TDmonthly Magazine!
January 2010 | Vol. IX - No. 1


Eco-Aquariums Struggle, But Kids Still Enjoy Frogs

Self-Sustaining Habitats Lose Snails, Invite Questions About Maintenance

“I have found myself cleaning the aquarium every week after the first month since we received it.” Mildred Tong, mother
TDmonthly Magazine’s Roundtable Families reviewed Wild CreationsClassic Water Garden Starter Kit Eco-Aquarium for the September 2009 issue of TDmonthly. Five months later, the reviewers lowered their collective rating by half a star, primarily due to aquarium upkeep and expired snails and frogs, though two of the five families kept their ratings at a 5. See how the Eco-Aquariums and their inhabitants fared below:

Classic Water Garden Starter Kit Eco-Aquarium by WILD CREATIONS
Gender: Boys and Girls
Category: Science & Nature
MSRP: $30.00

Original TDmonthly rating:

Revised TDmonthly rating:

NOTE: TDmonthly has included italicized notes based on comments from Kelley Floyd, account manager at Wild Creations, to provide clarity and answers for the points discussed, as well as share a change the company has made in regard to the snails.

What It Is: The kit includes two African dwarf frogs, two snails, live bamboo and all the necessary supplies to feed, clean and maintain the pets and their eco-system. The kit is low-maintenance; cleaning only needs to be done twice a year.

Survival of Flora and Fauna: Most of the frogs are still alive and doing well; only one family’s frogs did not live past two months. However, most of the snails in the original kits did not survive long, dying anywhere between a few weeks to four months. The Richardsons felt a bit of relief when their frogs passed away: “We did not have to look at them in such a small aquarium anymore,” Richardson explained. Saddened by the deaths, Jessica (7) and Alexander (9) held a funeral for them.

NOTE: This habitat was developed over a decade ago by a marine biologist and is endorsed by a veterinarian on staff at Wild Creations. As of late fall 2009, snails are no longer offered as part of the starter Eco-Aquarium kits, as they are not necessary to the overall function of the system. The brown living gravel and bamboo filter the water and remove waste. Snails can still be used as an algae janitor, but the company recommends waiting until the tank has been established for a month or more.

Several participants noticed that the frogs responded well to increased feedings (more than twice weekly; a suggestion from the company). Upon increasing the feedings, Tong said her frogs were “much more active and lively and definitely more interesting to watch.” Flamenco and Christensen reported some aggression between the frogs during feeding; otherwise, all reviewers thought the two frogs peacefully co-existed.

NOTE: The frogs are most active after being fed. However, overfeeding is important to avoid, as the twice-weekly feedings meet their needs and overfeeding can make the frogs ill and the tank dirty. At one point, the company advised TDmonthly to increase feedings for frogs that were aggressive toward the snails; however, this recommendation has changed since the removal of the snails from the eco-system.

Christensen observed, “The bamboo is black in some areas, so I don't know if it's happy.” With the recent addition of replacement snails, she is waiting to see if the bamboo perks up. Since Flamenco’s bamboo plant also began to rot, she removed it and replaced it with a new water plant.

NOTE: Bamboo that is black has died and should be removed. The water should be changed and a new piece of bamboo added. Wild Creations uses bamboo because it is a low-light plant and doesn’t grow quickly. Aquatic plants can grow very quickly and take up a lot of space and dirty the aquarium more.

The only reviewer to order replacement snails was Christensen. She stated that the snails were less than $10 with expedited shipping. Since she had to sign to receive the package in the dead of winter in Utah, she concluded that the package would not have been left on her doorstep.

Maintenance and Care: The snails play a vital role as “janitor” in the eco-system and without them, the tank becomes dirty — something noticed by all of the reviewers. “I have found myself cleaning the aquarium every week after the first month since we received it,” reported Tong. Flamenco agreed, “It has now become a task to keep the aquarium clean.”

NOTE: Often when the snails are no longer alive in a tank, their waste breaks down and makes the water dirty. This can be fixed by changing the water in the system. A new snail will not fix this. A tank should not require cleaning weekly, and overcleaning of the gravel could inhibit filtering. Tank water should be changed every 4-6 months and gravel cleaned roughly once annually. It's also an option to replace to living gravel with packs available via the company's website.

Christensen reported that within just a few short days, the replacement snails had done “a great clean-up job.” The food included in the initial package has been sufficient for the five months that have passed, which Ledford appreciated. Tong wondered about the possibility of tadpoles: “I'm assuming that the frogs are the same sex ... should we expect any kind of reproduction?”

NOTE: Wild Creations makes every effort to include two male frogs in each tank. If a female frog were to end up in the tank, you may see the “activities” of breeding, but because of specific breeding conditions needed, it is unlikely you would see eggs or tadpoles.

Lasting Attraction and Appeal:
Although the initial appeal of the tank has waned a bit for all the children, most are still interested. “As with most things with kids, the novelty has worn off, but Alyssa (10), Ethan (8) and Lexi (6) are still careful to feed the frogs on the regularly-scheduled feeding day,” Tong said.

Ledford commented that Griff (4) is still very interested in the tank. Mac (15), Kent (14), Joshua (11) and Ben (8) “still enjoy it, and enjoy telling visitors about it,” said Christensen, calling the Eco-Aquarium “a great conversation piece.”

Additional Suggestions for Improvement: Since the snails seem to be so delicate, Ledford suggested that the company include in the instructions for care that any freshwater snail can be added to the tank. Only when ordering replacement snails did Christensen see this bit of information on the company’s website.

Christensen was confused with the shipping days listed on the company’s website. She paid an increased cost for two-day shipping on a Wednesday, expecting the snails to arrive in two days on the following Friday. “Even though my order was processed on the 9th, the snails didn't arrive until the following Wednesday (the 16th),” she reported.

NOTE: Wild Creations ships everything as it comes in. Orders placed Monday-Wednesday of a given week should ship that same week. However, if Wednesday orders are placed after the daily Fedex pickup, the order ships the following Monday to ensure the safety of the animals in shipping.

Conclusion: Richardson’s initial reaction to the small size of the tank remained the same. “It was too hard to watch the frogs just sit in the little space all day,” she reiterated, lowering her rating from a 3 to a 2. While aquarium maintenance and the fragility of the snails prompted two other mothers to lower their ratings, two families stuck with their original evaluations of 5 stars.

“I still think that the aquarium is very easy to set up and maintain and with everything included in the kit, you can't beat the convenience,” Tong concluded. “I think [the frogs] are more interesting than fish.”

Roundtable participants are stay-at-home parent Sue Christensen with Mac (15), Kent (14), Joshua (11) and Ben (8); substitute teacher Veronica Flamenco with Matthew (11), Jonathan (10), Emilio (9) and Brandon (7); Susan Ledford, editor of the "Homeschool Resources Directory for SC,” with Victoria (14), Joe (9), and Griff (3); World Bank policy advisor Gail Richardson with Alexander (9) and Jessica (7); and homeschool parent Mildred Tong with Alyssa (10), Ethan (8), Lexi (6), Erik (3), and Henry (1).

Susan LedfordWriter's Bio: Susan Ledford is the writer, editor and publisher of the "Homeschool Resources Directory for S.C."  She has been evaluating toys and games for TDmonthly's Roundtable reviews since 2005. She also is a homeschool veteran of seven years. Read more articles by this author


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