Can I create an arid bioactive setup?

When we think of bioactive setups, we usually think of lush, green rainforest setups, but can you make an arid bioactive setup?

The first bioactive setups were created for moisture-loving Dart frogs, which have requirements that perfectly match that of many tropical plants. This meant that the first bioactive reptile setups were created for other tropical species, but fear not, you can create arid bioactive setups too, perfect for species such as Bearded dragons or Leopard geckos.

The essence of any bioactive setup is that it is a self-cleaning, self-maintaining miniature ecosystem, closely matching the natural environment of your pet reptile, amphibian or invertebrate. However, creating this is slightly different for arid enclosures than it is for rainforest enclosures.

For more information regarding bioactivity, please see our dedicated bioactive help guide.

Arid bioactive drainage layer and watering

In a tropical bioactive setup, you should be misting and adding water to the enclosure regularly, meaning you need a deep drainage layer to prevent waterlogging. However in an arid setup, this much water will rot your live plant species and be detrimental to the health of your arid reptiles. As arid bioactive setups need to be kept much drier than their tropical counterparts, a drainage layer is not a necessity, as you're unlikely to be putting enough water into the enclosure to warrant one.

Instead, you should add water into the enclosure only and provide hydration to your pet via a water dish. It's important to recognise the signs of dehydration in your live plants and target watering them as required (this would be once every week or two for most arid plant species). To ensure the health and longevity of your clean-up crew and ensure your reptile can shed its skin easily, you should also add humid hides into the enclosure to provide a more moist area in an otherwise dry environment.

Arid bioactive substrate

The soil used in tropical bioactive setups is rich in organic material, which is extremely important for bioactive enclosures however most arid substrates do not contain much organic matter. This means that you usually need to add organic matter in the form of leaf litter, dry sphagnum moss or other botanicals into the substrate or purchase an arid bioactive substrate, such as ProRep Bio Life Desert or Arcadia EarthMix Arid.

Clean-up crew for arid bioactive setups

The majority of typical clean-up crew species are more suited to tropical setups however there are some great examples for arid environments. Some good examples include arid Springtails, Blue death-feigning beetles, Dermestid beetles, Dubia cockroaches, certain Isopod species, Mealworms and Morio worms. Any combination of these species should work well together to keep your enclosure clean of animal waste and your soil aerated.

Live plants for arid bioactive setups

Similar to the clean-up crew, the plants that spring to mind when thinking about a bioactive reptile setup are lush, humidity-loving tropical plants. You can, however, plant an arid bioactive terrarium using arid live plants such as air plants, succulents and cacti. The main thing to check is that your chosen plants are not poisonous to your pet, and not to choose anything with harsh spines that could harm your pet.

If you're unsure about which plants to choose for your arid bioactive vivarium, why not look at our Arid Plant Bundles to get enough to fill out your enclosure in one go, without the need for so much research.


Setting up an arid bioactive vivarium or terrarium is slightly different to setting up a tropical enclosure, but is still easily achievable. The main things to ensure is that you select drought-tolerant plants and clean-up crew, do not add too much water to the setup, but ensure there are humid areas for your clean-up crew and pet to retreat to if they need to.

While you're thinking about setting up an arid bioactive set-up, why not take a look through our range of live plants for reptile enclosures?