Bioactive Enclosure Setup for Reptiles and Amphibians

Updated on July 1, 2019
ArachnoBecca profile image

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 live plants and invertebrates that act as a self-cleaning waste disposal system. Bioactive enclosures are increasing in popularity among the reptile and amphibian-keeping communities due to the convenience they provide.

This is a step-by-step guide to help you create a bioactive enclosure.

Drainage Layer

The first step of creating a bioactive enclosure is establishing a 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 dryer 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 skink, both species that require high humidity levels, the drainage layer would be important. Without a drainage layer, the substrate within the setup can 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. Due to 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 is the plants!

Plants play an important role in replicating the natural environment of an animal and adds to the visually-pleasing effect 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. These can be created by adding some leaf litter to the enclosure. Providing an array of hiding places 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 needed.
To help feed the cleaner crew, you can sprinkle a little bit of fish food into the enclosure. Any type will do—they really enjoy it and it's a great staple for them.

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

© 2017 Becca


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