The Bioactive Vivarium: Your Pet’s Balanced Ecosystem

The Basics of Successful Bioactivity

The temptation might be to buy a fish tank, fill it with ground cover and plants, and add your amphibian or reptile to this environment. But there is more that you can do to prepare the best self-sustaining environment. Your pet can thrive when you consider the following:

Your Pet

The perfect bioactive vivarium must start with the habitat of your scaled, shelled, or slithering friend. For instance, bearded dragons, desert tortoises, or western-banded geckos thrive in drier, desert-like habitats. Not so much the water dragon, red-eye tree frog, or pinktoe tarantulas. These and others prefer nestling among tropical plants in high-humidity climates.

The type of pet you have will also determine the proper enclosure in which you build its home. A tank with acrylic walls might be less expensive. But if used for a desert environment, the sand and rocks could eventually lead to deep scratches on the sides, making it difficult to see the interior. Finally, that bioactive vivarium must have the appropriate temperature controls based on your friend’s natural habitat. Whether your pet craves desert heat or moist tropical air, buy – and install – the necessary rheostats, thermostats, and timers to keep its environment comfortable.

The Suitable Substrate Layers

Substrate is a term for the various soil, materials, and other essential ingredients for your vivarium – and its inhabitants – to thrive. Though substrates vary depending on your pet’s habitat needs, they usually are arranged in three layers:

1: Foundational/base layer

The base layer supports the flora and fauna existing in your bioactive enclosure. Depending on the type of enclosure you want, that foundation also whisks away excess water, preventing the upper substrate layers from turning mush. As such, typical materials for the foundational layer include gravel, clay pellets, or lava rock.

2: Secondary layer

The secondary layer directly interacts with your pet, allowing them the ideal ground to walk, slither, hop, or nap. The secondary layer also provides a growth foundation for the vivarium’s plant life and isopods. Suitable materials for this layer include cypress bark, coconut fibers, organic topsoil, and moss. The best material for your detrivores will be organic compost and mulch free of pesticides or chemicals.

3: Surface layer

While the secondary layer is the basis of your environment, the surface layer provides aesthetic appeal to the vivarium while also the essential places for your pet and its clean-up crew to hide and interact. The best materials for this layer include leaf litter and natural cork tile.

DYI or pre-mixed substrates

Part of the fun in developing the right layers for your enclosure can be researching the right materials and putting them together. But if you don’t have the time to do this, plenty of pre-blended substrates are available, complete with beneficial microbes and organisms. Be sure that these pre-packaged materials match the habitat of your reptile or amphibian friend.

Operational Plants and Detrivores

Your plant selection should vary, depending on whether your habitat is desert dry, tropical moist, or somewhere in between.

Cacti, dwarf jade, or echeveria flourish in drier, hotter air with little water. They also provide splashes of color for your enclosure and places for your pet to snooze or lurk. On the other hand, ferns, bromeliads, or orchids are perfect for a more humid environment. These leafy, colorful plants are ideal for your tropical pets, allowing them to climb and hide.

On to the clean-up crew! Isopods (in tandem with springtails and other soil-dwellers) are popular detrivores for a bioactive tank. There are thousands of isopod species out there, each with different needs and roles to play. As a general rule of thumb, isopods need moss to wet themselves and materials like organic topsoil and leaf litter in which to burrow. Also essential to their health are a calcium source and decaying wood. An ideal temperature ranges between 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit. 

But don’t just dump those detritivores in and forget about them. Every six months to a year, you'll need to switch out or top off that substrate -- the isopods eat through it and leave waste behind. While that waste can be a great plant fertilizer, too much can kill your habitat. A well-balanced bioactive tank may never need to be cleaned!

Your Pet’s Perfect Place

With a suitable enclosure, materials, and information, you can build a paradise where your pet, plants, and detritivores work together to maintain a thriving environment. A living vivarium also offers an excellent opportunity to observe your pet in its natural habitat.

While putting together a functioning bioactive enclosure might seem overwhelming, you don’t have to do this alone. Pets on Broadway offers a complete line of products to help you create the perfect natural environment for your reptile or amphibian friend. Our staff also has the expertise to answer any questions you might have regarding your pet’s health and well-being.

For more information, visit our store in Portland!