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Installing a Rock Waterfall Background in a Dart Frog Terrarium

This article discusses installing the “Rock Waterfall” Terrarium Background we offer in your Vivarium. This is a fairly easy job, and should only take you a half hour or so, if you are installing it in an Exo-Terra or ZooMed Vivarium that is 18 inches wide. If you are installing it in a larger tank, requiring additional background material to be installed along with the waterfall, it could take a little longer.

First some basic points.

*No matter which tank you are using, you should water test your tank before doing any installation work. Now is the time to find out if your tank leaks, it will be a lot easier problem to fix now than later.

*The water feature that makes this kit really nice requires about two to three inches of water to operate. This will mean that the bottom of the tank will be filled with about 2.5 inches of water once the tank is setup. You will be covering the bottom of the tank in about 4 to 5 inches of substrate, so the fact that there are three inches of water in the bottom of the tank is not going to be apparent once you have set up your dart frog terrarium. I suggest gravel for your vivarium substrate, it is inexpensive, easy to get, easy to clean, and never rots. You can cover most of the gravel with plants, dried leaves, coconut huts, corkbark and moss, so the gravel becomes only 20 or 30 percent of the visible substrate. Tropical terrarium plants grow like crazy in this wet substrate, or at least the ones I have tried do. Other methods such as false bottoms can also be used, but I have found little advantage to them, the time involved in creating them not being worth the main benefit, a slightly lighter tank. Expanded clay balls (Hydroton or LECA) are a worthwhile components of the terrarium substrate as well, if you can easily obtain this product. If using clay balls, I recommend covering the clay balls with an inch or so of gravel, the clay balls are not a particularly natural looking substrate.

*This kit, along with good lighting, will make it easy to get lush growth of a variety of terrarium plants, including small vines, orchids and mosses on the rock wall. This is accomplished by using a thin hose to route water to a point on the back wall, and then tying plants on to the rock wall in a position to take advantage of the water supply. We’ve made this easy by installing both the hoses and the plant ties so all you have to do is attach the terrarium plants.

Remove every thing from the box. You should find the following in the box:
1- Rock wall
2- Pump assembly(pump and water feature supply line, drip tubes, foam filter material and wire tie to protect the pump)
3- Tube of Silicone caulk
4- Bag of tree fern fiber dust
5- Two rubber gloves
6- Glass panel for closing up the lid of your tank. (Optional)
7- Small bag of sphagnum moss.
8- Extra piece of wire tie

1- The rock wall will need some quick work before you can install it. The drip tubes, or thin brown tubes, will be plugged into the ¾ inch hose that comes from the pump. Each of them will be pushed through a hole in the larger tubing, and then run to a spot on the back wall. The spots on the back wall that the tubing goes to will be terrarium plant mounting sites on the other side, and each will be set up with a clear wire tie, which you will use to tie a plant to the background. The drip line will supply the water the plant will need to thrive on the back ground. I have already tacked the lines in place in the background with some silicone. The tubes should stick through the back wall about an inch. Check to be sure they are still in place, and that they are still plugged in at the pump end. The holes in the 3/4th inch hose at the pump can be difficult to get the tubing back into, if need be cut the last ¼ inch off the end of the drip line if it becomes bent. It helps to cut the tubing at an angle.

2- Now place the pump assembly and the background in the tank. You will want to lay the terrarium on its back first. Make sure the pump is on the bottom of the terrarium, and the background is about where you will want it, and then push all the tubes and hoses coming out of the bottom of the back ground to the back wall, so you can be sure they will reach without coming above the substrate. Make sure the cord for the pump runs up the back wall to the side of the background, so if there is a problem with the pump down the line, you can remove it and replace it fairly easily.

3- (If you have an 18 inch cube tank, skip this step)If you have a taller tank, such as the Exo Terra 24 inch high terrarium, you may have gotten a piece of tree fern panel to place below the background, on the back wall of the tank. This will conceal the gap between the bottom of the 18 inch high background and the substrate. You can also place it at the top of the background, so bottom of the background would be about four inches from the bottom of the vivarium. If you are putting it in under the background, look for the groove cut in it, this will go over the pump hose and allow the tree fern piece to sit flat on the back wall of the terrarium. Decide where you will place this or any other pieces of tree fern panel you may have gotten in your kit, test fit them, and set them aside in a handy place, you will be using them soon.

4- For this step, get a magic marker. Set the background in its final spot, and hold it in place with one hand while tipping the tank up with the other, so it is standing up. Use a magic marker on the back of the tank to indicate the spots where the background is in contact with the glass, or within a half inch.

5- Now lay the tank back down, and get your silicone caulk and caulk gun ready. I would suggest now as the time to put on one of the gloves, just put one on which ever is your dominant hand. Now pick up the top of the background, (push the top away from you while the background is still in the tank) so you are opening it like a pizza box. While holding the background away from the back wall with one hand, take the caulk gun in the other and start laying caulk down on the magic marker spots. Use plenty of silicone caulk, you should put a bead about the size of a large pencil around the outline of the rock water fall background, and then some thumb size globs at the points where the background is near the back wall in the middle area. Just a couple of good contact points will be all that’s required to keep the background in place.

6- Make sure all the hoses and wires are in place, with the water feature hose running through the notch in the bottom of the background, and the pump wire not trapped behind the background. I suggest running the pump wire up the left side of the background. Now put the back ground down, and position it in its final spot. Press it into the silicone. Make sure the wire to the pump is still in the right place.

7- If your water fall kit included tree fern panels, for the larger size Exo Terra and Zoo Med terrariums, you will need to have dry fitted them, and used a hand saw to cut them if needed. Install them using the silicone as well. Use the same principal with the tree fern panels as with the background- use several thumb size globs of silicone on each piece of tree fern panel. Place the tree fern panels in their final spots.

8- Now get the bag of tree fern fiber dust ready to use. Use your finger to smear silicone over the pump wire and in this channel, (assuming you are putting the background into an 18 inch wide vivarium, there should be about a half inch gap here). Now sprinkle the tree fern dust into this area so it covers the silicone. Lightly press the dust into place, don’t be afraid to over apply the dust, whatever doesn’t stick will fall off. Take a look around the area around the background, and if you see any other spots which could use a cosmetic touch up, you can use the silicon and tree fern dust to conceal any minor flaws.

9- Get three or four heavy objects. Text books, canned goods or water jugs all make good weights. Place them on the back ground and any tree fern panel and leave them in place for a few hours while the silicone cures. It should be dry enough to move the terrarium after several hours, but you will want the terrarium to air out for two days or so before you put frogs in it.

10- After the silicone has set up (four hours), stand the terrarium up. Fill the tank with about three inches of water, and plug in the pump. The pump may take some time to begin pumping. You can help by pouring water into the water fall pool on the background. You can adjust the water output on the pump with the sliding control on the side of the pump. Once you have it running to your satisfaction, close up the fiber “bag” around the pump with the wire ties. If you put more water in the bottom of the tank than was needed, you can remove some, until the pump begins to slow down. This will give you an idea how much water is needed, but the pump should run fine as long as it is submerged in water. If any of the drip points fail to begin seeping water, put your finger over the water fall supply opening, causing the pumps pressure to force the water out of the drip points. This should get the water flow going to these.

11- Fill the bottom of the terrarium with your substrate. Carefully make sure the pump hoses are below the substrate level, and don’t unplug them from the pump. The substrate should be at least four inches deep. Sculpt it to your liking. You can create a pool in the substrate if you like by digging a hole in the gravel. A good place for this is across the front of the tank, or in one of the front corners.

12- The drip points on the background can be used as plant mounting sites, or they can be used to convey water down a limb or other piece of tank decoration. For instance an epiphyte branch can be made with a piece of Manzanita or drift wood. If positioned properly the water will trickle down an object placed next to the drip point. This is one reason why the drip tubes are left longer than needed for the terrarium plants you might mount there. If you wish to do something along these lines, you can use the extra wire ties included to tie plants to the decoration. To clarify, you can tie terrarium plants such as orchids, or small vines to a tree fern pole or other branch. The branch should be pushed up to, and just below, the drip point you wish to use. The water will then trickle down your tree fern pole or other piece of terrarium wood, and any terrarium plants attached to it will be kept irrigated and should grow freely, covering the branch. You can also use any scraps of the terrarium moss you received, to start moss growing on the tree fern background or on the tree fern pole. To do this, just take a piece of the moss, and get it wet. Then rub it into the surface you wish to have moss grow on. Be careful, the tree fern has sharp points!

13- To mount plants directly to the rock water fall or to the tree fern panels, start by getting the bag of sphagnum moss out, and select some plants to mount to the background. If you got the terrarium kit with plants, I will have selected some vines like this for you to mount to the back wall. Before mounting the plant, trim the drip tube to about a quarter inch long. Tie the plants in place, using a bit of the sphagnum moss between the plant and the background. Tie the plant down by twisting the clear wire tie loosely over it.

14- Put the screen lid back on the terrarium. You will need to cover most of the screen lid with a vapor barrier. If you purchased the optional glass panels, remove them from the wrapping, and place it over the screen lid. The glass panels are smaller than the screened area of the lid. Leave the front area of the screen uncovered. This will help keep the front glass clear of condensation. Dart frogs require a high level of humidity to be happy, so if you find that the frogs are not out and about a good deal during the day, you can potentially increase the activity level by closing the remaining gap with clear plastic, for instance you can cut up a plastic bag and tape a strip of it over the opening, or part of it.

15- Plant the remainder of the tank. If using the terrarium plant kit, one tip would be to plant the taller plants on the back wall of the tank, one on each side, then the remaining two or three shorter plants around the middle and front of the tank. Use dried leaves, cork bark, rocks, moss and other items to finish the tank to your satisfaction.

16- Install the light, and enjoy! Of course if you have any questions, please contact us! Send us your pictures of your completed dart frog terrarium!