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Bioactive vs. Traditional Vivariums
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Old 06-22-2019, 01:32 PM   #1
Question Bioactive vs. Traditional Vivariums

I'm slowly getting closer to actually starting to build my terrarium/vivarium setup. I've been doing a lot of reading on various enclosures, substrates, heating methods, and all the other necessities for keeping a corn snake happy. Something I ran across that I am really intrigued by, and tempted by, are bioactive substrates and vivariums.

I have been trying to weigh the pros and cons of going bioactive versus traditional aspen or other bedding. I am very tempted to try bioactive, since I have kept aquariums in the past and am comfortable with the idea of a tiny ecosystem that helps keeps the overall environment healthier for the occupants. I also love the natural look, and idea of live plants within the enclosure (fake plants just always look, well, fake to me. Especially since I have a LOT of live houseplants already). Having little helpers to take care of small bits of waste that aren't taken care of by regular spot cleaning and a potential for a higher humidity output are also pluses for me. As is the potential reduction in full substrate changes. And isopods. Because I have always had a soft spot for roly-polys.

Naturally a lot of the reading I have done has been very pro-bioactive, and I know there are cons. Higher upfront costs, more trouble should the tank need to be torn down and sanitized for health reasons, corns sometimes have a tendency to decimate live plants, etc. So I wanted to open up discussion to those of you who know way more than I do, and get some varying opinions on the subject. Especially since, of all the things I've searched here, this is the one subject I seem to have found scant little on.

So bioactive yes or no? Something halfway in-between (such as a more replaceable substrate with potted plants)? I'd love to hear your experiences!
Old 06-23-2019, 09:16 AM   #2
I've been either keeping snakes or reading about keeping snakes for about 40 years. Yeah, I'm old...

BIOACTIVE - Though it is more labor intensive up front; and requires more intensive monitoring at least once a week to check soil moisture, food for the workers, mold growth, etc. (bioactive is Not "set and forget"), Bioactive can be very rewarding.

Not only are you caring for your Corn, you are caring for plants, soil, decomposers, a micro ecosystem. It takes a bit more effort but I can see the allure.

Terrariums were all the rage in the 70s, and this is simply a terrarium with a guest. If you have done the research and know what is involved, go for it!

SIMPLE - People have been keeping snakes quite successfully like this for over 50 years. The snake craze really took off in the 70s when aquariums and over head heat lamps were all they had.

Thankfully we have improved - such as we no longer use pine, for one thing. But, there is nothing wrong with a simple enclosure and even (gasp) overhead heat lamps.

I fall somewhere in the middle. I have used racks, tubs, aquariums, DIY, you name it. And they all work if you meet the basic requirements of the corn. For my snake / snakes, I like Aspen, some climbing branches, and a visually appealing enclosure to look at without the mess of Bioactive - but not as sterile as a tub in a rack.

So there you have it - my non committal reply Whatever you decide, have fun and take care of the snake. That's all that matters.
Old 06-23-2019, 12:20 PM   #3
Thanks for your input, Knox! As for food, what additional food should be introduced for the decomposers? Is the leaf litter that is added sufficient or is there an additional food source? The books and sites I've read so far have made it sound like the detritivores feed primarily on the waste matter of the live plants and the snake, with the additional added leaf litter. If I go that route, however, I want to make sure that I haven't missed something from poor sources. Hopefully weekly monitoring won't be too bad, I already check my plants regularly with a moister probe to try and keep from "killing them with kindness" by over watering. It is very dry here most of the time, so hopefully keeping mold at bay will be easy with good vigilance.

The 'simple but nice' approach is the other one I'm seriously considering. Since my terrarium will be in my living room, I am looking for something that fits the snake's needs while being nice to look at. I may go with that anyway, simply because I have no idea when I may have to move again. Just wanting to go with something darker than the aspen for substrate, since the light aspen just seems off to me, visually.
Old 06-23-2019, 12:40 PM   #4
Leaf litter, poop, dead decomposers are all what I consider “food”. I heave read of some adding SMALL scraps of veggies to decomposers as well, but I am not an expert by any means.

Follow your research above my advice on that for sure, my friend.

Like you, I like a darker floor. But there is no arguing the ease of Aspen, especially Sani Chips.

Keep us posted!
Old 06-23-2019, 01:06 PM   #5
I just went through a couple of long substrate threads, and the overwhelming opinion seems to be that aspen is fantastic. It really does sound like a good way to go, and almost has me convinced! My only worry is that aspen, being dryer, may be too dry for my climate. I may attempt a different substrate at first (such as cypress) just to see how it does if I go that route.

With bioactive... How often do the little helpers 'take a vacation' out of the enclosure? Larger ones like roly-polys seem like they would stay more easily confined. But the springtails, while I know what they are, would still bug me if I started finding them random places. I like invertebrates but don't want to start having tiny bugs all over my apartment.
Old 06-23-2019, 01:14 PM   #6
I haven’t heard too many stories of them escaping. Springtails especially don’t seem to enjoy being out in the open. And they don’t last long out of the enclosure even if they do go on a sight seeing tour.
Old 06-23-2019, 01:27 PM   #7
Good to know. That puts my mind at ease on that front. I'll keep researching and debating, but probably won't make a solid decision until I actually get the terrarium and start setting up. Still have to finish cleaning a place for it first.
Old 06-23-2019, 06:12 PM   #8
Seriva Senkalora
If I ever have to choose between a setup that fits my corns normal behaviour and a sterile enclosure... I would and will always choose the first one. (But since the second isn't an option for me, I never have to choose.)

If you have the possibility to provide a bioactive vivarium: Just do it.

Your corn will show you how much she/he likes it by showing a wide variety of natural behaviour.
Old 06-23-2019, 07:33 PM   #9
Even if I cannot go for a full bioactive setup, I will still do everything I can to make it as natural as possible. Naturalistic hides, climbing branches, plant cover, leaf litter, etc. Even if some of it has to be artificial. Definitely want to encourage as much natural behavior as possible.

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bioactive, newbie, pros-cons, terrarium, vivarium

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