The Dude's Blog
Introduction to UVB, part 2
Introduction to UVB, part 2:
How to Use UVB in Your Reptile Enclosure
Guest post written by ReptiFiles for use by The Bio Dude
Over the course of millions of years of evolution, every reptile has specifically and remarkably adapted to a specific type of environment and lifestyle. Under ideal circumstances, we would all be able to keep our reptiles outdoors in the exact same environment that they evolved in and wouldn’t have to artificially provide heat or UVB.
As pets, our beloved reptiles are far removed from their natural habitat in the wild and require our care. So it’s up to us to recreate allaspects of the habitat that they evolved in: temperatures, humidity, UVB, substrate, diet, territory size, etc. When we succeed in this effort, we enable them to truly thrive (not just survive) in captivity.
Both UVA and UVB are present in all reptiles’ natural habitats. However, the exact amount of UVB that is present varies from habitat to habitat. Different types of reptiles from different microclimates require different levels of UVB. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. You can’t walk into a pet store, grab whatever UVB bulb looks good, and walk out. However, most reptiles fit into one of four categories:
Meet the Ferguson Zones
Dr. Gary Ferguson categorized the different levels of UVB need into 4 zones, and revolutionized the way we approach UVB provision for reptiles.
Zone 1describes crepuscular reptiles and shade-dwellers that thrive with a UV Index between 0.1-0.7.
- ball pythons
- corn snakes
- crested geckos
- leopard geckos
Zone 2describes partial sun and occasional baskers that thrive with an average UV Index of 0.7-1.0.
- red-footed tortoises
- green anoles
- Chinese water dragons
- boa constrictors
Zone 3describes open and partial sun baskers that thrive with an average UV Index of 1.0-2.6.
- red-eared sliders
- day geckos
- blue tongue skinks
Zone 4describes mid-day open sun baskers that thrive with an average UV Index of 2.6-3.5.
- bearded dragons
*Note that these are all-day averages, not maximums or total gradient specifications.
If you keep a reptile species that is not on this list, reference Frances Baines’ UV Tool to find the Ferguson Zone categorization, recommended UVI, and optimal lamp for your pet’s needs.
What are these numbers?
UV Index, or UVI, is how we measure UVB radiation. It was initially developed by the World Health Organization, United Nations Environment Programme, and the World Meteorological Organization as a way to raise awareness of the risks of excessive exposure to sunlight, and to alert people of when and where the sunlight is strong enough to cause skin damage.
Although initially created for human health, UVI is also very helpful for measuring the levels of UVB that wild reptiles expose themselves to and how much we’re giving them in captivity. The Solarmeter 6.5, Solarmeter 6.5R, and Zoo Med Digital UV Index Radiometerare devices that can be used to measure the UVB output of the lighting anywhere in a reptile’s enclosure. If you are serious about reptile keeping, it’s a good idea to invest in one of these devices to fine-tune your husbandry.
Types of UVB bulbs
UVB bulbs generally fall into 3 different categories: linear fluorescents, compact/coil fluorescents, and mercury vapor bulbs.
Linear fluorescent UVB bulbs
Linear fluorescents come in two types: T8 and T5 HO. The number indicates the diameter of the fluorescent tube, as well as the power.
- T8 bulbsare older technology and produce less powerful UVB. They also tend to have shorter lifespans, lasting about 6 months before needing to be replaced.
- T5 HO (high output) bulbsare a newer technology and produce stronger UVB that penetrates further into an enclosure. They also last at least 12 months before needing replacement.
Linear fluorescents should be mounted inside a reflective light fixture appropriate to the size and power of the bulb for optimal output and lifespan. Reflective T5 HO fixtures aren’t cheap, but they’re an essential investment.
T5 HO UVB bulbs are the most popular type of UVB lighting in the reptile hobby because they work well with a variety of enclosure sizes and reptile species. They are also the preferred source of UVB lighting at reputable zoos.
The best linear fluorescent UVB bulbs in the US are made by Arcadia and Zoo Med.
Compact/coil fluorescent UVB bulbs
Compact and coil fluorescent UVB bulbs are like T5 UVB bulbs that have been folded and twisted around themselves to fit in a standard incandescent bulb socket. They are less powerful than T5 HO or even T8 linear bulbs at the same distance, but they can work well in small enclosures 12-18” tall and less than 24” wide. You will usually see them available in two sizes: 13w and 26w. Lifespan is between 6-12 months, depending on brand. For best results, use with a reflective fixture.
The best manufacturer of compact and coil fluorescent UVB bulbs in the US is Zoo Med.
Mercury vapor & metal halide bulbs
Mercury vapor and metal halide bulbs are unique because they produce heat, visible light, UVA, and UVB all in one bulb. This also makes them very appealing to most reptile keepers at first glance.
- Mercury vapor bulbs (MVBs)project intense UVB and heat further than many other types of UVB bulb, making them popular for particularly tall enclosures. But even the best MVBs tend to fluctuate in output from one bulb to the next, and use a relatively short wavelength of UVB compared to other sources, which makes them potentially dangerous and distrusted by many experts. High quality bulbs can last 12 months or more.
- Metal halide bulbsare extremely bright and have a particularly high UVA output compared to other UVB bulbs. Some consider them to be the best sunlight simulators, although they must be positioned at a greater distance than other bulbs for safe use. They also require external ballasts and a fixture that can cope with their high-voltage ignition pulse. Unfortunately, UVB production decays fairly quickly in these bulbs.
Although they seem convenient, mercury vapor and metal halide bulbs tend to be extremely limiting because they don’t allow for independent control of heat and UVB. This makes them a better fit for some reptiles rather than others, and requires the use of a Solarmeter and an accurate digital thermometer for safe positioning and use.
If you use mercury vapor or metal halide bulbs, you must use bulbs that were specifically designed for use with reptiles. Otherwise they can seriously harm your reptile. They also require lots of air circulation around the bulb to prevent overheating (no dome fixtures) and break easily when bumped during use.
The best mercury vapor and metal halide bulbs available in the US are by Arcadia and Mega-Ray.
Are brands other than Zoo Med, Arcadia, or Mega Ray okay to use?
At this point, the evidence is not strong enough for me to recommend other brands such as Zilla, Exo Terra, All Living Things, etc. Most are simply weaker than advertised or run out of UVB more quickly than higher quality options, or have inconsistent output. However, some (especially off brands you may be tempted to buy for cheap online) actually produce UVC radiation, which is VERY dangerous to your pet.
How to use your UVB bulb properly
Okay, now you know what UVB is, how it works, the different types of bulbs, and which brands are best. But if you don’t use your bulb(s) properly, all of this money and effort will be wasted and you could end up hurting or even killing your pet. So here’s how to do UVB rightin your reptile’s enclosure:
Placement is everything!
UVB bulbs should always be mounted on the ceiling of the enclosure, like the sun in the sky. But there’s more to it. When figuring out where to put your UVB, ask yourself the following four questions:
- Is the bulb installed over or under the mesh? Mesh blocks a significant amount of UVB.If your enclosure has a mesh ceiling, your UVB bulb and fixture should be installed on the underside of this mesh, not over it.
- Is there glass or plastic covering the bulb?Glass and plastic block all UVB. Remove any protective glass or plastic bulb covers that the fixture may have come with before using.
- Are the heat source and UVB lamp on the same side of the enclosure?Heat and UVB always go together. These two factors need each other for the reptile’s body to make the vitamin D that it needs, and keep in mind that in the wild, sunlight delivers both heat and UVB wherever it is found. So for example if your heat source is on the far left side of the enclosure, the UVB should also be placed to the far left so its beam overlaps with the beam of the heat source.
- How far will the UVB bulb be from your reptile? There is an inverse relationship between UVB strength and how far away your reptile is from the source. If closer, then the UVB it experiences will be stronger. If further, then the UVB it experiences will be weaker. Pay attention to the recommended distance listed on the bulb’s packaging, and position your basking areas accordingly.
Use the right fixture
Each type of UVB bulb needs a specific type of fixture to work properly. Follow the directions on the bulb packaging, and don’t try to take shortcuts. If the bulb is available in a kit that includes the fixture or the manufacturer offers a fixture that goes with the bulb, buy that one.
Don’t forget the reflector
Fluorescent UVB bulbs must be used with a reflective light fixture, and preferably one that has been polished to a mirror finish. Otherwise 50% of the UVB produced will go into the fixture rather than getting reflected down into the reptile’s enclosure.
Replace the bulb on time
UVB bulbs don’t last forever. Almost from the moment you turn the bulb on for the first time, its UVB output will gradually decline until it’s just an ordinary lightbulb. Don’t try to save money by using the bulb for as long as it produces light — look at the manufacturer recommendations (usually 6-12 months), write the purchase date on the bulb, and be ready to replace it when it needs replacement.
Give your reptiles opportunities to escape the UVB
In the wild, reptiles will seek shade when the sun gets too strong or when they’ve had enough for the day. Similar to how they move between warmer and cooler areas to thermoregulate, reptiles also photoregulate by moving from sunlight to shade and everywhere in between.
Your UVB lamp should not span the entire length of the enclosure, but rather only part of its length. John Courteney-Smith of Arcadia Reptile calls this “the Light and Shade Method.” The exact ratio of light to shadow will vary from species to species — for example, a bearded dragon will need its UVB lamp to be about 2/3 as long as the enclosure, but a leopard gecko’s lamp will only need to be 1/4 to 1/2.
Adjust your supplements
When you are using a UVB bulb at the correct strength for your reptile’s species, its body makes all the vitamin D that it needs, so you don’t need to supplement it in the diet. Use plain, D3- and phosphorous-free calcium powder for dusting on insects.
There will always be people who claim that UVB is “optional” or that certain species just “don’t need it.” But as our understanding of reptile health and husbandry improves, it is becoming increasingly clear that we must consider UVB not just a beneficial option, but a necessity, and included with heat, humidity, and other key elements as a requirement of adequate husbandry.
References and Resources:
These are the resources that I referenced while writing this mini-series. I was only able to skim the surface here, so I highly recommend reading through the following for more in-depth information on UVB and related subjects. However, pay attention to publication dates, as although these are great sources, some are more up-to-date than others.
- How much UV-B does my reptile need? The UV-Tool, a guide to the selection of UV lighting for reptiles and amphibians in captivityby Frances Baines et al.
- Fire — The Sun: Its Use & Replication Within Reptile Keepingby John Courteney-Smith
- Evaluating the Physiologic Effects of Short Duration Ultraviolet B Radiation Exposure in Leopard Geckos (Eublepharis macularius)by Amelia Gould et al.
- Effects of ultraviolet radiation on plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 concentrations in corn snakes (Elaphe guttata)by Mark J. Acierno et al.
- An In-Depth Look At UV Light And Its Proper Use With Reptilesby Dr. Frances Baines, MA, VETMB, MRCVS
About the author: Mariah Healey has been passionate about animal research from a young age. Today, she is a reptile husbandry specialist and the author of ReptiFiles.com, where she publishes her findings on the best practices in modern reptile care. ReptiFiles is the most comprehensive, accurate source of reptile care on the internet, boasting 15 science-based guides to date, with two more in active development.
- Josh Halter
Introduction to UVB and reptiles, part 1
Introduction to UVB, part 1:
What is UVB, and Why is it Important to Reptile Husbandry?
Guest post written by ReptiFiles for use by The Bio Dude
Among experts, you can’t talk about reptiles for very long without bringing up UVB. And yet despite this essential component of reptile husbandry, there’s still a lot of misunderstandings and misinformation about it. The only way to get past confusion and misinformation on any topic is by seeking to understand how it works, so in this two-part article we’re going to talk about the basics of UVB: what it is, why it matters, and how to utilize it better in your own husbandry.
When you think about our Sun, what comes to mind? If you’re like most, probably bright light, intense summer heat, and sunburns. But it’s more complicated than that. As a blazing ball nuclear fusion reactions, the Sun produces many different forms of energy, including little energy particles called photons. Photons move in waves at different speeds, and their speed determines how much energy they carry and how they function. This is called the electromagnetic spectrum:
- Radio waves
- Infrared light
- Visible light
- Ultraviolet light
- Gamma rays
As reptile keepers, we are most interested in infrared (heat), visible light (daylight), and ultraviolet light.
Of the three, infrared is the lowest-energy wavelength. Humans can’t see infrared, and most reptiles can’t either, but we all feel it as heat. There are 3 types of infrared: IR-A, IR-B, and IR-C.
- IR-A— Highest in energy. This is the primary type of infrared produced by the Sun, and penetrates deepest into surfaces like animal tissues. That deep, “ahhh” feeling you get when you step out into the sun on a nice day? That’s IR-A at work.
- IR-B— Contains a medium amount of energy. This is the secondary type of infrared produced by the Sun, and penetrates surfaces well, but not quite as deeply as IR-A.
- IR-C— Lowest in energy and does not penetrate very deeply into surfaces, if at all. IR-C is actually not produced by the Sun. It’s actually a byproduct produced when IR-A and IR-B wavelengths have come in contact with a surface that has absorbed some of their energy. This is the ambient heat you feel on hot asphalt or a warm summer night.
I’d love to go more into detail on this subject, as proper reptile heating is even more important than proper reptile lighting, but this is an article on UVB, not heat, so we’ll leave that for another day.
Visible light is the range of wavelengths that humans perceive as light and color, between 400-700nm. The exact wavelength of visible light is what we perceive as different colors of light, which is measured in Kelvin. It is also associated with the light’s intensity, or brightness. Artificial light sources generally range from about 1,900K (dim and warm) to 10,000K (extremely bright and blue). Many consider 6500K to be optimal for best plant growth and truest color perception.
Ultraviolet is the highest-energy wavelength that we regularly use as reptile keepers, and completely invisible to humans. Like infrared, UV is broken down into 3 distinct categories: UVA, UVB, and UVC.
- UVA— With a wave length of 315-400nm, UVA is a low-energy form of ultraviolet. This light is invisible to humans, but it is visible to some animals, including reptiles. UVA can pass through glass and clear plastic.
- UVB— With a wave length of 280-315nm, UVB is a high-energy form of ultraviolet. It is partially filtered by Earth’s atmosphere and is blocked by glass and plastic. It can damage cellular DNA with prolonged exposure, causing sunburn in humans. It is also essential to the process of vitamin D synthesis and metabolism in many animals, including humans and reptiles.
- UVC— With a wave length of about 180-280nm, UVC is the highest-energy form of ultraviolet. This wavelength destroys DNA on contact, and would destroy all life on Earth if it weren’t completely filtered out by our atmosphere. For this reason, artificial UVC-emitting lights are often used for disinfecting in devices such as toothbrush cleaners and air purifiers. This process is known as “irradiation,” and no, it doesn’t turn foods or objects radioactive.
Although UVA is important to many aspects of reptile life and shouldn’t be ignored, it is always included in artificial UVB lamps, and again for the sake of brevity we have to focus on UVB from this point.
As mentioned in the previous section, UVB (combined with heat) is required for the creation of vitamin D, and in turn, it is required for the healthy function of many associated metabolic processes. After getting processed into its usable form by the liver, vitamin D plays essential roles in a reptile’s brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, bones, immune system, and digestive system.
Additionally, UVB exposure plays an important role in boosting immune response, stimulating beta endorphin production, and increasing pigmentation (color).
UVB lamps are expensive. Why not just give them vitamin D in their food?
- Because “homemade” vitamin D is more available for the reptile’s body to use, and thus more effective. In one study, corn snakes exposed to UVB had higher (read: healthier) levels of vitamin D than those which had no UVB lighting and only received vitamin D from their food.
- Because it’s too easy to overdose or underdose supplementary vitamin D. Unlike with humans (and even that understanding could still use some work), we don’t have enough data on the exact amounts of vitamin D that each reptile species requires per gram of weight at each stage of life. Vitamin D is toxic in large amounts, causing a variety of severe symptoms, including kidney damage, calcification of soft tissues, and premature death. Underdose results in the softening of bones, malfunction of the digestive tract, nerve damage, and premature death.
- Because cellular vitamin D production is self-regulating, so when adequate UVB lighting is provided, it is impossible for a reptile to develop a vitamin D deficiency or toxicity. The reptile creates exactly the amount of vitamin D that its body needs.
But isn’t UVB dangerous since it causes sunburns and cancer in humans?
A lot of people think of UVB as a bad thing because it causes sunburns, and the associated cellular damage can lead to skin cancer (thanks propaganda!). But humans needUVB.
The Sun is one of the essential elements that makes life on Earth possible, and all life has evolved in varying responses to the availability of this resource, protecting themselves from the bad while making use of the good. Reptiles evolved scales, birds have feathers, cats and dogs have hair, and humans have…well, we exchanged our body hair for clothes.
Most humans in the US are vitamin D deficient because we’re indoors all day and anti-skin cancer propaganda has us afraid to go out in the sun without sunscreen. Vitamin D pills help, but studies are indicating that we need way more vitamin D than previously thought in order to replace sunlight. If roles were reversed and reptiles were keeping pet humans, we would need artificial UVB lighting too.
Furthermore, reptiles will also move into the shade when sunlight gets too intense or they’ve had their fill. Even sun-loving lizards like bearded dragons, chuckwallas, and uromastyx do most of their basking early in the morning and then find a hiding place by midday when the sun it at its strongest.
But some reptiles don’t need UVB, right?
If you keep snakes or crepuscular lizards like crested geckos or leopard geckos, you may have heard people emphatically assert that these species “don’t need UVB,” that it’s a “waste of money,” that it “hurts their eyes,” etc.
This is a very outdated approach, and more folklore husbandry than scientific fact. In fact, a mounting number of modern studies are proving the benefits of providing UVB to captive species that don’t ordinarily get UVB. Remember the corn snake study I referred to earlier? That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Outside of formal research, many reptile keepers have observed daytime basking behavior in nocturnal species that have been provided with UV lighting. Although they may not bask as openly as bearded dragons and red-eared sliders, they will cryptically bask by strategically exposing parts of their bodies to UV while keeping the rest hidden. This is a strategy evolved in the wild to help them get benefits from sunlight without making themselves vulnerable to predators.
When in doubt, keep in mind that all reptiles are exposed to the sun at some point or other in their natural habitat. Even those that seem to spend most of their time in holes or caves are indirectly exposed to small amounts of beneficial sunlight that reflects off rocks and other surfaces in the environment and into their hiding space.
About the author: Mariah Healey has been passionate about animal research from a young age. Today, she is a reptile husbandry specialist and the author ofReptiFiles.com, where she publishes her findings on the best practices in modern reptile care. ReptiFiles is the most comprehensive, accurate source of reptile care on the internet, boasting 15 science-based guides to date, with two more in active development.
- Josh Halter
How many gallons is my enclosure? How do I figure out how much substrate that I need?
How many gallons is my terrarium? The complete breakdown for commonly available terrariums in the USA. Exo Terra, Zoo Med and Kages.com
We hope this sheet will help you as the keeper figure out exactly what you need for the needs of your animal. Gallon size is very important when it comes to choosing the proper size enclosure for your reptile and amphibian. It is also very important to understand their needs as an animal, if they are arboreal, you want a taller cage. If they are terrestrial a longer, not so high cage may be needed.
Not sure which is best for your animal? Reach out to us and we can help you at email@example.com or 717-305-0684.
- Josh Halter
Introduction to Bioactive Terraria
Introduction into Bioactive Terraria
The Bio Dude
20 May 2019
In almost every area of the world where life is supported, there are millions of different biological processes that happen right under our feet and above our heads. From biological decomposition of organic matter, to the different cycles that incur naturally in nature; our unique planet has many different tools for maintaining an equal balance between Earth, air, fire and water. To maintain these different balances each living organism has a unique role to play, in which it will either benefit the ecosystem or cause an abrupt change. To maintain life, there are different processes that breakdown organic matter or follow through with unique cycles, such as the Oxygen, Nitrogen or Hydrogen cycle which create the water we drink and the air we breathe. With that in mind, envision a forest floor; deciduous, tropical, temperate or even sparse desert environments all have different ways of getting nutrients back into the environment to maintain the efficacy and living conditions of the biome itself. In this article, I will discuss how these different processes and cycles must be replicated, as closely as possible in a captive environment when keeping reptiles and amphibians as pets. Commonly kept in un-furnished, human décor terrariums, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates are wild animals, that have wild instincts, adaptations that must be nurtured and reinforced for the captive animal to have a natural, healthy well-balanced life. To mimic these cycles, creating a self-cleaning, bioactive terrarium is the best standard of care to keep reptiles and amphibians as pets. This article will clearly explain different methods in which to do so.
Since the trade began gaining popularity around the 1970’s, there have been few innovations when standards of care are concerned, but overall the hobby standard has plateaued with few innovations in care. Innovations in UVB from Arcadia Reptile, automatic misting systems from Mist King, nectar diets from Pangea Reptile, glass terrariums from Exo-Terra are all great examples of the innovation of the standard of care for the reptile hobby as a whole. However, when looking at the scale of substrates, instinctual nourishment, ability to provide live plants to herbivores or omnivores, nourishment of maintaining tunnels and burrows and other basic/most important husbandry aspects of reptile keeping have been stale and untouched. The term bioactive coined its name back in the mid 1990’s when Poison Dart Frogs became imported with the utilization of springtails and isopods in the Atlanta Botanical Gardens (ABG) mix with leaf litter and other organic matter mixed in to provide a self-cleaning, self-maintaining eco system. Since then, it has been very hard for hobbyists to replicate the same results themselves for different biomes, such as temperate forests, deciduous forests, plains, desert and even different types of neo-tropical habitats. Keeping reptiles and amphibians in a 100% organic, self-cleaning, self-maintaining setup will allow you to closely replicate their natural environment, which in turn nurtures the natural instinctual niches that make these animals so unique to begin with. Another great benefit to bioactive is the money saving aspect. While initially, you may spend more upfront, long term you will save a significant amount of money and time from not constantly replacing substrates and other terrarium accents. This one and done deal will maintain the entire life of the animal, as long as it is maintained appropriately.
When choosing to go bioactive there are many different avenues in which you can choose from to get started. A solid understanding of the care, needs and diet of your pet reptile or amphibian is very important along with requirements. This is where your options become available to you. After selecting the appropriate size enclosure, figuring out what type of substrate to use is the next step. If you prefer to utilize your own, handmade mixes, it is very important to understand how well the soil drains, aerates and if you are going to need a drainage layer. If you do not want to create your own mixes, the Bio Dude is pleased to offer a full range of bioactive substrates to cater to the needs of each biome while taking the needs and instinctual niches of the inhabitants in to consideration. The drainage layer is the very first step when constructing a tropical or neo-tropical bioactive terrarium and can be composed of many different types of material: pebble rocks, clay pebbles (LECA) or growstone. If you are looking for a drainage layer that is very light, 100% natural with no glass that fully aerates and drains, the Bio Dude’s HydroGrow is recommended. The point of the drainage layer is to catch any and all excess draining water out of the substrate to prevent over saturation. Over-saturation will quickly ruin and kill your terrarium. Oversaturation will cause a buildup anaerobic bacteria(bad) which will outcompete the aerobic(good) bacteria causing a pH imbalance, soggy soil, root rot and a potential buildup of toxic methane as a byproduct in your terrarium. When maintained appropriately, your substrate will take on water. Excess water will fall through and sit directly into the bottom of the drainage layer. As long as the water line does not exceed the drainage layer into the substrate, the proper soil will maintain, cycle and flourish for the life of the animal. If the water level gets too close to the substrate, simply siphon out the excess water. A screen on top of the drainage layer can help to separate out of the soil and drainage layer. With the Bio Dude’s HydroGrow that is not necessary. It is highly recommended with alternative drainage layers to use a screen to prevent the soil from mixing with the drainage layer.
The soil is placed on top of your drainage layer (if a drainage layer was required), and if a drainage layer was not needed, placing the soil directly into the terrarium. Soil ingredients such as coco coir, peat moss, sand, charcoal, orchid bark, Spag moss and other things can all be used and mixed to your liking, but it is very important to know that the soil is aligning with the humidity and biome requirements. Poor soil consistency will quickly kill the terrarium and can even cause damage or death to the inhabitant. If you do not want to create your own mix, the ABG mix (mentioned above) is a great tool for very high humid terrariums, but that too will eventually breakdown into a very large orchid based substrate over time. The Bio Dude is very pleased to offer different substrates for different biomes. Terra Flora for your high humidity environments (dart frogs, tree frogs), Terra Fauna for neotropical reptiles and amphibians(Crested Geckos, Day Geckos), Terra Firma for all temperate, deciduous or burrowing reptiles or amphibians (Ball Python, Corn Snake, Tegu), Terra Sahara for all desert species (such as Bearded dragons) and lastly Terra Aranea for all invertebrates such as spiders and tarantulas. Whether you choose your own mix, Bio Dude’s mix or another vendors mix be sure to apply at least a 2.5” substrate depth layer for tropical or neo-tropical and at least a 4”-8” depth for all desert and deciduous/temperate forest reptiles and amphibians. It is imperative to provide this deep layer as many of these reptiles and amphibians are burrowers and will quickly create a network of tunnels or burrows that they would naturally create in the wild.
The Terra Firma, Terra Sahara and Terra Aranea will retain all tunnels, burrows and hides that your animals naturally create, further nurturing the natural wild animal instinct. It is very important to mix in valuable biodegradeables into you substrate. These biodegradeables breakdown over time to create organic nutrients for your soil and plants so the biome is constantly revitalized via natural, organic processes. These essential biodegradeables are broken down multiple ways. The first way, is via tiny organisms that live in almost every ecosystem on the planet. Springtails (wood lice) and isopods (rolly pollys). These important organisms breakdown wood, feces, shed, leaf litter, dead plants and other organic matter and transform it into viable nutrients used by your soil. They will also play a pivotal part in aerating your soil. Another means, which it the method that the Bio Dude uses in his bioactive kits is the utilization of numerous types of fungi, mycorrhizae and archaea bacteria. They are many ecosystems’ backbone to proper change and development. They will breakdown organic matter on all levels of the terrarium via molds, slimes, mushrooms and other processes. As these microscopic processes breakdown matter, they create Nitrogen and other important organic compounds that are utilized by plant roots. These processes will also aid in the breakdown of shed, feces, dead plants, leaf litter, woods and mosses, slowly over-time creating your natural, bioactive ecosystem. The Bio Dude is very happy to offer a blend of all of these processes available called Bio Shot. You can readily find assorted biodegradeables at the Bio Dude or you can collect them yourself, as long as you know it is from a clean, pesticide, herbicide free area. Remember, whatever you put into your terrarium will stay in your terrarium as it is a closed ecosystem.
Another benefit of a bioactive ecosystem is allowing the keeper to utilize live plant. Not only do many reptiles prefer to have live plants in the terrarium, but it also provides many different types of benefits for them. When keeping your herbivores and omnivores on bioactive, it allows the keeper to purchase healthy edibles, such as various herbs or spineless cacti that your animal can naturally forage or graze directly in their terrarium. Not only does this nurture their natural instincts, it allows them to act like the wild animals that they are. Many reptiles will utilize the live plants as a hiding area (chameleons hide in live trees, tree frogs hiding under broad leaves) to help make them feel more secure and at home. While the live plants improve the air quality in the terrarium, many of them will also hold excess water in the roots, axils or on the leaves, giving your reptiles and amphibians more options for hydration.
Overall, bioactive is the best way to keep your reptiles as pets. When looking at pet reptiles as a whole, some keepers fail because they are not properly maintaining the big three when it comes to reptile husbandry. Proper shedding, respiration and hydration. When providing a proper bioactive environment it is very easy to provide the perfect care and husbandry these animals require. With a dense substrate that retains proper air pockets to aerate appropriately the substrate will have various humidity pockets in which your reptile can easily rehydrate, shed and have clean, fresh air in their terrarium. When keeping reptiles and amphibians as pets it is important to remember one thing: you want to provide the best care, not the basic care, using research driven practices and techniques. Providing all the essential elements of care will not only give your reptile a full life, but allow them to act like the wild animals they are by nurturing the wild instinct that makes them so unique as animals in the first place.
- Josh Halter
The care and maintenance of a Crested GeckoThe Dude's complete care guide to the setup, care and maintenance of the Crested Gecko! Learn why Crested Geckos make some of the best entry level pet reptiles.
- Josh Halter
How do I setup a Terra Aranea Bioactive Terrarium?
From the desk of The Dude
What is a bioactive terrarium?
A bioactive terrarium is a self-sustaining, self-maintaining, direct replication of the natural ecological cycle that happens on the rainforest or desert biome. Each biome is composed of thousands of different detrivores that break down decaying matter to return nutrients back into the soil. Detrivores such as isopods and springtails are the most commonly seen. As well as detrivores, there are essential biological processes that occur throughout to help breakdown organic matter into viable nutrients not only absorbed by plant roots, but by your substrate as well.
Why go bioactive?
In any terrarium the soil is the most important part of the setup. The soil is the backbone for live plants, water drainage, and tank maintenance. Many times hobbyists will setup a terrarium and have to break it down months later because of the microbial build up in the soil, as well as the death of plants from using soil that becomes water clogged. Having a proper bioactive setup allows for optimum plant growth, but also allows for tank longevity (10+ years without a soil change) if kept properly. The detrivores and biological processes established in the tank will break down feces and other decaying matter which recycle nutrients back into the soil, thus keeping the substrate fresh and ready for the next generation. It also allows you to provide a natural setup for your wild animal. While they are commonly bred in captivity they are still wild animals that need to be treated as such.
How do I go bioactive with a Terra Aranea setup?
Layer 1 - Terra Aranea substrate
The bottom layer of your terrarium sits the bringer of life, the specialty terrarium soil known as Terra Aranea. This specialty mix created by the Dude is the staple for a living substrate for all spiders, tarantulas, scorpions and other invertebrates. This one of a kind substrate covers the need of all the biomes (from wet to dry) and not only drains, aerates and composts effectively; but prevents the harmful buildup of negative bacteria and molds, which is a common problem with invertebrate keepers’. Terra Aranea also retains all burrows and hides that your inverts make, which is very important especially when you are dealing with spiders (such as trapdoor) that utilize the substrate for their evolutionary niches. I have found this substrate brings out many of the instinctual niches that many desert animals do in their daily life. Terra Aranea provides excellent organic nutrition for your vivarium by creating necessary air pockets for root development and plant health. These air pockets are also necessary for the Bioshot to create a sustainable population in the vivarium. This substrate when used exactly as directed in the Dude's guide this substrate can last 10+ years in the terrarium without ever being changed. This mix should have at least a 3” layer in the terrarium. Most tarantulas however prefer deeper substrate to create their dens. Depending on the biome you are replicating, adding a small amount of water into the Aranea will be very helpful with humidity retention. Daily misting is not needed for your drier biomes, but if keeping a more humid invertebrate (such as a Goliath Bird Eater) misting daily will be effective to maintain humidity requirements for those species. You do not need a drainage layer with the Terra Aranea as long as it is not overwatered and properly maintained with the Dude’s Bio Shot.
Layer 2 (above the substrate)
After the Terra Aranea has been established in your terrarium it is essential to add many different biodegradeables into your soil mixture. Not only will these biodegradeables break down slowly over time creating organic nutrition for your plants and soil, they also play a vital role in aerating your Terra Aranea. Biodegradeables, such as the Dude’s Cork Bark Pieces (included with all Terra Aranea Kits) are great when mixed in deep into the substrate. Not only will different invertebrates utilize these to help maintain burrows, dens and tunnels, but it will also become a microbial hotspot for beneficial fungi and bacteria. AAA Spag Moss and leaf litter can also be mixed into the substrate and placed on top to help with humidity retention and biodiversity in your substrate. Overall, the Dude’s biodegradeables are the fuel that drives the car(the car being the substrate). After all biodegradeables are thoroughly mixed to your liking, simply spread the Dude’s Bio Shot throughout the soil to jumpstart your bioactivity. Springtails and Isopods can also be added to aid in soil aerating and organic matter breakdown. However, it is very important when using Isopods to pick smaller, not so invasive species as Tarantulas and Scorpions can be over stressed when larger, faster breeding Isopods take over the terrarium.
Maintenance with your Aranea –
While the bio activity is a key factor with the life of the vivarium, the Aranea itself will need spot cleaned occasionally in specific areas of the terrarium upon intial setup. After about a month or two most users will readily see the bioactivity in the terrarium. This will show as small fungal patches, mushrooms (depending on biome being replicated), positive molds and breakdown of organic matter will easily be seen. To maintain this process it is imperative that a source of biodegradeables is readily available to be consumed by these biological processes. Adding more leaf litter every six months to a year is optimal for tank longevity. Similar to the Terra Firma and Terra Sahara, the Terra Aranea will remain dry on the top layer, but moist in the middle and bottom, maintaining this equilibrium is very easy obtained when replicating all biomes. For more humid species, daily misting is necessary to ensure humidity retention in the Aranea to ensure proper husbandry. Another factor to consider is many Tarantulas will spend time in their burrows, enjoying the mild humidity pockets that this substrate has to offer when maintained appropriately.
Written by The Dude himself, Josh Halter
- Josh Halter
The Carbon Cycle and Bioactive Terraria
- Josh Halter
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.
- Josh Halter
The care and maintenance of the Leopard Gecko
The Dude’s guide to the care and maintenance of Leopard Geckos
Written by: Joshua Halter
Date: Oct, 30th2018
Terra Flora, Terra Fauna, Terra Firma, Terra Sahara and The Bio Dude are all registered trademarks of the Bio Dude LLC. All images are property of the Bio Dude LLC.
In the arid shrublands and rocklands of Pakistan and Afghanistan inhabits one of the most popular pet reptiles today. The Leopard Gecko, Eublepharis Macularius is a terrestrial gecko with different adaptations when compared to other types of Gekkota.Instead of utilizing sticky fingers (lamella), on their feet they use toe nails. Unlike most of their gecko counterparts, these geckos have eye lids and the ability to close their eyes, while most geckos have an organ called the Nictitating Membrane, also known as the “third eyelid”, these geckos eyes have their own unique physiological structure making them a very unique gecko. There are other eyelid geckos in the wild, but are much more uncommon compared to their other gecko counterparts. Another unique adaptation is that they are able to drop their tails when threatned to create a distraction, giving them the ability to get away and escape danger. While they can regrow their tails, this is a huge nutritional loss for them and proper steps should be taken to ensue they get all viable nutrients for proper regeneration. Being a staple pet reptile in the exotic animal trade, finding a captive bred leopard gecko is not challenging. Pet stores, reptile shows and even many internet business will have plenty of CB babies available. Acquiring a baby can be very special, because as babies they are all very similar in appearance (besides color), many of them will start with broad bands, they eventually migrate into their unique patterns as they age, hence the name Leopard Gecko. It is also a great bonding experience to raise a baby to adult for many different aspects of reptile keepers. When looking to purchase a baby, ensure that the baby is at least 30 days old and has had two solid sheds prior to bringing home. Initially imported around 1970, they have been bred and genetically crossed to create unique variations of the same lizard. Albino, Carrot Tail, Snow and many other types of genomes are readily available in the pet trade. Overall, these lizards have strict husbandry requirements, but are not hard to properly maintain and take care of. They are great for beginning or advanced reptile keepers alike. Their docile nature combined with their easy care makes them a great starter lizard for young children. See below pictures for different genomes commonly available in the pet trade.
Mack Snow White and Yellow Bell Albino Photo Credit: Seth Hoffpauir
Striped Lavender Eclipse. Credit: Eric Lago
Super Snow. Photo Credit: Star Tennyson
Photo Credit: Kirby Phillips
Tremper Albino. Photo Credit: Star Tennyson
Normal Morph. Photo Credit: Katy Barsch
Like all reptiles and amphibians, Leopard Geckos will greatly benefit from a natural, bioactive terrarium. Reaching as large as 10” these active lizards will appreciate a larger terrarium with plenty of places to climb, hide and thermoregulate. Females, typically getting much larger than males are usually more solid and have a broader musculoskeletal system for oogenesis. Living in captivity for as long as 20 years, you must be ready to provide them the long term care and maintenance that these lizards require. To identify males from females, males will have hemipenises on the caudal aspect of the gecko right above the tail base. Females are lacking these hemipenises. A young gecko will easily thrive in a 10 gallon or 18” x 18” x 18” but after six months of age, upgrading will be recommended. A 20 gallon long, or 24” x 18” x 18” is recommended for a single adult, if you are attempting to keep a pair together at least a 24” x 18” x 24”, 29 gallon, 40 breeder or larger is recommended. Males can be very aggressive and territorial towards other males and will consistently attempt to breed with any female(s), which can cause undue stress on the female. When keeping in pairs it is recommended to provide many hiding areas, climbing areas, and multiple places to thermoregulate to prevent fighting or bullying. Young geckos can be kept in large groups up until they are about four months old, then it will be recommended to separate them and raise them individually.
For substrate, the Dude recommends at least a 3.5” layer of Terra Sahara with some moist AAA Spag mixed thoroughly throughout the terrarium with any type of leaf litter mixed in as well. The AAA spag is great for providing humid hides in special areas of the terrarium. Many times, excess spag can be utilized under one of the hide caves. Not only will this help create a humid area in the terrarium, it will also help them greatly with shedding, hydration and respiration. As the bioshot slowly breaks down organic matter such as feces, shed, AAA Spag, Leaf Litter these biodegradeables need to be readily added every few months so a consistent supply of organic matter can continually supply your ecosystem. From our experience here at the Bio Dude, providing your Leopard Gecko with a cool hiding spot on one side, plus a humid hide + hot spot on one side will give them enough options to properly thermoregulate. One common issue many keepers face is an incomplete shed with this species. Having toe nails instead of the Lamella, many times old shed can get stuck on their toes, dry up, cause constriction and cause the toes to fall off. Very similar with how farmers used to neuter mammals on farms. To prevent this from happening providing a humid hide on the hot side will provide all necessary humidity for a proper shed. If your humidity is correct and your gecko is still having issues, a light soak in lukewarm water will help the skin fall off without excess handling or stressors. When maintaining your terrarium, the ideal temperatures for your Leopard Gecko, a hotspot during the day/nighttime period should be provided at about 95 degrees F with a cool side of 70 degrees F on the cool end of the terrarium. Humidity should range around 25% ambient with a humid hide ranging between 65% - 85% respectively. To achieve desired heat, an under tank heater can be mounted on the side or a heat dome can be utilized. To create a humid hide simply put a cork bark flat halfway dug into your Terra Sahara creating a smaller cave structure in which your lizard can easily go in and out of.
With providing your gecko UVB there are many different schools of thought with this species whether if it is necessary for their overall well-being or if it is not needed. While there are some schools of thought that say Leopard Geckos are nocturnal, this is false. These geckos are crepuscular, which means that they are most active during dawn and dusk. In their biome, this is the best time for them to venture out for food. Temperatures are moderate, food is plentiful and just emerging which provides opportunity for them to get a meal. With that being said, it is not illogical to assume that they are not exposed to moderate or limited amounts of UVB in the wild. While they may have adapted to not utilize it in excess as many other reptiles, this does not mean that they will not benefit from it or use it if provided. Not only does my Leopard Gecko bask when given the opportunity in his bioactive enclosure, I also provide an Arcadia Shade Dweller 7% UVB bulb that has been used for the last few months. This bulb is not only designed for Leopard Geckos, but other crepuscular animals in mind. While a 7% UVB is rather high, it is the perfect spectrum of UVB in which these animals would be subjected to in the wild. Overall yes, UVB is highly recommended for them. Will they live without it? Probably, but should they? NO. Think of it this way. If you purchase a new car and the manufacturer tells you that it can take normal gas, but you should use premium because of how the car is designed. As an owner, you would ultimately want to pick the premium, because it is better for the car and you will get more mileage out of it. So, if using UVB will bring all the benefits to your lizard and help them grow healthy and strong, allowing you to give them a full life while giving them that little boost, that is the only way to go, and after all, we know that we want to provide the best care, not the basic care.
When maintaining your Leopard Gecko, a light mist daily is recommended to provide hydration opportunities as well as light humidity spikes. Dew drops are readily drank by this species and will appreciate a light misting daily. If you love automation, a Mist King is a great resource to utilize for about 15 seconds daily to keep your gecko on a schedule. Not only will this aid with shedding and hydration, but this misting will also benefit your Sahara and biodegradeables by providing more drivers for decomposition. One of the most important aspects of keeping these geckos besides lighting and biome is their diet. In captivity these insectivores will readily accept crickets, dubia roaches, red runner roaches, silk worms, hornworms, meal worms, calci worms and other softer bodied insects. It is important to not only gutload your insects prior to feeding, but also dusting them with the appropriate calcium and vitamin supplements is key to proper development and homeostasis. For gut-loading, the Dude recommends Bug Grub used in wet form. Not only will this provide beneficial carotenoids needed for vitamin synthesis it will also help keep your insects healthy and have a high moisture content, which is vital for a healthy gecko. Dusting with Rep Cal Pink label Calcium at least twice weekly with Rep Cal Blue Label Herptivite once weekly is recommended. When feeding, place your insects, roaches or other soft bodied insects in a deli cup or a gallon Ziploc bag. Pinch in a small amount of calcium or multi-vitamin depending on the schedule and coat the crickets by shaking the bag or container with the supplement. This will allow you to provide the best nutrition possible while providing all essential drivers for proper vitamin synthesis. When feeding your gecko, it is important to never feed an insect larger than the space in between their eyes. Baby geckos up to 6 months should be fed daily, adults can be fed every 3 days. Another way to offer additional calcium is to put a small amount in a dish and place in the terrarium. Your gecko will relish it when they feel it is necessary. There is no set number as to how much to provide, but the key is to offer enough that your little one feels full, without leaving a bunch of crawling insects around which can cause undue stress.
With a healthy diet, healthy biome, accurate temperature and humidity regulation in your terrarium; your Leopard Gecko should not have any issues with impaction from bioactive substrate. Impaction, especially with Leopard Geckos can be a big problem, especially if the animal is immune-compromised in any way. If your husbandry is not correct, or if your gecko is sick, dehydrated or have some sort of debilitating condition that would suppress their immune system, bioactive is not recommended until your gecko is healthy enough to be in their permanent enclosure. While having bio will play a major role in their overall health, vigor, appetite and attitude it will not always solve or help with internal health problems, such as impaction. So bottom line, if your lizard is being kept the way they should be and overall healthy, they will have no problem passing any bit of substrate as they are wild animals, and if in the wild they would not have the ability to pass substrate, they would not survive as a species.
When maintaining your Terra Sahara terrarium for your Leopard Gecko, daily misting, providing a clean water source while maintaining a varied, healthy diet will allow your gecko to live it’s full expected life. If you decide to provide UVB and heat be sure to provide the full 12 hours of daylight, 12 hours of night for a proper photoperiod. As your terrarium progresses you will need to replace the biodegradeables every few months, but never the substrate. You simply dump in more biodegradeables and you are set! Achieving bioactivity with the Bio Dude’s enclosures is easily accomplished with the Bio Shot, but other means of clean up crews can easily be established. Springtails, Isopods, Earwigs, Dermested Beetles (in small quantities) can all be established into your terrarium to aid in the beneficial breakdown of organic matter. If you are using live plants, remember you are most likely using succulents and they like it drier and not overly saturated. With a proper photoperiod cycle + misting schedule your bioactive terrarium will flourish without a hitch.
The best part about keeping reptiles as pets is their overall uniqueness as animals. Unique niches, adaptations, color, personalities and more come alive in your terrarium as long as you provide the proper setup that correlates with their biological niches. This is what makes them so amazing as pets, because you can have a rather tame, easy to care for lizard that not only can be calm enough to eat from tongs or your hand, but still act like a wild animal by basking, hunting, digging burrows and tunnels, breeding and even rehydrating. The most important thing to remember that these animals are NOT domesticated. They are WILD animals with instincts that must be nurtured in the terrarium to make them feel at home and comfortable. Being responsible for a life, it is your responsibility to provide the best care, rather than the basic care using research driven practices and techniques.
- Josh Halter
The care and maintenance of the Red Eye Tree Frog
The Dude’s guide to the care and maintenance of Red Eye Tree Frogs.
Written by: Joshua Halter
Date: October 15th, 2018
All images are copyright of the Bio Dude LLC. Terra Flora, Terra Fauna, Terra Firma and Terra Sahara are all Trademarked by the Bio Dude LLC.
Deep in the heart of the dense rainforests of South America resides one of the most recognized frogs of the planet, the Red Eye Tree Frog. These beautiful frogs are found in Nicuargua, Panama and Costa Rica. Currently, they are listed an safe on the IUCN red list. While habitat destruction, chytrid fungus and pH changes in the rain have occurred, these hardy frogs have been surviving strong in their natural biome. While these different localities have some slight differences many of them can be easily torn apart. In the captive hobby, the most common captive bred available Red Eye Tree Frog are the Costa Rica locale. The main differential between locales are the overall color, tone and brightness. Nicuarguan Red Eyes have more of a blueish hue to their green with very bright orange feet that greatly contracts the blue. Panamanians and Costa Rica Red Eye Tree Frogs have the solid lime green color with deep, dense blue side patterning accentuating the orange feet. The below picture is a representative of the Costa Rica locale.
Overall care is the same for each locale, but if you are looking to breed this species, you will want to try to keep it locale specific to ensure pure blood lines. With many amphibians, these beautiful frogs have strict husbandry requirements that must be met for them to properly thrive in your habitat. The Bio Dude strongly recommends a natural, bioactive setup for these frogs due to their strict requirements. As of October 2018 many Red Eyes are still being imported into the United States en mass, so it is very important to know if your frog is captive bred or wild caught. As of October, 2018 - 90% of the time when you see adult Red Eyes for sale they are wild caught. Babies, juveniles and sometimes adults can be purchased as captive bred which is the easiest option as far as husbandry is concerned. Many times, wild caught amphibians come loaded with parasites, fungal infections, nose rub, dehydration, ranavirus and the dreaded chytrid fungus. It is necessary when bringing a new frog into your home that it is properly quarantined and treated for any potential parasites prior to introduction with any other Red Eyes or other animals. Here is a quick look at their life cycle from egg to froglet.
Initial egg deposition. Day 3 - you can see mitosis before your eyes!
Egg development, mainly tadpoles, day 8
They dropped. Day 12
Gaining size. Day 60
Initial wave of froglets emerged. Notice the limited colors with neonatal tree frogs.
A young Nicuarguan locale Red Eye. About 20 days old.
30 days old, Costa Rica locale. Notice the light blue beginning to develop on the sides.
Keeping these amphibians in a natural, bioactive setup allows them to properly maintain their osmotic pressures by staying hydrated and kept at the proper temperatures. Live plants with broad leaves allow them to hide underneath from the sun, allow them to retain moisture throughout the day to be ready for their excursions at night. Keeping these frogs in a natural setup will not only bring out many unique behaviors that they have, but allow you to see what makes them so unique as a species to begin with.
Female Red Eyes can sometimes reach as large as 3.5-4” and males typically never exceed 2.5-3”. While they may not be the largest, these amphibians are very active and need plenty of height and space to feel comfortable. If you are lucky enough to find a captive bred baby, a young Red Eye can easily be kept in a 10 gallon or 12 x 12 x 18 for about 4-6 months depending on rate of growth. It is not recommended to keep a young, single Red Eye in a very large enclosure. This can make it a challenge for them to find food while expending necessary energy needed for proper growth. After they hit the 2” mark, a tank upgrade is necessary. For a single adult, a minimum of a 20 gallon high or 18 x 18 x 24” is required. For groups of 2-4 a 29 gallon or 36 x 18 x 24 is the minimum size. The larger the enclosure, the better your frogs will do and the more enjoyment you will get out of keeping this fantastic species. Here is an example of a larger terraria for this species.
For substrate, it is recommended to utilize the Bio Dude Terra Flora bioactive system. Utlizing the HydroGrow as a drainage layer the excess water flows cleanly out of the Terra Flora. This not only prevents substrate stagnation, it also creates necessary air pockets in the substrate for proper root, bacteria, fungi and microfauna development. To achieve bioactivity with the Bio Dude products, simply utilize the Bio Shot included in the kit. This unique supplement provides necessary bacteria and funguses that provide organic waste break-down as well as provide essential macronutrients to your plants immediately in the form of organic fertilizer rated with a 4-4-4 NPK ratio that is 100% safe for your frogs. For organic and soil health, utilize the Dude’s AAA Spag moss, and any leaf litter of your choice to help provide fuel for your bioactive terrarium.
Different woods and plants can be used with their terrariums. Stay away from grapevine or Bamboo as it will mold and breakdown very quickly. The best choices to utilize for this species is Cork Bark, Ghost Wood or spider wood. These woods are very mold resistant and breakdown much slower when compared to the others. These woods are also create for mimicking tree branches or the under-canopy which these creatures are so accustomed to. Tropical plants should be broad leaved, tall and provide plenty of natural cover. Plants such as philodendron, pothos, emerald gems, arrowhead vines and other broad leaved plants will quickly flourish in this particular type of biome. Ferns can be utilized as they love tons of water, but it is necessary to provide them some drier periods throughout the day, so placement is key! Succulents, Cacti and other drier, arid plants will not survive in this type of biome.
A great example of a broader, leaved plant for your tree frogs.
Being from Central/South America, these amphibians enjoy temperatures between 68-78 degrees F. For short periods of time the temps can exceed 82, but should not be pushed as this can cause neurological damage, or death especially to babies or younger Red Eyes. Air flow and ventilation is key with this species. Stagnant air or limited airflow will quickly cause fungal infections and other issues. Humidity should range between 50-65% throughout the day with mild spikes up to 80% once or twice daily. A Mist King starter system can be utilized or you can hand mist on your own schedule to get desired results. Do not allow the humidity to drop below 40% for an extended period of time. This can cause them to get dehydrated, suppress their immune system and cause fluctuations with their osmotic pressures which will severely damage their homeostasis equilibrium. These amphibians will thrive with a solid water area in their terrarium or paludarium as long as ventilation is provided. With the majority of their time in the rainforest living on the under canopy or forest floor, UVB is not required with this species. Higher UVB bulbs 3%+ can cause severe skin damage to your frogs or even kill them.
In captivity, these frogs will enjoy a variety of feeders. Being strictly carnivores, a range of crickets, waxworms and calci-worms can easily be fed to these amphibians. When figuring out which size insect to feed your frogs measure the space between your amphibians eyes. With that measurement never exceed that size cricket or feeder insect for your frog. For example, young Red Eyes’ are fed 1/8” to ¼” size cricket that matches the space between their eyes. If given a food item too large, such as crickets, the spurs on their legs can cause esophageal tears, so always feed the right size! If you plan on keeping crickets at your home, it is recommended to gutload the crickets to provide more of the essential vitamins, minerals and carotenoids that are needed for homeostasis. With having a ‘staple’ diet it is important to have your insects be gutloaded with the Dude’s Bug Grub or other insect gutloader (not corn based!) to get your crickets up to par with your frogs dietary requirements. While gutloading is important, there is one more essential step that is imperative for the proper growth of your frog. Dusting the crickets with essential Calcium supplements and Vitamin supplements on a rotating schedule with the gutloading will provide everything your frogs need to be happy and healthy. To dust the crickets or other feeder simply dump them into a plastic cup. Dump a small amount of supplement into the cup and coat them with the powder. Then dump them into the cage and you are good to go! It is recommended to provide calcium at least twice weekly and vitamins at least once weekly
Overall, as a species you really can’t go wrong. They are not easy to keep or breed, are beautiful, thrive in smaller to moderate groups when the proper size cage is provided and are very active Tree Frogs. When provided with a natural, self cleaning biome you are offering the best care, rather than the basic care, as those are the steps that are taken to ensure the long term health of your frog. Many times, in a natural environment the unique niches, instincts and actions that make these amphibians unique amoungst the declining populations on planet earth. If you have further questions, need help with breeding, tadpole development or any other questions regarding this species please do not hesitate to reach out to the awesome staff of the Bio Dude to get you all situated!
The Bio Dude
- Josh Halter