1. Hello guest! Are you a Tegu enthusiast? If so, we invite you to join our community! Our site is specifically designed for you and it's a great place for Tegu enthusiasts to meet online. Once you join you'll be able to post messages, upload pictures of your Tegu and enclosure and have a great time with other Tegu fans. Sign up today! If you have any questions, problems, or other concerns email [email protected]!
    Dismiss Notice

Bioactive substrate

Discussion in 'Tegu Enclosures' started by Thelegendofcharlie, Jul 15, 2012.

  1. Thelegendofcharlie

    Thelegendofcharlie Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2012
    Messages:
    216
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    18
    I posted this in another thread and thought maybe it should have its own.

    I dont think plants themselves are necessary, (but in a proper system they can and will thrive) but they need to be part of a biological ecosystem to thrive or they will die off. By that I mean other living organisms.
    What I do is start with a base of topsoil - topsoil is important because its highly bioactive and even the microscopic organisms are important and come into play.
    I mix in about a 20% ratio of play sand for drainage and consistency.
    I mix in very small sifted lava stone.
    This helps again with drainage, aeration, and provides a suitable medium for (friendly) bacteria propagation.
    I line the bottom of the enclosure, tank, vivaria - whatever with small fine gravel about 2in and put the substrate on top I run a piece of pvc pipe from the top layer of substrate down to the gravel (you have to put this in first and then put in the substrate) so then you can water from the bottom up instead of saturating the top portion.
    To make it bioactive I put leaf litter on top, there s lots of useful little guys in that. Then I put in earthworms (these are key) and not red wrigglers - reg. earth worms, springtails, alot of roly polys or pill millipedes (depending on where youre from) and small milipedes are good but not essential. From there you can add whatever you want or see fit just obviously not to many predator species like mantis or lady bugs ( they eat eggs) all of the organisms will eventually strike a balance and you will have a living substrate. You can even plant plants in it if you want, of course this doesnt really work well for tegus but is possible with a large enough encloser and the right plant.
    The only maintenance is to occasionally check the soil ph and adjust if needed and this is done easily. Just add chelated iron or lime or a number f other things.
    The benefits are many.
    You have a natural and psychologically appealing habitat.
    It holds a burrow like nothing else.
    You dont have to worry about your pets eating it - they wont
    Done right the risk of bacterial or fungal infection is almost eliminated because they cannot proliferate to a dangerous/contagious level due to the friendly flora.
    In a large enough enclosure you can actually stir in or bury the poop as it is readily absorbed and taken into the ecosystem - this is perfectly health and natural
    Even the occasional mold or fungus will get reabsorbed into the system and not flourish (thats where the roly polys and springtails come in)
    Best of all you dont have to change it for years at a time!
    (when initiated and maintained properly)
    I have some habitats going on 3 yrs!
    If it starts to stink or your insect die off or you see a lot of mold of fungi - something is wrong and needs to be corrected and soon.
    Its a really great method and I recommend it to everyone
    Its super convenient for me as a keeper and great for the physical and mental health f your captive.
    IF anyone would like help with this (as it can be tricky to initiate) feel free to post or pm me.

    Read more: http://www.tegutalk.com/showthread.php?tid=11951#ixzz20ktVrPKL
    [hr]
    And I would love to hear from anyone else using this method.
    Lewis Falkner likes this.
  2. Diablo

    Diablo Member

    Joined:
    May 23, 2012
    Messages:
    344
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    16
    It seems like a really cool idea, but really hard to upkeep....
  3. Thelegendofcharlie

    Thelegendofcharlie Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2012
    Messages:
    216
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Not hard to upkeep at all.
    Thats the beauty of it!
    Harder to set up initially than throwing a bunch of cypress mulch in a hole yeah.
    But once set up, it takes care of itself, you just have to check the ph every 3months or so, and if you have plants in it you dont even have to do that.
    (the plants will tell you)
    But the best part to me is you dont have to worry about your herps eating it.
    And trust me they definately benefit from it psychologically
    I started on this after I lost a water monitor to impaction.
    It trumps a dirt and sand mixture because you dont have to change it out, and it eliminates the risk of bacterial and fungal infection.
  4. Diablo

    Diablo Member

    Joined:
    May 23, 2012
    Messages:
    344
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    16

    I think I'm going to try this out on my final enclosure. I just have a feeling I would mess this up and put the wrong bugs in haha. If you have the cage inside, do you run the possibility of these bugs escaping into your house and causing any trouble? And honestly a drawing or diagram would help a lot because I'm having a little trouble picturing the layers you talked about. When you say you start with the top soil, do you mean you mix the top soil first, put the gravel along the bottom of the enclosure then just put the top soil on top? So it's basically just two layers, and a lot of insects right?
  5. james.w

    james.w Active Member 5 Year Member 1,000+ Post Club

    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2010
    Messages:
    4,337
    Likes Received:
    9
    Trophy Points:
    38
    How well would this work for a monitor that would dig all the way down to the gravel?
  6. PocketFullOfTegus

    PocketFullOfTegus New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 14, 2012
    Messages:
    18
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    I want to try this too!
  7. Thelegendofcharlie

    Thelegendofcharlie Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2012
    Messages:
    216
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    18
    @ Diablo
    Depending on your enclosure some bugs can and will pose an escape risk.
    You might want to install a tiny little alarm...
    I knew I was doing this so I sealed the opening really well with weather sealer - the stuff you put around doors and windows , dont know what its called...
    So escapes are minimal but will inevitably happen.
    This is just something you have to weigh in on.
    Aside from the other benifits I mentioned, I personally really like haveing and maintaining ecosystems as such, plus I keep quite a few species of inverts so a stray beetle just doesnt bother me personally but of course oppinions will differ.
    As far as the levels, yes its just two layers.
    You start with the layer of pea gravel, run the pvc pipe from the top of that up to where your surface will be, and I cap the pipe off (loosely) so debris does nt get in there.
    And then you put the substrate mixture of topsoil, playsand (about 20%), (just dont use reptile or calcium sand) fine lava rock (ive only found this on ebay) they are fine and not like the large pumice in garden centers, you can throw in a little cypres mulch f you have some, and/or a little sphagnum moss for decaying elements. But neither is necessary, just throw a little in if you have it.
    Just be sure to put leaf litter on top. Transfer it quickly from the source into your enclosure as you want it to be "alive."
    Just dont make it too "chunky" with extras- all the other stuff is just for drainage and aeration.
    As for as the bugs, more is better. If you put too little it will not funtion properly.
    Dont worry about putting too much of anything except for the worms, for a standard enclosure you should throw in about 100. Again make sure they are regular earthworms (the real skinny ones) and not the more popular red wrigglers
    As for any other bugs, i dont think you can put to much (withn reason) it will reach its own equilibrium if overpopulated.
    Spring tails and roly polys, are key. And beetles are good really good just know what species your dealing with or its not worth the trouble as most have very short life spans in their adult stage. Oh and avoid snails and snails and slugs because they reproduce like mad. Anything else is pretty optional, just be careful putting in predator species like spiders , mantis, ladybugs ect. And try not to get ants those will be a pain. (haha get it) it hurts when they bite... Oh me...
    But in my large enclosure (and many of the small) i have all of the above plus centipedes milipedes, dubia roachs, aphids, weevils, walking sticks (these guys are cool), grass hoppers, and i have some ground skinks that actually laid eggs and hatched! These guys top out at about four inches (mostly tail too) very interesting little guys. I like them alot. For the most part there too secretive and fast for the Tegus to get ahold of if youre wondering. But they do root and explore alot (and find good things to eat) I enjoy them being to act out on those instincts, and Im sure they appreciate (in their way) the excercise and stimulation.
    Let me know if you do it and it works out.
    Ill be happy to help , just ask.
    [hr]
    Good question!
    I didnt think to answer this because my Tegus dont hit bottom.
    (they have like 3 feet of substrate)
    but to keep them from burrowing to the gravel put a layer of metal mesh or screen between the gravel and substrate.
    [hr]
    or hardware cloth! couldnt think of the name untill I just saw it in another post.
    TheOneKimchi likes this.
  8. PocketFullOfTegus

    PocketFullOfTegus New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 14, 2012
    Messages:
    18
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    1
    can you put catapillers in your enclosure b? it would be cool to raise butterflys
  9. got10

    got10 Member

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2011
    Messages:
    603
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    18
    i would put roaches in there as well. I have them in my crested gecko cages and they get along just fine as yummy yummies when they come out from under the orchard bark
  10. james.w

    james.w Active Member 5 Year Member 1,000+ Post Club

    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2010
    Messages:
    4,337
    Likes Received:
    9
    Trophy Points:
    38
    That makes sense, I guess it would work fine than.
  11. Thelegendofcharlie

    Thelegendofcharlie Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2012
    Messages:
    216
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Caterpillars eat quite a bit of vegetation and I think your Tegu might have an unhealthy interest in them. (unhealthy for the caterpillar anyway)
    I have however successfully metamorphosed them in other enclosures with other inverts (walking sticks) that utilize the same substrate system.
    [hr]
    Go for it!
  12. Thelegendofcharlie

    Thelegendofcharlie Member 5 Year Member

    Joined:
    Apr 11, 2012
    Messages:
    216
    Likes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    18
    I realized I neglected to put something in my How to for anyone who wants to use this method.
    You should throw in a few handfuls of fresh soil. From the yard is fine. Just make sure it is free of herbicides/pesticides.
    This is beneficial in case the source of topsoil you use lacks bioactivity.
    Ideally it should have both nutrients and microorganisms but its not unreasonable to assume topsoil that isnt fresh could be "dead"
    Also, make sure your topsoil has a soil like consistency. I got some just yesterday for a new vivarium (Am getting a half dozen Giant African Millipedes) Scotts brand; got it from Lowes, this stuff was awful - it looked like sawdust.
    I dont think that even classifies as topsoil. But stay away from that kind of stuff. Its not appropriate for this kind of project.
  13. TheOneKimchi

    TheOneKimchi New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2014
    Messages:
    8
    Likes Received:
    12
    Trophy Points:
    3
    This is such a cool post. I'm just now building a custom tegu enclosure (summer project). I know this thread is two years old, but it's still nice to see if anyone could help with the ingredients. What kind of gravel would be good for this?
  14. Tiannamamma90

    Tiannamamma90 New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2017
    Messages:
    1
    Likes Received:
    1
    Trophy Points:
    1
    I have a bioactive enclosure for my tegu, and it's just a 40 gallon exo terra for now, but I have a plant that's a type of vine threat came with a weird pole that it grows up, outs very cool, and makes it so she can't trample it. And I have isopods, supporting tails, Dubai roaches, and little bugs I don't even know what they are called, also been seeing tiny baby centepedes now as well. They keep it clean, my tegu digs for roaches when she wants a snack, I use top soil, and leaf litter on top. She loves the leaves, I also have a little cat bed in there she sleeps in and under. She digs burrows under the water dish, need to upgrade soon, she's growing fast.

    Attached Files:

    Lewis Falkner likes this.