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Bioactive enclosures.... Are they right for you?

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Bioactive Enclosures are often referred to as “no maintenance enclosures”. This is not the case, no enclosure is completely without maintenance. You care for a living animal and there will always been some form of care and attention needed to both the animal and its enclosure/living space. The animal you choose to put in the enclosure will also determine the amount of maintenance needed in a bioactive enclosure. E.g. frogs will not produce as much waste as a larger animal. The clean up crew will have a much better chance of coping with the waste of a couple of frogs or small lizards than say a medium-large snake. Not only will a large snake demolish any delicate flora planted, but they will also need most of their waste removed as it will simply be to much for the clean up crew to deal with. When planning your bioactive enclosure, think about what animal will go in there first before planning on what to plant, and what to use as your substrate and clean-up crew.

After removing the packaging, we gave the empty enclosure a thorough clean out with a watered-down mixture of F10 and water. We then washed this out with water and waited a week to thoroughly air out the enclosure before adding anything to it. This is probably over precaution, but as we weren’t entirely sure at that stage what we were putting in the enclosure (e.g., frogs absorb through their skin), we wanted to be safe than sorry. Our enclosure is an Exo Terra Natural Terrarium Large/Tall, which measures 900L x 450W x 600H.


The background is the first thing to go in as you cannot add it later without uprooting the whole tank. You can buy a commercially made one, get someone to make one, make one yourself if you have the time and the skill or leave the back wall blank. Most enclosures these days have a feature back wall as part of the buy. All have their benefits. The back wall is not only easier on the eye, but it gives the inhabitants extra space to move about if they climb. It also gives you more surface area for plants. A clear back wall is a lot easier to clean….

We choose to leave in the backing that came with the Exo Terra enclosure. It has a nice rocky look to it, and we were still “discussing” inhabitants.

Layer 1: The Drainage Layer

The first layer to be installed is the drainage layer. This is often referred to as a false bottom. The drainage layer is there to catch any water that wells through the substrate. This prevents stagnation, bad bacteria from forming and the bad smells that will arise from the stagnation and bad bacteria. Drainage also obviously prevents the substrate layer from becoming sodden. An overwatered, stagnate enclosure can result in bad health for your flora, microfauna, and animals. On top of this, the drainage layer plays a vital job in allowing the plant root system to grow. Give your bioactive enclosure the right components and it all goes into helping to sustain a healthy microfauna population and will keep the humidity stable inside the enclosure. The drainage layer should be 2-3 inches in height. This is dependent on the size of the enclosure that has been used. The drainage layer should never be left to thoroughly dry out as this will have an impact on the humidity levels in the enclosure. The drainage layer can be made from a few different mediums – hydro balls/clay balls, lava rock, gravel and plastic eggcrate also known as light-diffuser. You can combine these mediums or stick with one.

Clay balls/hydro balls are utilized across many fields. As the name suggests these small pebbles/balls (depending on the product) are made from clay. Clay is lightweight, especially when using it in a larger area, when compared to lava rock or gravel. Being absorbent, they have a high porous space which allows good bacteria to amplify, are a good colonization for microbial populations, are environmentally friendly and reusable. They absorb water and then release it through evaporation. This will provide increased humidity in the terrarium.