so there aren't many options of creatures to put in it.

Image from
So since I can't get frogs because I don't have my own house or turtles because my parents don't want "that aquarium smell", I've decided to revisit salamanders and newts (Caudata), like the tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) to the right here.  What's cool about salamanders is that they have larval stages where they are completely aquatic, like frog tadpoles.  I don't think I'd get one that young, since I don't think a hybrid tank would have enough water, unless it's really big.  Who knows fur sure, though; I may decide to get a pair of larva and see them through to adulthood!  This setup would definitely need to be horizontal; most salamanders aren't arboreal.  That's not to say I couldn't build up, I'd just have to make sure I give them a nice easy incline.  I'll give it some more though.

Image from
Another nifty thing about most of the common salamander species is that they not only live in my type of climate, some are even native species.  That give me a much bigger range of plants to chose from, and easy access to them. No need to pay 5.00$/lb. of drift wood or mopani wood when I can go out and find tree branches and stones from habitats used by wild salamanders.  I should point out that the salamander I really want is native to Europe; the fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra).  They still live in similar habitats; clean running water with plenty of mossy cover and places to burrow.  Maybe it's only since I've been studying evolution in biology (note that I know use Latin names as well as common), but I find that salamanders have a sort of primal beauty to them.  Amphibians were the first vertebrates to crawl up onto land, after all.  Plus, I have a penchant for dangerous animals; they're usually much more interesting than their safe, gentile cousins.  Clear example: monarch butterfly vs. some... shitty, white, non-toxic butterfly.  These fire salamanders produce samandarin, which is a powerful neurotoxin they produce in their skin which causes muscle convulsion and hyperventilation in vertebrates.  How cool is that?!  Finally, a reason to put a lock on the cage door!

I'll write up another post soon (hopefully) on some research into making moss which I found while looking over some caudata sources. 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Tropical Terrarium Build (part 1)

I've been talking about if for a while now, so it's about time I made a post for it; after many delays, here is a look at my tropical terrarium.
Bet that was anti-climactic! The truth is, being my first build of this kind, it's taking even more time on top of all the delays. Lacking the proper techniques definitely slows down the process! But I've come up with a few by trial and error, such as stringing up the wood that I'm siliconing in before spray-foaming. I'll get to those tips later on, I'm just giving a bit of a status report on it at this point.

If it looks at all crowded from this picture, that's because it is. In fact, that's what I'm going for. I want maximum amount of furnishing without over-crowding. Also, this picture doesn't really capture the scale of this build; the tank is 18" x 18" x 24". I mean, I can fit my head in there... so it's big. Trust me.

As show to the right, here, you can see that there is in fact much room for plants. I also feel I should mention that since this particular shot was taken, I added a bunch of foam to the bottom corners to build them up. The reason for this is to minimize the amount of substrate needed in areas where it's not really useful to have it.

Something else clearly visible is how painfully close my pots are to the top of the tank. This is something I learned the hard way to look out for. In the end, I'm sure it'll be fine. The only problem is one of the two pothos plants I wanted to put there is kind of... growing up instead of growing like a vine. I may try to transplant parts of it, or maybe just buy a new one. I'll probably have the room for a third one down at the bottom.

Quick price break down:
-Great Stuff Pond and Stone (which is the black kind): 9.00$/can, 3 cans
-Aquarium Silicone (price carried over from the leopard gecko build): 13.00$
-See previous posts for prices of plants and wood (I hope...)

Some of the tools I used include:
-Breaking Bad costume Breathing mask
-Caulking gun
-Many pairs of disposable rubber gloves.

All of these I had lying around the house. At this point, I also want to point out that I don't condone the use of disposable latex gloves; be kind to the environment and get some nice rubber gloves that you can use again and again. Yes, I am a hypocrite.

I won't add the substrate costs just yet, at least not until I have a better idea how much I will use. Hopefully, Amanda at The Pet Store will live up to her standards and get me some good aquarium silicone by the end of the week!

Leopard Gecko Build (part 3)

Finally, some new pics of my first rock outcrop project!

As is clearly shown, I have painted my rocky outcropping and I've even managed to seal it. Heck, I've even managed to put a nick in it! Fortunately for me, it's in the back, where it won't be visible.

For a bit of an idea of the price of this part of my build, check out my quick break down:
-Rona Sanded Grout: 10.00$
-Rona No Sheen Grout Sealant: 10.00$
-Liquitex Matte Varnish: 20.00$

Throw in some left-over acrylic paint and some old brushes I had kicking around, and there you have it.

All I really have left to do now is give it a bit of a washing, but only once I touch up my little ding. I was going to put on a third coat of varnish, but after the second, I find that it starts to get a little cloudy. Since I don't intend on this piece to go in a humid environment, I think two coats should do just fine. The Liquitex is made for outdoor use, after all.

Quick fun fact; i made some crappy little cave paintings inside, just for funzies.

This build turned out way bigger than I had originally anticipated! I will definitely need a new tank soon. Thankfully, Christmas is just around the corner! I'm thinking possibly one of Exo-Terra's new Low models, but that's going to depend on prices.

I digress; next post on this particular project will be the conclusion post, wherein I will give a total break down of what I used and what I would not use again, as well as helpful tips for getting a natural finish and how to avoid annoying bubbles in your varnish!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Much-Needed Updates

(FECK! I just spent way too long writing a post that I jsut deleted!)

Alright, so here's a long story made short, since I just deleted a good couple paragraphs of information.


Been busy these past couple months; lots of school and volunteer work.

Lots of delays in getting my black aquarium silicone.
Aqua Zoo had me pay up front, plus extra for shipping, only to get me the wrong product two months later. That's a no-no.

Amanda at The Pet Store has ordered me some, though it has not come in yet due to shipping issues, she hasn't charged me anything.

Plus, she ordered me Zoo-Med Clay Hydro Balls and Terrarium Mesh in exactly one day; that's from ordering to receiving. Booyah.

Waiting on her black silicone to compare with what dick-face Mr. Aqua Zoo got me (which I couldn't return because he wasn't there as usual and his staff can't do anything without him).

That's why I'm late in my projects.


Sadly, lost my venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) to cat attacks.

Lost my moss to dehydration, though I may still use it as dried moss.

Worried my philodendron (Monstera deliciosa) might not be getting enough humidity locked away in my basement, trying to avoid cat bites.

Pothos and Sansevieria doing amazingly well; truly idiot-proof plants.


Leopard gecko build nearly finished.

Spent lots of time hunting a better varnish.

Found one. Applied a coat; looked good. Applied a second coat; not so good. Won't be putting a third on. Still need to wash it for a bit and soak off all excess varnish. Post to come later with pictures, materials, and details.

Tha'ts it for now. I'm ticked off at my incompetence with blog posts.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

More Plants

For part two of today's posts, I'm showing off the newest plants I got for my cresty build. To be fair, "new" is relative, as I have had these for a couple weeks now, and despite a little feline intervention, the majority of them are still alive!

Firstly, I picked up another pothos, but instead of a Jade pothos, I picked up a Gold pothos.
I also found this really nice philodendron which has the best leaves ever! Perfect for a shy little gecko to chill out on. As time goes on, the leaves will develop splits and become more articulated. It also spreads fairly well, I'm told, so I'll be trimming it fairly often.

Also, I finally found the perfect sized snake plant, which sadly became the target of a cat attack and lost a couple leaves...
Lastly, and this one might not make it through to the terrarium, is this cute little Venus Fly-trap. I've fed it several times, forgetting that each "mouth" only feeds once before it dies. So, as a result, I'm left with a plant with very few mature "mouths". Still seems to be living though, so, yay!
Also, though I didn't technically buy this, I harvested a little moss from my back yard and have so far been able to keep it alive on nothing but a rock, so kudos to me!

I plan on incorporating most of these plants, if not all, and a couple more into my cresty build, which, as it happens, I'm currently in the process of building! Finally! I'll definitely post phase 1 tomorrow, when I have a few more things completed.

Leopard Gecko Build (part 2)

Lots of new events going on this past month, which is why I plan on making a second post after this. Just trust me on this one.

I'll start off with the foam rock I'm making for my leo.
After re-evaluating the size of my setup and the size of the rock I was making, I decided to cut it down a bit, leaving me with this:

If you can see it, I've also added a tunnel going from the main chamber and exiting on the side. I figured this build is goign to take up a lot a floor space, and that by adding layers like this, I'm just adding on to the amount of space my leo will have to explore and hunt. There's also a secondary chamber inside which would be visible from the back.

After a little YouTubing, I found this great video by Beckywheeler (check her out), who has a TON of DIY foam background videos. Her technique for making foam rocks look more natural is to torch them with a lighter. I supose an actual torch would work here too, but that just seems like over-kill to me. My BBQ lighter did a great job, even with its sputtering little flame.

So after torching all the flat surfaces to give them a more pitted, uneven texture, and after torching down the 90 degree corners, I ended up with something like this:
And, I don't mean to gush, but for my first foam construction, I've exceeded all my own expectations! I even went as far as to torch the inner tunel and chambers, which really make it look like rock, I think.

Also, a couple weekends back, I bought some grout and some sealer, so all I need now is to find my old acrylic paint and I'll be able to wrap this project up!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Got Wood?

First off, as promised, the pics of my new swag loot that I got the other weekend:

I did a bit of research into the mopani wood, since I want to learn how to get rid of the sap once and for all. I guess, from what I've read, I just have to keep soaking it and boiling it.

More disturbing are the horror stories I'm coming across of how the tannins can cause fungal grows, psychological disabilities in the animals, and a mess of other things. But then I read posts from people who've been using this stuff for decades. I think it's a case of improper preparation, personally.

Still enough to worry me though.

Side Note: I am still looking for a decent-sized pot to boil my wood pieces in. Got them soaking for now, but I want to boil them a couple times before siliconing them in place. I just wish I knew how much OSAP I'm getting this year! It's kind of my limiting factor as to what I can and can't buy. With all the (long) extra hours I've scored at my job, I should have enough spare cash to really trick out my tanks, at least if my price estimates are decent.

So my question today is this: 

Is mopani wood dangerous for reptiles, and more specifically, crested geckos?

From what I've been reading on Reptile Forums UK and Herp Center, it should be fine. Lots of people use it, and have been using it for years without any incident.
To be fair, the stories I read about where the animals developed neurological symptoms were talking about different species of geckos. And in all honesty, it doesn't seem unthinkable that some species have different reactions to different types of plants or wood.
My greatest fear is that once I've foamed my wood pieces in places, something will occur that will force me to remove them, along with my entire background. It's not like these tanks are cheap to decorate, so I want to get this done, and get it done right.


Next on my hit list is a bromeliad plant! Maybe a crawling vine too. I also need to repot that jade pothos, in order to remove as much of the fertilizer as possible.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

So many goodies!

I just got back from Ottawa today with a couple bags of funky stuff for both my terrariums. At Big Al's, I found some nice little pieces of mopani wood that I'm going to use as accents for both my tropical and arid terrariums, along with some Malaysian drift wood. On my way back across the plaza, I stopped in at Rona's garden center and was really surprised by this young guy there who was quite savvy about tropical houseplants. I bought a jade pothos plant, though I could have bought a lot more! They had snake plants and a whole mess of everything. Lastly, on my way past PetSmart, I stopped in for the heck of it and found a cork round. All in all, a pretty decent haul, and all of it for under 40$! I think I'm good for wood now. All I need is some fake rocks which I plan to make myself, some substrate and a couple other miscellaneous goods and I will be ready!

Also, I got my new top in from Stacey's, which I ordered a week and a half ago to replace my rusting one temporarily while I mod it up a bit. It looks like the tops I've been using up till now were Exo-Terra's older models, as this one isn't exactly the same. I'm hoping it will still fit, just to use it as a temporary lid. It was only 15$, after all, so I don't feel that bad. If it doesn't I can always return it.

Pictures to follow.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Take Oxygen (O) and Iron (Fe) and You Get?

The answer is rust. And I just noticed I have something of a problem... At first I was pretty ticked with the terrarium for rusting out so much, but it's not technically a defect in the product, per se.

This is the damage. What happened is that one of my Monsoon's suction cups came loose, tilting it's angle way up, but not enough for me to really notice. It was also spraying under the canopy, which is don't move too much as Rocza likes to use its cover as his shelter. Well, I moved it last night, and found this. Not happy. There was still water droplets on it, with rusty water and all. Very unhappy, but mostly at myself.

I read up on this, obviously, found that it's not just me who's had this problem (again, obviously). And although to be fair to Exo-Terra, although their terrariums are listed as tropical, this level of moisture on this particular surface isn't really what one would normally have. This entire paragraph to say "I'm not angry at you, Exo-Terra, just disappointed". I've seen other companies paint their mesh with a sealing coat of paint, so I wonder why Exo-Terra couldn't also do this, even if these pieces are out-sourced.

So some solutions I found range from temporary and simple to complex.
The most basic, which I have begrudgingly done for the time, is to slide a sheet of plastic-wrap between the tank and the lid to create a waterproof barrier. This will also raise the humidity and heat levels, since over half of the relatively open top is now shut off. I'm not disappointed about that though, in fact it's a plus.
The second solution, which I also utilized, was to order a new lid. I ordered through Stacey's rather than to do it independently, since they know the proper channels. I know I probably could have whined to Hagen or Exo-Terra and got a free lid, but I don't really care. This is my bad, I will pay for my own mistakes. I always have. It will take some time, so that's why I also went with the temporary solution.
Solution number three; spray your lid with hydrofuge paint. Simple enough, and I will definitely do that with my new lid, and all subsequent lids from now on.
Now, the fourth solution is kind of cool. I found a thread (where is it now... Oh yes, right here) posted on Reptile Forums UK by KJ Exotics on how to convert the Exo-Terra tops into glass tops with sliding doors. Pretty cool stuff, and easily adapted to my situation. I think once my new lid arrives, I will repair my damaged lid in this way, since I know a bunch of people in the glazing business. Props for working for general contractors!

So for now, it's the El Cheapo method whilst I wait patiently for Emily to get back to me about my lid! Once I get some of the products, I'll be sure to post exactly what I'm using. Which I should probably do sooner than later, as I ahve not updated my list of products in ages...

Side bar here; anyone in the Cornwall region who has questions regarding reptile care, go see Emily. She knows stuff! But that's just, like, my opinion, man.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Research into Custom Natural Habitats 2: Backgrounds

A little late on my idea to post more findings for making the natural habitats but with studying for my chemistry refresher courses, the heat we've been having lately, as well fretting over tuition and grant money, it kind of got back-burnered.

Anyway, I found a really decent website for Do It Yourself naturalesque backgrounds called Bamboo Zoo, which links to several threads on Reptile Forums UK.
The setup I really liked was the Reptile Habitat in Foam by Hedy S., shown below. I've been trying to get a hold of some black spray foam from a guy at work, which is an idea I found on Youtube posted by bshmerlie which I will also post below. (Note to self, don't start Youtubing Skyrim soundtrack female covers!)
 What I like about Hedy's background is the way their mopani wood seems to grow out of the backdrop, something which I feel gives natural backgrounds some credibility. I also like how they added a couple synthetic plants as accents.

Image from BambooZoo
Now before I skip ahead to the part I like the most about Hedy's setup, here's the video posted by bshmerlie on how to create a spray foam background, hosted by Sherry. It's long, but very informative.

Just to note, I've been around to a couple places, even asked some of the contractors at work, and no one has even heard of black spray foam insulation in my part of town till just now. Not sure if this black Great Stuff is strictly an American product, but I certainly can't find it. Now what I like about Sherry's technique is how it stand up to wear and tear versus the generic white spray foam background. I think I might use a bit of a mix of black and clear acrylic, using the clear around the mopani wood to avoid black spots.

Now to get back to Hedy's setup, they use a mixture of substrates which really give it a natural feel. They even use a bark background, like the one Zoo Med but which I cannot seem to find on their product site.

The end result is this stunning piece of work.

Image from BambooZoo
What I really like is the mixture of the fine-grade Eco-Earth and larger Repti-Bark, both from Zoo Med.

I'd also really like to try to find a good way to grow moss on the mopani wood. Exo-Terra has the Tree-Fern Panels, but I'd like to know if they're in any way malleable once it's soaked. Also, I'd like to see if it actually does as advertised and grows small ferns and mosses.

So my shopping list is as stands:
-Spray foam insulation (preferably black)
-Aquarium-grade black silicone (I already have clear)
-Mopani wood (you can never have enough)
-Cork bark rounds (mix things up a bit)
-Fine substrate (probably the bag format of Exo-Terra's plantation soil)
-Coarse substrate (some bark or coco husk)

And that's just for my cresty!
I'm planning a second upgrade for my leo already. He's very curious and loves to explore. unfortunately, all I have for him are aquariums which are more vertical than horizontal.
If I could get my hands on a nice-sized low and wide tank, I'd be happy. I'm also planning on introducing some greenery into his environment, like this Jade cactus.
Maybe some of my other synthetics as well, since it would be hard to keep his habitat dry like he needs it and still have nice plants. I'll work something out though. I'm also going to need some things for his hab.

-Sand (not as an actual substrate, but as a sub-substrate, jsut to hold the rocks off the tank bottom and stop crickets from hiding under them)
-Concrete grout (with which to cover my foam)
-Lizard-friendly sealant (to protect the grout)
-Large pebble substrate (to go over any sand that may be visible)

I have a lot to keep me busy, on top of all the things that currently keep me busy...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Great Escape! and Other News

Well, lesson learned, and to cut off any undue concern, I'm not talking about my geckos.

As it turns out, the Kricket Keeper I use has a slight weakness when it comes to small sized crickets.
If you leave an egg carton leading up to the air vents, they can squeeze out. I only learned this after loosing about five...

I'm not even sure of that number, but I've confirmed three kills, missed two (which I may have got later) and just assume there's one decent creeper who stayed out of sight. I bought "a dozen" but there's no point counting. The fine ladies at Stacey's are generous with the crickets. Good thing I have a cat.

Also, apparently being down in the dumps about money and all warrants one an early Christmas present? Yeah, I feel kind of foolish saying it, but that's what happened. I got my tank upgrade for Rocza. Now I'm trying to make a deal on some black foam, trying to find some more mopani, along with a canning pot since I almost ruined the good one trying to boil my new piece of wood, and also trying to find some good plants.

It will take some doing, but I think my research has served me well. I have a general idea of what I want to do. Still, it will take time and money, only one of which is at my disposal. I think in the days to come, I will start posting my research, both for my desert rock formation and for my tropical arboreal terrarium. I've found some really good ideas, or rather ideas that look really good. This could all blow up in my face, I guess.

Still, I think this will be a good learning experience!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

More Hornworms

Tried getting Bronka some more hornworms today. Again, he totally loved them. I think they were a little larger than the last one I bought. This time I got some pics though, and here are a couple of them. For the entire album, check out my Photobucket montage.

He actually came over to my hand and crawled right up into it. He's pretty social!

But enough excitement for one day.

I wish this was a video instead of a picture. Just after this, he tried to extend himself even further out, lost his grip, plopped down onto the carpet, got right back up all cool and stealthy as possible, and took out the worm. Hilariously cute!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Some New Toys and Treats

First off, I found another place to buy some tropical plants!
The local orchard and garden center carries a variety of tropical plants, but not many of the ones I need or want. They can get some in, but that will most likely take a while. They carry gold and jade pothos, so I might mix them up and get a bit of variety. They also had a nice little cactus, one without thorns, that I though would look great in Bronka's habitat, especially once I get more rocks in.

But that's just a side note.

Surfing through cable last night, I found a special on photography of small animals with Catherine Chalmers and Rosario Dawson. It was terrific and I leave a link to Catherine's website for anyone interested in some really in-depth photography and art. The point is, I saw her Catherine photographing a leopard gecko and feeding it hornworms. I'm not sure if I mentioned before, but Stacey's Pet Depot sells hornworms, and I've been curious about them since I saw them. I've even wondered, seeing as these aren't true worms but caterpillars, if it would be a good idea to let the mgrow into their moth forms and try feeding them to Rocza. This idea seems a little ill-thought out. I guess the caterpillars can reach about 10 cm in length, so the moths are probably a decent size too. Much too big for little Rocza.
Anyway, I decided that after seeing Catherine's success with hornworms, I would try one out for Bronka, who might be having trouble catching the quick, little crickets. He absolutely devoured it. What I plan on looking into now is how many of these big guys I should consider feeding Bronka per week, as they do cost about ten crickets. They're not nearly as repulsive as meal worms though.

Image from University of Nebraska's Entomology Department

I was at Big Al's this weekend and found this awesome piece of mopani wood.

It's not small either. It's about 16 inches long and weighs about 4.5 lbs. I had to pick it up; just look at the cavity! Placed as it is in the picture, it would make a terrific natural hide. But, place it vertically and it becomes a really nice spot to plant a pothos plant or some other piece of greenery. I haven't decided who it's for yet. I think both Bronka and Rocza would enjoy it, but bronka already ahs a nice piece of mopani, whereas Rocza only has synthetic stuff for now. In any even, it's kind of big for either tank. It'll have to wait till after Christmas.

In other news, I haven't progressed much on my foam rock outcropping. I still need to finalize the design, but also, I need to save up a bit and get the mortar coating. I'm really thinking I'll be upgrading Bronka's habitat size in the coming year, as I feel he'd like to explore even more. Having come to that conclusion, I want to redesign some of the rock so that even if I choose to change the size of tank, it will still fit in decently.

Now, something has been troubling me for a little while now, and I feel this is the place to bring it to light.
I was in a pet store recently (not one of my local stores, fyi) and saw an African Fat-Tailed Gecko. It did not have a fat tail. It had a bony, emaciated tail, pointy ribs and boney legs. To be honest, from the way it was laying there, I'm not even sure it was still alive. And what really got me is that, surely lacking on site veterinary services, this store was most likely not going to do anything to help this little creature, as the price tag on it was only 40$. In other words, it's not worth their time.
This really got to me, but I feel like I really can't criticize them; what did I do to help this poor creature? I didn't have the money to buy it and set up a suitable habitat for it in order to attempt to nurse it back to health, but I feel that, had I approached them and asked to take it off their hands, they wouldn't of refused me. It was not their only Fat-Tail, and it was clearly on death's doorstep. Trying to appease my guilty conscience, I said to myself that I couldn't have done anything. But is that true? I have a friend who's sister is a veterinary technician. I may have been able to have her take a look at it and see if there was any simple way of improving this gecko's health. The truth is, being from a smaller city's clinic, she probably doesn't have much herpological experience, but still, this feeling nags at me.
I'm a very shy, reserved person, but that's no excuse to stand by and watch something die. At least, that's how I feel. It's quite possible this was just the end of the gecko's life, that it had lived out a decent life, but I jsut don't have that feeling. Pet stores don't necessarily have the best care for their animals, despite the fact that many do.
I think what I took from this experience is a guilt that will drive me to more the next time I see a situation like this. I just wish I had the courage to stand up more, especially for those that can't stand up for themselves.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Leopard Gecko Build (part 1)

Well, as I now have a part-time job at my old place of work (though somehow I managed to clock 39 hours last week...) and with the release of Diablo 3, I've been too busy to post. But no more! Well, as in, taking time today.

Right, so things I've been up to:
-Browsing hardware stores for tank decor material
-Searching for tropical plants
-Bargain hunting for new pet gear

I'll start with the pet gear. Just a side note really. I managed to score the Exo-Terra terrarium I've been wanting for cheap on a clearance sale at PetSmart. Down side is, I didn't pay for it as it is a Christmas present... But hey, progress.
I also snatched up some Zoo Med Eco Carpet in the tan colour for Bronka's hab. It's better than paper towel, I hope.

Now, for some tropical plant news. After much searching, I have to come to an obvious conclusion; I need to listen to people more. I've been looking through every garden center I can get to with little to no luck. Home Depot has some interesting, colourful plants, but not really the ones I want. people keep telling me to check the florist shop downtown, but I kept shrugging it off. I've been in there before, but never noticed anything very tropical. Long story short, they have some. They're getting some bromeliades in this week actually. I might just look into it. Though I'll probably just grow them in one of my empty tanks till I get my new one up and running so I can grow out any excess of fertilizers they may have.

Now, for the bigger news. I've found some decent products for building some rocky outcropping for Bronka at my local Home Depot. It's all fairly cheap too. So far.
Quick shopping list:
-Six-pack of rigid board insulation: 10.00$
-"No More Nails" adhesive: 8.00$
-Silicone Aquarium Sealant: 13.00$

I probably don't even need the silicone for this particular project, though I will need a water-resistant sealant to go over the grouting, though making  a water dish might be fun.

Now, some pictures!

Behold the colour-appropriate Eco Carpet by Zoo Me, as it is being explored for the first time by a curious Bronka.

"Dafugg is dis? Dafugg is dat? Dafugg are you?"

And finally, construction of the desert rock formation after day one.

 I'm building it in two general pieces to facilitate getting it in the tank, since it's the full length.
 It's admittedly wider than I had originally wanted but I fell it'll work out in the end.

I plan on squeezing my brown rock in front of this on a bed of sand to add stability and block out the access of crickets.
 I have a nice little hide carved out right over the under-mounted tank heater. This is obviously going to be Bronka's warm hide. I plan on either using his current hide as the moist hide on the opposite side of the tank.
It's not glued yet because I want to have a better idea of the final product before I start shooting glue everywhere.

And lastly, simple tools for a simple job: adhesive, sealant, metal straight edge, steak knife, and of course a Sharpie.

More pics to come as I progress.

Today's work was definitely a good learning experience. I learned that this is an uber messy project, as one can clearly see. I learned that doing this without a shirt on is a bad idea, unless you want to look like a polar bear afterwards. I learned plans are useless, but planning is essential.

I wonder what I'll learn next session.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Leopard Gecko Upgrade

Dug out more goodies from the basement today.

Firstly, I vinegarred and scrubbed my old collard lizard tank. I should also note here that in my last post, I said I was soakign the log and rock in vinegar. This is not literally true. It was a solution of about 10% to 20% vinegar diluted in water. Very important.

I also found the bestest (truly) rock kicking around my basement. Don't ask why there are rocks in my basement. My family collects strange things. For example, I have a carousel horse down there. But I digress.
The rock I found will definitely suit Bronka's needs for the moment, but once I start the decoration phase of my ackie monitor project, this rock will make a great component for the Rete's Stack.

What's a Rete's Stack, you ask? It's this cool little bit of herpetocultural ingenuity. It's traditionaly a stack of ply wood boards, spaced about and inch to an inch and a half apart, stacked maybe five or six high with access to each level.

Photo by Pro Exotics
It's a great little piece of furniture! Not only does it make a decent hide, when placed under a heat lamp it gives the reptile a gradient of temperature to choose from. I've seen some nice twists on this concept, my favorite being one made out of slate.

Photo by dannyj and posted in a thread on Reptile Forums UK
The rock I have is slightly thicker but holds heat nicely and has some really interesting metallic veins in it. For now though, it will be put to good use as a nice solid substrate for Bronka, as show.

With the added space of the larger tank, I've had no trouble spreading out the furnishings to my liking. I'll even be able to add a foam piece one day. Bronka has also taken to the log and the way I laid it over the Exo-Terra cave. For the full set of images, I'd rather just redirect to the Photo Bucket slide show I will be adding to my home page.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Addopted Leopard Gecko

I got the leopard gecko this afternoon. He's a very charming animal, fairly bulky, with a real mild temper.

I'm writing this now because, quite frankly, I've been busying myself fixing up his vivarium as best I could since I got him home at 4:30. But before launching into my mini-tirade, a picture.

In light of his girth and physical size, I've decided to call him something burlier; Bronka (I kind of fabricated the name, not knowing it was actually a small Polish village).

Bronka's is a long story of moving from place to place, like a drifter. He began as the pet of a college student who, due to housing issues, was no longer able to keep him. Bronka found a new home with an acquaintance of mine, who took him in, loved him, cared for him, but ultimately had to move away to Vancouver and had to leave him in her mother's care. Unfortunately, her mother had other pets to tend as well and thus had to pass Bronka along. This is where I enter the picture.

This guy has a couple scars, too.

Some of his toes no longer have claws. In fact, some tips are simply gone. This, to me, is caused by one of two things (or two of two things), the first on my list being lack of humidity during shedding. The skin doesn't slough off, gets tight, restricts blood flow, and ultimately causes amputation.It really hurts me to think of this happening to a single toe, let alone about four.
And this is something that can easily be overlooked by the uninformed hobbyist. My friend noted that this was a condition Bronka had when she got a hold of him.

The other thing which could have cost Bronka his toes is slightly less likely in my opinion, though I can't really say, having very little contact with meal worms.
I'm told meal worms can and will bite. Now, when I picked up this little guy, I noticed the husk fiber was literally writhing with worms. I also noticed a trio of over-sized crickets bouncing around. I just hope they didn't decide to start feeding on the very creature they themselves were meant to feed.

Speaking of the coco husk, after some research, I found that it's not the best environment for leopards. Too much humidity retention. Too bad though, it looks nice. It's jsut not the right stuff, unfortunately. (Not to mention it BEING ALIVE WITH FREAKING WORMS!!!!! Gah... Terrible night to have stuffed manicotti).

Also, less of an issue, his tailed has previously fallen off. I knew this going in, having talked with the previous owner some time ago before she left for Vancouver. It's no big issue, since leos have regenerative tails, though apparently not toes. Strange.

I made a judgement call not to use some of the gear that Bronka came with.

The Exo-Terra heat rock, though probably one of the better ones, is still too much of a worry to me to have it in the tank anymore. I've read  too many articles and heard too many stories of malfunctions to have peace of mind. So, I'll be picking up an under-mounted tank heater (like the one I have for Rocza, just stronger).
All in all, I ended up keeping the Exo-Terra  Medium Reptile Cave... Um, the food dish which I swapped out for a smaller one of mine and that's about it. The piece of wood that had been used as tank decore was worm-eaten, and looked kind of tall for him to climb up.

Now this is his current habitat:

Yeah, pretty sparse. And, with some rather unsettling financial issues I've been having, I wasn't really able to go out today and get anything better.
Here's where it's lucky to have a large basement filled with clutter of years past. I dug deep and pulled out a nice log and large flat rock from my old collard lizard habitat, just what this blah habitat needs.
I am currently soaking them for the second time in vinegar, and am about to rinse and soak for a third time before baking them both off.
As for the paper towel, unattractive though it may be, it's safe, easy to clean and keep moist, and it's readily available.

And now, more pics.

Bronka basking in his red heat lamp.
Going to rest up after a long day.
More pictures to come once I pimp out his hab a bit.

Back From Vacation and Right Back Into It...

The lack of posts over the last week and a half would definitely be caused by the fact that I was in Halifax, visiting a friend. But this is not a travel blog, so I will dispense with the details.

A couple updates for now, but they're not small updates.

Firstly, I have been doing research and have decided that in the coming years I will be buying a Ridge-Tail Monitor, more commonly called an Ackie. It's an Australian species of dwarf monitor that grows to about 2' (60 cm) in length, most of that being tail. They're very energetic, active and inquisitive. The other cool thing about getting this animal is that no tank on the market will do to hold it; I must go into the realm of custom-built tanks. Don't think I'm serious? I'm going to the hardware store today.
The tank definitely has to come first. I might even have it for a year or so before I decide it's good enough to get the ackie. The tank dimensions will be (L x H x W) 4' x 3' x 2 or 3' (still on the fence about the width). It's a bit bigger than recommended for a single monitor, but hey, maybe I'll get two. If not, no problem. Lots of room to grow big and strong.
I've already done a couple preliminary sketches for the overall construction plan, which I will post in a bit. I guess those three years of architectural technology are paying off!

Second bit of new; after much head-scratching and the purchase of a tube of aquarium silicone, which I will be saving for my ackie tank, I've realized that the solution to the wire problem with my plastic plants is simple. Hot glue gun. It dries hard and so shouldn't be a problem, as long as I let it cure properly. Thanks for the advice, mom.

Thirdly, and this one is unfolding presently, I'm getting a Leopard Gecko.
"But Zach, why not save the cash for the awesome ackie?". True, very true. I would totally agree, if I were paying anything at all.
A friend of my mom is giving it away because her daughter left for Vancouver and couldn't bring it along.
It's seven years old, really well behaved, and it comes with all the fixin's. In truth, I wanted to do a bit more research into leos and get a proper space set up, but some people aren't good at handling the "pushy saleswoman" type. Long story short, I'm getting the gecko today.
Already, I'm making plans to change up it's habitat. I'm told it uses a heating rock, which have been know to malfunction and fry lizards. I'll be changing it up for an under-tank heater. Also, I plan on changing the substrate to something more friendly, assuming it's something like Calci-sand, which I have recently learned to be a pretty dangerous product.
I'm thinking of a name like Lokar. It sounds interesting.

Pics to follow.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ircksome Problem

I'm a little disappointed in the fake vegetation I bought so far. I was cleaning out my habitat the other day and noticed that the wire insert that keeps the plants positioned has broken out of the plastic casing. There was this fair-sized piece of jagged metal jutting from the stems of two of my three plants. What's more, these pieces were right where Rocza chills out. Obviously, I removed them from the tank. I'm thinking a small drop of acrylic on each would solve the problem. Just got to find me some and buy me some. I also though of maybe taking some of the plastic stem off and maybe melting it onto the metal shard.

I might end up getting some real plants sooner rather than later.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Research into Custom Natural Habitats 1: Plants

Ever since I started looking into crested gecko care on YouTube, I've noticed how nice natural habitats are, even when compared to high quality of the plant products by Exo-Terra and ZooMed. The look of real plants, growing as they see fit, makes for an esthetic quality that far surpasses that of the sterile setup. However, a natural habitat raises the difficulty level of keeping your habitat healthy and functional, as you now have your flora to care for as well as your fauna. The benefits aren't lost on me either; natural plants help keep a good humidity level and increase air quality.
I've recently started looking into crafting my own habitat in the hopes of creating a truly unique terrarium that will make Rocza feel more at home and that will add a nice touch of decor to my own environment.


Part 1: Plant Life

Even though I'm really excited to try my hand at foam sculpting and building, I decided to start by looking what will probably be the trickiest part of the project: the plant life. There are lots of forums and sites that talk about which plants make nice additions to a cresty's habitat, but it's never as simple as just picking out what looks good. I have to take into account what kind of lighting they need, weather or not they require special nutrients, and above all, if it's a good choice for an actively arboreal species of reptile.

To start off, I'm compiling a list of plants that other people recommend for crested geckos. Thus far, this is what I've got:

Pothos: I've noticed that both the golden and jade pothos plants are very appealing, broad of leaf, and look like a plant that could easily hang down from on high.
Jade Pothos
image from:

Golden Pothos
image from:

Sansevieria: I have a larger one of these in my house presently. It's a very nice colour, very sturdy leaf, and it grows in an extremely vertical fashion. It's also layered which could give my gecko a lot of shelter.
Sansevieria Black Coral (Black Coral Snake Plant or Mother-in-Law Tongue)
image from:
Amaranthus Tricolour: This plant is more for decoration that function, as it boasts really vibrant reds and yellows. Some other species of Amaranthus have leaves of red and green.

Amaranthus Tricolour (Joseph's Coat)
image from:
Ficus: A very leafy plant that also resembles the plants found in crested gecko natural habitat. It's thin branches and shoots are non-the-less capable of supporting the weight of an adventuring gecko.
Ficus Elastica (Rubber Fig)
image from:
Ficus Benjamina (Weeping Fig)
image from:
Bromeliad: A very esthetically pleasing tropical plant, bromeliads form natural hideouts for little animals. Some can even form small "ponds" in the cup-shaped center of their leaves.

Blushing Bromeliad
image from:
These are just the most common suggestions. From what I can tell, any plant that provides shelter, can support the weight of an adult gecko, and isn't outwardly poisonous, is a viable option.
I'd also love to find ways of having real mosses in the habitat. They always add a really beautiful touch of green to any environment.

However, after a bit of initial research, I can already start ticking off certain species due to light requirements. According to the San Francisco Plant Company (from which I pulled a couple of the above pics), ficus need a lot of sunlight, which wouldn't be a problem if I was still using my UV blub. My decision to stop using the UV bulb came after talking with Emily of Pet Depot, who informed me that crested geckos can actually get sunburned. On top of that, they don't have eyelids, and I can imagine that a daily dose of UV light might cause some eye damage after extended exposure.
The amaranthus tricolour is another plant that needs a good amount of direct sunlight, so it can probably be forgotten in my case. The most my plants will be getting is a small amount of early morning direct light, but mostly they'll have indirect light, provided from my shuddered southward-facing window.\
The other plants seem to be well suited to indoor life, particularly the sansevieria, to which I can attest is a very hardy plant, capable of surviving much abuse and neglect. Even the bromeliads, some of which are really colourful, can thrive in interior conditions.

Being that I've only dipped my toe in the pond on the topic of indoor plant care, I've still got a lot to learn about plant nutrition. Again, personally, I can attest that the sansevieria is hardy enough to get by jsut fine with it's occasional watering. Then again, it was originally planted in fertilized soil, something I will really have to look into to ensure I don't end up poisoning my gecko. In any event, Crested Gecko Canada gives an idea of how I could use fertilizers or special nutrients without worrying. According to them, a bit of mesh under a layer of substrate should be enough to keep the gecko out of contact with treated soil. Still, I really want to look into organic options to feed my plants, just to be safe. I also had the idea of double potting my plants so I could remove them easily if I ever needed to give them some special care or feeding. It might interfere with the natural look of the enclosure though, but it's still an idea I had. Much more research is required on this matter.

Now, I decide to think about weather or not these plants are the right fit for my crested gecko. Luckily, since these plants were presented to me by crested gecko care forums and websites, I'm fairly confident that they fit the bill. But the reasons for that vary by plant. The pothos and the ficus have big flat leaves, perfect for a timid little gecko to hide under or to climb on. The pothos in particular interests me as I think I'll be able to plant it in a high corner and have it hang down as a good vertical access. Of course, I could always string it along something like my Exo-Terra Jungle Vine, which would make it work as a horizontal means of travel too. The sansevieria is also another means of vertical access as well as a refuge. Another refuge plant could be the bromeliad, with its long, broad leaves forming a safe little cup for something like a gecko to sleep in or draw water from. And the moss I'd like to grow would make a terrific moist bedding for any reptile or amphibian. The joseph's coat also gives nice refuge in its big leaves, which would make a great bed for my gecko, if it weren't for the light requirements.

Now, this is just the begging of my horticultural research, and as such, I hope to find new species of plants to add to my list, as well as ascertain for sure weather or not the ones I've crossed out can or can't be used.
Also, let's not leave out the idea of using some of Exo-Terra's Smart Plants or some of ZooMed's more colourfully decorative synthetic plants, either. After all, they'd be a constant source of "foliage" in a habitat that could easily fall short of expectations. After all, there's no certainty when it comes to me keeping live plants.