It has been nearly a month since the opening night of the 242 Gallon, aka "240+ Gallon," and I could not be happier seeing Ace and Esther using the enclosure. This blog has so much to cover, so let's get started!
After its completion, the PA Woods Vivarium returned to the YouTube channel and debuted on Instagram. I have learned sedges, ferns, and dewberry are the best plants of the native species. I do not have all the plants in the enclosure yet because some are dormant. I learned that blueberry and aster are not equipped for this setting. The jury is not out on goldenrod. One plant I decided not to add after the enclosure was constructed was the pitcher plant. It might come as a surprise, but I wanted to stay true to the environment, and the water feature looked and functioned more as a seepage than a bog. I will use the pitcher plant to redesign the eastern gray tree frog paludarium. I will create a bog theme for them, and the pitcher plant will be the centerpiece of that enclosure. It is outside, taking in warmer days and cold nights in the abnormally mild November weather in Western Pennsylvania. Let me know your thoughts in a comment about my decision not to add the purple pitcher plant to the enclosure. What plants do you think would do well in this woodland setup?
The decision on what cameras to film the project was always one of the most important. After going back and forth, I got a better deal on the Sony FX30, which is a better camera for video than the Sony a6700. I can shoot 4K60FPS full-time and even 4K120FPS. The FX30 has been the most fun camera I have ever used, allowing me to become more creative. To my surprise, I loved it so much that I made the difficult decision to sell my Blackmagic Pocket 6K, and I am attempting to purchase a second Sony camera to match the quality of the FX30. I will use the old Sony a6300 to be the B-Cam for a while until I find the deal I want for the
B-Cam. I hope to get a Sony a7IV because it takes photos and does 4K60FPS cropped. This means the sensor size in 4K60 will match the FX30. If I cannot find the deal I want, I will settle for the Sony a6700. The AI in that camera is incredible. Either way, The plan is to film in 4K60FPS for this enclosure. The security camera has been capturing fantastic footage while I am away from home. The FX30 and security camera are the main two cameras for this storyline. The quality of both blows me away. I cannot wait to produce high-end videos for you to watch.
Getting to the main feature of this story, Ace! She was very shocked when I lowered her into the enclosure. At first, she was not exploring and lying around, but after she became hungry, she started to explore her new hunting ground. She has made a little nest in front of the deer antlers. It is fitting this toad always makes sure she is in the center of the action because, in every enclosure she lived in, she always plopped down in the direct center. This is no different; she chose the center even with a massive enclosure. The scenes recorded from the Sony FX30 make you feel like you are watching a large female toad hunting in a woodland somewhere in the northeast. Ace once again has become the dominant organism in this ecosystem. Esther found the target where I placed prey items for Ace, and she started devouring moths and earthworms.
Ace quickly became aware and chased off Esther from the target. Ace knows she is the bigger animal, and she uses her size to her advantage when she feels Esther has crossed a line. The interaction between the two inside this enclosure almost makes one feel like they are watching how an American toad and wood frog interact in the wild. Ace might have her way with Esther, but Wellsboro, the large male American toad, will soon join them. Wellsboro and Ace, five years ago, were bitter rivals because they both wanted the same resources. I have footage from the old Nikon of the two trying to box each other out from the prey items. They would lunge at one another if the other toad caught a cricket. How will round two go? Can they get along? We might see some fascinating behavior from these two legendary toads.
I made a tribute video to Ace. To check out her story, click the video link below.
It is unlisted until November 14th, then will be public for Woods and Forests Media Subscribers.
Esther has been the biggest surprise. I can tell she is delighted. She is active nightly rather than just when she is hungry. Esther uses the entire enclosure. She hunts and seems to explore the water feature curiously. Esther shows me what a wood frog might be doing in the wild. I have never seen a wood frog so active and explore so much. She has one thing on her side that Ace does not. Esther is a speedy, agile, and elusive frog. Esther can leap through the entire enclosure to catch a cricket. She will pursue fast-moving insects that get away from Ace, which means there are no survivors at feeding time. Ace gets up close and hunts, and Esther chases the insects however far needed. Esther is fun to watch moving around the enclosure, while Ace is more organized and specific. How will Esther adapt to Wellsboro? She, too, lived with him for a short time in 2022. Wellsboro dominated the resources, making his presence felt in the smaller 40-gallon. This isn't the 40-gallon, though. Esther can move around and avoid direct competition with him. Wellsboro cannot match her speed. I cannot wait to share the footage of Esther inside this enclosure. This experience has changed my understanding of wood frogs.
Wellsboro is the oldest male American toad I have ever rescued. He is around ten years old, which is not typical for males. He was the biggest male I had ever seen when we found him. He is abnormally large for a male, which enables him to compete at an unprecedented level with female toads for resources. He is longer than Ace even though she has roughly 80+ grams on him. Wellsboro has become a patient hunter but will chase prey when hungry. He is one of the faces of the Frog and Toad Facebook Group, one of the most iconic animals in Woods and Forests Media history. He has been through challenging times. He nearly starved to death, while Ace almost died from the same parasites from 2018 to 2020. Once we got a handle on the parasites and began to give these animals the proper nutrition, Wellsboro began to thrive again. He is a toad who is not as flashy as Ace or others before him when getting action shots because he is a patient hunter. When first introduced, he was a hunter in the 125-gallon, so maybe he will return to being a hunter with more space. Regardless of what happens, he has earned the opportunity to live inside possibly the biggest American toad/wood frog vivarium ever. I cannot wait to follow him with the FX30 and see what he does inside the enclosure.
I have begun to use some materials that are not as sterile. I picked leaves from native trees in my yard to create leaf litter these creatures would see in the wild. The leaf litter has been an essential aspect of the ecosystem. The isopods and earthworms can avoid detection from the frogs and toads. American toads and wood frogs use leaf litter to hide and hunt. Having a birch and redbud provide leaves these animals would have come across in the wild; Ace is from a plant nursery where both trees are sold, so she probably used their leaves to hide when she was wild many years ago. I added peach, blueberry, and apricot leaves to mix in so the leaf litter represents an authentic suburban neighborhood at a woodland edge ecosystem. Additionally, I added a second type of water to use as a substitute for reverse osmosis water. I am using up to 45 gallons of rainwater. Rainwater fills vernal pools and puddles, so it is more natural to what the animals would drink and live with. I add minerals and stabilize the pH, so it is not too acidic. The rainwater has a different color and smell than the RO water. I hope to keep pushing the standard forward when keeping native frogs and toads. These two hacks can save frog keepers money by sourcing their leaves and water.
The black field ant is confirmed to become part of this ecosystem. Not living inside, but the enclosure will allow for ant population control so their numbers do not become so great that I cannot support them. Ants are a significant part of the diet of American toads, and they are one of the most common insects in woodlands. I have seen sources claim the stomach contents were mostly ants. It is debatable how much the diet consists of ants, but one thing is sure: American toads and wood frogs DO eat a lot of ants. Adding this species to the list of feeders will benefit my pet frogs and toads. The ants will be pets in their own right, but the frogs and toads will control their numbers. Who is excited to see action-packed toad vs ant battles? We might get to see the toads and ants match up for many years to come. Special thanks to Mack of Tar Heel Ants for growing the colony. We had him on the podcast to talk about ants, and we talked about this matchup a little bit. Check out the 242-gallon discussion in the link below to hear our thoughts on the upcoming battle.
The final part of this update is to discuss the upcoming long-form show "The Woods: Uncut." I wanted to use this enclosure as a teaching point for native species. The capabilities of this enclosure are thunderstorms, fog, rain, windy days, warm fronts, cold fronts, full moon, new moon, and more. The new cinema and security cameras show action like never before. I wanted to create long-form content and allow viewers to watch how the weather impacts the enclosure. Viewers can watch a peaceful and calming video of a thunderstorm moving through the enclosure, a foggy day, or a full moon. I am hoping people will tune in to watch the enclosure as a way to decompress.
Maybe you want to see what Ace is up to? in a long-form video, viewers can watch Ace or other animals for extended periods. It is one of my most enjoyable activities to monitor the activity inside the enclosure nightly. Maybe you want some action and are tired of watching the major media companies cover mammals and birds hunting. I plan to film long-form hunting videos to allow viewers to see how the night unfolds after prey items are introduced to the enclosure for the frogs and toads. Watch how Ace, Esther, and Wellsboro hunt insects inside the enclosure. The goal is to allow the viewer to watch this story's best content.
The Woods: Uncut will be coming in early 2024. Get ready for something you have never seen before. Something to push keeping native species at a higher standard. In the next blog update, we will cover the launch of The Woods: Uncut, talk about the B-Camera purchased, and how this enclosure ties into Frog Week.
Check out the YouTube Playlist for the 240+ Gallon PA Woods Vivarium: