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The science behind the soils

Biosecurity in Bioactivity — What is It? Why is it Important?

Biosecurity in Bioactivity — What is It? Why is it Important? 0

Biosecurity in Bioactivity — What is It? Why is it Important?

The Bio Dude — December 2020

Written by Mariah Healey, ReptiFIles

Bioactive enclosures are great. Really great, actually. They create a more naturalistic environment for your pet reptile while reducing some of the maintenance and expense for you long-term. But let’s be honest — bioactive is complicated, and comes with its own set of challenges that many people neglect to consider in light of the benefits.

For example, if you don’t install your drainage properly and you have a tropical setup, your substrate will flood, turn septic, and develop an unpleasant odor.

Or, if you don’t routinely add bioactive-friendly fertilizers like BioVive into your substrate, the soil will lose its nutritive value and the plants’ and CUC’s health will decline, decreasing the attractiveness and functionality of your setup.

Or, if you don’t remove feces regularly, you risk creating a booming population of parasites and germs in your setup, potentially decreasing your pet’s health rather than increasing it.

Biosecurity is one of those challenges. If you neglect biosecurity, you can introduce harmful bugs and germs into your pet’s environment that can hurt it or make it seriously ill. Here’s what you need to know as a bioactive keeper.

What is biosecurity?

The Oxford definition is biosecurity is “procedures intended to protect humans or animals against disease or harmful biological agents”. Biosecurity protocols are used in agriculture to protect farms from disastrous disease outbreaks that can wipe out millions of livestock or endanger human health. Biosecurity protocols are also used to prevent foreign plants and wildlife from taking root in and disrupting local ecosystems.

They can also be used to keep your pet healthy and prolong the longevity of your bioactive vivarium.

Why is biosecurity important to bioactive setups?

Let’s take a step back and ask ourselves what makes a bioactive vivarium work. Simply speaking, in order to create a functional mini-ecosystem, you need the right balance of beneficial bacteria, fungi, invertebrates, and other microfauna, as well as plants. When you intentionally add all of these factors to a closed environment, you control the balance of the ecosystem.

But when you add the wrong factors — especially if it’s by accident — the balance of the ecosystem gets thrown off, introducing disease and potentially completely crashing the setup.

Harmful microfauna usually get introduced to a setup when the keeper unwittingly adds something that is carrying them. This usually happens when the keeper picks something up from outdoors and adds it to their bioactive setup — this can be CUC critters, soil, wood, rocks, plants, etc. Of course, these things probably carry good microfauna, too (which is why you hear some people telling you not to treat things that have been collected outdoors) but that doesn’t cancel out the bad stuff.

Practicing good biosecurity is especially important for protecting your pet from deadly diseases present in the wild, such as chytrid (amphibian fungal disease) and Snake Fungal Disease.

How to improve your biosecurity

  • Don’t use soil dug up from outdoors.
  • Don’t use plants collected from outside.
  • Bake or boil found wood before adding it to your enclosure.
  • Scrub found rocks with boiling water (do not bake or boil them — they could explode!).
  • Soak and bake leaf litter before adding it to your enclosure.
  • Alternatively, spread found items out on a tarp and expose them to strong, direct sunlight outdoors (high dose UV kills most of the bad stuff) for a couple days, flipping as needed .
  • At the *very* least, give items a good scrub to clean the surface and let them sit for a while in a clean storage area to “detox”.
  • Avoid using chemicals like bleach/ammonia for treatment, as they leave residues. However, certain veterinary-grade disinfectants like F10SC and Clean Break can be safely used on porous (natural) surfaces.
  • Freeze or bake bioactive substrate before throwing it away – don’t simply put it in your garden, as you could be introducing non-native isopods and other CUC critters to your local ecosystem. The good news here is that bioactive substrates are not meant to be thrown away, although a partial soil change every once in a while can be beneficial.
  • Do not re-use a bioactive enclosure after the original inhabitant has died, or purchase a used bioactive setup from someone else.


Using found materials is a great way to save money when setting up a bioactive enclosure. However, if you don’t take the right precautions, you’ll end up having to face expensive vet bills and potentially have to euthanize your pet (or a significant portion of your collection) because you introduced a deadly disease.

Why take that risk? Be a responsible bioactive herp keeper. Practice biosecurity.


Image by Kira Hoffmann from Pixabay.

  • Josh Halter
The Carbon Cycle and Bioactive Terraria

The Carbon Cycle and Bioactive Terraria 0

                                                     Carbon Cycle and Bioactive Terraria
Written by: Joshua Halter and Reece Buck
            Every form of life on the planet Earth is comprised of some configuration of carbon atoms. Carbon is the essential building block for all life forms and is the most abundant element on Earth. Carbon is so vital to our existence that any fluctuation in concentration transmogrifies the atmospheric temperature as well as defines life down to the biological and physiological level. In this article we will explain the very complex carbon cycle and its importance in a Bio Dude bioactive terrarium and the impacts in has during the life of your terrarium.
          The carbon cycle is both a geological and biological process. Geological, which takes millions of years to complete, while biological occurs more quickly. On a biological level of the carbon cycle, this occurs during the time of an organism’s lifespan.  The key players in the biological carbon cycle are flora and to some extent fauna. The Flora of our planet are the oxygen scrubbers that intake the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and transform oxygen for the Fauna to help them maintain basic homeostasis. The atmospheric carbon dioxide is broken down into oxygen molecules and carbon molecules. In the terrarium the carbon is sequestered in the root systems and deposited into the surrounding soil in nutrient pools. The other component of the biological process deals with decomposition of total biomass. Biomass is the measurement of a biological entity’s total mass. Great examples of biomass are your essential biodegradeables utilized in your Bio Dude terrariums. As flora or fauna decay, it is being broken down by the microscopic entities of the decomposition process. The bioavailable carbon is disposed of in the soil. Microorganisms within the soil, such as mycorrhizal, cleave to the root systems of flora and allow them to process the carbon expelled from flora, but also sequester carbon close to the roots. Carbon is a basic building block for many chemical and molecular bonds needed for all functions of both flora and fauna. In the terrarium this cycle is renewed every time an individual expires, or when the soil releases some of its cached carbon. When this cached carbon is released more carbon dioxide raises atmospheric temperatures. While this happens in the terrarium, excess carbon will not raise the temperature of the terrarium significantly or enough to impact your overall heating requirements of your pet.
                    In a bioactive setup the same cycle occurs on a smaller scale. Every aspect of a Bio Dude bioactive enclosure contains carbon in some form. The soil used contains bound up carbon molecules, the plants ascertain carbon from the atmosphere; in conjunction with the Bio Dude Grow&Glow LED to promote photosynthesis, creating photosynthetic carbon that is excreted into the soil. If you have an omnivorous reptile then a portion of that photosynthetic carbon is consumed and metabolized within the animal. This carbon is then used in DNA synthesis or for other molecular synthesizing processes. Another aspect of the cycle in the terrarium is the never-ending respiration of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the enclosure of your reptile or amphibian. This respiration process is what fuels the carbon absorption of the flora present. Utilizing the Bio Dude’s  BioShot, and to some extent the clean up crews such as Earwigs, Springtails, Isopods can  help sequester loose carbon within the soil matrix by cleaving it to the root systems. That is solely the job of the Mycorrhizal and mycelium colonies that establish within your biome. The clean up crews are the garbagemen which aid in breaking down waste matter into base elements of: Carbon, Nitrogen, and Phosphorous along with smaller trace elements that are readily utilized by your plants and Bio Dude substrate.
                 If one is using a non-bioactive enclosure there are elements of carbon present. However, they are more than likely inorganic materials. Part of the carbon cycle will still occur in a non-bioactive setup, but without all the components, carbon is wasted. Without plants and soil microbes the soil is unable to cache excess carbon, as a result it is just released back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, which is not utilized by your plants or soil on a large enough level for success. Another drawback is that your omnivorous reptiles is when they are  fed veggies that has been plucked from the ground, shipped and placed inside an artificially lit warehouse. The energy available within these specimens is far less than flora that is self-maintaining within the biome. Less energy available means the energy expounded to acquire nutrients is completely lost and not completely replenished. Synthetic substrates such as repticarpet are indeed carbon-based, but they are also created of a plastic polymer. Polymers are tougher and take more energy to breakdown into the base components. Most microbes are unable to break down plastics due to their impervious molecular structure bonds. This is yet another reason why  plastic pollution in our forests and beaches has become such a huge issue.
                   The carbon cycle is the most essential biological process necessary for all life on Earth. Without this cycle, we could not function and life would not exist without the carbon cycle, most creatures existing on planet earth would rely on methane or sulfur, which as we know can be very toxic in larger doses and can make habitats inhospitable. It is our duty as harbingers of good husbandry to recreate the natural world as best as possible and this includes natural biological and chemical processes. This is the beauty of bioactivity, that these natural cycles will replicate themselves on a smaller scale within our created biomes. The carbon cycle, while complex is vital to all living organism. As reptile and amphibian keepers it is our responsibility to provide the best care, rather than the basic care using research driven practices and techniques for some of the most unique and diverse animals on the planet.
Gougoulias, C., Clark, J. M., & Shaw, L. J. (2014). The role of soil microbes in the global carbon cycle: tracking the below-ground microbial processing of plant-derived carbon for manipulating carbon dynamics in agricultural systems. Journal of the science of food and agriculture, 94(12), 2362-71.


  • Josh Halter
The Nitrogen Cycle and Bioactive Terraria

The Nitrogen Cycle and Bioactive Terraria 0

                                        Bioactive Terraria and the Nitrogen Cycle

Written by: Reece Buck and Joshua Halter 

            On planet Earth, there are several chemical cycles that occur naturally and are essential for all life on Earth. One of those cycles is the nitrogen cycle. Both flora and fauna are integral cogs with this process. In this article we will discuss how this process works within your Bio Dude bioactive enclosures, as well as touch base on how certain aspects of the cycle are disrupted in a non-bioactive enclosure.


            First, let us look at the overall cycle and break it down into its four major parts. The nitrogen cycle is initiated with nitrogen, which is available in mass quantity within the atmosphere. Bacteria intake this free-flowing atmospheric nitrogen through a process called nitrogen fixation. Once nitrogen goes through fixation it becomes ammonia, this is utilized by plants and animals. Once consumed the ammonia is broken down. From there it can be either metabolized by the organism, or excreted in the form of urate within urine. Urates are the white clump of waste material excreted by your reptile, commonly attached to feces. That concentrated ammonia, or organic nitrogen, is then broken down further by different bacterias. The final step is being released back into the atmosphere or environment as gaseous nitrogen.

            The abovementioned process is what happens on a global scale. When we create a bioactive enclosure for our reptiles and amphibians, we are creating this same cycle on a micro-biological scale. Most, if not all of the nitrogen cycle occurs at the microscopic and atomic level via decomposers. Within the BioDude’s bioactive terraria our decomposers come in the form of the BioShot. The BioShot contains both nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria. Ecosystems depend on these metabolically adaptable aerobic bacteria and fungi for regulation and recycling of nutrients to maintain homeostasis within the biome. The nitrifying bacteria cleave to aspects of the flora, such as the elements within the vascular bundle. During the process of cellular respiration these bacteria aid flora in the creation of complex molecules such as ammonia. Denitrifying bacteria cleave to the root system of flora and account for 10-15% of the bacterial population within the soil. These denitrifying bacteria are responsible for consuming any urate left within your enclosure, breaking the organic nitrogen or ammonia back into nitrogen via a process called hydrolysis. These denitrifying bacteria also decompose the biodegradables such as leaf litter, sphagnum moss, palm bark, cork bark, woods, and other organic matter. One of the key players of biodegradable decomposition is arbuscular mycorrhiza, which aid in host nutrient uptake of key nutrients such as nitrogen. Since nitrogen is a limiting nutrient, there is not much produced within natural nitrogen process of flora. These bacteria allow for nutrient caching which promotes growth of flora and to some extent fauna.

            Within a bioactive setup, all biological and chemical elements are present for these processes to occur. Unfortunately, in a non-bioactive setup key elements of the process are missing, namely the bacteria and flora that are responsible for transmogrifying nitrogen. Since these elements are missing human intervention is necessary to maintain fauna health. In a non-bioactive enclosure there are no bacteria to breakdown feces and urate. While utilizing small clean up crews are very beneficial, they do not always provide everything your enclosure needs to thrive. As a result, allowing build up in a soil matrix of ammonia within the urate will leech out due to humidity levels within the soil. Without proper soil aeration anaerobic bacteria arise. Without the presence of flora, you do not have a processor of atmospheric nitrogen to convert it into organic consumable nitrogen usually, in the form of ammonia. Squamates cannot survive in an environment saturated with ammonia. Issues such as respiratory infections, fungal infections, eye infections, shedding issues, death and other issues can arise due to a toxic buildup of ammonia.

            Providing your terraria the ability to function and thrive is a key component for successful husbandry practices of keeping reptiles and amphibians as pets. The nitrogen cycle, while complex, is vital to all living organisms. As reptile enthusiasts it is our responsibility to provide the best care, rather than the basic care using research driven practices and techniques for some of the most unique and diverse animals on the planet.




Casella, S., & Payne, W. J. (1996). Potential of denitrifiers for soil environment protection. FEMS Microbiology Letters,104, 1-8.

Gui, H., Hyde, K., Xu, J., & Mortimer, P. (2017). Arbuscular mycorrhiza enhance the rate of litter decomposition while inhibiting soil microbial community development. Scientific Reports,1-10.











The Basics of the BioShot

The Basics of the BioShot 0

We here at The BioDude are excited to introduce the latest addition to our line of bioactive products, the BioShot. Here we will go over what is is, what it does, and the longstanding problems that we hope to solve.
  • Josh Halter
The Science of Terra Sahara

The Science of Terra Sahara 0

Arid enclosures can be difficult to make bioactive, simply because the soil type and lack of available moisture makes it hard for a high population of decomposing microbes and microfauna to establish themselves. The soil also must be able to support the burrowing behavior most desert animals use to prevent dehydration.
Our Terra Sahara makes this usually troublesome task easy for even the most novice reptile keeper, allowing you to create a beautiful, self-cleaning desert landscape for your reptile to call its own.
  • Josh Halter
The Science of Terra Firma

The Science of Terra Firma 0

Our Terra Firma is designed to replicate the silty soil that many reptile and amphibian species dig burrows in, while still providing a suitable substrate for springtails and isopods. This soil type occurs in a wide variety of habitats, from seasonal savannas and semiarid regions to coastal rainforests and along riverbanks. As such, it is suitable for use in a wide range of vivarium types, although it works best in enclosures with a humidity range of 50-75%, kept dry on the surface and moist underneath.
Species that will make the most of this substrate include many snakes, large lizards such as monitors or tegus, and any other reptiles or amphibians that dig burrows. 
  • Josh Halter

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