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The Science of Terra Firma

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The Science of Terra Firma

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 Fauna substrate and the wide-ranging conditions it replicates.

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, the small arthropods known as microfauna that form the basis of your cleaner crew. 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. Terra Firma holds burrows flawlessly, which many species use to hide from predators or the extremes of nature such as high heat or low humidity during the dry season. 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. 
Terra Firma provides an excellent medium for most terrarium plants to grow in, and the root systems of those plants in turn provide structure and support to your pet's burrows. The bioactivity of these slightly dry environments relies heavily on the microfauna for decomposition, but some of the burden also falls on beneficial bacteria, fungi, and other microbial organisms that will establish themselves in the soil over time. The drier conditions and slower buildup of these beneficial microbes may make occasional spot-cleaning a necessity for the first few weeks or months while your microfauna and microbes establish themselves in the soil, especially for animals with larger, well-processed feces such as pythons and boas. Eventually, however, this cleaning should become unnecessary as your vivarium matures and the decomposers take over.

Since most burrowing species would dig right past a substrate barrier and into the drainage layer, Terra Firma is designed to be used without one. Most of the environments it would be used in are not wet enough to warrant any concern about excess water buildup or any resultant anaerobic bacterial growth. If it is used for environments with very high humidity it will still work as a bioactive substrate, but is not as user-friendly. Care must be taken that it is not watered too much, and turning over or stirring the substrate may be a good idea to ensure that oxygen reaches the soil on the bottom. If the species you are housing is not one that burrows in sandy soil, we strongly advise using our Terra Flora or Terra Fauna instead, with HydroGrow as a drainage layer, since this drastically reduces the risk of user error.

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  • Sean Barnett
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