Quarantine Tank for Amphibians




Introduction: Quarantine Tank for Amphibians

About: I am a former zookeeper. One thing you may not know, zookeepers often have to make their own specialized tools, enclosures and supplies. It's just part of the job, because there aren't really any box stores …
Before adding new frogs to an enclosure, it is best to quarantine them for 30 to 60 days.

If you put a new animal directly into a fancy terrarium that you have spent hours designing and the animal dies, you will have to tear the whole thing apart, disinfect the entire thing, and you even have to discard the live plants, soil, and any decorations that can't be sterilized.  It's a waste of a lot of time and money, not to mention frustration.

These days, the chytrid fungus is a real danger, even in captive populations, plus frogs can die from other causes, sometimes as simple as stress from shipping.  If one of your new animals does die from something like getting knocked around during shipping, unless you get a necropsy, you won't know for sure that the cause was not a disease of some kind.  Even necropsy information will sometimes be uncertain, so you almost always want to default to the practice of completely eliminating any chance of contamination of your other animals.

For this project, I used:

10 gallon aquarium (I got this one from the goodwill store)
Off-the-shelf, heavy duty screen lid
Glass panel for top of screen lid (from ReSource)
Repti-heat cable (14.75 ft size)
Felt, stick-on pads
Electrical tape
Industrial scissors (for cutting screen)
Razorblade scraper (for cleaning glass)
Driveway gravel
Piece of window screen (from ReSource)
Shredded red cedar mulch (from Lowes)
Bed-a-beast, compressed coconut husk bedding
ExoTerra forest moss, compressed sphagnum moss bedding
Zoo Med floating turtle log (I got mine from the goodwill store)
Split pods from Josh's Frogs
Pothos cutting (from one of my houseplants)
Organic potting soil (no chemicals or perlite)
Rock-shaped water dish (I got mine from the goodwill store)
Lees mealworm dish 
Low wattage light fixture (recycled from an old aquarium)
Compact fluorescent bulb in daylight spectrum

If you use recycled items or items from the goodwill, like me, it's a good idea to clean them thoroughly and disinfect them, then let them sit in sunlight for several hours before you even bring them into the house.

Step 1: Apply Heat Source

Tape the heat source onto the bottom of the tank, allowing for a temperature gradient.  I wrapped the extra portion of the heated cable around and onto the side of the aquarium, as you can see in the photos.  (The cable has a portion near the plug end that is not heated, so that part of the cord between the tank and the outlet won't get hot or waste energy.)

Cut the felt pads into thirds and use them to raise the tank slightly, so the heat doesn't build up too much and to allow the heat cable to pass under the edge without getting damaged.

You could use one or two small undertank heating pads, but do use the felt pads, no matter which heat undertank heat source you use.

Step 2: Add Water Reservoire Substrate

Fill the bottom two or three inches of the tank with large bits of something that is water-resistant.  I used driveway gravel.

Step 3: Put Screen Over the Substrate

  1. Cut out a piece of screen so it is larger than the tank.
  2. Cut slits at the corners, as shown in the photo.
  3. Fold two of the sides in, as shown.  (Check the size to make sure the screen will fit.)
  4. Turn in the corners, as shown.
  5. Tuck the extra piece with the raw edges under, as shown.
  6. Fold the final edges in.  (Check the size to make sure the screen will fit.)

I always fold the edges under and hide all of the raw edges, in order to make absolutely sure that if an animal comes into contact with it, they will not be injured.

If you are making a false bottom using this method, and it is going to be in use for the long-term, it would be better to use a nylon screen, rather than the metal screen that I recycled for this project.  Exposure to water will eventually damage the metal screen that I used, but this is a quarantine tank, which will only be in use for a couple of months, so it will be fine for this purpose.

Step 4: Layer Soils and Mosses

  1. Put in a mulch-type layer on top of the screen.
  2. Add coco fiber on top of the mulch.
  3. Put the moss on top.

Step 5: Add Hiding Places and Live Plants

Match the size and type of hiding places and plants to the animals you will be housing.

Some general rules of thumb:

Make sure that whatever water dish you choose, the animals can get out of it easily. Place the water bowl so you can remove it, clean it, and refill it easily and quickly.

Jam moss into any crevices where you think an animal might crawl and get injured.

This particular quarantine tank is for Dendrobates azureus (Blue Poison Arrow Frogs), which only grow to be 2 inches long at the very most.  In the wild, they live in crevices and caves near running water.

For a cave, I found a turtle log at the local goodwill, which is hollow and has cavelike holes.  It's big compared to the frogs, but it is sterilizable and with some moss inside, it's pretty great.  I also like that it is easy to see inside of it, so I can find my frogs easily, since they are in quarantine and I am checking their health and activity levels several times per day.

I also got some split pods from Josh's Frogs that are the perfect size for Dendrobatid frogs.  They are cheap and organic, so I don't mind using them once, if I have quarantine deaths.  (If I somehow ended up with a frog infected with Chytrid fungus, I could burn the pods or soak them in bleach and then compost them.  I would NOT put items from an infected tank into the compost heap or into the trash without first making sure that they would not spread Chytrid into the environment.)

I added a cutting of pothos in a very small pot, so the frogs have some living plants in their environment.

Step 6: Make Sure the Lid Is Escape Proof

I added layers of tape to the corners of the store-bought lid, to make absolutely sure that even the tiniest 1/4 inch froglet could not escape and to eliminate the temptation from larger froglets to try to wedge themselves into the crack and injure themselves. 

Make sure that there is no sticky surface exposed on the inside.

(I am also a big believer in spring clips, which I will be installing on this lid, as soon as I can get some JB weld.)

You can certainly use a glass or plastic lid, but if you have cats, like I do, screen lids with clips are the best alternative.

Step 7: Final Touches - Retain the Moisture and Add Muted Lighting

I found a piece of glass at ReSource, which is just the right size to cover 95% of the screen lid.  A glass or plastic cover will help retain moisture and keep the humidity levels high in the tank.  Where I live, in the high mountains of Colorado, the relative humidity is only 40% on a good day, so this is especially important to my frogs.

For lighting of some amphibians that live under thick foliage (like the Dendrobates azureus) it is best to have dim or filtered light.  This poses a bit of a problem because you want the plants to stay alive, but you don't want to expose the animals to scorchingly bright light.  My solution is to use a low-wattage bulb with a daylight spectrum.  Note that some other amphibians live in brightly lit habitats and they have different lighting requirements.

I used an old 40 watt light fixture from a small aquarium, and put in a compact fluorescent bulb, for the daylight spectrum without too much heat.

Certainly, there are ways to modify most of the steps in this instructable.  As long as you are mindful of the physiological needs of your animals, you'll do OK.  The beauty of a quarantine tank is that it is small and easy to modify if you decide that you don't like it or the animals need a change.

Good luck with your critters!

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    turtle keeper
    turtle keeper

    5 years ago on Step 7

    Frogs are beautiful creatures...great instructables


    10 years ago on Introduction

    My 5 year old tree frog dies several days ago and since then I have cleaned out the dirt and soil and discarded the plastic plant. Before I put a new creture in the tank whats the best disinfectant to use on it.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I'm sorry to hear that. It's always depressing when a pet dies.

    The easiest thing to do is clean the enclosure with bleach and clean water, then let it sit in the sun for a day or two, until it is completely dry. Bleach kills just about anything and it will completely dissipate if you just give it some time, so the enclosure will not be contaminated by chemicals when you are done. The UV in the sunlight and the dry environment will help to kill anything the bleach might miss.

    If you need other advice or care information, I recommend the forums at www.caudata.org. There are a lot of very knowledgeable people there, who are committed to amphibian care and they share information freely.

    Good luck!


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks, He was a great frog,Im thinking about a leopard gecko, since its a 10 gallon tank and im haveing issues getting it completly clean, I may just purchase a new 10 gallon tank for 10 bucks, I think its worth the piece of mind. Thanks for all your help.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Dude who ever told you that a 10 gal is suitable for leopard geckos is not considering the geckos well-being. a 20 gal-LONG 30"w-12"h-12"d is great. Im telling you this because I have a 'second-hand' leopard who i rehabilitated from near death and a 10gal is what he was housed in. STRESS is often caused by habitats that are to cramped and restricting. A Beloved pet who has M,B,D and hides all of the time and refuses to eat is a problem,often very stressful for the keeper. IM just trying to help and ive kept enough herps to know what im talking about. Vets who specialize in herps/birds are VERY expensive heads up.Good luck.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Sorry to hear about the state of your gecko when you got him, but I'm glad to hear you were able to help him. In my area, we have the Colorado Reptile Humane Society www.CORHS.org, to help with mishandled pets who need rehabilitation.

    If anyone is wondering about the requirements of keeping a herp, you can check their website - they have minimum cage requirements and detailed care instructions for the animals they adopt out. They are a good rule of thumb to make sure you have happy and healthy pets.

    Just a hint for anyone who might be reading this: Any time you're looking to get a new herp, you can check your area for a similar rescue organization. They often have very well-behaved animals and they always rehab them to full health before they send them home with a new owner.



    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    BLEACH then rinse till you CAN NOT smell it anymore.I have kept herps for years and this has always worked great.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    It is a good idea to rinse very well, but if you allow it the bleached items to sit in the sun until they are completely dry, you don't have to go overboard with wasting water. Pure bleach will dissipate without too much fuss.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Looks great for a quarantine enclosure. I've always used the bare necessities for my reptile quarantine enclosure, more out of laziness than anything else. That habitat looks better than some of the vivariums I currently have set up. Gotta love the frogs!


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks very much.  Usually, I think that the bare necessities are fine because simple enclosures are easier to keep clean, and the fewer variables there are in a quarantine environment, the more certain you can be about the cause if any of them become ill, plus the animals aren't usually kept in them for very long.

    In this case, these guys are so tiny that I'm going to be keeping them in their quarantine enclosure for several months as they grow up a bit.  I have a much larger vivarium that they will go into after they reach their adult size.  Also, I think that a naturalistic environment seems to help small amphibians with stress.  In my experience they just do better in planted terraria with natural surroundings.  Some animals could just care less about the furniture, but with the frogs they seem to respond to their environment.