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4 Ways to Turbocharge Your Vivarium’s CUC

4 Ways to Turbocharge Your Vivarium’s CUC

There’s a common misconception that bioactive enclosures are “lower maintenance” than other types of reptile enclosures. While it’s true that you don’t have to worry about frequent substrate replacements and deep-cleaning, there’s still plenty to keep you busy — including watering, plant pruning, plant replacement, and CUC maintenance! After all, without the CUC (short for “Clean Up Crew”), you can’t have a functional bioactive enclosure.

The CUC component of your setup may seem like a “set it and forget it” kind of thing, but just like the pet and the plants that you have in there, they have their own set of needs. If you want them to thrive and take care of that bioactive enclosure for you, then you need to care for them. If you pay attention to the following four items, you’ll have a healthy, thriving CUC to take care of your vivarium for years to come:


CUC is more than just isopods and springtails — and even then, there are a LOT of different kinds of isopods to choose from! Different types of CUC specialize in different cleaning “tasks” around your vivarium and reach different places for more comprehensive bioactive maintenance.

  • Isopods break down biodegradables such as wood and leaves to enrich the soil, while also helping break down waste. There are many different kinds of isopods, with some doing best in drier environments, and others preferred wetter environments.
  • Springtails keep mold and fungus in check in the moist parts of a vivarium.
  • Earthworms help aerate the deeper layers of substrate. These guys do best in temperate to tropical setups since they need lots of moisture.
  • Superworm larvae have a large appetite and break down waste quickly. Their digging activity helps aerate the top layer of a substrate. They do best in temperate to tropical setups.
  • Superworm beetles can climb to waste located in hard-to-reach places. 
  • Blue death-feigning beetles function like superworm beetles, but thrive in arid to semi-arid conditions. 

Since there are many different kinds of isopods, it may be tempting to introduce several different varieties to your setup. This usually ends up backfiring, however, as they will compete for resources and only one species will come out on top. That said, dwarf white/purple isopods usually coexist well with larger species since they occupy a separate niche.

Give Them Places to Hang Out

CUC critters need places where they can hide, just like your pet does. Even the more heat- and drought-tolerant ones are still dependent on access to damp, shaded areas such as reptile hideouts, hollow logs, underneath pieces of décor, or underneath water bowls (this one is a favorite!). Paperback bark, cork flats, and leaf litter are all particularly great for concealing your CUC and simultaneously giving them a safe place to hide, eat, and breed. 

Plus, if you have a pet that likes to eat its CUC, providing lots of hiding places will help them survive predatory pressure.

Give Them Plenty to Eat

Leaves and decaying wood aren’t usually enough to keep your CUC thriving long-term. They also need extra protein, calcium, and other nutrients to maintain a large (and therefore effective) population. Don’t worry about feeding your CUC too much — they can’t get fat, so give them as much as they’re capable of cleaning up.

You can use specific food formulated for feeding CUC, but as detritivores, CUC critters aren’t picky, so you can also repurpose rejected or leftover food from your pet. Crested gecko diet and even small whole prey are usually appreciated. Vegetable scraps from the kitchen usually work well, too. Springtails particularly appreciate mushroom slices! Complement these offerings with chunks of cuttlebone or bone for extra calcium. However, never feed your CUC anything you’re uncomfortable with your pet potentially getting exposed to.

As a bonus, feeding your CUC regularly is a chance to check up on how well the population is doing.

Refill as Needed

Unfortunately, adding that initial culture of critters to your bioactive during setup usually isn’t enough to create a stable long-term population, even if you follow best practices and let the setup establish itself for a month or a few before introducing your pet. CUC populations go through phases of boom and bust, especially in the beginning as they’re figuring out the right equilibrium for this new ecosystem. CUC populations can also take a hit if you have a pet which likes to snack on its CUC.

Use food offerings to gauge how your CUC populations are doing, and if things seem a bit too empty, give your vivarium a little “refill”. If you find yourself constantly replacing your CUC, however, it’s a good idea to take a closer look at your setup and the way you’ve been caring for them to see if there is something about your husbandry that is preventing the CUC from thriving.


When it comes to your vivarium’s CUC, think of them like employees: if you don’t take care of them, they won’t take good care of your enclosure! Fortunately, CUC is pretty easygoing, so just a little bit of effort on your part will pay off big in the long term.

Written by Mariah Healey,

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