What is a Bioactive tank? Bioactive tanks are tanks that attempt to recreate the conditions from the wild in miniature for their inhabitants. They attempt to answer the question “why does my lizard’s poop build up in my tank, and not in the wild?” by introducing a variety of other organisms to fill the life cycle niches that are neglected by using a tank with only one animal. What else lives in a Bioactive? This depends on the type of habitat one is trying to create.
Most bioactives include appropriate, nontoxic plants (yes, even arid bioactives), which do more than just look pretty. Live vegetation increases humidity directly around itself, and in the tank as a whole, and also uses the nutrients released from the feces of small reptiles and invertebrates to thrive. In addition to the obvious plants in most bioactives, they also include a variety of “clean up crew” invertebrates, which seek out and eat reptile and invertebrate
feces, consume it, and convert it into a form that the plants can use more easily. The most common of these clean up crew inverts are springtails and isopods, but depending on that type of animal is being housed, other inverts such as millipedes, roaches, or death feigning
beetles can be used. etheir clean up crews are more charming than they expected. is based on decreasing the amount of clean up required while also giving the animal contained a more appropriate environment. Bioactives smell better, look better, and tend to have more active and behaviorally diverse inhabitants. In addition to the advantages for the focus animal in the tank, there is obviously more species diversity which makes the tank more engaging for anyone watching as well. For example, as exciting as it is to see your Kenyan Sand Boa emerge from the sand to drink, including death feigning beetles, which are more appropriate to arid conditions than most other commercially available clean up crews, means that you have little blue beetles trundling about on top of the sand even when your snake is in hiding. People often find that their clean up crews are more charming than they expected.
What should the clean up crew look like in my tank? While there are a lot of choices, there are a few general types of clean up crews. Most tanks can and should be seeded with springtails. Springtails are a type of mite that exclusively eats detritus, otherwise known as dead and rotting matter. They are very small but are visible to the naked eye, and are typically sold in charcoal (which they eat) because the dark color makes it easier to see the little white inverts. They are more tolerant of overly wet, as opposed to very dry, conditions but can be kept in any enclosure with soil. Isopods, of which there are many species, are also a common and good choice for most enclosures. The fastest breeding and most efficient isopods for tanks
with inhabitants that might think their tasty are dwarf isopods, which are larger than springtails, but small enough to be difficult to find. Unlike their largest cousins, they tend to stay hidden most of the time, and have an easier time maintaining sufficient numbers with creatures like crested geckos, which will eat isopods if they see them (which, one might note, isn’t really a bad thing). Larger isopods that work nicely as a joint clean up crew and readily available feeders are plain porcellio scabers and nosy isopods, which are less expensive and can be found in larger numbers than their more colorful morphs and less heart breaking when lost in the belly of a frog, spider, or lizard. For other animals, such as snakes, that don’t hunt invertebrates, the fancy isopods, like clowns and rubber duckies, can be used safely, as well as inverts like millipedes (which secrete a cyanide derivative when threatened and can kill a hungry, daring lizard). Another damp tolerant clean up crew option is roaches. They also don’t bite or spread disease despite their reputations, and breed quickly. In a tank where you want to watch natural hunting behaviors, perhaps with large dart frogs, small roaches, like the Pale Bordered Field Roach, may be a good option. They’re also more attractive than most expect; pale bordered field roaches look like fireflies. There are fewer options in arid tanks, but death feigning beetles are a, perhaps somewhat less efficient, but terribly charming option. There are also dry tolerant isopods. Do not bother with clean up crews for Bearded Dragons; they eat them. Vingaroons eat isopods preferentially, so they should not be housed together.
Feeding and Cleaning: Spot cleaning is still necessary in bioactive enclosures. In addition, it is necessary to include things, like shredded carrots or dog food or fish pellets, to feed your clean up crew. Especially if you are just starting the bioactive or you are housing your clean up crew while waiting on your enclosure to be ready.