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.
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 –
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