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What is Bioactive?

In simple terms, a Bioactive setup is an enclosure that has microfauna/invertebrates such as springtails and isopods (often referred to as a 'Clean up Crew' - CUC) that help to keep the environment clean by breaking down waste products such as feces, shed skin, mould, dead insects etc which in turn are recycled into nutrients for live plants.

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An enclosure

with live plants

in it does NOT make it


it is the 'Clean

Up Crew' that

make it Bioactive


Bioactive setups are greatly increasing in popularity... and for good reason!

When done correctly, Bioactive setups can be made to house your pets in an enclosure which replicates their natural environment... This creates a visually appealing, self-cleaning, easy to care for eco-system that aids in your pets natural behaviours and instincts. Although the initial cost may be more than a non-bioactive setup, in the long term, you will save a significant amount of money not having to replace substrates and decor.


So you want to create a

Bioactive Setup...

but for which species?

Only when you know which species you intend to create a bioactive

setup for, can you get the correct enclosure size, substrate, clean up crew,

decor and live plants.

Getting these right is essential for ensuring you have a healthy and

stable environment for your pet.

Drainage & Substrate

A Drainage layer is used in the base of bioactive terrariums to create a reservoir of water which moistens the substrate from below and helps to create a natural moisture gradient. The large surface area within each ball provides the ideal habitat for beneficial bacteria which will neutralise potentially harmful waste products formed within the ecosystem.

Our choice of product is ProRep Bio-Life Drainage Medium.

Substrate provides a place for plants, clean up crews, fungi and bacteria to live and grow.

It is important for a substrate to be able to hold moisture without becoming waterlogged.

Our choice of substrates are ProReps Bio-Life range.

ProRep Bio-Life substrate is carefully blended from a mixture of ingredients to provide the optimum combination of structure, PH and nutrient content which allows vigorous root development for living plants and a suitable habitat for clean up crews to live in. It is important that the substrate does not break down for a long period of time to ensure the cavities where the clean up crews live do not disappear, otherwise the substrate will grow harmful bacteria.
Because an arid environment set up is dry, with low humidity, then it can be more difficult to maintain than forest set ups. With the proper design however, it is possible to recreate a moist zone in the base of the terrarium to mimic the moisture commonly found underground in deserts. This moist zone provides a reservoir of water which plants and microorganisms can access, while the surface of the substrate remains dry.



In a bioactive setup there will be bacteria growth. Most are harmless or actually beneficial, however some can be harmful.

In order to maintain healthy bacteria growth in your setup, it is important to make sure you use a suitable substrate that does not become waterlogged and that the substrate has air cavities. Worms in the substrate can help to turn the substrate, however you can occasionally use a fork or similar to turn the soil.

If you notice a bad smell in your enclosure that's coming from the soil, it is a good indication that there is a build up of bad bacteria. 


Most fungi will show up out of no where in your enclosure & are harmless. Mushrooms are actually the fruit of that fungus. The majority of which is known as mycelium (which functions as the feeding structure of a fungus). It appears as small, threadlike structures in the soil.

Fungi function as decomposers by breaking down waste, dead insects, plants etc into nutrients that plants will use to grow. For this reason, they play a vital role in a bioactive setup.


Clean Up Crew (CUC)

When choosing a Clean Up Crew for your setup, it is important to choose the right ones. It would make no sense putting in isopods that like a more arid environment into a tropical one.

CUC help to keep the environment clean by breaking down waste products such as feces, dead leaves, mould etc which in turn are recycled into nutrients. Some are also good at aerating the substrate which prevents the build up of harmful bacteria.

In order for your CUC to do their job better, it is important to feed them!

We recommend the Arcadia EarthPro-Custodian Fuel.

EarthPro-Custodian Fuel is an easy to use, potent food for springtails and other custodians including isopods, worms, beetles and roaches. It has also been pelleted for ease of use. By accurately feeding our custodians we encourage them to multiply and to become a source of positive nutrition themselves.

It is simply pressed out of sight into the substrate where it will break down and become a ‘nutrient rich soup’ from which invertebrates can feed.

So just like it is important to gut load the livefoods if your pet eats them such, as Crickets & Locusts, it is also important to gut load your CUC to boost the nutritious quality of these invertebrates & to aid in them growing & reproducing. 

Common Clean Up Crew Choices

Springtails are one of the most popular species used in a CUC. They are very small arthropods which breed quickly & thrive in tropical environments, however they can also be used in more arid ones by having access to humid areas such as damp leaves, water bowl etc. 

As well as helping to break down waste products, these little creatures will also help to aerate your substrate & can even provide your smaller occupants such as Dart Frogs, with a yummy snack.

Isopods (also commonly known as pillbugs or woodlice to name a few) are another common choice due to their ability to aerate the substrate, consume waste products, spread nutrients throughout the substrate as they move through it, their poop fertilises plants, and just like springtails, they can provide an occasional snack to your tank occupants (if you have a well established colony of isopods, the odd one becoming food for your pet isn't going to cause an impact).

Not only all of that... they are great to watch in the enclosure with some species being really beautiful in appearance.

Earthworms are especially useful at aerating the substrate as they pass through it allowing for better drainage. They drag leaf litter & other organic material down into the substrate which over time with the help of fungi, bacteria & you're clean up crew, will decompose & compost, letting all those nutrients back into the substrate. 

Like Isopods, worm poop (commonly known as castings) is great as they contain all the essential nutrients that plants need in addition to enriching the soil in which the plants are grown.

There are many other suitable species that can be used as a Clean Up Crew in your setup, but it is important to research what will work well in the type of environment you are creating. We are happy to help advise on this.


Live Plants & Lighting


Live Plants
Now that you are producing all of those nutrients, what better way to use them up by adding live plants.

Live plants not only look great, they provide hiding areas for your pets, aid in your pets natural behaviours (such as some dart frog species using bromeliads to lay their eggs/ raise tadpoles in), and they can help to increase humidity.

It is important to make sure that you are purchasing suitable plants for your enclosure & pet. Firstly you must consider if the plants will survive in the environment that your pet requires. You then also have to look at whether those plants are safe... some plants are toxic if ingested or may have spines/spikes on them that could cause harm to your pet. So it is important to do your research... we are more than happy to discuss suitable live plants for your enclosure & carry a large selection of 'reptile & amphibian' safe plants in store.


Plants need access to the correct quantity of energy and within the correct light spectrum to be able to replace the cells that are either damaged or die off naturally each day. If we under-energise a plant we reduce its ability to create cells through photosynthesis, limiting growth. Typically plants that lack the energy will display discoloured leaves and have a tendency to ‘bolt’ as they grow quickly upwards to be closer to a light source. Healthy plants display good colour, strong root networks and grow at a moderate pace, evenly.

Our choices of lighting to deliver that energy to the plants are the Arcadia Jungle Dawn range or the Reptile Systems New Dawn range. We have seen brilliant results using both... please feel free to speak to us for advice on either of these products.


Natural Decor

Just like live plants, natural decor looks great in a setup. 
This can be in the form of woods, inert rocks, dried seed pods, dried leaf litter, custom backgrounds & so on...

As woods & dried seed pods start to break down, clean up crew such as your isopods will use this as food. The seed pods can also act as hiding areas for your pets.

Dried leaf litter on the enclosure floor will also not only give that more natural look to your enclosure, it will also aid as food for your clean up crew & for some species such as dart frogs, it will create hiding areas.


Let us design your setup...

We understand setting up a Bio-Active enclosure might sound daunting to some.

Not only are we available to offer help & advice, but also offer a Custom Design Service where for a fee (POA), we can discuss your requirements, budget etc & build your Bio-Active Enclosure for you ready to plug & play!

If you would like to inquire about our Custom Design Service, please get in contact & we will be happy to discuss your requirements & options.

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