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How To Create A Bearded Dragon Bioactive Terrarium

How To Create A Bearded Dragon Bioactive Terrarium

What Is A Bioactive Enclosure? 

A bioactive enclosure is essentially its own little ecosystem supported by moisture, live plants, microflora and microfauna based on a specific biome. The three most common biomes that are recreated as bioactive enclosures include: Tropical, Temperate and Arid. For bearded dragons an arid setup is most appropriate.   


  • Biome - A biome is a large area characterized by its vegetation, soil, climate, and wildlife. 
  • Microflora - Bacteria and microscopic algae and fungi, especially those living in a particular site or habitat. 
  • Microfauna - Small, often microscopic animals, especially those inhabiting the soil. Most common bioactive enclosures include isopods and springtails. 

Is A Bioactive Terrarium Appropriate For My Bearded Dragon?  

A bioactive terrarium is a great way to provide enrichment for your pet bearded dragon by providing natural digging opportunities as well as accessibility to various plants. Bearded dragons are known to snack on their enclosure's plants, so it is imperative that any plants used are non-toxic and safe for your pet lizard. 

Is A Bioactive Terrarium Appropriate For My Bearded Dragon

How To Make A Bioactive Terrarium For A Bearded Dragon: 

There are two ways to create a bioactive terrarium. The first is to buy a premade bioactive mix like Josh’s Frogs BioBedding DESERT bioactive substrate. This is the fastest and easiest way to get started. If you want to take a more DIY approach you can create your own bioactive substrate with 2 parts sand, 1 part coconut coir and 1 part earthworm casings.  

When you are ready to start assembling your bioactive enclosure you will start with your substrate layer. Being an arid biome, a drainage layer is not needed, as there should not be any excess moisture in the terrarium. Once your substrate is added you will need to add a small amount of water, just enough for the substrate to begin to stick together. After that you will need to mist periodically allowing a crust to form on the surface of the substrate before you mist again. Next, it is time to add plants. The best plants to use are succulents, spineless cacti, and arid grasses that thrive in low humidity. Finally, all bioactive enclosures need a cleanup crew or CUC. Isopods and springtails are the most common invertebrates used in bioactive terrariums.  

What Types of Substrates Are Recommended a Bearded Dragon Habitat?  

Substrate is the term used for the “bedding” inside a reptile’s habitat. Opinions of substrate options for bearded dragons vary widely by keepers and professionals in the reptile hobby.

Bioactive vs. Loose – What's the difference?  

Bioactive substrates are a type of loose substrate. A bioactive substrate can support plant, microfauna, and microflora growth. Learn all about Solid Vs. Loose substrate in our previous guide.

What Types of Substrates Are Recommended For Bearded Dragons?

Substrate Options That Are Not Recommended:  

Some solid and loose substrates, even though are commercially available, are not appropriate for bearded dragons. Please see the attached list and reasons why:  

  • Reptile carpet: Harbors bacterial growth and can catch reptile toenails in the fibrous material.  
  • Calcium or Vitamin sand: These are dusty which can cause eye irritation. They can also cause impaction due to the calcium carbonate that it is made up of. Calcium carbonate can also neutralize stomach acid which can lead to digestive complications if swallowed.  
  • Ground nut shells: These are also dusty and can lead to impaction if ingested.  
  • Wood products (mulch, bark, shavings): Can lead to impaction if ingested.  
  • Linoleum/Shelf liner: These are a great way to customize the look of your enclosure, but many of they products release VOCs which can be harmful to breathe in.   

Substrate For Baby Bearded Dragons.  

Bearded dragons explore their worlds by taste, and hatchlings are no exception. Hatchling bearded dragons will lick and taste everything in their enclosure, for this reason a loose substrate may not be appropriate for young beardies. We prefer to use a solid substrate for baby dragons such as tile, the Zen Mat, newspapers, or paper towels. Our full guide on creating a baby bearded dragon enclosure can be found here

creating a baby bearded dragon enclosure full guide that incudes feeding guide, creating substrate for your baby bearded dragon and so much more!

So, What’s The Best Substrate For A Bearded Dragon?   

There is no set-in stone answer as to what the best substrate is to use, as there are a lot of factors when choosing the appropriate substrate for your pet bearded dragon. The choice will be dependent on yours and your pet’s needs.   

Kasey, Zen Habitats Animal Care Manager author bio

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