What is a bioactive terrarium? Step By Step Building Bioactive Terrarium

Bioactive Terrarium

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A bioactive terrarium can be viewed as a miniature ecosystem that is set up to include multiple living elements all within a tank. A bioactive terrarium closely replicates the different life processes and circles in an enclosed space. They are often used for aesthetic, scientific, and educational purposes.

Converting your terrarium into a bioactive terrarium is easy to do. But you must understand what goes into making one. Before creating a bioactive terrarium, you must know the types of plants and animals you can keep in them. Also, the maintenance and common mistakes to avoid are all important to know.

So, if you want to make your bioactive terrarium, you should continue reading this piece. Then, we will discuss how to make and maintain a bioactive terrarium.

What is a bioactive terrarium?

A bioactive terrarium is an enclosed habitat used to raise animals and plants. The self-sustaining ecosystem for a specific species is simulated on a smaller scale. The environment is managed to closely resemble that species’ natural ecosystem.

It is important to note that a terrarium differs from a bioactive terrarium. A terrarium is designed for growing plants in a glass container in the form of a garden or a miniature forest. A bioactive terrarium is designed to house both live plants and animals. Examples of animal species found in terrariums include reptiles, other invertebrates, and microorganisms.

The purpose of having decomposers and detritivores in the tank is to help break down and consume the waste products in the tank.

Bioactive terrarium animals

After successfully setting up your bioactive terrarium, the next step is to place the animal in the terrarium. But before choosing the animal you will be housing in your bioactive terrarium, there are some important factors you need to consider.

The number one factor to consider would be the size of the bioactive terrarium you intend to use. Will the animal fit into it? Will the animal eventually outgrow the tank?

Another factor will be the type of biome your terrarium has. Is it arid? Is it tropical? This will largely influence the type and breed of animal you will need. Also, you need to consider the amount of ventilation present in the tank.

Here is a list of some remarkable animals you can place in your aquarium.

  • Lizards

Reptile such as lizards, chameleons, and mourning geckos are suitable for growing in a bioactive terrarium. They are small and fit in most terrarium tanks. Their care is straightforward and easy.

  • Frogs

Frogs are beautiful amphibians that can also be kept in bioactive terrariums. Examples are the poison dart frog and the red-eyed frog. Most frogs are small in size and are poor climbers, making them suitable for growing in a medium or small bioactive terrarium.

  • Snakes

If you love snakes or find them fascinating, you should consider housing them in your bioactive terrarium. Just ensure your terrarium tank is well sealed with enough avenues for ventilation. This is to ensure they don’t leave their home at any time due to their dangerous nature.

Other examples include:

  • Tarantulas

Bioactive terrarium Elements

Before you build your functioning bioactive terrarium, you will need a few elements. Understanding how the elements work and using them appropriately will help reduce wastage in the system.

  • Glass Terrarium

The body of a terrarium can be made out of glass or acrylic. Light penetrates the terrarium through its sides. The body is usually very transparent, providing a clear view of what’s going on in the tank. Acrylic is another excellent option for creating a terrarium. They are lighter and insulate heat better compared to glass terrariums.

  • Soil

The base of the terrarium is covered with soil. Live plants in the terrarium will be directly grown on this soil. You must select the best soil suitable for your plants and animals. Soil ingredients such as peat moss, coco coir, orchid bark, sphagnum moss, and charcoal can all be mixed with sand. This mixture can be used to create well-draining soil suitable for tropical plants.

  • Plant

With a bioactive terrarium, you have the liberty to grow live plants alongside your animal. These plants serve a lot of purposes in the terrarium. They provide oxygen, serve as food, and also provide the animals with shade and protection against intense light.

  • Rock

Rocks are mostly placed at the bottom of the bioactive terrarium to help improve drainage. In addition, this rock helps protect the roots of the live plant in situations where they have been overwatered. Also, exotic rocks are used to add color to the terrarium.

  • Bacteria

Bacteria are part of a bioactive terrarium. As you continue to water and feed your live plants and animals, bacteria tend to start growing. Some are beneficial, others are harmless, and others may harm the plants and animals in the tank.

  • Light

Light is necessary for both plants and animals. Live plants will need light to carry out photosynthesis. Light helps in pigmentation in animals. They are also needed to see their surroundings.

  • Other elements

Other elements, such as fungi and tank janitors, are crucial for the proper functioning of your bioactive terrarium.

How to make a bioactive terrarium

Creating your own bioactive terrarium or vivarium is not tricky. However, it can take a lot of time for it to be ready to house your animal. Nevertheless, with the right tools and necessary information, you should be able to make your own bioactive terrarium.

No two bioactive terrariums are the same, likewise their construction process. However, if you follow these simple steps, you should be able to easily make your own bioactive terrarium.

Step 1: Pick a location.

The first step in creating your bioactive terrarium is to select a conducive location for it. This is a very important step. Placing the terrarium in the wrong location can lead to all sorts of unwanted issues.

One major factor to consider while choosing a good location is its exposure to intense sunlight. Exposing your terrarium to intense sunlight can cause the temperature inside the tank to rise. This can cause damage to your plants and animals. Also, the availability of water is another vital factor to consider when locating your terrarium.

STEP 2: Install the background

Installing a background can be done in different ways. For example, you can glue a photograph to the rear wall of your vivarium. You can also create a three-dimensional backdrop using different materials, such as wood bark and small branches.

This can be done by using expanding foam and silicone to hold these objects against the walls of the vivarium.

Start by coating the walls of the vivarium with expanding foam. When the expanding foam dries, apply silicone to its surface. Then proceeded to add different decorative items like cork bark and wood branches to the walls. While the silicone is still wet, use either sand, moss, or coconut husk to cover the wall. This will give the wall a natural appearance as well as cover up all the silicone on the wall.

STEP 3: Making it bioactive

Once the tank is dry, the next step would be to add our substrate. Start by gently adding gravel to the bottom of the tank. This is to aid in the easy drainage of excess water.

Then proceed to add your potting mix. It could be a combination of coco peat, perlite, orchid bark, and even sphagnum moss. Ensure you research the best type of soil for the plant you intend to grow.

Then the next step would be to get your plants. First, ensure they are free from diseases to prevent contaminating the whole tank. Then, proceed to plant the new plants in the soil and water them.

You can then introduce springtails, earthworms, isopods, or any other decomposers into the tank. They are great tank janitors as they help process waste products left by their co-habitants.

Your vivarium is almost ready at this stage. Allow the bioactive terrarium to sit for about a month before bringing the animal into the enclosure. This is to allow all the elements to settle into the new environment.

Common mistakes while building bioactive terrarium

When constructing your bioactive terrarium, you need to be careful and precise. You need to avoid making any type of mistakes as they can be detrimental to both your pet and the bioactive terrarium as a whole.

Try to avoid this common mistake when making your own bioactive terrarium.

  • One common mistake when building a bioactive terrarium is the importation of infected wood into the habitat. Infected wood can bring along with it unwanted bugs and bacteria that might end up destroying the whole habitat.
  • Another common mistake is filling up the terrarium with too many unnecessary items. This causes the tank to become too tight, leaving little to no space for the animal to roam about. Always ensure you leave enough room in the middle of the tank for easy movement of the animal.
  • Using the wrong type of substrate is another common mistake with new builders. It is important that you research the plant you wish to grow and its requirements before you start constructing the terrarium.

Bioactive terrarium maintenance for beginners

If you want your bioactive terrarium to last for a long time, you need to cultivate the habit of carrying out frequent maintenance. This maintenance is required for the healthy growth of the plant and any animal living in the enclosure.

  • Watering

Plants require a level of water to grow. Depending on the plant’s variety, you should make it a habit of constantly watering your plant. Under watering can be detrimental to the health of the plant.

  • Trimming the plant

It is important to monitor the growth of the plants in your bioactive terrarium. Some plants tend to proliferate, spreading their leaves all over the terrarium. Trim back on plants that are becoming too large for the tank. This should be done every 3 to 6 months, depending on how fast the plant grows.

  • Cleaning the glass

Always clean the surface of the glass regularly. Allowing dirt to cover the surface of the glass can make it challenging to observe the animals in the terrarium.

  • Draining the hydration

Once you notice the water level in the terrarium rises above the drainage layer, it is a sign that you must drain the water out. This excess water can cause health problems such as root rot in the plant.

  • Misting

Misting is important to maintain a certain level of humidity in the bioactive terrarium. Less misting can lead to dehydration to the plant. Try to keep at least 75% humidity in the terrarium. 

FAQs about Bioactive Terrarium


How often do you water bioactive terrariums?

The cultivated plant type will determine how often you need to water your bioactive terrarium. But on average, you should be watering the plant at least 2 to 3 times per week.

How often do you clean bioactive terrariums?

This is a good thing about bioactive terrarium. You don’t have to clean it too often. You can clean your bioactive terrarium once every 5 years.

How long does a bioactive terrarium last?

Bioactive terrariums can last for a very long time. But unfortunately, they sometimes outlive their owners.

Do terrariums attract bugs?

Yes. The living conditions in a bioactive terrarium are conducive for most bugs.

How many plants should be in a terrarium?

Bioactive terrariums can house multiple plants. This number is dependent on the size of the tank. The larger the terrarium, the more plants it can hold.


Owning a bioactive terrarium is great, but it comes with specific responsibilities. It requires constant care and maintenance for healthy growth.

You can easily create your bioactive terrarium as a DIY project. But, first, you must do your research on the types of animals and plants you wish to keep. This is to help prevent growing plants and animals that are not in the same terrarium. Also, ensure you use the right substrate for the right plant.

And finally, before introducing your animal into the enclosure, ensure the live plants have started growing. Do not place your animal in a fresh bioactive terrarium.

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Emmanuel Orta
Emmanuel Orta

Hi, I am Emmanuel, and I love everything about insects, plants and building terrariums.

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