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Aquarists are well familiar with the fact that tanks and their care extend far past the fish for which they’ve made a home. These self-contained habitats are ecosystems in and of themselves that require balance. Often, tank nuisances like algae or pond snails can be managed by adding letting nature work itself out. All you have to do is add and care for these new bio-control agents. Additionally, tank diversity is exciting! Imagine peeking into your underwater window to find frogs gliding to the surface, half exposed and ornate snail shells in the sand, and shrimp darting from hiding place to hiding place. Here, at The Wet Spot, some of our favorite nontraditional freshwater dwellers include Hymenochirus boettgeri, Clea helena, and Caridina multidentata.
Scientific NameHymenochirus boettgeri
Common NameAfrican Dwarf Frog
Temperature / pH77°F / 7.0 to 8.0 pH
Representing amphibians this lesson, is the charismatic H. boettgeri. More commonly known as “African Dwarf Frogs”, these old-world freshwater-dwellers are characterized by their small size, reaching only 2 inches in length, spotted bodies, and by having webbed toes on both their front and back legs. This frog species spends most of its time submerged, infrequently surfacing to gulp air. This, however, does not mean they will not use their powerful hind quarters for jumping out of tanks without tight fitting lids. These amphibians are very sensitive to drying out, and cannot survive outside of the water for more than 10 to 15 minutes. Though they are not commonly heat-baskers, it is a good idea to have strong light, and projections and furnishing above the water line, and at least 2 inches of air at the top of the water is required. Exhibiting particularly soft and smooth skin, African Dwarf Frogs are vulnerable to sharp substrate. Silica sand is optimal with furnishings like smooth rocks, and driftwood. Floating plants are also appreciated, providing shady hiding refuges. Optimal “oddball” additions to many community tanks, these frogs are best kept alongside peaceful fish like small cories and loaches, pencilfish, and hatchetfish. African Dwarf Frogs, however are vulnerable to nippy tank dwellers, and should not be kept in tanks housing tetras, barbs, dwarf cichlids, or bettas. Carnivorous by nature, these frogs should be fed regular meals of live and frozen fare. Prone to overeating, it is a good idea to skip feedings once or twice a week. Your frogs should have gently curving bellies, and not look like inflated balls. When food is scarce, however, they may turn to cannibalism, which can be avoided by housing individuals of only comparable size. Sensitive to water conditions, these frogs are best kept in tanks of 10 gallons or more, with weekly ¼ water changes. Tank temperatures should consistently be around 77°F, and the tank will require a heater they cannot burn themselves on. This can be avoided by adding a plastic heater guard. Water chemistry should be maintained with a pH between 7.0 and 8.0, and hardness of 10 to 20 dH.
Scientific NameClea helena
Common NameAssassin Snail
Temperature / pH68°F – 78°F/ 7.0 to 8.0 pH
Got snails? In the hobby, we are all familiar with the nuisance caused by a pond snail bloom! Fight them with C. helena, a snail-eating snail that breeds slowly, and is not liable to become a pest itself. Also known as “Assassin Snails”, these Indonesian predators spend most of their time half-buried in sandy substrate with beautiful yellow-orange and chocolate striped shells peeking out. Here, they lay in wait for unsuspecting snail pests to happen along before they strike. Opportunistic carnivores by nature, Assassin Snails eat live and carrion fare including leftover fish food, though some offerings should specifically be provided for their sake. They can be fed catfish pellets, and some calcium source for shell strength, like brine or krill. Harmless toward most living creatures in the community (including plants), they can be kept in any group setting that does not include their predators, like puffers, cichlids, and large catfish. They do, however, munch up fish eggs and fry, and thus, should not be snail control agents in breeding tanks. Sensitive to water chemistry, tanks should be at least 30 gallons, with 5 snails for every 15 gallons. Optimal water conditions would have temperatures between 68 and 78°F, pH of 7.0 to 8.0, and hardness of 10 to 20 dH.
Scientific NameCaridina multidentata
Common NameAmano Shrimp
Temperature / pH60°F – 80°F / 6.0 to 7.5 pH