Why Bio-active Setups are Great for Herps

For years, keepers in the reptile hobby have tried to mimic natural conditions in for their captive animals, and currently, bio-active setups are becoming the go-to option for hobbyists worldwide.

forest woods creek
A forest floor, showing leaf litter, rocks, and plants.

It’s as Natural as Possible

Creating a micro-environment within an enclosure is a journey in constructing a piece of Eden. This paradise away from paradise will have its own soil, plants, and fauna all interacting in balance. Whether the setup is tropical or arid, you should be able to customize the flora and fauna to suit the needs of whatever species you are caring for.

chinese water dragon lizard
Chinese Water Dragon in naturalistic vivarium.

Aesthetically pleasing

Once complete, these enclosures are often quite beautiful, and they can be as complex or as simple as you want to make them. Some hobbyists have incorporated elements such as waterfalls and caves into more elaborate constructions. These are undoubtedly conversation pieces wherever they are placed, and even some humans wish they could live within them. Most Dart Frog terrariums are incredibly colorful with varieties of Bromeliads being used.

The more elaborate the setup you choose to build, the higher the expenses will be for the supplies you need. Factor in plants, specialty soils, drainage layers, misting systems, etc. for your total project cost. If you have the budget, I’d say go for it. If you don’t, you can still build bit by bit. Plants take a little time to grow in and mature, and other items like driftwood and plastic caves can still make any terrarium beautiful.

A new product from Zoo Med is Excavator Clay, and it can be used to build caves and tunnels for terrariums. Check it out, and it may work for the project you have in mind.

pillbug isopod woodlice
Pillbugs, or isopods, are great additions to the bio-active enclosure.

It has Built-in Janitors

Micro-fauna is an essential part of any bio-active setup. Small insects that live in the substrate in the wild feed on waste, decaying leaf matter, and mold. Isopods and springtails are great species to utilize for this purpose. They work not just as a clean-up crew, but also help aerate the substrate with their tunnels.

Earthworms can also be used and will produce new, nutrient-rich soil known as ‘worm castings’ which will be great for any live plants you have. White worms are another worm that can be added, and they along with the other bugs can serve as snacks to any amphibians or reptiles.

Most of these janitor species will need damp substrate in which to live. Use a mister to spray down the substrate if you notice it drying out. You can also use leaf litter or moss to cover the substrate which will help hold in the moisture.

golden dart frog amphibian
Golden Dart Frog in bio-active terrarium.

Healthy Soil, Healthy Plants, & Healthy Herps

Many hobbyists have reported that with bio-active setups their animals seem to be much healthier. The micro-fauna have been shown to eliminate the chances of mold outbreaks and reduce overall waste in the enclosures. The substrate in bio-active enclosures is likely to harbor less harmful bacteria than that without micro-fauna.

Live plants are beneficial in both offering natural cover, but also adding humidity, and occasionally, food to some tropical herps. Plants like Bromeliads actually collect water in their innermost leaves, which can serve as safe spawning pools for the tadpoles of several frogs species.

Reptile and amphibians who live within bio-active enclosures seem to be healthier in both body and mind. The wild-like conditions give them more security and also opportunities to explore and climb as they would naturally. Some animals end up feeling so much more comfortable in these habitats that they may actually exhibit more boldness with their keepers. Reducing stress in any captive animal is a win, and this gets tons of points for multiple reasons.

dart frog blue amphibian
Dart Frog in a planted bio-active enclosure.

Enriched Lives for Reptiles and Amphibians

Regardless of what species we as hobbyists choose to keep, we should always be aware of their right to have a good life experience. For these unique animals, some of which are easily stressed, it’s best to try and give them the closest thing to wild as we can.

It is becoming more and more apparent that bio-active setups are one of the best options for herps in captivity. It not only contributes to their mental well being but also their health in general. Building a small piece of paradise for our animals may go beyond the worth of initial expense if can give us, and our herps years of peace of mind and health.

For those not quite ready to take the leap just yet, there are some great articles listed on my resource page that can give you the rundown of what’s involved in building a bio-active enclosure. Check it out, and let me know what you end up deciding to do.

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