BioActive Terrarium!

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!

Close Up

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!

 

Climbing Fun!

I know how to have a fun weekend! Yes, pandemic is putting a damper on things, but I found a new pet project to brighten up my weekend!

Hector D. Byrd wrapped up after a bath

 

Hector has been very entertaining lately. A couple of weeks ago she started coughing. I was really worried! Every time she coughed, I would get up and go check on her, but she seemed fine, breathing was good, no discharge, eyes looked good, eating, drinking, pooping normally, I was stumped! The next day she coughed and I ran to check on her and she started laughing.  I realized she was coughing for attention! It’s developed into a new routine around here: Hector coughs, I ask if she is OK, “oh poor poor birdy! Is my baby bird OK?” She coughs again, maybe a couple of coughs in a row. “Poor Hector! what a terrible cough! Maybe you need a treat?” She laughs, I bring her a treat. This is what it is like to be owned by a parrot.

As I’m writing today, Wena the dragon is hanging out on the back of my chair. Bean is very concerned that she is going to eat me, or maybe he just wants to play with her, but here’s the look I’m getting.

 

The gliders are settling in really well.  I’m still not sure they like me, but they don’t bite me, so it’s all good. I’ve been reading that a lot of glider owners use mosquito net bed tents to let their gliders run and play. While I think this sounds like an awesome idea, I also know how incredibly messy my boys are, and they believe the entire world is their bathroom. I wasn’t excited about the idea of cleaning up a tent, as well as not wanting to buy or store the tent.

Eenie, Meenie, Miney, and Mo have been hanging out with me in my glass shower stall. It’s a double stall, like bathtub size, and it works out really well.  The boys can run around, and when it is over, I can just clean the shower. The problem is, other than the corner shelf unit, there isn’t much for them to climb on in the shower. This weekend, I had the best idea!

This pile of PVC was a homemade parrot stand I made for Hector years ago. She never liked it, so it has been up in the attic. Rebuilt, I was thinking I could convert it into a climber for the gliders!

I took the original structure and made sure it fit in the shower, and it did! Next I took a bunch of the fleece pieces I had for the gliders and hung them from the stand to give them more climbing options. I wasn’t sure if I would need to wrap the PVC in fleece or add something to make it easier for them to climb.

As soon as I let them out in the shower, two of them climbed right up the PVC pipe! They had no problems with it at all, especially Miney, the tiniest of the 4 by far. He is also the craziest! Every night Miney is the one running like a maniac in the wheel. Climbing this structure was definitely right up his alley. It took him maybe 2 seconds to figure out how to get from the structure I built up onto the shower head. At one point, he was running up one side of the fleece and down the other, over and over again.

Mo found himself a comfy spot on the 2nd layer and mostly hung out there.

Meenie enjoyed climbing, and went all the way to the top, but was a bit more cautious than crazy Miney. He explored carefully and checked out all the different parts.

My Eenie is my big boy. He’s chunky. He’s the one I most often find at the food bowl when he’s awake. He never left my body while they were out this time. His friends would come over and pester him, but he just hung out with me.

He sat in my lap, he hung out on my shoulder, he did some climbing, but only on me. At one point he tried to climb across my face, ouch! Thankfully the scratch is small. Not looking forward to trimming nails again, but it might be almost time.

Eventually, Miney really got into crazy mode, and just started running and leaping. He made his way to the shower head, then made the leap to the top of the shower doors. From there he was looking around and I knew I was in trouble. I put away the other three boys, and watched Miney leap about 8ft from the top of the shower doors to the towel rack. Scooped him up from there, and they all went back to their cage.

I’m sure over the next few weeks I’ll be adding/changing toys to the climbing structure, but I’m so excited to have it! Now I don’t feel the need for a messy tent, and the boys have a great new play area. I just have to figure out how to keep Miney from the gap at the top of the shower!

Next project I’m working on is creating a BioActive terrarium for the Dragon! I’m learning all about substrates, clean up insects, and safe plants. I’ll update soon.

 

 

 

 

 

So Much Fun And A Little Education Interrupted By Bean!

Bean only looks like he is sleeping. He’s really waiting for a chance to cause trouble!

I had such a fun morning! A friend asked me to speak to her kindergarten class about all my pets this morning. I was a little nervous about it. It was virtual of course, but video and photos make me very self conscious. I like to hide behind the camera, but being able to talk about my passion made it all worth while!

We started the session with technical issues. When we tested the Team meeting last week, I did it from my laptop and everything went well. I don’t know why, but today I had decided to use my regular computer. My video wasn’t working for some reason. I quickly signed out and grabbed my laptop. I knew that worked! We chatted while a couple of the kids figured out their own technical issues, then it was time for the class to meet the pets.

Trying to decide how to handle and show all the different pets wasn’t easy. I ended up with Hector on a stand next to my desk, and Wena, and the glider boys were just in their cages, but of course right near my desk as always.

A cup of feathers was the first thing I showed on camera. The kids got all excited when they saw Hector’s pretty red feathers in the cup. Hector let me pick her up and she sat calmly on my hand for the whole time I talked about her. She waved to the kids when I asked her to, and she demonstrated how she can crack a nut shell with her beak. She was pretty lazy about it, and opened one side of the shell and ate out the meat, but she tried! We talked about how old she was, how much care parrots need, what she eats, where she sleeps, and what she says. Hector was so good. Bribing with nuts and bananas worked! She stayed calmly on my hand and seemed to enjoy watching all the kids faces on the screen. She was turning her head and looking at them as we all talked.

Bean interrupted. He wanted to swat at poor Hector’s tail feathers. Hector went back on her stand, and she actually sat there quietly watching everything for the whole call.

Next up was the dragon. Wena did great. I was able to hold her up close to the camera so the kids could get a good look at her. We talked about hibernation versus brumation, how old she was, what she eats, where she lives. I tried to get her to eat a worm for them, but it was tough to hold her and the worm and keep them close enough to the camera for the kids to see. One of the kids asked me if she was a REAL dragon. I told him she must be because it was in her name!

Bean interrupted. He was trying to get the dragon’s tail. My daughter had to come grab him and get him out of the room!

The gliders were a bit of a question to me. I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to present a nocturnal animal that likes to hide in a pouch on camera. Amazingly, it all worked out! The pouch makes them very portable. Just unhook it from the cage, and easy to transport. The whole pouch was easy to hold up in front of the camera. The boys did a bunch of crabbing when I first took them out which was perfect! The kids couldn’t believe the weird crabbing noise was coming from them!

Bean interrupted and jumped on my desk. I almost dropped the pouch of gliders!

We had a lot of fun trying to guess what was in the pouch making the weird noises! Eventually, with offered treats, a couple of the boys poked their heads out to grab one. One of them even climbed out onto me. I was excited they came out and the kids got a good look at them, but less excited when he peed on my laptop! Thankfully I was able to move him quickly and he mostly peed on the floor. The kids loved their names. They kept saying “Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo!” and laughing. They could see how the gliders all look very similar so I started telling them how Mo had a white face, and sure enough, Mo popped out to say hello, well to get a treat, but whatever, it worked.

No one knew what a sugar glider was, but a couple guessed that they were squirrels. We talked about marsupials and pouches and kangaroos. One boy asked what they like to do when they wake up from sleeping all day. They wake up, go to the bathroom (lots of giggles), they find a snack, then they play!

All the kids were really engaged. It was hard to keep up with all of their questions. Other than one little boy who really wanted to tell me about his three cats, they all actually asked questions about the animals and seemed to generally be interested. At some point, mention was made about each of these animals being rescued. It’s super important to me to always let kids know how my pets came to me because they needed new homes.

We ended with random questions about any of the pets. Some of the kids told me about their pets. Hopefully I will get a chance to do this again for other classes one day.

Today reminded me, a few years ago I volunteered at a local animal shelter doing humane education. It was awesome! I loved doing it and I’m not really sure why I stopped. One of the managers at the shelter had a 3-legged golden retriever rescue that they let us use for Humane Education. He was great! I remember bringing him to a preschool and teaching the kids about how to safely approach and handle a dog. Maybe once this crazy pandemic is under control I can go back to doing that again!

Happy Fall and a Dragon Update

 

Happy Fall!

I put out some flowers, and a couple of pumpkins, but the beauty was short lived! The chipmunks and squirrels think that the pumpkins were put out for them, and who am I to argue?

They have removed and probably eaten all the seeds. I keep rotating the pumpkin to try and get a bit more enjoyment out of it before it’s gone, but it is slowly starting to cave in. I’m glad to help fatten up the local rodents before the snow flies, but a couple of weeks with my decorations would have been nice!

The Dragon is being really weird recently. She has been in and out of her cave. She isn’t eating well, and she just can’t seem to decide if she wants to brumate, or just be awake. I’ve made sure her tank is the right temperature, and her basking spot is hot enough. Her tank is near windows, so I’m guessing the shorter daylight hours are what have her confused.

The hardest part for me is managing her bug consumption. I usually mail order her staple, black soldier fly larvae, but they take a few days to arrive, and they only last so long. I’ve been lucky enough to have some the last couple of times she has woken up. She’ll eat a few, a bit of her salad, and then she heads back into her cave.

Now I’ve run out, and I’m hesitant to order more. She may sleep for a few days, she may sleep for weeks, or even months. I don’t have anyplace local to buy the larvae, so I guess I will just run out and get her some crickets when she gets up again. Last thing I need is 500 or 1000 black soldier flies! She actually will eat the flies, but they are much harder to deal with than the larvae. The cats love it when a fly escapes in the house; me? not so much.

Check back soon for a review of a fun cat toy!