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How do I create a BioActive vivarium?

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Tank Hitchhikers 1

From the desk of the Dude

 

One of the learning curves of dealing with natural ecosystems is the fauna that becomes attracted to these beautiful setups. After initial setup, or even months after initial setup one may notice things in their vivarium that they have absolutely no idea how they got there or what their function in the vivarium is. In this article the Dude will discuss the different types of fauna, how to handle it, if they are a problem or a benefit in your vivarium.

 

Insects:

Fungus Gnats -  Probably the most common complaint for new vivarium owners. These annoying winged creatures are attracted to moist surfaces and stagnant water. These gnats can come from outside, from your plants, or even from your substrate (depending on where you purchased it!).  What makes these pests so annoying is their lengthy life cycle.

As you can see in figure 4 their life cycle can be quite sneaky, to say the least. Very similar to fleas, many adult gnats can lay their eggs in soil or moist surfaces and allow them to incubate until the proper stimuli causes the eggs to develop into the larva stage. From the larva stage their evolution happens quickly as they are vulnerable. To help prevent eggs and other life stages from showing up in your vivarium, it is recommended to always plant your plants bare root, with no outside soil attached. Be sure to properly rinse your plants off with a 5% bleach solution to eliminate any potential eggs under the leaves. When utilizing vivaria soil, it is recommended to purchase it from a reputable dealer, such as The Bio Dude, who hand crafts all of his substrates which goes through vigorous quality checks to prevent outbreaks such as this from happening.  

If you notice these annoying winged insects flying in your vivarium you can take the following steps to alleviate these annoying insects. Simply cut the misting down and allow the tank to almost dry out – without the necessary moisture content in the substrate the bugs will perish and their life cycle in the tank will be broken. As your vivarium develops and changes, the springtails and isopods will outcompete the gnats driving their populations down and eventually eliminating them completely. Carnivorous plants can also be used to alleviate these flying insects, but be sure they are the South American species as Northern species need a dormant, winter period.  The last option to eliminate the life cycle is setup small vinegar traps inside your vivarium.  To do so, follow the steps provided:

  • Obtain an old cup and fill it up ¾ of the way with Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Add 5-6 drops of blue dawn into the cup and add water – causing bubbles to form on the top
  • Place seran wrap over the top, and wrap a rubber band around the lip of the cup. This creates a flat, closed surface over the cup.
  • Poke small holes in the seran wrap on the top. The gnats are attracted to it, will fly in and get caught inside and drown.
  • If you want to forgo this process you can also use wine, but who wants to waste wine?!

It is imperative you continue treatment for at least 2 weeks post last sighting of the gnats. Eliminating the life cycle is key (much like fleas), and if you only get rid of the adults, the problem will re-appear when the next generation of eggs hatch.

 

Drain Fly –  These not so common winged insects are another type of fly that can find their way into your vivarium.  These flies are commonly found in drain pipes, sewer pipes, or oversaturated soil. While these flies produce in smaller amounts, they breed rather quickly and can get out of hand if not taken care of immediately. Unlike the Fungus Gnats, whose eggs can hatch when the proper stimuli is provided, these flies typically hatch 1-2 days after initial egg deposition. So, if left unchecked these winged insects can become quite the issue.

 

To control these pests, it can be quite a challenge. With their unique hairs that give them a water-resistant body, they can be quite hard to drown. With that being said it is recommended to dry the tank out almost completely, which will break the cycle of these flies as they need a moist biome for homeostasis. If drying the tank out does not work, you may have to yank the soil completely and start over. Vinegar and fly traps can be used, but they do not work near as well on these flies as other species.

 

Grain Mites – One of the most common mites that will rear their head in your vivarium. Grain mites are everywhere. In our cereal, the air we breathe, wood surfaces, almost everywhere. Grain mites get their name from feeding on grain, which, are found in many of your common reptile/amphibian products. Fruit Fly Media, Insect Gutloader, Gecko Diets,  Some substrates are examples of products where some sort of the life stage of the grain mite will be present.

 

 

As you can see by their complex life cycle, these mites go through many changes as they grow, and with stages of evolution comes stimuli and other factors that need to be taken into account when looking for these in your vivarium.  Now these mites are 100% harmless to your pets, but if the population gets out of hand you may notice them crawling on your inhabitant, which then could be a problem.  Many of your small pets such as Dart Frogs, Small Lizards and even small inverts will relish the taste of grain mites. These mites thrive in moist, nutrient rich conditions so it is very challenging for these mites to get overpopulate the vivarium. If you do notice the population growing, limit how long you keep your insect gutloader, fruit fly cultures etc in the tank. Grain Mites can also hitchhike off other insects, such as fruit flies, as there are thousands in every single fruit fly culture.  To take care of the grain mite issue, simply dry the tank. Springtails and Isopods will also outcompete them and eventually dwindle their population to almost non-existent in your vivarium.

 

Soil Mites – Another common mite in your vivarium, these mites are 100% harmless and have very similar breakdown adaptations to the springtails and isopods, making them a positive force in the vivarium. These mites look like very tiny tan dots that move in and out of the soil. To properly identify you will need a microscope.

 

Snake Mites – These awful creatures typically come from WC animals that did not go through any treatment whatsoever prior to being taken into their new home. These mites should be taken very seriously, your animal quarantined and your tank treated appropriately with PROVENT A MITE. You will have to start your bioactive enclosure over from the beginning with fresh soil, biodegradeables, bugs etc. If you do not eliminate all mites and their life cycle they will re-appear again causing you to re-treat the afflicted.

 

 

Ants – One of the pleasures of collecting goods from safe areas outside is the potential risk of bringing in ants. Most of the time, ants are 100% harmless and usually come from the leaf litter.  Usually, you will be lucky enough to not have a queen present in the vivarium, so the ants will just wither and die on their own. If you are unlucky and are dealing with a queen, you will have eliminate the problem yourself. I recommend pulling out all of your biodegradeables and throwing it all away. From there remove all décor and your inhabitant. Once your tank is moderately dry, get a small plate and cover it with sugar/honey and a little bit of water in the middle of the plate. Around the edges of the plate (but NOT in your vivarium) place a small amount of Diotomaceous Earth around the perimeter. This will cause the ants to get to the food, but the DE will kill them before they can do anything else. D.E is 100% safe for your animals, but if your springtails and isopods come in contact, it will kill those as well.  Most of the time ants will leave your inhabitant alone, BUT if you notice red ants you must take immediate action as they can and will cause harm to your inhabitant.

 

Slugs – 100% Harmless, 100% unique, but will eat 100% of your plants. If you do not mind them eating some of your plants, let them roam. If you don’t like them, simply throw on a pair of gloves, pull and dispose.

 

Millipedes and Centipedes - These unqiue critters typically come as hitch hikers from your plants, soil, or leaf litter. Many of them are harmless, but there are some centipedes that will hurt your microfauna population if left unchecked. To tell the difference between the two –

Common Millipede

 

Centipede

 

In a bioactive vivarium, the millipedes will also breakdown organic matter, helping with your nutrient absorption in your soil and plants. Millipedes have a very unique defensive niche, which is when intimidated they roll into a tight ball and release a toxic substance, which if ingested tastes awful. Many of your reptiles and amphibians will spit them right out with exception of a few specialists. Do not be too concerned about Millipedes living in your vivarium. Centipedes on the other hand, should be removed instantly. They can bite and hurt your inhabitant as well as eat your essential microfauna hurting your clean up crew populations. 

 

Worms – In your vivarium, earthworms, nightcrawlers and other types of worms can make their way into your tank via hitchhiking from your soil, plants, or even woods if untreated. Many worms will be very beneficial to your vivarium. Worms in general help aerate the soil, which helps with root development in your plants as well as aeration in your soil all together. They will decompose pretty much everything that is not soil, feces, logs, dead organic matter, and turn it right back into nutrient rich soil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Josh Halter
How do I create a Terra Sahara BioActive Vivarium

How do I create a Terra Sahara BioActive Vivarium 0

From the desk of The Dude

What is a bioactive terrarium?


A bioactive terrarium is a self-sustaining, self-maintaining, direct replication of the natural ecological cycle that happens on the rainforest floor. The rainforest floor is composed of thousands of different detrivores that break down decaying matter to return nutrients back into the soil. Detrivores such as isopods and springtails are the most commonly seen on the rainforest floor.


Why go bioactive?
In any terrarium the soil is the most important part of the setup. The soil is the backbone for live plants, water drainage, and tank maintenance. Many times hobbyists will setup a terrarium and have to break it down months later because of the microbial build up in the soil, as well as the death of plants from using soil that becomes water clogged. Having a proper bioactive setup allows for optimum plant growth, but also allows for tank longevity (10+ years without a soil change) if kept properly. The detrivores established in the tank will break down feces and other decaying matter which recycle nutrients back into the soil, thus keeping the substrate fresh and ready for the next generation. Many small amphibians such as dart frogs relish the springtails and isopods as an additional food source. Having these microfeeders established will bring out unique behaviors in your pets such as foraging and hunting, and will thrive in an environment that is a direct replication of the natural ecological cycle they are accustomed to. 


How do I go bioactive with a Terra Sahara setup?

Layer 1 - Terra Sahara substrate

The bottom layer of your terrarium sits the bringer of life, the specialty terrarium soil known as Terra Firma. This specialty mix created by the dude is the staple for a living substrate. The BioDudes handcrafted bioactive substrate for reptiles such as bearded dragons, uromastyx, leopard geckos, and other desert dwelling reptiles.This substrate is specifically designed for biomes that can get very dry and arid, but occasionally have minor humidity spikes. Terra Sahara, a one of a kind substrate is designed to hold the perfect amount of water while allowing for evaporation, preventing anaerobic bacteria growth, which is a common issue in desert terraria. Terra Sahara also retains all burrows and hides. I have found this substrate brings out many of the instinctual niches that many desert animals do in their daily life. Not only does it hold a burrow, it also holds a complete tunnel when the moisture content is held at 25%-40%. Terra Sahara provides excellent organic nutrition for your vivarium by creating necessary air pockets for root development and plant health. These air pockets are also necessary for the springtails and isopods to create a sustainable population in the vivarium. . This substrate when used exactly as directed in the Dude's guide this substrate can last 10+ years in the terrarium without ever being changed. This mix should have at least a  3” layer in the terrarium. When this mix is added it should be dumped into a bucket full of water, and squeezed so it is 50% saturated, but not dripping. This is the appropriate water balance that this soil will maintain during the life of the vivarium.


Layer 2 (above the substrate)

The true meaning of bioactive comes from these small organisms that are seeded into your terrarium after the previous steps have been fulfilled. These small insects, also known as detrivores are the key to the longevity of your terrarium. The isopods are larger organisms similar to the rolley polley insect we see commonly here in the USA. Isopods are your top janitors that will be established in your vivarium. They will quickly chase down a piece of decaying matter, cover it, and devour it very quickly. As they break down the decaying matter the essential nutrients are put back into the soil. Isopods are also an excellent source of bioavailable food for small amphibians and reptiles. They are very high in calcium, minerals, and vitamins that are a great supplemental source of food found naturally in the tank. These microorganisms will breed very quickly in the tank and create a small micropopulation that will establish quickly in your terrarium. Springtails are another tank janitor, but besides breaking down decaying matter they also flow through the soil. These small microorganisms will aerate the soil which help with drainage, root development, and longevity of the terrarium. These are also an excellent source of food for small amphibians such as dart frogs, and will encourage their natural foraging behavior exhibited in the wild. To seed your tank is simple. Simply dump a culture springtails and a culture of isopods into the tank and they will quickly form a sustainable population in the terrarium.



Layer 3 (above the microfauna)

Leaf litter is an absolute must when having a bioactive setup. Decaying plant matter is what drives the beginning process of the ecological cycle on the rainforest floor. As the terrarium progresses with age the leaves will eventually breakdown (with the help of the springtails and isopods) and put essential nutrients back into the soil. Leaves provide hiding spots for many small amphibians and reptiles as they forage on the forest floor looking for food. Leaves also help boost springtail and isopod levels in the terrarium. When initially seeding the terrarium with leaves I typically do a generous ½” layer. As the terrarium progresses with age, and the leaves start to breakdown.

Maintenance with your Sahara - 

While the bio activity is a key factor with the life of the vivarium, the Sahara itself will need spot cleaned occasionally in specific areas of the terrarium. Generally, most lizards defecate in the same area. To help with cleanup, it is important that the substrate itself is relatively damp in that area, as the springtails/isopods will flourish in that area and breakdown the fecal matter quicker. Inevitably, spot cleaning will still need performed with the setup, but as long as the substrate never completely dries out the substrate will last the life of the animal. 

Written by The Dude himself, Josh Halter
www.thebiodude.com


1/2/2017

 

  • Josh Halter
How do I create a Terra Firma BioActive Setup?

How do I create a Terra Firma BioActive Setup? 0

From the desk of The Dude

What is a bioactive terrarium?
A bioactive terrarium is a self-sustaining, self-maintaining, direct replication of the natural ecological cycle that happens on the rainforest floor. The rainforest floor is composed of thousands of different detrivores that break down decaying matter to return nutrients back into the soil. Detrivores such as isopods and springtails are the most commonly seen on the rainforest floor.


Why go bioactive?
In any terrarium the soil is the most important part of the setup. The soil is the backbone for live plants, water drainage, and tank maintenance. Many times hobbyists will setup a terrarium and have to break it down months later because of the microbial build up in the soil, as well as the death of plants from using soil that becomes water clogged. Having a proper bioactive setup allows for optimum plant growth, but also allows for tank longevity (10+ years without a soil change) if kept properly. The detrivores established in the tank will break down feces and other decaying matter which recycle nutrients back into the soil, thus keeping the substrate fresh and ready for the next generation. Many small amphibians such as dart frogs relish the springtails and isopods as an additional food source. Having these microfeeders established will bring out unique behaviors in your pets such as foraging and hunting, and will thrive in an environment that is a direct replication of the natural ecological cycle they are accustomed to. 


How do I go bioactive with a Terra Firma setup?

Layer 1 - Terra Firma substrate

The bottom layer of your terrarium sits the bringer of life, the specialty terrarium soil known as Terra Firma. This specialty mix created by the dude is the staple for a living substrate. This substrate is specifically designed for biomes that can get quite hot, but have minor humidity spikes throughout the day. Not only does the Terra Firma not need a drainage layer, its design allows for proper water retention while holding all burrows and tunnels your critter creates! Terra Firma provides excellent organic nutrition for your vivarium by creating necessary air pockets for root development and plant health. These air pockets are also necessary for the springtails and isopods to create a sustainable population in the vivarium. . This substrate when used exactly as directed in the Dude's guide this substrate can last 10+ years in the terrarium without ever being changed. This mix should have at least a  3” layer in the terrarium. When this mix is added it should be dumped into a bucket full of water, and squeezed so it is saturated, but not dripping. This is the appropriate water balance that this soil will maintain during the life of the vivarium.


Layer 4 (above the substrate)

The true meaning of bioactive comes from these small organisms that are seeded into your terrarium after the previous steps have been fulfilled. These small insects, also known as detrivores are the key to the longevity of your terrarium. The isopods are larger organisms similar to the rolley polley insect we see commonly here in the USA. Isopods are your top janitors that will be established in your vivarium. They will quickly chase down a piece of decaying matter, cover it, and devour it very quickly. As they break down the decaying matter the essential nutrients are put back into the soil. Isopods are also an excellent source of bioavailable food for small amphibians and reptiles. They are very high in calcium, minerals, and vitamins that are a great supplemental source of food found naturally in the tank. These microorganisms will breed very quickly in the tank and create a small micropopulation that will establish quickly in your terrarium. Springtails are another tank janitor, but besides breaking down decaying matter they also flow through the soil. These small microorganisms will aerate the soil which help with drainage, root development, and longevity of the terrarium. These are also an excellent source of food for small amphibians such as dart frogs, and will encourage their natural foraging behavior exhibited in the wild. To seed your tank is simple. Simply dump a culture springtails and a culture of isopods into the tank and they will quickly form a sustainable population in the terrarium.



Layer 6 (above the microfauna)

Leaf litter is an absolute must when having a bioactive setup. Decaying plant matter is what drives the beginning process of the ecological cycle on the rainforest floor. As the terrarium progresses with age the leaves will eventually breakdown (with the help of the springtails and isopods) and put essential nutrients back into the soil. Leaves provide hiding spots for many small amphibians and reptiles as they forage on the forest floor looking for food. Leaves also help boost springtail and isopod levels in the terrarium. When initially seeding the terrarium with leaves I typically do a generous ½” layer. As the terrarium progesses with age, and the leaves start to breakdown. It is also recommended to utilize premium AAA Spag Moss. This moss provides excess moisture on the top of the substrate mix to help plants with shallow roots take hold. This moss also prevents the soil from sticking to your animals if they would venture on the floor of your terrarium, and also helps prevent ingestion of soil (especially with Chameleons). Prior to adding to the terrarium it is recommended to soak the moss in a bucket until saturated, but not dripping wet. Cover the substrate layer with a thin layer of moss that has a depth of about ½”. This will help retain moisture, and eventually breakdown putting essential nutrients back into the soil. It is important to use the moss sparingly, as it takes quite a bit of time to decompose. 

Written by The Dude himself, Josh Halter
www.thebiodude.com


1/2/2017

How do I create a Terra Fauna or Terra Flora BioActive Vivarium?

How do I create a Terra Fauna or Terra Flora BioActive Vivarium? 0

From the desk of The Dude

What is a bioactive terrarium?
A bioactive terrarium is a self-sustaining, self-maintaining, direct replication of the natural ecological cycle that happens on the rainforest floor. The rainforest floor is composed of thousands of different detrivores that break down decaying matter to return nutrients back into the soil. Detrivores such as isopods and springtails are the most commonly seen on the rainforest floor.


Why go bioactive?
In any terrarium the soil is the most important part of the setup. The soil is the backbone for live plants, water drainage, and tank maintenance. Many times hobbyists will setup a terrarium and have to break it down months later because of the microbial build up in the soil, as well as the death of plants from using soil that becomes water clogged. Having a proper bioactive setup allows for optimum plant growth, but also allows for tank longevity (10+ years without a soil change) if kept properly. The detrivores established in the tank will break down feces and other decaying matter which recycle nutrients back into the soil, thus keeping the substrate fresh and ready for the next generation. Many small amphibians such as dart frogs relish the springtails and isopods as an additional food source. Having these microfeeders established will bring out unique behaviors in your pets such as foraging and hunting, and will thrive in an environment that is a direct replication of the natural ecological cycle they are accustomed to. 


How do I go bioactive with tropical setups?

Layer 1 (Drainage layer for Terra Flora and Terra Fauna) 





Hydrogrow, which is the terrarium drainage layer is the backbone in a successful tropical bioactive setup. This lightweight, pourous material sits on the bottom layer of the terrarium with a depth of 2”. The drainage layers purpose is to catch the excess water that drains out of the soil. This is to prevent the Terra Flora or Terra Fauna from becoming water clogged. Excess water in the soil will lead to microbial buildup, loss of microfauna, root rot, and eventually the death of the plants. Maintaining the water level is very simple. When the water level reaches the top of the Hydrogrow layer simply siphon the water out of the tank.

Layer 2 (above the HydroGro with Terra Flora and Terra Fauna setups)

The substrate barrier has one simple purpose: to keep the substrate out of the drainage layer. This makes maintaining the HydroGrow layer easier, as well as maintains the quality of the Terra Flora. The screen should be cut to match the perimeter of the inside of the tank, and place directly on top of the HydroGrow.



Layer 3 (above the substrate barrier)

Directly on top of the substrate barrier sits the bringer of life, the specialty terrarium soil known as Terra Flora or Terra Fauna. This specialty mix created by the dude is the staple for a living substrate. This premium blend offers water retention, yet drains exceptionally well. It also boasts the capabilities to boost microfauna production (springtails and isopods) and promote proper development in plants. This substrate when used exactly as directed in the Dude's guide this substrate can last 10+ years in the terrarium without ever being changed. This mix should have at least a 2” layer in the terrarium. When this mix is added it should be dumped into a bucket full of water, and squeezed so it is saturated, but not dripping. This is the appropriate water balance that this soil will maintain during the life of the vivarium.


Layer 4 (above the substrate)

Nestled softly on top of the Terra Flora or Terra Fauna lies the New Zealand premium AAA Spag Moss. This moss provides excess moisture on the top of the substrate mix to help plants with shallow roots take hold. This moss also prevents the soil from sticking to your animals if they would venture on the floor of your terrarium, and also helps prevent ingestion of soil (especially with Chameleons). Prior to adding to the terrarium it is recommended to soak the moss in a bucket until saturated, but not dripping wet. Cover the substrate layer with a thin layer of moss that has a depth of about ½”. This will help retain moisture, and eventually breakdown putting essential nutrients back into the soil.



Layer 5 (above the spag moss)

The true meaning of bioactive comes from these small organisms that are seeded into your terrarium after the previous steps have been fulfilled. These small insects, also known as detrivores are the key to the longevity of your terrarium. The isopods are larger organisms similar to the rolley polley insect we see commonly here in the USA. Isopods are your top janitors that will be established in your vivarium. They will quickly chase down a piece of decaying matter, cover it, and devour it very quickly. As they break down the decaying matter the essential nutrients are put back into the soil. Isopods are also an excellent source of bioavailable food for small amphibians and reptiles. They are very high in calcium, minerals, and vitamins that are a great supplemental source of food found naturally in the tank. These microorganisms will breed very quickly in the tank and create a small micropopulation that will establish quickly in your terrarium. Springtails are another tank janitor, but besides breaking down decaying matter they also flow through the soil. These small microorganisms will aerate the soil which help with drainage, root development, and longevity of the terrarium. These are also an excellent source of food for small amphibians such as dart frogs, and will encourage their natural foraging behavior exhibited in the wild. To seed your tank is simple. Simply dump a culture springtails and a culture of isopods into the tank and they will quickly form a sustainable population in the terrarium.


Layer 6 (above the microfauna)

Leaf litter is an absolute must when having a bioactive setup. Decaying plant matter is what drives the beginning process of the ecological cycle on the rainforest floor. As the terrarium progresses with age the leaves will eventually breakdown (with the help of the springtails and isopods) and put essential nutrients back into the soil. Leaves provide hiding spots for many small amphibians and reptiles as they forage on the forest floor looking for food. Leaves also help boost springtail and isopod levels in the terrarium. When initially seeding the terrarium with leaves I typically do a generous ½” layer. As the terrarium progesses with age, and the leaves start to breakdown, I typically add in fresh New Zealand AAA Spag moss (sparingly) and fresh leaf litter to keep the cycle going.

Written by The Dude himself, Josh Halter
www.thebiodude.com


1/2/2017