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The Nitrogen Cycle and Bioactive Terraria

The Nitrogen Cycle and Bioactive Terraria

                                        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.











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