The science behind the soils
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.
- Josh Halter
The Carbon Cycle and Bioactive Terraria 0
- Josh Halter
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.
- Josh Halter
- Tags: nitrogen cycle
The Science of Terra Sahara 0Arid 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 0Our 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