Sometimes you do something and it is so awesome you wonder why the heck you didn’t do it X-number of years ago. This was definitely one of those projects for me. Yesterday, I turned my bearded dragon tank into a living, bioactive terrarium! I’m so excited! My dragon was so excited she was nibbling at the plants on the ground as I was prepping the tank!
So, let’s start at the beginning. This was my dragon tank:
This is kind of a stripped down messy version of the tank because I had already started pulling some decorations and changing things around to get ready to convert it.
Going bioactive means that my tank will help take care of itself. Tomorrow, I’ll be getting some isopods and springtails, affectionately known as my clean up crew. These little guys will live in the soil and will help keep the soil clean and aerated. They will help decompose dead plant matter, leftover lizard food, and even lizard poop.
Lots of research has gone into this project. It’s important to get the “dirt” just right. It needs to be the right combination of materials to help keep the right humidity for my species of lizard. Bearded Dragons like it dry, so I can’t have too moist of a substrate, but it needs to have a moist layer so that things can decompose properly, and the bugs can prosper. My hope is that my clean up crew will thrive and reproduce in the tank, so it is important for them to have the right environment as well as the lizard.
Besides holding just the right amount of water, it needs to be the right weight. You don’t want too heavy of a substrate that the insects can’t get around, and a light substrate will just collapse all the time.
There are many companies that make substrates for this purpose. If you want more details, check out Josh’s Frogs, or The BioDude. Both have great info, instructional videos, and they sell the products you need to create your tank.
I ended up buying my substrate from Josh’s Frogs. I like that the substrate they sell is basically one bag for me to pour in my tank. The basic set up was to add about an inch of substrate to my tank, then water it until it started sticking together, and then add another 2-3′ of substrate on top of that. I bought some live oak bark from the same website and made some perches for the dragon to climb, these will also help nourish the soil and provide nutrients for the clean up crew. I added some dried leaves for hideouts for the bugs, and also to help jump start the bioactive process with an easy thing to decompose. The next thing I did was add plants.
Lucky for me, I have many plants here. I figured I would buys some new plants for the tank at some point, but that I would start with what I had available. First I did research on every single plant I wanted to use in the tank to make sure it was lizard-safe. It turns out I had many plants that would be perfect!
The last few years I have been playing with succulents. I’ve planted a few terrariums, and restarted a bunch of plants. Succulents are such fun! You can break off a piece and plant it and grow a whole new plant. My succulents were honestly starting to over run my house. I gave a bunch away in the Fall, and I still had too many pots.
I also have many spider plants, like the succulents they are prolific! When my son was in nursery school, he came home with a bit of spider plant. He had it stuck in some dirt, but it didn’t have any roots and kept falling out of the pot. He was SO proud that he had planted that little plant for his Momma. I had to save it! I carefully rooted it and loved it, and it has now grown into a monster spider plant. To give you an idea of how long I’ve had this plant, my son is now in college! Over the years, I’ve given babies of this plant to friends and family, and I have many babies of my own that are doing well in their own pots.
Most of the succulents I have, and spider plants are lizard-safe! I tried to pick a nice variety, and also to consolidate some of my many, many pots. I ended up using about a dozen of my own plants, and the tank is pretty full! At some point, I’d like to add a nice big plant, maybe a jade or a big spineless cactus, but for now I’m very happy not to have to spend money on plants as I get this tank set up.
Here’s what the tank looked like when I first set it up yesterday. It still needs some work, but I’m really happy with it for now. I’d like to get rid of that green hammock in the corner and replace it with another branch that she could climb. I don’t love the artificial cave in the back corner, but I feel that it is important for the lizard to have a hide, and it will also help maintain the tank. I’m supposed to keep a protected/humid spot what I can water every week or so. I’ll soak that corner to help get water down to the lower layers of the substrate without having to soak the whole tank. I will also be lightly misting the entire tank once a day.
This morning there were a couple of plants with exposed roots, presumably from Wena running over them and uprooting them, but overall everything held out pretty well. I’m sure she will end up munching on some plants and replacements will be necessary in the future. I’m planning to add some herb plants which grow fast, and lizards are known to like to munch.
This is the tank this morning after I fed Wena and replanted the plants that needed it.
Tomorrow, the Clean Up Crew arrives! I’m really excited to see how this tank grows and develops over time. I plan to continue splitting and propagating my plants that aren’t in the tank in case I need to replace plants. Maybe tomorrow I can also find the right branch to replace the ugly green hammock.
That is one happy lizard!