Right from the start – keeping reptiles correctly on a living terrarium substrate

“In nature the animals grow and reproduce without special sterilized and inoculated soil”, is often the common opinion. I’d say: “Trying creates wisdom” and every terrarium keeper whose soil has been spoiled by a mould or a mass of hungry mites before, will enjoy sterilized and inoculatied terrarium soil.

Why you should sterilize terrarium soil

I also had to learn that it is not a good idea to simply take soil from the forest or the garden centre. It took weeks to contain the fungus gnat invasion and all my great terrarium plants died from the mosquito larvae’ root feeding. In the wild a few fungus gnats (Sciaridae) don’t matter: on the contrary! The animals are even useful. Their larvae eat dead leaves and other dead plant parts that fall to the ground. But fungus gnats spread rapidly in the terrarium and very quickly destroy the idyll when looking into the terrarium.

If you use soil from the wild or cheap and therefore often badly stored soil to fill your terrariums, you may get a whole clutch of different unwanted inhabitants into your terrarium.

Fungus gnats, aphids, spiders or spider mites that hatch in the wild are basically no problem. They have predators, plenty of space and sufficient food. They are distributed and do not normally become a plague, but take on their given role in the ecosystem.

In a terrarium the situation looks completely different: There is no functioning circulation. There is no competition and hardly any food, apart from your terrarium plants and your inhabitants. You have created a habitat that is not in balance, and the introduced creatures will be a real nuisance to your lovingly decorated terrarium.
Sterilized forest soil is the solution here. Your terrarium has a stress-free start and therefore great animals and plants can grow up.

How to sterilize terrarium soil

So if you want to use cheap soil from the supermarket or old soil from a terrarium, it is no problem as long as you kill potential pests and already existing mould spores beforehand.
There is nothing wrong with cheap discount soil as long as it is not fertilized and upgraded with some white rot wood and leaves.

Laubwaldhumus

Waldlaubhumus

Weißfaules Holz

Dead wood

So-called cocoshumus, which is simply the shredded, inedible flesh (mesocarp) of the coconut palm fruit, is not suitable for the development of a living terrarium substrate. All ingredients such as leaves, dead wood and other organic materials are missing, which all first and second decomposers need as food. Even if you spice up this substrate, many isopods are at risk of indigestion due to the coconut fibres they ingest.

Sterilizing soil works best with heat. This can be achieved either in the oven or even faster in the microwave.

In the microwave, 5 minutes at the highest level should be enough. At half the time you should stir the earth.
In the oven you need a little longer. One or two cake trays full of earth should be placed in the preheated oven at 200°C for 20 minutes. Let the earth evaporate completely afterwards and cool down before you put it into the terrarium.

It may well be that some white particles appear after heating, which could not be seen before. These are insects like mites or larvae and worms. They consist mainly of protein, which coagulates in the heat and turns white.

Bodenpolizei

Get your clean-up-crew

✓ Best Quality
✓ From our own breeding
✓ Individual
visit shop
Laubwaldhumus

Buy forest humus

✓ Untreated
✓ Can be used immediately
✓ Cheap
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Inoculate terrarium soil

After sterilizing we have the perfect base to put exactly the destructors into the substrate that will ensure that we create a hygienic substrate and therefore a healthy base for our terrarium inhabitants.
The destructors should eat dead plants, animal materials such as skinning residues, faeces, dead food animals, fungi and even mould. At the same time one prevents the mite formation completely naturally, which can become a problem very fast.
Before you animate the ground with helpers, you should consider which animals to use and what conditions they need. The basic equipment of the ground police should always consist of white dwarf isopods (Trichorhina tomentosa) and springtails (Collembola).
Springschwänze

Springtails (Collembola)

Weisse Asseln

White dwarf isopods (Trichorhina tomentosa)

Most isopods are herbivores and are therefore among the first biological decomposers. White isopods are mainly found in the ground where they dig through it in search of food. This allows air to reach the substrate and at first sight invisible germs are eliminated. Isopods belong to the class of higher crustaceans (Malacostraca) and need at least one moist corner in the terrarium to cover their moisture requirements.

Springtails belong to the second decomposers and feed among other things on the excrement of the isopods. As a result, they perfect the natural cycle in the substrate. In contrast to the isopods, they do not stop at mould and eat it completely. Therefore you have eliminated the complete wish list of things you don’t want to have in the terrarium. They also need at least one moist corner in the terrarium.

Armadillidium werneri

Armadillidium klugii “Montenegro”

Armadillidium maculatum "Zebrarollassel"

Zebra Pillbug (Armadillidium maculatum)

Depending on your needs, you can now use another isopod species as ground police. Maybe because the actual inmates need a lot of food due to their fast metabolism which causes a lot of rubbish, or because it is simply beautiful to keep well visible woodlice on the ground and therefore get a flair of a social sterarium.

Bodenpolizei

Get your clean-up-crew

✓ Best Quality
✓ From our own breeding
✓ Individal
visit shop
Laubwaldhumus

Buy forest humus

✓ Untreated
✓ Can be used immediately
✓ Cheap
visit shop

Titelfoto: © Eike Kilian Mehl

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