Bioactive Terrariums

Bioactive Terrariums
By Neil Reed

Bioactive is term given to a terrarium that encompasses elements that make it an enclosed eco system. 

It is often confused with a naturalistic terrarium.. But there is a difference...

A naturalistic Terrarium is a terrarium that is designed to be as realistic and close to the animals natural environment as possible. It will use natural substrates such as sand, soil, leaf litter etc and include elements of terrascaping such as Branches, Mosses, Stones, Rocks, water features etc. The best enclosures will also include live plants that reflect the animals natural range. 

Once live plants are included you are heading towards a bioactive enclosure, to go fully bioactive you need to introduce other creatures (invertebrates) that will live in the environment and help breakdown any waste produced from the animal which is in turn taken up by the plants in the enclosure. Invertebrates usually include Spring tails, woodlice, worms and snails.

Good enclosure hygiene still needs to be maintained, The clean up team is only there to help you.. not do your job for you. You will still need to remove large faeces, you need to leave the remnants for the clean up crew for them to live off of, but if you leave all the faeces in the vivarium to be broken down you will soon be overloading the eco system plus creating an environment for a parasite power cycle. 

By using a Bioactive system you will notice your terrarium staying fresher and cleaner for longer as the system matures the only maintenance required will be regular trimming of the live plants and spot cleaning of large faeces. 

So onto creating a bioactive system.. is it as easy as going into the back garden and depositing a load of dirt into your enclosure? well some people seem to think so.. I prefer a more controlled method which ensures you are only adding in beneficial inhabitants and not any undesirables such as parasitic worms, slugs etc.

When constructing the terrarium you need a drainage layer at the base, this can be clay balls, pea gravel, stones etc. On top of this you place a barrier membrane of cloth or mesh to prevent the top layer of soil substrate washing down into the drainage layer. and then finally add your top layer that the plants will be living in and your animal living on. My favourite is a mix of sterilised sedge peat, coco humus, sand, and bark chip. which i then top off or "mulch" with bark chip and/or moss. Of course this choice of top layer all depends on the species living in the terrarium as you need to match the substrate to your animals natural environment.

Once you have this in place you can add in your plants and decor, Make sure as well as your heating and UVB lighting for the pet animals you also have good quality full spectrum lighting to enable plant growth such as the Zoo Med Reptisun LED UVB canopy or Arcadia Jungle Dawn Plant growth LED lamp.

To make the enclosure truly bioactive you need to add in those inverts that are going to help you keep the system clean, My preferred method is to buy or swap "cultured" inverts i.e ones that have been produced in a controlled environment so you know you are not adding any problems into your terrarium. Its ok to go out into the garden and scoop up a handfull of native woodlice but we dont know how many parasites they have picked up from that dog poo they were feasting on half an hour earlier.. 

We have been utilising bio active enclosures here at for over a decade so its good to see the concept finally taking hold amongst more reptile and amphibian keepers. Keep an eye on the support and information section of our website for regular articles. 


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