Helpful Husbandry & Reptile FAQS
The Quick List of Edible Plants for Your Bioactive Terrarium
The Quick List of Edible Plants for Your Bioactive Terrarium
Plants are a big part of creating a successful, healthy, thriving bioactive enclosure for your pet. In the wild, they play a variety of important roles in their local ecosystems, such as filtering the air and water, producing oxygen, aerating and enriching the soil, and providing food for animals. Without living plants, you don’t really have a truly bioactive environment.
When you have a pet herbivore or omnivore (bearded dragon, uromastyx, tortoise, etc.), you need to be careful about the kinds of plants that you place in their enclosure. Their appetite is triggered by the color green, and it’s likely that they’ll take an experimental bite or two — if not eat the whole plant! Even if your pet is an insectivore (ex: leopard gecko), they can still be affected by the plants in their enclosure because CUC and loose feeder insects may munch on those plants. If your insectivorous pet eats one of those bugs, they’re eating a bit of the plants they eat, too.
Fortunately, there’s lots of plants that are safe for reptiles to eat, whether directly or indirectly. Here’s a quick list of some of the most popular, easily-found plants to consider for your bioactive setup.
Cacti & Succulents
These are plants with low water needs and a high heat tolerance. Exceptionally low-maintenance as houseplants, and great for desert reptile enclosures.
- Agave (Agave spp.)
- Aloe (Aloe spp.)
- Broadleaf Stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium)
- Gasteria (Gasteria spp.)
- Haworthia (Haworthia spp.)
- Heartleaf Iceplant (Aptenia cordifolia)
- Hens and Chicks (Echeveria spp.)
- House Leek (Sempervivum spp.)
- Jade Plant (Crassula ovata, C. argentea, C. portulacea)
- Mother of Pearl Plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense, Sedum weinbergii, Echeveria weinbergii)
- Sedum (Sedum spp. — exception: Sedum acre)
- Yucca (Yucca spp.)
Grasses have a range of care needs, but generally like a lot of light. What’s nice about grasses is that they have a lovely natural appearance and can be included in a variety of different types of habitats.
- Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
- Barley Grass (Hordeum spp.)
- Carex (Carex spp.)
- Couch Grass (Elymus repens)
- Fescue (Festuca spp.)
- Millet (Panicum miliaceum)
- Oat Grass (Avena spp.)
- Rye Grass (Lolium perenne)
- Timothy (Phleum pratense)
- Wheat Grass (Triticum spp.)
Flowers aren’t just for outside or keeping in a vase — you can grow them in your pet’s enclosure, too! Having plants that consistently flower in your enclosure is a reliable sign that you’re doing something right.
- African Violet (Saintpaulia)
- Alyssum (Alyssum maritimum)
- Aster (Aster spp.)
- Astilbe (Astilbe spp.)
- Balloon Flower (Platycodon grandiflorus)
- Bell Flower (Campanula spp.)
- Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis, Calystegia sepium)
- Bristly Oxtongue (Pricris echiodes, Helminthotheca echioides, Helmintia echioides)
- California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
- Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
- Clover (Trifolium spp.)
- Coral Bells (Heuchera spp.)
- Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.)
- Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)
- Cosmos (Cosmos spp.)
- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
- Daylily (Hemerocallis)
- Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum)
- Evening Primrose (Oenothera spp.)
- Geranium (Geranium spp.)
- Hawkbit (Leontodon spp.)
- Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)
- Hosta (Hosta spp.)
- Jasmine (Jasminum spp.)
- Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.)
- Mallow (Malva spp.)
- Marigold (Calendula spp.)
- Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
- Ox-eye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)
- Pansy (Viola tricolor hortensis)
- Petunia (Petunia spp.)
- Phlox (Phlox spp.)
- Pinks (Dianthus spp.)
- Pink Purslane (Claytonia sibririca)
- Red Valerian (Centranthus ruber)
- Salvia (Salvia spp.)
- Sea Holly (Eryngium spp.)
- Snap Dragon (Antirrhinum spp.)
- Speedwell (Veronica spp.)
- Violet (Viola spp.)
- Zinnia (Zinnia spp.)
These plants tend to have higher water needs (with some exceptions), and they’re easy to find because they’re popular houseplants or garden plants.
- Air Plant (Tillandsia)
- Bamboo (Fargesia spp., Phyllostachys spp.)
- Boston Fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata)
- Bromeliad (Bromeliodeae)
- Coleus (Plectranthus spp.)
- Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)
- Dracaena (Dracaena spp.)
- Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla spp.)
- Oak Leaf Ivy (Cissus rhombifolia)
- Pilea (Pilea cadierei, P. spruceana)
- Polka Dot Plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya)
- Prayer Plant (Maranta leuconeura, Calathea spp.)
- Snake Plant (Sansevieria spp.)
- Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
- Wandering Jew (Tradescantia fluminensis, T. zebrina)
Herbs and Vegetables
Herbs and vegetables tend to need more water than most of the other options on this list, so keep that in mind. The herbs and vegetable plants on this list are safe, but don’t assume that all fruits and vegetables that are safe for humans to eat are also safe for your pet.
- Arugula (Eruca sativa, E. vesicaria)
- Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)
- Basil (Ocium basilicum)
- Carrot (Daucus carota sativus)
- Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
- Cress (Brassicus hirta, B. napus)
- Dill (Anethum graveolens)
- Garden Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
- Kale (Brassica oleracea)
- Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
- Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
- Mint (Mentha sachalinesis, M. spicata, M. sauveolens)
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
- Squash (Curcurbita spp.)
- Thyme (Thymus ssp.)
- Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)
- Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)
Don’t just walk into the plant nursery and grab the first plants that appeal to you. Pay attention to each plant’s needs for light and water, heat tolerance, and how tall they can be expected to grow. This is information that can usually easily be found on the plant’s identification tag or information card, and if not there, a quick Google search will answer your questions. If you’re not sure whether a plant is edible for reptiles, The Tortoise Table is a fantastic quick reference. If you can’t find it there, Google may once again be helpful, but when in doubt, don’t take the risk and use a different plant in your pet’s terrarium.
Pro Tip: Before placing new plants in your bioactive enclosure, give the leaves and roots a thorough rinse in cool water. If at all possible, repot with clean, organic soil and let sit for at least a month to purge chemical residues and any potential pests.
Thank you Mariah, from Reptifiles.com for such a great informative article.
What does "cold-blooded" mean?
What Does “Cold-Blooded” Mean?
When referring to humans, the phrase “cold-blooded” is typically used to describe a person with a cruel or callous personality. But when referring to animals in general, “cold-blooded” refers to the animal’s method of regulating their body temperature. “Cold-blooded” does NOT mean that these animals have cold blood.
“Warm-blooded” means that the animal’s nervous system automatically controls its body temperature regardless of environmental conditions. Another word for “warm-blooded” is endothermic — birds and mammals are endotherms.
“Cold-blooded” means that the animal is unable to automatically control its body temperature. Instead, body temperature is dependent on the temperature of its environment. Another word for “cold-blooded” is ectothermic — invertebrates, fish, amphibians, and reptiles are ectotherms.
How does this affect the way we keep exotic pets?
Invertebrates are extremely diverse. Some have wings, some have venom, some live underwater, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all of the amazing adaptations that they have made to live just about anywhere on our planet. This makes making any kind of broad generalization rather difficult.
Fortunately, there’s a much smaller set of invertebrates that are commonly kept as pets (mantids, tarantulas, scorpions, etc.). Some of these invertebrates seem to regulate their body temperature via basking, while others stick to a preferred microclimate. When preparing to care for a pet invertebrate, make sure to research heating and temperature needs for that particular species and set up the enclosure accordingly.
Amphibians are very unique animals. They spend their youth underwater like fish, then change their entire anatomy through metamorphosis to spend the rest of their lives primarily on land. Although they lose their gills by adulthood, one of the fishlike characteristics that they do keep is how they thermoregulate. Most amphibians don’t bask — instead, they just have a preferred range of temperatures and stick to a certain microclimate within that range.
Changes in temperature affect neurological, muscular, and digestive function in amphibians. When they are kept consistently too hot, they overheat and die. They are generally better at handling cooler temperatures, but temperatures that are persistently too cool are also likely to become fatal. In preparing to care for a pet amphibian, make sure to research appropriate heating and temperatures for the particular species you’re interested in, and set up the enclosure accordingly.
Reptiles are a little more proactive in thermoregulation than invertebrates and amphibians. Rather than simply staying in an area with comfortable temperatures, they make use of the varying temperatures present in their environment to increase and decrease their metabolism at will. However, if restricted to an environment that is consistently too hot, a reptile will overheat and die. If restricted to an environment that is consistently too cool, a reptile will gradually stop eating, get sick, and eventually die.
Different reptile species have different ranges of temperatures that they need in order to effectively regulate their metabolism, and these temperature ranges are dependent on the nature of their native habitat. While preparing to care for a pet reptile, make sure to research the optimal temperature gradient (basking temperatures as well as cool zone temperatures) so you can set up the enclosure appropriately.
If you have or are planning to take home a pet reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate, one of the most valuable tools you can have is the right kind of thermometer. Digital probe thermometers are versatile and enable you to monitor temperature in a particular location. For best results, get two and place the probes on the warm and cool areas of the enclosure. Infrared thermometer (aka temp guns) are also useful if you have a reptile, because their point-and-shoot functionality enables you to check the exact temperature anywhere in the enclosure. When you know the temperatures in your enclosure, you become better equipped to take care of your pet.
- Josh Halter