Enclosure setup is a very personal thing. It can depend on many factors, including who introduced you to keeping, what you see in the groups you attend, and what others have advised you to do.
It often takes a lot of convincing to change someones opinion on the matter, and it needs to be done gently with facts, not arguments.
There are many different methods to setting up a vivarium, with no definitive list. However, they can be broken down into a few basics. The list below will link you to some basic descriptions of the types of enclosure you will come across in the herpetological community, but we will discuss in greater depth, the enclosures with bioactive systems in place.
Artificial Enclosures consist of entirely unnatural products. From substrate to decoration.
Substrates – These can consist of Linoleum or Vinyl flooring, slate tiles, newspaper, wood chippings or more.
Decoration – These will be plastic plants, resin hides and other such items.
These enclosures are generally considered sterile and take a lot of maintenance to keep that way. At Bioactive Herps, we do not believe these enclosures provide the best environment for animals, as they do not allow natural behaviours that our bioactive enclosures do.
Naturalistic enclosures are a step up from the sterile enclosures. They are more aesthetically pleasing, using live plants throughout. This gives much more stimulation for the animal in sights and smells.
There are 3 methods of creating a Naturalistic Enclosure;
Live Plants, Artificial Substrate – Users of this method will keep the plants in their pots, which makes it easy for them to be removed should plants begin to die off. they also need to remove the plants during their cleaning schedule, to maintain a sterile environment. Common users of this method will have arboreal species that benefit well from large, sturdy plants to climb on, but who still want to maintain sterile setups for personal reasons.
Artificial Plants, Natural Substrates – This is a common method used by keepers of large terrestrial species of snakes and lizards, such as Boas or Monitors. These keepers like the idea of natural substrates, such as sand/coir/soil or mixes thereof, but don’t wish to spend money on plants that will invariably be crushed, eaten or dug up. the natuural substrate provides the opportunity for the animals to dig and burrow, thus displaying natural behaviours.
Live Plants, Natural Substrates – Using Live plants, either in the pot or planted directly, with Natural substrates, brings together the two other Naturalistic methods of keeping. Generally used by keepers with animals that either won’t destroy the plants, or keepers that aren’t too fussed if they do. This is a great option for keepers that like the idea of natural, live planted enclosures, but still want to maintain cleaning schedules. However, it does take a lot more work to maintain, and substrates will need changing regularly.
Bioactive substrates are natural substrate mixes, utilising different ‘recipes’ of sand, soil, orchid bark, peat, mosses etc to suit the environment they are to replicate.
They also contain invertebrates, either store bought or collected from outside, which work together with natural bacteria and microbes to break down waste products, reducing or eradicating the need to clean the enclosure. Any amount of inverts used as a clean up crew renders the substrate ‘Bioactive’.
A full Bioactive Enclosure is a merge of Naturalistic Enclosures and Bioactive Substrates.
These allow inverts to break the waste down in to food for the plants to grow. This gives maximum benefit to the animals in the enclosure, from sights and smell of natural live plants, natural humidity creation, substrates that allow a full range of natural behaviours, inverts that maintain the Enclosure and also act as a food source for the inhabitants.
It is possible to go one step further than a bioactive setup. This requires a lot more effort to setup but no more effort to maintain.
This is called a biotope. A biotope is a small environment filled with plants and animals from the same native area. This literally creates a small slice of that area in your home.
Some people go to the furthest extreme, creating seasonal variations in temperature, humidity, lighting and rainfall. But this may not be for everyone.
© 2015 Tarron Boon, Bioactive Herps