Hydroballs for Drainage

Hydroballs can be used to allow excess moisture to drain away from the bioactive substrate blend. This protects plant roots and clean-up crew from a soggy, swampy environment.

Terrarium Mesh

Used to separate the bioactive substrate blend from the drainage layer but still allows excess water to drain out of the substrate layer.

Bioactive Substrate Blend

A blend of different components create a substrate that retains moisture and nutrients, resists compaction, and provides a stable environment to support live plant growth and Clean-up crew.

Leaf Litter

Provides shelter and living space as well as nutrition for decomposers like isopods. Be sure to add new Leaf Litter as leaves are broken down and consumed by your tank inhabitants.

Clean Up Crew

Small invertebrates in a Bioactive terrarium eat and break down waste and convert it into useable nutrients for plants. A Variety of Isopods, springtails, worms, larvae, beetles, bacteria, and fungi all work together to create a balanced habitat

Water Dish

Always provide a source of clean drinking water for any terrarium animal.

Live Plants

As waste is broken down by the Clean-up crew, plants utilize the nutrients created for growth, completing the nutrient cycle in a terrarium. Live plants also provide cover , clean the air, and help increase humidity in the terrarium.

Natural Decoŕ

Branches, stones, half logs, and other décor items are used to create basking, climbing, perching, and hiding spaces for terrarium inhabitants. 

Basking Site

Encourage a pet’s natural ability to thermos-regulate, or control its body temperature, by providing a basking site and different temperature zones within a terrarium. See a book or care guide for your species to find the optimal temperature for your pet.


Monitor terrarium temperatures throughout the terrarium using at least one, but possibly several thermometers.

Heat Lamp

A variety of heat lamps may be used to create the Preferred Optimum Temperatures Zones for your pets

Linear Fluorescent & LED

Plants in a Bioactive terrarium will need bright light for 12-14 hours a day in order to grow and remain healthy. Reptiles should also have access to UVB lighting during this time to synthesize Vitamin D3. Many lighting options are available that may provide for one, or even both of these needs.

What is “Bioactive”

The term “bioactive” is used to describe a miniature ecosystem created in a terrarium or vivarium. In a functional bioactive habitat, small invertebrates (aka: Clean-up Crew) break down waste from your pet to make nutrients available for live plants to consume. This incredible living network forms a balance that can reduce the maintenance of your habitat while enhancing its look.

Mealworm (Tenebrio molitor)


Sometimes abbreviated as CUC, a clean-up-crew consists of any invertebrates and microorganisms that work together to convert waste from your pet into usable nutrients for vivarium plants. Some of the most common members of a Clean-Up-Crew include:

Isopod “Roly poly” (Armadillidium vulgare)

Isopod “Fast Woodlouse” (Porcellio muscorum)

Orange Isopod (Porcellio laevis)

Isopods, springtails, redworms, beetles, and mealworms. Other microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi are important, but (nearly) invisible members of this crew.

Darkling Beetle, Pupae, and Larvae 
Tenebrio molitor)

Springtail (Order Collembola)

Red Wiggler Worm (Eisenia foetida)


The right substrate mix is critical to a successful bioactive habitat as it will be where your “Clean-Up Crew” will do their part to convert waste.

Qualities of good Bioactive Substrate:
Moisture retention: Moisture plays a critical role in a bioactive terrarium for a number of different reasons. Clean up crew members rely on moisture to live. Isopods are crustaceans and must have moisture in order to breathe, worms and springtails may desiccate and abandon substrate that is too dry. Beneficial bacteria and other microbes need a moist environment to break down waste. Plants are also an important component of a Bioactive terrarium and will require some amount of water in order to live.

Resisting compaction: In a substrate that has become tightly packed, plant roots may not be able to develop, and detritivores may not wish to burrow. Utilizing components such as New Zealand Sphagnum moss and ReptiBark can help the substrate layer resist compaction and aid in the development of these other critical components.

Substrate Products

Drainage Layer:

Since water may frequently be added to the substrate, in order to prevent soggy conditions, a drainage layer may be beneficial. Making a drainage layer is easy! Just add a layer of Hydroballs to the bottom of the vivarium, then cover with Terrarium Mesh. Next, your substrate layer can be added and topped off with mosses and leaf litter. When watering plants or misting, any excess water will drain into the bottom layer of Hydroballs, preventing a swampy forest floor.

Drainage Products

Substrate Toppers:

While some of your clean up crew will live deep within your substrate layer, some will prefer to remain near the surface but will need shelter in order to go about their cleaning duties. Leaf Litter, Terrarium Moss, Frog Moss, and Cork pieces are excellent choices for providing this natural cover, helping to slow evaporation, and may provide some nutrition for the crew as Isopods enjoy feasting on any decaying matter.

Substrate Topper Products

More on Moisture and Humidity:

Maintaining proper moisture and humidity levels in a Bioactive Terrarium is essential for the health of all of the organisms involved. Plants should be watered, and substrate should be regularly misted at a minimum. In a tropical Bioactive terrarium, a fogger may be used to maintain high humidity levels as well. Since maintaining beneficial bacterial and microbial health is one goal of a bioactive terrarium, any and all water used should be treated to remove chlorine and chloramines before adding it to the terrarium. Reptisafe® can be used to safely remove these as well as add in important electrolytes for all habitat inhabitants.

Water and Humidity products


As in any enclosure, Décor plays an important role in making your pet feel at home. Be sure to provide adequate shelter, climbing, perching, and basking opportunities by including a variety of different décor items in your habitat.

Décor Products

Notes on Lighting:

The lighting needs of different animals will vary greatly. You can choose an appropriate UVB lamp by following our lighting charts below. In addition to UVB lighting, a bioactive terrarium may benefit greatly from increased visible light. The reason for this is that light in the visible spectrum is used by plants for photosynthesis. Several different lights are available that can efficiently provide visible light to support the growth of terrarium plants.

 Lighting Products

Appropriate Species:

There are a number of different species that may be appropriate to house in a bioactive vivarium. Some things to consider:

  • Herbivores (and omnivores) aren’t always suited for Bioactive vivariums as they may eat your vivarium plants. Special care must be taken to ensure that any plants provided are not toxic – and be prepared to replace them if they are consumed!
  • Very large-bodied animals may crush or uproot live plants. This doesn’t mean they won’t have fun doing it – but be prepared!
  • It is important to establish your clean-up crew well before adding insectivores to your habitat as they may really enjoy eating your isopods or other invertebrates. Once established, this shouldn’t be a problem, but at the beginning – watch out!


    Popular Species for Bioactive Habitats (Tropical):

    Ball Python, Corn Snake (Any rat snake), Crested Gecko, Gargoyle Gecko, Day Gecko, Dart Frog, Tree Frog, Pacman Frog, Box Turtles (may eat plants and isopods), Chameleon

    Desert Species:

    Leopard Gecko, Fat Tail Gecko, Bearded Dragon (May eat Plants and CUC – be ready!)

    Live Plants:

    As waste is broken down by the clean-up crew, plants utilize the nutrients created for growth, completing the nutrient cycle in a terrarium.  Live plants also provide clover, clean the air, and help increase the humidity in the terrarium. Live plants will require bright lighting and a stable substrate with good drainage.  There are several different factors that should be taken into consideration when choosing live terrarium plants:

    • Is it a tropical species that have specific temperature requirements?
    • Is the foliage delicate and will it be damaged by other tank inhabitants?
    • How much water does this plant need?

    You will also want to consider if there is any toxicity associated with the plants you choose. Herbivore and omnivorous animals may nibble (or completely consume) plants added to the terrarium, so be sure they are safe. It is also important to consider the source of any of your plants. When possible, care should be taken to purchase plants that have not been treated or sprayed with pesticides, fertilizers, or other harmful chemicals. Just to be safe, plants purchased from a nursery should be cleaned thoroughly with water to remove any harmful residue, and “quarantined” for a period of time to prevent the introduction of any unknown substances of hitchhikers. It may be a good idea to remove the soil the plants are sold in to prevent adding unknown fertilizers or other substances to your pet’s habitat. ReptiSoil™ and Eco Earth® are good choices for re-potting or re-planting terrarium plants.



    Sanseveria Snake Plant



      Good plant species:

      • Pothos -Ingestion is not recommended – not for herbivores. May be started from clippings. Vining plants provide good cover and can tolerate wet conditions. Broad leaves are great for Crested and other arboreal geckos.
      • Ficus – Sap is toxic, but many animals can eat foliage without any ill effect. Woody stem provides good climbing and perching.
      • Bromeliads – a wide variety of colors and textures. Tough leaves provide climbing and cover for small animals. Natural home to small frogs and geckos!
      • Ferns (Rabbit’s foot, Button fern, brake fern) Delicate foliage and various, shallow root systems. Provides a good cover and variety of colors and textures!
      • Creeping Fig (white sap is toxic, but many animals ingest Ficus leaves with no ill effects) Will climb and cover surfaces and tank decor
      • Jewel Orchid – Not toxic if ingested. Medium-light with moderate temperatures needed.
      • Croton (white sap is toxic –not for use with herbivores or omnivores)
      • Begonia
      • Clubmoss
      • Parlor Palm – Not toxic if ingested.
      • Sanseveria snake plant – Not toxic if consumed. Tough leaves stand up to larger animals. Low to medium light
      • Philodendron – can be toxic to dogs and cats, but fine for reptiles and amphibians. Can get large! Sturdy plant with tough leaves.