Exotic Pets

A Small Budget is Not a Roadblock to Building a Bioactive Terrarium

Interested in setting up a bioactive terrarium but feeling held back by the cost involved? Then here’s some good news: you really don’t have to spend much more than you would on a standard exotic pet habitat.

The primary differences are that you’re going to add tank custodians and live plants, and you can find fairly inexpensive species that fit those roles.

Let’s start with a bioactive terrarium build video to show you how it’s done…

Bioactive on a budget

Elle’s Reptiles created a video that details a budget build for a bioactive terrarium. The tank in this build is best for species that like to climb, but you can easily alter it for ground-dwelling reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. Watch the full video here:

What to buy

You can find inexpensive items for your custom bioactive terrarium all in one place here at The Tye-Dyed Iguana. That can be easier than searching for various items at several different stores. And many of our items have discounted online prices that you can’t find in the store.

Here’s what we suggest…


Exo Terra makes some nice terrariums with ventilation and access doors, and the smaller sizes are fairly affordable.
Click here to check out the prices for Exo Terra Natural Terrariums.

Exo Terra terrariums

To get a tank like the one in Elle’s video, go for the 12”x12”x18” option. Of course, depending on what type of animal you plan to keep, you may want a smaller or bigger terrarium. You can also build in a
basic 10-gallon aquarium tank to keep the budget lower.

See also  Watch Out for These Bioactive Dangers

Empty 10-gallon aquarium

River pebbles

As described in the video from Elle’s Reptiles, you’ll need a drainage layer at the bottom of your tank. Gravel or
river pebbles are an inexpensive natural drainage option.

Bag of river pebbles

Substrate mesh

You may need a couple of layers of
mesh screen to keep substrate from leaching into the drainage layer of river pebbles. Fortunately, it’s really inexpensive, so you won’t be out much cash even if you buy several packages.


Elle’s Reptiles suggests a soil that contains sand and peat moss, like

Bag of Reptisoil

You’ll also need a mulch ingredient, like
Reptibark, to help with proper drainage and humidity control.

Bag of Reptibark

As a final component of the substrate,
Sphagnum moss helps retain moisture. 

Leaf litter

FREE — You don’t even need to buy this one. Just collect some dry leaves from outside as a cover layer for your tank custodians.

Springtails, worms, or isopods

Springtails, worms, and isopods are microfauna that help break down waste and decaying matter from both plants and animals inside the terrarium.

You can check out the differences between the various microfauna options in our
custodian comparison series of articles.


You can honestly find your own driftwood or bark pieces outside. Just be sure it hasn’t been treated with any pesticides and dry it completely before adding it to the terrarium. Or you can
purchase driftwood pieces.

Food bowl

If you’re building a vertical tank, you’ll want a
mountable food bowl for arboreal species, but if you’re building a horizontal tank, you’ll want a food bowl for ground-dwelling species.

If you don’t mind spending a little extra money, there are also fancier feeding ledges available for arboreal species. Here are two feeding ledges that look more natural:

See also  What to Do About Gnats and Fruit Flies in Your Bioactive Terrarium

Zoo Med Arboreal Feeding Platform

Zilla Vertical Rock Ledge Ornament

Grow light

Because you will have live plants in your bioactive terrarium, you’ll need grow lights to keep them healthy. What kind you need really depends on the size of the vivarium and what kind of animal you plan to keep inside.

If your reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate doesn’t require special lighting, such as UVB, then you can put a daylight fluorescent or
LED bulb in the terrarium for a grow light. If your animal does require UVB, this combo setup is a great way to save money on all the lighting components you need:

Zoo Med Grow Light and UVB Light


We carry many different kinds of plants in-store at The Tye-Dyed Iguana in Fairview Heights. You can find desert and rainforest succulents, as well as various plants that only require low lighting.

Check out our online exotic pet store for deals on everything you need to set up a bioactive terrarium.

Diedra Blackmill is head copywriter and content marketer at Telepath Writing Services. She specializes in writing blog articles, newsletters, and scripts that generate more revenue for businesses.
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