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The Science of Terra Flora

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The Science of Terra Flora

From the desk of The Dude:

Natural bioactivity occurs in almost every climate on earth, from the lush jungles of the Congo to bone-dry Australian deserts.  These ecosystems contain unique processes to manage the buildup of organic waste.  Cleaning organisms and chemical processes break down matter, and nutrients return to the soil to support new life.  Through these processes, the ecosystem is kept clean and healthy.

Our specially-designed substrates were developed to support the natural drivers of bioactivity.  In supporting their natural functions, we can bring authentic bioactive environments to the home vivarium.  Here, we will focus on our Terra Flora substrate and the extremely wet and humid conditions it replicates.


Terra Flora is designed for use replicating the tropical rainforests found around the equator, where water and moisture are a constant. These environments rely heavily on small arthropods such as springtails and isopods, which break down the waste to a more manageable level, and microbes merely do a little tidying up afterwards. These arthropods form the basis of your cleaner crew, and are collectively referred to as microfauna.
Of course in these environments, everything is wet, nearly every second of every day. As such, there are some natural hurdles to overcome when recreating this in captivity in a safe manner. By far the most important is the challenge posed by undesired microbial growth. As one can imagine, such a wet environment is a haven for all sorts of bacteria, and if the soil is not suitable, dangerous varieties can very quickly proliferate and pose a danger to the microfauna and your pets.
The most important thing about our Terra Flora is that although it stays moist and keeps the tank humid, any excess water drains down through the soil and into your HydroGrow drainage layer, where it cannot foster the growth of anaerobic bacteria. If there is ever liquid water stagnating in the soil itself, these bacteria can quickly take over, and the sulfurous compounds they produce can kill your cleaner crew and pose a danger to your animals, especially in an environment with little or no ventilation as is required by poison dart frogs and many other amphibians.
This well-draining soil, and the accompanying drainage layer, is also extremely important for plants taking root in the soil, as too much water can starve the plant's roots of oxygen, and different varieties of bacteria can cause root rot, killing the plants.

Many customers in the past have asked if substrates such as Eco-Earth are suitable for these environments, and unfortunately they really just aren't. They compress and retain too much water, and even if you have a drainage layer these substrates will foster anaerobic bacterial growth and root rot, since fresh oxygen cannot circulate through the soil. All this inevitably leads to the crash of the vivarium's bioactivity, and makes it difficult to keep plants alive. If it goes on long enough, these substrates can most definitely pose a danger to the animals living on them, as they simply can't be kept wet enough in a safe manner.

Our Terra Flora, coupled with our HydroGrow and an appropriate layer of BioDegradables, eliminates the risks described above. Excess liquid water drains out of the soil very rapidly, practically running right through it. The large air pockets contained in the soil provide aeration and let oxygen flow throughout the soil, letting even the most finicky and delicate plant species flourish. These air pockets also provide a lot of additional space for the microfauna, making it easy to sustain a very high population of springtails and isopods, enough to keep your tank spotless while providing an additional source of food for species that will take advantage of it, such as dart frogs. Furthermore, this substrate is very long-lasting and will not break down and need to be replaced in a few years. We have maintained dart frog tanks for more than a decade on this substrate, without ever needing to replace anything but the BioDegradables on the surface.

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  • Josh Halter
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