Reptile and Amphibian Bioactive Enclosure Setup

Updated on October 22, 2017
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I own several species of reptiles ranging from bearded dragons to Argentine black and white tegu.

Creating a Bioactive Setup

Bioactive enclosures are made up of living plants and invertebrates which act as a self-cleaning waste disposal. Bioactive enclosures are increasing in popularity among the reptile and amphibian-keeping community due to the convenience it provides.

This is a step-by-step guide to help start up a bioactive enclosure.

Drainage Layer

The first step of creating a bioactive enclosure is creating the drainage layer.

This layer provides a space between the bottom of the enclosure and the substrate. The need for a drainage layer depends on the species going into the enclosure.
For instance, a species from a drier environment, such as a bearded dragon, would not need much of a drainage layer if any at all. However, if the enclosure were to be set up for a water dragon or crocodile skinks, species that require high humidity levels, the layer would be important. Without a drainage layer, the substrate within the setup would become waterlogged.

Some materials that can be used as drainage layer substrate:

  • hydro-balls/expanded clay balls
  • lava rock
  • gravel (not as effective as the first two, but cheaper in price)


There are several substrates that can be used within a bioactive enclosure. Don’t be afraid to mix it up a little bit and experiment based on the needs of the species you are housing.

Organic topsoil, play sand, excavator clay, coco coir, and peat moss, are all good substrates depending on the species of animal being housed. Since the increased popularity of bioactive enclosures, there are also stores that provide pre-made mixtures specifically for bioactive setups.


One of the best aspects of a bioactive set up are the plants!

Plants play an important role in replicating the natural environment of an animal and, not to mention, the addition of plants adds to the visually pleasing effects that bioactive enclosures provide. Be sure to choose safe plants only, and if possible, ones that have not been treated with pesticides and other chemicals.

Cleaner Crews

Cleaner crews are what makes your life a lot easier when it comes to cleaning the enclosure. When adding cleaner crew insects/invertebrates, be sure to spread them around the entire enclosure. Make sure you provide several hiding spots-this can be attained by adding some leaf litter to the enclosure and will minimize the chance of your animal consuming the cleaner crew bugs.

Some insects that can be used for cleaner crews:

  • Springtails
  • Isopods
  • Mealworms
  • Dubia Roaches
  • Earthworms
  • Lesser Mealworms
  • Dermestid Beetles


Creating a bioactive enclosure isn’t as simple as throwing together everything and forgetting about it. It can take a few weeks to a few months for the cleaner crew to establish itself, so be sure to spot clean the enclosure as and when needed.
To help feed the cleaner crew, you can sprinkle a little bit of fish food, any type will do—they really enjoy it and it's a great staple for them.

In conclusion, if done correctly, bioactive enclosures will not only benefit the animal by providing a naturalistic environment, but it will also give the owner the convenience of not having to constantly clean the enclosure.

© 2017 Becca


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