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So What Upkeep Does a Bioactive Terrarium Require?

Frog on leaf in bioactive terrarium

You may have heard that bioactive terrariums require very little maintenance once they are established, and that is true. That being said, there’s no such thing as a truly maintenance free, “set it and forget it” terrarium.

Aside from the care that any exotic pet in the tank requires, there are a few things you’ll need to do to keep your vivarium running smoothly for all its inhabitants. I cover the basics of bioactive terrarium upkeep in this article.

Keeping everything clean

Okay, you may be wondering why anything needs to be cleaned in a bioactive terrarium, right? After all, it’s supposed to be the job of the cleanup crew (i.e., the microfauna) to break down decomposing matter like plant leaves and animal waste. And that’s true.

(By the way, if you're looking for some interesting tank custodians, we have pink foot millipedes available here.)

It’s also true that you don’t really need to “clean” natural components like the plants and bark pieces.

That being said, there are occasionally times when the waste matter is just too much for the microfauna to handle, such as large amounts of fecal matter from your reptile or amphibian or large quantities of shedded skin. In those cases, you’ll need to remove some or all of the waste yourself.

Cleaning bioactive terrarium

“How I clean my Bioactive Vivarium / Terrarium” by GoHerping

Additionally, the microfauna are not going to keep your glass clean. So the one cleaning task that is always yours is wiping down the glass walls of the terrarium. It makes a huge difference in the overall appearance, especially if you want to take pictures or video of your vivarium setup.

Managing humidity and water levels

One of the most frequent forms of maintenance that a bioactive setup will need is misting with a water spray bottle. Misting keeps the humidity levels right for the reptile or amphibian living in the tank, as well as for the plants.

Misting bioactive terrarium

“How I clean my Bioactive Vivarium / Terrarium” by GoHerping

Of course, how much humidity your vivarium needs depends on the particular species you’re keeping.

In addition to humidity, you should keep an eye on the drainage layer at the bottom of your tank. You won’t typically need to do anything with it, but if the water level in the drainage layer gets too high, you’ll need to empty the water. Some water in the bottom layer is fine, but it should never be so high that it can touch your soil.

Keeping plants in check

The plants in a bioactive terrarium shouldn’t require too much attention as long as you’re watering them and have appropriate grow lights. But keep in mind that a terrarium is a finite space, and you’ll likely need to trim back the plants occasionally to keep them from taking over the tank.

Adjusting microfauna population

Depending on the type of exotic pet living in your bioactive setup, you may find that microfauna levels occasionally get too high or too low. Frogs and lizards may eat some of the microfauna, requiring you to add more to the tank. You’ll know the levels are too low if you can’t find any of the tiny creatures when you turn over leaf litter or dig in the soil.

Springtails in bioactive terrarium

These are springtails.

Overly robust microfauna populations typically take care of themselves with time and settle down to a more reasonable number.

Refreshing the leaf litter

Perhaps the easiest part of bioactive terrarium maintenance, every four to six months, you’ll notice that the leaves in your tank have decayed and broken down. All you need to do is go outside to find a few more dry leaves and put them on top of the soil.

Leaf litter

Decomposing leaf litter helps keep the soil healthy and provides hiding spaces for the cleanup crew.

Keep watching The Tye-Dyed Iguana blog to learn more about bioactive terrariums.

Diedra Blackmill is head copywriter and content marketer at Telepath Writing Services. She specializes in writing blog articles, newsletters, and scripts that generate more revenue for businesses. Hire Diedra for your online content.