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vingamel

Building a River Tank

Vingamel
18 years ago

I have been thinking the last few months on building a river tank. A river tank is divided into multiple chambers so that water can run from one side to other, like a river. Along the edge of the "river is a raised area for terrestrial plants, just like a stream bank.

Well IÂve finally started this project. IÂve got a used aquarium thatÂs 4 foot long, 1 foot deep, and 16 inches tall. I purchased a 1Â by 3Â by .093 sheet of acrylic and cut it into two panels, one shorter than the other. Next, I used silicone to secure the two panels at the 1/3 and 2/3 spots in the bottom of the tank, dividing the tank into three spill chambers. The water pump in the far left chamber pumps the water up to the far right chamber, and the water spills from the right chamber, to the center chamber, to the left chamber.

Next step is to build a terrace in the back portions of the three chambers. Here is where I will grow terrestrial plants, and where the critters like salamanders, frogs, and whatnots can frolic in their amphibious ways. After tossing around plenty of ideas, the one IÂve settled on is to place long, plastic planters on risers (a fancy word for "brick"), and fill it with soil and gravel, along with plants. Then I will glue rocks and driftwood to the front of the planters, hiding the fact that "hey, this is just a flower box."

After that, I need to disguise the acrylic panels and blend them with the back terrace. I will use PU foam "DowÂs Great Stuff" and give the panels a textured look, like as though it was made of stone. Since Great Stuff only comes in a yucky cream color, I will paint it with 2-part epoxy paint (which is non-toxic to fish after it dries). Then stack rocks against both sides of the panels, glue some stones and wood to it all. With the Great Stuff on the top lips of the panels, I can control the position and flow of the "waterfalls" between the chambers. IÂll make plenty of cavities in the Great Stuff so can fill them with dirt and plant moss and other small plants.

All of the equipment will be hidden behind the rear terrace (pump, heater, filtration intake/output pipes).

The last step is to introduce the fish and terrestrial critters.

Comments (33)

  • Bosco83
    18 years ago

    I have never heard of one before. Sound cool take some pictures when you are done.

  • Vingamel
    Original Author
    18 years ago

    Well, I stumbled upon the concept when I was looking for a terrarium/aquarium combination (which, by the way, I now know is called a "paludarium"). Anyway, I found this website by accident: http://www.therivertank.com/

    This setup uses a prefab kit you can buy called the River Tank Ecosystem. I wasn't impressed, and when I did see one in the store, the orangey fake rock color looked more like something you'd clean up in a school cafeteria, not real rock. I decided to do something on my own.

    However, not having a lot of experience creating plastic molds and working with liquid plastic, I decided to wing it (or Arkansas Jig) using cheap materials and a lot of creativity.

    I've now decided that instead of using bricks in the back for the raised terrace, I will build an open frame to set the planters on, and this will allow fish to swim back into the cave created by the planter (roof), wall of stones, and the sides of the aquarium. The human viewer will just see a raggedy cave mouth, but if he/she could shrink to fish size, complete with scuba gear, a nice swim into the cave would reveal that the Wizard of Oz is really just a planter sitting atop a plastic frame riser behind a bunch of rocks glued together. Watch out for that tetra! He'll bite your scuba hose!

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  • Vingamel
    Original Author
    18 years ago

    Here's an even better site, complete with a little movie showing a zebra danio struggling salmon-like from lower to upper pool: http://www.geocities.com/river_tank/

    Is this nuts or what?

  • garyfla_gw
    18 years ago

    Hi
    Just did a similar setup using a 18x48x22 aquarium.I used a plastic quarter round table to hold the terrestrial plantCut the legs to hold it at 7 inches which is the waterline. Used some of the foam on the front edge painted with acrylic.Naturally this makes a cave underneath which hides the filter intake and heater.Also made a waterfall from the foam. There is an upper canopy made from driftwood that holds the epiphytes. Planted 30 species of terrestrials and 4 of aquatic. Having a lot of fun experimenting with the epi's in a seep area.
    I put Cardinal tetras and clown loaches in the water area
    and they all love the cave.lol I put a praying mantis in the canopy as I also accidently introduced some bugs in spite of great care.
    Good luck with yours.IMO they are far more interesting than either an aquarium or terrarium.
    Gary

  • wingnutdad620
    18 years ago

    Cool, thanks for sharing the links. I might have to do the small one as my son has an interest in frogs, fish, snails and turtles. I'd love to be able to get them all in one habitat instead of the tank(s) and bowls...

  • Vingamel
    Original Author
    18 years ago

    In case anybody doesn't know what epiphytes are: http://www.rbgkew.org.uk/ksheets/epiphytes.html
    What are epiphytes?
    Epiphytes are plants which grow above the ground surface, using other plants or objects for support. They are not rooted in the soil nor are they parasitic (ie they do not directly harm the other plant). By growing on other plants, the epiphytes can reach positions where the light is better or where they can avoid competition for light. Many mosses and lichens are epiphytes, as are approximately 10 per cent of all seed plants and ferns. Epiphytes are particularly common in some groups of plants, such as ferns, bromeliads (members of the pineapple family, Bromeliaceae) and orchids: over half of the 20,000 species of orchids are epiphytic.

  • Vingamel
    Original Author
    18 years ago

    Garfly, how did you create your separate levels of water? In my case, I'm using short acrylic panels (covered with foam to give it a more natural texture) across the width of the tank.

    I've been thinking that instead of using a plastic planter for the raised terrace, I lay plastic/rubber liner within the cavity, on top of an open framework. I'm doing the same thing as discussed before, but instead of the non-conforming rectangular planter, I can make use of the entire cavity, fill it with dirt, and hide/secure the liner edges with silicon and foam.

    The riser in the back on which I'll put the terrestrial plants can just be a cut-to-fit simple table of wood or plastic with the front open (to facilitate the cave). I won't necessarily make this table a boring ol' rectangle, but can shape it to fit corners, have recesses or protrusions, and just look more natural.

    The front "wall" of the riser...I'm still not sure what to use for this. I could use just masses of foam, but I want to limit the use of the foam since I imagine it could look unnatural in large areas. The only purpose this wall needs to achieve is something to support the real stones, and to create the cave entrance. I don't want to use something solid as it limits water flow. If egg-crate plastic grid stuff weren't rigid, it would be ideal. Any ideas?

    All I got done last night was to confirm that both my acyrilic panels aren't leaking (the silicone had to dry for 24 hours). Next is inserting the pump and heater in the lower "chamber", and construction of the three risers.

  • ianna
    18 years ago

    I'd be interested if you can post a photo of your plans or work in progress.

  • Vingamel
    Original Author
    18 years ago

    Sure, once I get hold of a digital camera. :o)

  • garyfla_gw
    18 years ago

    Vingamel
    I used only one water level.The table which is a quarter circle sets right at waterline which is 7 inches deep on the left back corner. So the entire bottom is water.The right side has the waterfall which starts at the top and falls into an open area of the water. I used a Magnum 350 for the power and to filter the water.The falls are made of the foam about 2 faat wide from the top to the bottom of the tank.I used an adjustable spray-bar to spread the water out.Was tough making the falls so there was no splash and how many holes were necessary to keep thr exhauust from splattering.I have drift wood in the center
    both below and above waterline.The table is used to hold terrestrial tropicals.It is filled with lava stone to hold the pots above the water and to grow amphibious moss in between.It is already impossible to see it from the growth of the dicranum moss.I put styrofoam under the pots to elevate them to a correct moisture level.I put foam on the legs of the table and planted java fern on them.My fancy paint job was a waste as it's already very difficult to make out the shape.
    It is possible to make floating islands from styrofoam.
    Siliconed together and the bottom lined with plastic canvas,
    A little foam around the edges and a paint job.These will support several pots and of course the entire bottom is open.If you break it rather than cut it can be made to look remarkably like sandstone but without the weight.
    If you haven't already check out Black Jungle website
    And don't miss the Dutch vivaria sites.Search for "dutch vivaria."Be ready to be impressed as to what a vivarium can be.
    Gary

  • Vingamel
    Original Author
    18 years ago

    Oh yes, I dig around on the Black Jungle site all the time. What a cool place.

    Thanks for your account. It's given me a few great ideas, although it sounds like your setup is different than the one I plan. That's why I didn't want to buy one of those prefab River Tank kits...everbody's looks pretty much the same. Plus, the added time it will take for me to complete this one makes it even more of a fun challenge.

    Aside from the waterfalls created by the foamed lips of the acrylic dividers, I'm also planning to run a small trickle hose from the upper section to create a small waterfall at the rear of the middle section, which will run along the land a bit before trickling into the pool below.

  • garyfla_gw
    18 years ago

    Hi
    .Decided to use this as an experiment after moving the aquarium plants into the pool.Used only the equipment I had on hand.Knew the 22 inch depth would not be deep enough for above and below water views but had to try.I want to build a much larger one complete with foggers and temp controls.
    Maybe for high altitude orchids if I can figure a practicle way to keep the temps down.I started a notebook to list details of improvements and doing a lot of research on equipment as well as a budget.
    Good luck with yours and keep us informed with the progress.
    Gary

  • Vingamel
    Original Author
    18 years ago

    Okay, here's what I've accomplished so far (still no digital camera, sorry):

    I have built the rear plant terraces. I constructed these from a mish-mash of tupperware which I shaped with a hacksaw. One terrace is a table made of a silverware tray sitting on two square, upsdide-down tupperware containers. I removed one side of each square container to allow more room for fish to swim in the resulting cavern. I then found an aluminum oval-shaped serving platter, cut it in half, cut a cave mouth, and sat it in front of the "table". This faces the front of the tank.

    The middle terrace is made of two halves of a cake pan's lid. Water from the first level spills onto the first cake pan lid, and the second cake pan lid serves as a rear terrace. Supports are one block of styrofoam and a long, rectangular tupperware dish on its side, it's opening facing the front. I will put the heater behind this support.

    The last terrace is made of half of a sink "basket", like what you put dishes in to dry. Underneath it is the water pump. I attached the lid of one of the long rectangular containers to the front of this terrace so I can put in the liner and dirt for the terrestrial plantings.

    I then lined the first terrace with a black plastic trashbag and filled the cavity with dirt. This is at a level higher than the water level in front of the terrace. Next, I used PU foam (Dow's Great Stuff) and sprayed it all over the terrace structure to hide the icky plastic containers. I did this to all three terraces, and also along the lip of each acrylic divider, directing waterflow how I want it.

    After this was all dry, I used black and brown spraypaint to make the foam look more like stone. Tonight I will spray all painted surfaces with Thompson's Waterseal in order to minimize paint leaching into the water.

    So far, it looks okay, but sure needs a lot more "naturalizing. Most of the plastic "junk" I used to build the terraces is now hidden behind black & brown foam. I'll soon have this foam covered with rocks, sand, and pebbles.

    Cost so far (aside from normal aquarium equipment):
    $20.00 for foam, paint, sealer, 2-part epoxy glue, gravel and stones.

  • Lynn9
    18 years ago

    wow, what great ideas!

  • cheribelle
    17 years ago

    Old thread here, I found it on a google search for info on a "frog habitat". My 8 year old son and I want to build a tank with waterfall, water and land areas. I have a 29 gallon aquarium, but may go ahead and build a plexiglass structure... I'd love to hear more about this project!

  • brendan_of_bonsai
    17 years ago

    Has anyone considered useing hypertufa to build the structure?

  • Vingamel
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    Hypertufa will shoot your PH out the roof if used in an aquarium. It might work for patchwork on a garden pond, but in an aquarium, the hypertufa-to-water ratio would be mighty tough on the PH.

  • angelo_s
    17 years ago

    Hi everybody I am a new member. I found this web site from a google serch for river tanks. The information posted in this web site was very informative. I was going to build my own river tank but I do not have enough free time. So I cheated and bought one already made. I bought river tank inserts from abundant earth. When I finally received them I was not satisfied with the color or texture of them.
    To make them look like real rock I bought all purpose epoxy resin for $10 and play sand for $2. I mixed the sand with the epoxy resin to a peanutbutter like texture and spread it all over the inserts unevenly with my hands (I wore gloves) after that I dusted a little bit of sand over them. All of this took about 2 hours. The next day I soaked the inserts in the tub to wash off the excess sand. To my surprise there was almost no sand in the tub. When the inserts dried I set them up on my floor and I was very happy with the outcome. From fake, ugly, peach, and plastic molds my inserts now look like the grand canyon.
    I then purchassed a 120 gal extra high tank (60x18x26) to fit the extra large river kit. I needed a ex large kit because I wanted to create a land area in my tank.
    I made the land area just by putting extra gravel on the far side of the tank. I then coverd the gravel with fresh sheet moss and that was it. I put a bunch of different plants in the tank some in the dry plant pockets and some are hydroponicly planted.
    My pets that are housed there are 5 fire belly toads, 2 newts, 2 salamanders, 3 dianos 10 neon tetras, 2 silver sharks, 2 fiddler crabs And my favorite 2 green baskilets (there just like chinese water dragons but they have fins) In the future I will like to post some pics of my tank.

  • Vingamel
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    I stopped working on mine once the weather got better. I had decided it was a winter project, so once it gets a lot cooler, I'll resume my work on my river tank.

    I'm looking forward to the pics. As of yet, I still have no digital camera, and can't justify the cost of one until I have a use beyond river tank photos. :o)

  • wingnutdad620
    17 years ago

    Any pics Angelo S?????

  • angelo_s
    17 years ago

    no pics yet. still waiting for my digital camera
    my birthday is coming up i'll have one then.
    by the way does anyone know how to post pictures.
    I would be more than happy to post my pics and also help answer any questions about the river tank

  • wingnutdad620
    17 years ago

    I was going to purchase the River Tank setup for my son, but it's a bit pricy and kids tastes change from day to day. I'd love to be able to put his Fire Belly toad and few fish in there.

  • angelo_s
    17 years ago

    I do not think the river tank is that expensive. You just have to shop around for the best price. The first time I saw it was at carolina.com that web site is a rip off they sold the 60 gallon system for about $700 plush S&H $60 this included the tank inserts and water pump. They also sold the inserts alone (large size 48x18x24) for about $350. I found another web site abundantearth.com they only sell the inserts and they are a lot cheaper I bought the extra large inserts (60x18x24) for only $164 this system is much bigger and half the price also it is made by the same manufactuer.
    I then bought a 120 gal extra high tank for $230 a pump for $30 and a screen top for $25 all you need to spend is a few hunderd dollors or less if you choose a smaller system. They have river tanks from ten gallons aquariums to about 120 gallons. I think it is well worth it. all of my pets inside my system thrive. I never saw my pets so active before. There always some action going on.

  • BlueScorpion
    17 years ago

    Hi,
    New here and first time posting.

    I've been working on a 75 gallon tank set-up. The bottom portion of the tank is water with a sand substrate. I used one corner in the front of the tank to build up a sand mound layered with large rock pieces. The top portion of the tank is still being built out of a styrofoam.

    I used a special foam glue to cover the foam to make it paintable and rid the foam of it's pitted appearance. Next I used acrylic paint to shade the land areas. Figured out that I could've just mixed the paint and foam glue together to knock out a step.

    I also built additional pieces of foam "rock" to stack about the land portion and to create a waterwall that spills into a stream / pool which runs into the tank water. The foam structure looks like a giant "U" in the tank.

    I was planning on using a silicone sealer over the entire foam structure to keep the foam from leaching, but now that I found this site, I was wondering if I should be using epoxy to seal the foam?

    Also, WHERE are you buying the moss epiphyte? I want to cover the foam structure in moss and also plants that would fare well on top of the styrofoam. Do I need to put a layer of peat moss down first and THEN the live moss?

    Don't know how often you all visit the board but would LOVE any suggestions.

    Off my topic:

    I've read on several websites that you are NOT to mix different species together in a habitat. I originally was planning on having fire bellied toads, newts, and a school of fish in the water portion but I keep reading that is risky due to cross contamination of bacteria.

    Those of you who house these different species together, how successful have they been living? Death rate?

    Thanks in advance

  • angelo_s
    17 years ago

    I think the epoxy is a better choice just test a small area to check if the epoxy will eat away the foam.

    I was also intrested in building fake rocks from foam what type of foam are you using and were can you buy waterproof paint I asked people at home depot and all they can do is scrath there heads.

    I definatly think it is ok to mix species together as long as you keeep the tank clean and circulate and clean the water freequentlly. All of my pets are still living healthy even the first batch of fish I put in the tank
    I added a few more pets in my tank. I now have about 25 fish ( dianos, tetras, loaches puffers, silver sharks fiddler crabs, and a few other types of fish.) the tank also houses 2 dwarf African frogs, 5 firebelly toads, 2 salamanders, 2 newts, 3 tadpoles, 2 White's tree frogs and two green basilisks lizards all are together and happy. I will add 1 male veild chameleon to the tank. ( I have a panther chameleon in a screen cage but he is too large for the river tank)

  • BlueScorpion
    17 years ago

    I purchased the foam from Frank's Nursery ($8). I had a choice between the standard white and a green foam, I chose the green (12W x 36L x 2 thick). Originally I purchased a floral foam, thinking it would be easier to construct, but it just kept flaking apart and would NOT be right for the tank; even if above the water level.

    After cutting out the pieces I wanted, I used a knife to bevel (or 45 degree) the edges to make it look more natural. I also used my fingers to "smush" sharp edges I did not like. Next I used a product made for sealing foam, in order to make it smooth and paintable ($3.50 @ Hobby Lobby). I mixed a regular acrylic paint, found in the craft sections of most stores(.40c each bottle) with the special foam sealer to start a base coat. I was leary of using some of the "all-in-one" paints because I could not figure out if they would be toxic, and like you, NOBODY knew.

    I also kept a cup of water to dip the paint brush in to dilute the mixture; I didn't want to see any brush strokes on the foam after it dried.

    That's where I stopped yeterday. Originally, I was going to slather on silicone (non- toxic) over the entire surface of the foam in order to seal it and make it safe for the tank. However, when I read that someone was using epoxy, I started re-thinking my game plan. I think I will check out the epoxy; I saw some at Menards. Any particular brand?

    EVERYTHING I have done so far has been improvisation. I have found other websites that make mention of using foam, but NO ONE has actually explained in detail how to go about painting and preparing the foam for a tank.

    I LOVE the way the foam is turning out. I have been able to custom design the waterfall and shape everything to my liking. I also love that it does not add any weight. I already have quite a bit of a sand substrate from when I had discus and I have also added lots of large rocks to shore up a "bank" to creat an entry/exit point to the water.

    I am anxious to finish, as this tank has been sitting for almost a year!

    I have been very cautious and nervous as to what products I use because I know that amphibians' skin will "absorb" toxins in their environment.

    As far as mixing inhabitants, well I'm excited to hear yours has been successful! I feel that since my tank is on the larger size, it should be able to handle a few more inhabitants than just a couple fire bellied toads.

    On a final note, I've posted pictures on other message boards I'm involved in and was wondering if anyone here uses snapfish? Can I post pictures from snapfish? I'd like to share my progress so far...

  • angelo_s
    17 years ago

    Hi everyone,
    It's been a while since I posted any info on my tank.
    All of my pets are doing just great except for my newts, they both died two weeks apart. The other day I was looking at my tank from behind and on the backside of the river tank inserts which are hollow I noticed about 5 newborn bayby fish swiming around,(they look like dianos). It was amazing because the back sides of the inserts are sealed with silicone and the inserts go all the way to the bottom of the tank. the bottom of the inserts are not sealed but the gravel in the tank is about 2" high. So I am wondering how the fish got there. If they never made it back there they would of either been eaten by all my other fish or get sucked into the powerhead. The only problem that I now have is how am I going to get them out of there or feed them.
    Blue Scorpion is there anyway you can post some pics or can anyone else post pics

  • BlueScorpion
    17 years ago

    O.K. - trying a test run.

    {{gwi:375856}}.jpg

  • BlueScorpion
    17 years ago

    Hooray!!!
    I didn't think it was going to work!

    O.K. So that was a picture of my 3-tier waterfall corner. The water will be channeled from a tube I connected to the filter and will fall onto the "basin" on the top styrofoam rock, which will then softly cascade down into another basin I carved out of the foam, which will fall onto a large bottom basin (I hope the frogs will bask in), which will finally run back into the water portion of the tank.

    I made the large bottom basin shallow so the frogs could lounge in the water yet still be safe.

    Presently, you are looking at all the foam pieces I made (laid on my living room couch), coated with a foam sealer and just painted with an acrylic paint. Still haven't done the epoxy, but soon will. (Can't have the family making fun of me a second year in a row, especially since they laughed at my empty tank LAST YEAR during the holidays...LOL)

    Some more pictures:

    A closer look at the styrofoam and areas I used my "smushing" technique
    {{gwi:375857}}.jpg

    A bad picture of the land bridge (also hiding cave) I am making to connect the two land masses on each side of the tank. Opposite the waterfall corner will be a "meadow" type area which I will cover completely with moss and plants in the backdrop.
    {{gwi:375858}}.jpg

    The plant is a fake fern from Michaels craft store. Will probably use it as a cascading backdrop plant and use live plants for the rest of the tank. Maybe I'll use all live plants...don't know yet.

    Also, the epoxy I purchased comes with a "resin" and a "hardener", both transparent in color. Is that what some of you have used???

  • BlueScorpion
    17 years ago

    A portion of the bottom basin. You can kind of see how I carved out the styrofoam.
    {{gwi:375859}}.jpg

    Angelo, if you want to post pictures on your own you can open a snapfish account (free) and then post them from snapfish. From your computer, use your photo software to UPLOAD them to the internet into a snapfish or other photo account. THEN, once saved in an online account, you can post pictures to message boards.

    From a snapfish account, you would first click and open the picture you wish to post. Right click the picture and select PROPERTIES. Under properties, find the URL address and highlight the ENTIRE addy. Right click again and select COPY. You will already have the message board open, and all you'll have to do is PASTE the pic to the message box. The addy should copy and paste like a breeze.

    Next, BEFORE the URL addy of the picture, you start with a
    followed by (leave spaces where spaces belong and NO spaces, where they don't belong)
    img src=" the URL addy is here from copy and paste "

    Finish the URL addy with a
    ">.jpg

    It's easier than it sounds. Or you can e-mail them to me and I'll try to post them. I've never posted from an e-mail, but I'm sure I could figure it out.

  • angelo_s
    17 years ago

    wow! those rocks look real. The resin I purchassed had a hardener but I think they all come that way. The resin I used was not clear it looked like tea. Sorry I havent replyed I've been busy working the holiday season. thanks for the pics
    I still need to buy a camera to post some pics. how is your tank comming along?
    My river tank is doing good the only problem that I have is the color of my water. the water green to yellow color.
    this started to happen when I upgrated my lighting system.
    I did a complete water change and in about a week the water color was starting to change. Im wondering if my lights are too strog for my tank. I also added 2 bayby stripped mud turtles they grow only up to 4", a red eye tree frog, 3 striped raphiels (catfish) and my tadpoles is now a frog Im not too sure what kind of frog he is knowbody at the pet store knew either but from looking at pictures I think he is a bullfrog if he is Im in trouble bescause they grow up to 7-8" I guess I'll have to move him when he starts to grow or he would eat all my fish and fire belly toads. you have to see the way he eats crickets he goes after the adult crickets that are bigger than him and swollows them whole in one shot.

  • angelo_s
    17 years ago

    just bought a camera check out my pics of my river tank
    http://community.webshots.com/user/gdfella