Choosing the Right Bromeliad for the Tropical Vivarium – June 2013

By Bruno Magana

Among the wide variety of tropical plants suitable for the vivarium, there is arguably no other plant family more coveted than the bromeliads. As extensive as this family is, it can be quite difficult to figure out which ones will thrive in your set up. It is important to be able to distinguish between the types of bromeliads to know where the most suitable place in the vivarium is to plant them. Don’t worry, there are some interesting genera in this family that may narrow down your search.

Bromeliads are new world plants, which means they naturally come from the americas. Ranging from the east coast of the United States down into South America, you can imagine that these plants must have developed some interesting characteristics to overcome different habitats and climates. So it’s a relief to know there’s a suitable plant for almost any part of your vivarium.

The largest genus of bromeliads, Tillandsia, offers many suitable species for decorating pieces of wood and vivarium backgrounds.  More commonly referred to as “air plants”, tillandsia are probably one of the most recognizable bromeliads aside from pineapples (That’s right – pineapples are bromeliads!   Learn something new everyday huh?).  Tillandsias are mostly xerophytic epiphytes, which means they hold no water, but rather use specialized plant scales (trichomes) to collect water from the ambient air humidity. These are best suited for the top area of the tank were they get direct lighting – many of these plants will also appreciate the heat in such a placement. When you first acquire these plants, chances are they have not grown roots that would normally be used to anchor themselves to a surface. Using a small dab of non toxic adhesive, you can mount many of these species to decorate a piece of driftwood. Flexible wire can also be used to anchor tillandsia to a desired location. Many species of day geckos will even lay their eggs in mid sized tillandsia like T. Cyanea. Small species of chameleons may also appreciate T. Usneoides (commonly referred to as “Spanish moss”), as it can assist in their climb to that hard to reach basking spot.

Tillandsias in the Terrarium!

Some of the more exciting types of bromeliads are the tank epiphytes. These plants grow in such a way as to allow water to pool at the base of each leaf. To many species of frogs, this is the ideal nursery! Such a characteristic is also appealing for high strung tropical geckos in search for a water source.  Among these tank types, one of the most beautiful (in terms of color and pattern variation) genus is Neoregelia. While this genus ranges in size from small to mid sized plants, very few actually get very big. This is good news for that empty middle area of your vivarium! Many of these plants will attach themselves to wood in a similar way to members of the tillandsia genus, but they will also do fine in soil so long as it drains quickly. If you find yourself limited on space in your vivarium, these are a good choice because most Neoregelia grow flat rosettes. Not to mention many Neoregelia hybrids won’t exceed 5 inches or so! Small hybrids like “tiger pups”, “fireballs”, and “pepper” are suitable  to mount on cork branches or backgrounds going up the tank. Many species of dart frogs will readily rear tadpoles in these plants. Great news for anyone who fancies dart frogs!

Once you have your desired layout and the plants you have selected are in place, you may find yourself with a dull and rather boring patch of soil. It may take a long while before mosses thrive in this area and another plant may disturb the order of the set up. Fear not, there is a bromeliad for that! The genus Cryptanthus is a small group of bromeliads that really set themselves apart from most of the family. They are terrestrial plants that have a succulent appearance and often have wavy leaves. Cryptanthus need to be grown in soil. It is one of the few bromeliads that rely on the nutrients in the ground that can be collected with it roots (much like any other plant outside of the bromeliad family). You don’t need to dig deep for these plants, the roots grow out rather than down. This characteristic makes them good candidates for ground cover. Many smaller shy species of reptiles and amphibians will appreciate the shelters Cryptanthus will create.

Now that we have covered three genera of the bromeliad family, you should have a pretty good idea of their uses in the esthetic vivarium.

So go out and have fun with your next project. Remember that a happy plant will often result in a happy animal.

Getting to Know the Tomato Frog

Tomato Frog Article Header

By Kevin Scott


The tomato frog is native to Madagascar (and East Africa), with Dyscophus antongili being found in the north and Dyscophus guineti inhabiting the south. The latter is the species more commonly found in captivity, probably due to the fact that the former is a member of the CITES I index.

When viewing an adult tomato frog, it is blatantly obvious how it got its name. A large, round, orange/red frog, the tomato frog is a nocturnal, terrestrial, rainforest species.  The head is short and wide, and harbors a mouth full of teeth – an aspect not common to amphibians. The eyes sit high on the head and bear thick eye lids.

tomato frog

Fully mature males usually reach a total length of just under three inches, while females will be just under five.

The largest females will attain a mass of 250g, although 170 is closer to average for the species. Males will be sexually mature at 9-12 months of age, while females can take up to two years. A life expectancy of five years is not unreasonable.

Reproduction will not be covered here, but it can be noted that during mating, the male will sit in shallow water and call. Females can lay up to 1,500 eggs, up to three times annually.

Toxic Secretions

When threatened, the Tomato Frog puffs up its body and extends its legs to make itself appear larger than it really is. When further agitated, this frog will secrete a thick white substance that contains toxins and irritants to keep potential predators at bay.  This substance is not considered to be dangerous to humans, but it can cause swelling when skin contact is made.

While some authors recommend using gloves while handling, I have never found the need. Everyone has different reactions to organic toxins, so care should be used if you are not sure how you will react. Frequent handling is not recommended for any amphibian, due to their sensitive skin, and it is generally recommended to wash one’s hands with water before handling.

tomato frog


Being a short, stocky ground dweller, the Tomato Frog naturally feeds on worms, snails, burrowing insects, and the occasional small frog or rodent. In captivity, earthworms, mealworms, superworms, waxworms, tomato worms, crickets and the occasional pinky mouse are good candidates for a fairly well rounded diet. After night has fallen, this frog will creep out of its burrow to feed upon its prey items – young ones can be offered food nightly, and adults can be fed either every night or every other night. Because the frog’s metabolism depends heavily upon the temperature of its surroundings, so does the frequency of extent of its feedings, which can be cut back during winter months.


A terrarium of 36 x 18 x 18 inches should be used to house adults, and a male/female pair or a male and two females can be safely housed together.

This species will spend much of its time on the ground, so choosing a good substrate is very important. A mixture of coco fibersand (quartz is best), and vermiculite is a mixture that I like, with a ratio of 2:1:1 or 2:2:1, respectively. Over years of being in the hobby, most people will experiment with various substrates for various applications and begin to develop a favorite. I like this particular mixture because of its ability to hold moisture for long periods of time, keep bacterial and fungal levels down, and hold its structure for burrowing species. This bedding can be covered with a layer of either New Zealand or green sphagnum moss, to create a suitable environment for the tomato frog. A bedding layer of four inches is recommended.

When taking a first glance at the tomato frog one would not expect it to be an arboreal species, but it can actually climb surprisingly well. While it is certainly not an arboreal species, a few thick branches or pieces of rock can be provided to allow this behavior.

Many keepers and zoos in Europe recommend keeping a portion of the terrarium dedicated to a water feature, with a gravel slope rising out of the water, upon which the bedding layer rests, to prevent soppy substrate. If this option is circumvented, then a large water dish is recommended, with water being changed daily. Water should be kept in the mid to high 70’s, Fahrenheit.

Photoperiod and Climate

A photoperiod of 12 to 14 hours is recommended for the summer, and 8 to 10 hours is sufficient during the winter. Daytime temperatures should range from 78 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit, with a night time drop of about ten degrees Fahrenheit.

Humidity levels should remain high, around 80%, for most of the year. If breeding is a goal, then a four month dry period is recommended during the winter, with humidity levels dropping to 50% and bedding moisture being reduced slightly.

Closing Thoughts

As with many animals stemming from Madagascar, the tomato frog is outwardly intriguing.  Although young frogs don’t display much color, they quickly grow into vibrant adults.

Inside the Reptile Industry with Loren Leigh

Inside the reptile industry

This past month I was lucky enough to attend the inaugural Top-To-Top conference in La Jolla, CA. This was the first joint meeting to bring together stakeholders in all parts of the pet industry. The purpose of this meeting was to bring awareness to an important organization called PIJAC (Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council) along with many current issues pressing against the pet industry today. Several issues were discussed, but the topic I want to touch on this month is animal activism in America.

Many discussions took place on this topic to help better understand and combat the estimated 38,000 introduced animal laws and regulations coming this year alone on the city, state and federal levels. One big question discussed was “Can animal rights groups and the pet industry live in the same dog house together?”. We are both in the business of animal welfare, right? We both want what’s best for animals in the end, right? So – you would think this would be easy. Sadly – this is far from the case.

I realized at this conference how strong of a group the pet industry really is. Even more so is how strong our segment (reptiles) are by the great turnout by many of my fellow colleagues that work extremely hard for our reptile industry each and every day. Hagen/Exo-Terra, Zoo Med, Gourmet Rodent, Reptiles By Mack, Timberline and NARBC to name a few. The response to this meeting exhibited by the leaders and stakeholders of our industry to offer their time, donate their money and resources, and completely understanding that the future of owning pets in this country is in real jeopardy was awesome to see.

I think for the first time I saw our industry realize that we need to bond together now and fight for all pets (not just dogs, cats or snakes, but ALL pets) because in the end, if you own a dog, cat, snake, lizard, hamster or even a fish, there are people out there that feel this is just wrong.

I think for the first time I saw our industry realize that we need to bond together now and fight for all pets (not just dogs, cats or snakes, but ALL pets) because in the end, if you own a dog, cat, snake, lizard, hamster or even a fish, there are people out there that feel this is just wrong.

I personally feel very fortunate each and every day to work with animals and surround myself with people that love animals and bring people and animals together. You might ask “how can I help in this fight to keep our reptiles and pets?”. You have the most important and most beneficial role in this fight; good public relations! Get out there and teach people about how just plain cool our pets really are. Show them the bond you have and help warn off any, and all negativity. This could be as simple as getting a friendly snake into a child’s hand or bring it to share with a local school group (we at LLLReptile do this with schools and libraries all the time). When the local news does a damaging story on a reptile (or any pet) – be proactive! Reach out and educate them. Show them the truth of how great our pets really are. These are OUR pets they are talking about. It’s time for us to get out there and defend them and fight for our rights to have them in our lives.

Loren Leigh
President LLLReptile
USARK Board member

The Basking Spot: The Monsoon Misting System

The Basking Spot

By Jonathan Rheins

This month’s featured product is the RS400 Monsoon high-pressure misting system from Exo Terra.  The Monsoon is an easy-to-use, self-contained unit designed to automatically spray your enclosures so you don’t have to!  The Monsoon is designed to be simple to use, reliable, and easy to expanded upon and customize to meet individual needs.


The Exo Terra Monsoon is a completely self-contained system designed to automatically mist reptile and amphibian habitats at pre-set intervals and durations.  It comes with everything you need to set up two separate spray nozzles, but the system can be expanded to feed up to six nozzles!
Dials on the unit’s electrical interface allow users to choose spray duration (how long the unit sprays) as well as interval (time between spray cycles). The wide range of settings available make the Monsoon one of the most economical and versatile products of its type available.
monsoon nozzle

Everything you will need to get the Monsoon up and running comes in the box ready to go–all you have to add is the water!  The kit is ready to go, and includes: 1 gallon water reservoir, programmable electronic control panel, AC adapter, feed hose (with replaceable filter), 2 high-pressure nozzle assemblies, 2 suction cups (for securing tubing), and complete instructions.


The Exo Terra Monsoon misting system will automatically spray water into as many as 6 separate habitats, or multiple nozzles within a single enclosure, and is easily programmable.  One dial controls “cycle,” which designates how often the unit will turn on, while a separate dial controls “duration,” or how long the unit remains on for.  Additionally, the unit may be turned on manually at the touch of a button for immediate use.

 You can set the Monsoon to cycle every 1, 2, 4 , 8, 12, 18, or 24 hours.
 Actual duration of spray can be set at 2, 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 30, 60, and 120 seconds.
 Included with the kit is all of the tubing and nozzles you will need to hook up 2 separate nozzles.  In some cases, these may both be placed within a single, large enclosure.  Or, if in the case of two side-by-side enclosures, each can have it’s own designated nozzle.
The nozzles themselves are of the highest quality, and the high pressure system provides a very fine, even mist of water.  They can be articulated in various angles to provide complete control over which areas of a habitat are sprayed most heavily.  Each individual nozzle assembly is equipped with a suction cup to allow for versatile mounting.  Additional (2) suction cups with hose clips are included in the kit as well, and allow for easy routing of the water tubing into the enclosure.
monsoon parts
Tropical herps inherently require higher levels of humidity than those found in most home settings.  Furthermore, many arboreal animals rely on rain water and dew for drinking.  For many years the method of choice was hand-misting individual animals and enclosures to ensure proper hydration.  With the Exo Terra Monsoon kit, the machine does all of the work so you don’t have to!
The ability to run up to six separate nozzles from a single unit means that multiple terrariums or vivariums can be automatically watered at once, cutting maintenance time considerably, and gives sensitive animals like chameleons ample time to get a good drink of water, without being in the prying eyes of the keeper.

In addition to vivarium applications, this unit will function well in greenhouses as a source of relative humidity and even for watering individual plants.  This unit has also been creatively implemented into “rain chamber” systems, in some cases eliciting breeding behavior of many frog species.

The Monsoon kit was designed to meet the needs of hobbyists of all levels of experience and a variety of applications.  In addition to the kit, Exo Terra offers a wide variety or accessories and parts for the RS400.

Complete expansion kits, which include a “Y” splitter, additional tubing, a nozzle, and a suction cup, provide a simple means to expand the Monsoon.  Up to 4 of these kits can be added to the base unit, allowing for the use of up to 6 nozzles.

Additional suction cups, tubing, “Y” splitters, and nozzles can all be purchased separately to allow for expansion and customization.  Replacement filters (designed to keep particulate debris from clogging the ultra-fine nozzles) are available as well.
Perhaps the coolest accessory of all should be saved for last; the RS400 remote control.  That’s right–you can control the Monsoon kit from across the room with this simple, handy remote!  This is a great way to provide drinking water to shy animals that may otherwise hide or feel uncomfortable in the presence of a person.
Overall, the Exo Terra RS400 Monsoon system is one of the most innovative and easy to use misting systems ever.  It allows entry-level herpers to keep their pets like the pros do, and it gives professionals a simple, no-nonsense means of misting multiple habitats.
If you keep chameleons, amphibians, or maintain planted vivaria, then the Monsoon kit is for you!  Make it rain when you want, as often as you want. Your herps will reap the benefits.