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Bioactive vs Minimalist Reptile Enclosures

Snake in potted plant container

Bioactive enclosures for reptiles and amphibians are super popular right now, and a lot of herp keepers are saying they’re what’s best for the animals. But does it really make a difference?

Maybe you don’t feel like taking care of plants or detritivores alongside your exotic pet. Does that make you a bad pet keeper?

Let’s take a look at bioactive versus minimalist reptile enclosures and see what the differences really are…

Animal enrichment

A lot of keepers argue that bioactive enclosures provide a more natural environment and better enrichment for the animal. While it’s certainly true that a bioactive enclosure tends to provide enrichment opportunities, no enclosure is actually going to be the same as a wild, natural environment for an animal.

Leopard gecko in enclosure

And just because an enclosure is minimalist doesn’t mean it can’t provide enrichment opportunities. You can have a simple setup that is not just an empty tank. What matters is that you’re providing the animal with everything it needs.

Species needs and behaviors

When talking about whether one or the other is better, it’s also important to keep in mind that every species has different care requirements and needs. Some animals are much more difficult to keep in a bioactive setup with a lot of live plants.

Tortoise destroying a leaf in its mouth

Remember that even in bioactive enclosures, you are creating an artificial environment, and the animal may wreak havoc upon its enclosed habitat. For instance, larger reptiles may tear up live plants in an enclosure, making it more trouble than it’s worth.

Of course, keep in mind that you can do a bioactive enclosure without plants as long as you have a cleanup crew (detritivores).

Cleanup time

Speaking of cleanup crews, they are one of the big benefits of a bioactive reptile setup or bioactive amphibian setup. Especially if you have smaller pets, like geckos or dart frogs, a cleanup crew can greatly reduce the amount of time you have to spend cleaning up animal waste because the cleanup crew will break down most of it.

Bearded dragon in a minimalist enclosure

In a minimalistic setup with no detritivores, you will be doing all of the waste cleanup yourself. That being said, with larger animals, you’ll likely be doing a good amount of cleanup anyway since the tiny invertebrates won’t be able to fully break down larger waste.

Reptile and amphibian viewing

A final consideration for whether bioactive or minimalistic is a better setup for you is what kind of aesthetic and interaction you prefer with your exotic pet. Planted, naturalistic enclosures can be beautiful, and many people create them for that reason.

Minimalistic enclosures, however, can provide you with better viewing access to your animal, as there aren’t a lot of plants or other items taking up space in the enclosure and blocking your view. You can still provide hides in a minimalistic setup, and if you need to check in on your animal for health reasons, the minimalistic setup can make it easy to find them.

Lizard hiding in leaves of bioactive enclosure

At the end of the day, animals can be happy and healthy in either type of setup: bioactive or minimalistic. A lot of it really comes down to the keeper’s aesthetic preferences, as well as the time and effort a keeper is able to put into maintaining a bioactive enclosure. A poorly maintained bioactive terrarium can actually cause quite a few problems for both you and your pet. Do what works for you.

To find out more about the particular needs of a species you’re interested in keeping, check out The Tye-Dyed Iguana’s Care Sheets.