Housing, naturalistic

Bioactive Vivarium

I started to research bioactive and naturalistic vivariums a few months back, starting with an experimental forage box which included its own clean up crew of worms, beetles and springtails – Read about that here: Nature Inspired Half-a-Habitat.

With what I’d learned from watching Chai in the forage box and inspired by more and more hedgehog and mammal owners attempting a naturalistic and bioactive I decided to give it a go too.

Since I had an existing happy springtail and worm clean up crew in the bioactive forage box I hope they’ll not need too much time to establish in their new home. I’m afraid I might have unestablished them in the move from tub to vivarium even though I tried to be very gentle. I’ll be topping up the springtail colony in the next few days just in case.

The substrate is made up from coco peat/husks, orchard bark and chunks, fine chinchilla sand (white) and play sand (beige).

For more natural decoration, in addition to the mostly-dead grass and two branches I have I bought a cork bark tunnel and flat piece to make a cave from. I planned on adding a dried branch and piece of wood for an aquarium for bugs to hide on.

I managed to pick up all of these items from the reptile and aquarium section of a pet shop and from various shops online.

Since I was experimenting I first put some stones beneath the corner where I wanted to heap up more compost and coco peat (around the plant which is mostly dead now) and then started to fill the floor with the rest of the coco peat mixture. Since I know Chai doesn’t like moist flooring I then began to layer on top about 4kg of sand in. When it continued to easily disappear into the damp coco peat mixture I stopped and decided to wait for the top layers to dry before adding more.

I then layered on half of a bag of orchard bark (about a quarter of a 1ltr bag) and then made myself stop.

I found placing the cork bark to be the most time consuming; the substrate layer hadn’t yet settled so things seemed to sink and become unstable just as I thought I’d given the structure enough support. I ended up with the flat piece of cork bark forming a cave which Chai later excavated to make deeper, and decided against adding the cork bark tunnel as it would have ended up at the front of the vivarium and I still want to be able to see what Chai’s getting up to.

I’m sure I’ll have plenty of opportunity to change the vivarium around until I find a set up that Chai and I are happy with.

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Chai enjoying some Vivarium-Warming meal worms to hunt. Picture taken in the evening when I finished setting it up.
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Bioactive vivarium set up when I was filming it this morning.

First Impression

I love the aesthetic of the bioactive vivarium; there was something about the carefresh which just put me off and I didn’t like finding dust on the bottom of the vivarium when I was removing it. I also like the ‘earthy’ smell when I open the vivarium as opposed to the dry smell of a paper based bedding.

I wish I’d given the vivarium and clean up crew some more time to settle and establish before adding Chai, but she doesn’t have an alternative home to live for a few months to let that happen. I realise this means that the clean up crew will have a harder time, so I’ll need to keep on top of cleaning.

Already it’s been quite pleasant to see signs that Chai has been burrowing quite a lot and moving things around (namely the air plants). There seems to be a lot of places for bugs to hide – I’m glad I added the orchard bark chunks for the dubia roaches.

Fingers crossed! I’ll update after a few months.

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DIY Customise, Housing, naturalistic

Nature Inspired Half-a-Habitat

As described in Hedgehog Basic Equipment, I chose to use a loose bedding hoping Carefresh and soft hay would give more opportunities for foraging and nesting behaviour. Hides provided with an wooden ‘Up’ Themed Trixie House and modified shoe boxes and exercise through a wheel. I wasn’t enjoying it and felt like maybe something else would work and look better.

I’m really attracted to the behavioural and health improvements noticed by Bente the author of ‘Hedgehogs of Asgard’ when she started to use a bioactive enclosure for her African Pygmy Hedgehog: Bioactive Hedgehog Habitats . I wasn’t attracted to the learning curve… so I decided to meet the idea of a naturalistic environment half way.

I put it into a box.

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Cocopeat and compost mix for the plants, orchard bark, two grasses from an online garden center, medium aquarium stones, two branches (baked) and chincilla sand (fine) and play sand.

And then added some worms and meal worm beetles; the worms because Chai seemed unable to eat them and they needed somewhere nice to live and mealworms at various stage of development since she would be most likely to eat them without the excitement of her feeding tongs.

And later, because I noticed a bit of mould growth in damp areas I added a colony of springtails to help keep things in the forage box nice and tidy.

The goal of the experiment is to explore what kind of set up will be best if I am ever to move the entire vivarium to a naturalistic (or even semi-bio active). We’ve been feeding Chai her bugs in the forage box and watching how she behaves in it and we’ve noticed a few things.

  1. No matter how fat the mealworm, Chai does not like standing on the compost/soil mix whether it’s damp or dry.
  2. Hay will become the bane of my life; I introduced it earlier to keep the establishing worms covered from curious cats. It became mouldy and disgusting and I removed it soon after.
  3. Under the CHE the bark is needed to stop things from drying out so quickly.
  4. Chai doesn’t enjoy ramps. When the forage box was introduced to the vivarium, a reinforced cardboard ramp attached to a cardboard nesting box was made and glued to the side to give her access to the forage box. Chai will only go down the ramp if put on it and will only waddle up it if we bait her with food. Once up she very much wants to get back off.
  5. It takes time and patience before a hog will begin to exhibit foraging behaviour in a forage box.
  6. Orchard bark is exciting and should be used for anointing
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Chai anointing with the reptile bark pieces.

A video of one of the first times we let Chai hunt bugs unaided with feeding tongs directing her to the bugs we wanted her to eat. The forage box was in her vivarium at this time.

 

 

Next Steps: I want to give the springtails a bit of time to work out if they’re happy in the vivarium (and I’m happy with how to keep them happy!) before I buy the substrate ingredients I’ll need to replace the current carefresh. I’m glad I tried this experiment, she’d have been pretty miserable if I’d gone for a more soil-based vivarium with just patches of sand.

Let the adventures begin!

If you’re interested in trying out a bioactive or naturalistic and you have Facebook you might want to join: Bioactive And Naturalistic Mammal Setups!

Tiny Cooking

Tiny Cooking: Banana Pancakes

The assumed diversity of the white bellied hedgehog diet (to my knowledge there aren’t any studies into the stomach and faecal content of wild white bellied hogs like those for European Hedgehogs as is found here: Wildlife Online.) means that there are plenty of safe and species-appropriate options available for an owner to change what’s on offer at dinner time.

I was delighted to find that hogs can be given the ‘two ingredient’ banana pancakes; these are very easy for me to prepare because this dairy free recipe is where I start when making banana pancakes for myself.

For Chai The Hedgehog

The ingredients are simple: two eggs and one ripe banana

To prepare I used a measuring jug, a little non stick pan and because I wanted cutely shaped pancakes I used a small metallic heart-shaped cutter.

Add the eggs and slices of banana (or the whole banana if you’re feeling dangerous) to the measuring jug. A bowl is fine if you don’t have a jug, I just like pouring the mixture into the pans instead of using a spoon.

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I then use a hand mixer to whiz the ingredients together and pour the mixture into the cutter which is already in the tiny pan (medium heat).

It doesn’t take long for the mixture to cook on one side. To turn I (protect your fingers it will be hot) flip the metallic cutter then use a chop stick or knife to poke the shape down the length of the cutter. Once it touches the pan, lift the cutter off and wait for a few seconds.

Repeat these steps for as many tiny pancakes as you want (you can also free pour less than a teaspoon into the pan for circular pancakes).

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Tiny, tiny pancake dinner garnished with a side of kale and a tea cup of water.

Using the Leftover Mixture for Me

If you don’t use all of the mixture for your hedgehog friendly pancakes, you can enjoy the rest of the mxture for yourself!

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Bubbling pancakes for me!

To the leftover mixture (I only used about a teaspoon or two of mixture above) I add:

1 tbsp flaxseed

2 tbsp self raising flour

1 tsp sugar 

When they didn’t rise I added an additional 1/2 tsp of baking powder

I didn’t need to use the oat milk because the mixture was already at a consistency where it was easy to pour and the pancakes were rising well.

I use the hand blender which I’ve set aside to mix the new ingredients into the banana and egg mixture, and wait for my frying pan to warm up to a medium heat and melt the small amount of butter I’ve put in. Then pour the mixture into the pan and cook until done. I tend to either get my first pancake perfect or find that I need to modify the mixture based on how well the pancake has risen or cooked.

There you are!

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Chai, preparing to walk over her treat. I’d just given her some mealies and she was determined to find more.

Some tasty pancakes for your hedgehog that you can also enjoy. I tried this recipe when Chai rejected my spinach scrambled egg offering because other owners seemed to find more success with banana and egg than other mixtures.

Uncategorized

One Week of Having a BabyHog Housemate

I definitely romanticised how the first week of having Chai, the African Pygmy Hedgehog, would be before she arrived. I’d imagined spending evenings eating banana pancakes with her; watching her trying out cardboard mazes; running into the sunset together with joy in our eyes; never getting poked by her quills because we’d fall instantly in love…

That’s not quite how our first week has gone…

I learned all about the Ball of Never which soon became a Nope Ball With Suspicious Eye.

Which then, over time as we persisted with handling and offering her food and playtime out of her vivarium on the floor the Ball of Nope (and suspicion) began to change into a little hog who is happier to have her quills down while she’s trying to find a cosy spot to nap.

And just as we start to think we’ve finally cracked it and our hands no longer need to be en guard against a pop of quills… she decides that it’s time for another lesson. Lessons where the consequence of making a mistake is pain.

Because Chai hasn’t been waking up in the evening with us yet – choosing to hide or sleep in her vivarium until we go to bed – we need to wake her up at about 8PM to spend time with her. I’m hoping that this will change and we’ll get to a point where she’s been awake in her vivarium before we handle her – her post-wake up poo is happening on us  with increasing regularity now! It’s quite surprising the first time it happens.

We’re still all getting to know each other; she’s learning that the cats are easily scolded and that her two human housemates just need to be told off when they overstep their new boundaries.

 

Care

Mystified by What to Feed

This post is because I am generally wary of commercial animal food and I am in a position where I have the support and funds to join those pet owners and professionals who are exploring more species-appropriate diet. This post is not to make those comfortable feeding a cat-food based diet to feel uncomfortable and is not a criticism; I am gathering my thoughts and I’m currently following a cat-biscuit based diet while my hedgehog settles in.

There are many ways to feed an animal and the choice I make might not be right for you. And that’s okay =)

In 1990 white bellied hedgehogs were imported into the US pet trade from Nigeria en-masse which later triggered the 1994 African Pygmy Hedgehog pet boom. [Research originally from Hedgehogs of Asgard here: The African Pygmy Hedgehog Hybrid or Not?]. Twenty-odd (at the time of writing) years is not long enough for us to really know on what food our beloved pets will thrive on, especially given the limited research available on hedgehogs. Hedgehog diets and what is best to feed them is always evolving, and moving away from a cat-biscuit base which takes inspiration from wildlife rescues rehabilitating wild European hedgehogs who need to gain weight fast to be released in a short space of time.

We have kept exotic animals for over eight centuries, their care originally verging on cruel through our sheer lack of understanding (A History of Exotic Animals in the UK – Guardian Article) of their dietary and behavioural needs. Thankfully through time and legislation how we care for animals evolves, just look at the BARF diet and how raw feeding for cats and dogs has taken off and become commercialised over the past years. I feel like I have chosen to have a pet hedgehog as understanding of their dietary requirements is evolving. Which means finding people who want to stay safe in the status-quo which is working, and hearing ideas from those who think we can do more and we can do better and aren’t afraid to try.

I already feed my cat a complete frozen (thawed for serving) raw diet, and I’m in the privileged position of having enough support and spare cash to do the same with what my hedgehog eats and how she lives. Progress will be gentle

Current sources of inspiration for a non-cat biscuit based diet for my hedgehog are:

Basic and Care Guide Described Diets

RAW Diets

Raw diet feeders who combine blended BARF principals with the inclusion of feeding ‘Veg Chop’, including the result of bloodwork

Insects Overview

This is my inspiration and my thoughts. I’m still reading, learning and calculating and hope to update as I learn more and as my hedgehog grows.

To be continued…

DIY Customise

‘Up’ Themed Trixie House

I’m sure that Chai will be more interested in what adventure (or dinner!) her keen sense of smell and hearing will lead her to as opposed to admiring the latest theme I’ve chosen for her vivarium. Since she won’t mind, and I enjoy Disney, the first theme for her vivarium is Disney Pixar ‘Up’, a heartwarming film full of brightly painted houses, balloons and forest.

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What I Used

  • Trixie Wooden House (29 x 17 x 20 cm) I got mine from Amazon
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Cardboard (the amazon box the house came in)
  • PVA Glue
  • Scissors
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Unpainted Trixie Wooden House still in packaging. Akira the cat quickly realised it wasn’t for him.

Measuring for the Window Frame

Before painting I pressed the cardboard against the window (using two pens so I had both hands free) to get my window measurement. I eyeballed the sign for in front of the door and didn’t measure for the chimney because I added that at the last minute.

Once I had a sketch of the shape of the window I drew the same shape a few millimetres outward from the window shape, then cut the frame out.

Painting

The Trixie House isn’t the same shape as the flying house in Up, the colours I chose to feature was with consideration to the orange and light blue sticky back plastic that will line the inside of the vivarium. The pictures (below) show the second coat of green on the front and the first coat of brown for the roof.

Because I’d painted the front, back and inside of the house first, I had to use masking tape to protect the more visible front from the light blue. In hindsight I should have painted the front of the roof and window panels first, I’d also have not tried to paint the inside of the door frame – it was painted white, blue and finally green when none of the alternatives worked.

Accessories

Earlier I’d cut out a rectangle for a sign and border for the window. I painted these and using the PVA glue attached them onto the front of the house. Once they were attached the light blue of the doorframe didn’t fit, so I painted it green and mixed the wrong shade – drat!

Leftover paint was used to paint the balloons that will be stuck to the back of the vivarium, another reference to the epic scene in Up when his house flies away under the power of helium!

And we’re done!

A pretty and hopefully cosy sleeping nest for a domestic hedgehog.

I added the red chimney on an impulse, cutting the shape of the roof by hand and using PVA glue to support it. This is where the balloons will connect to the house using string – or not if it looks like this will be hazardous.

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Care, Housing

Heating my Hedgehogs Vivarium

Still inspired by how easy to customise a C&C cage is to build I’d originally wanted to make the same for my African Pygmy Hedgehog. As I saw more and more hibernation attempts discussed on African Pygmy Hedgehog Facebook groups I grew less confident that I’d be able to safely maintain the correct temperature in a well ventilated C&C cage. What would have been a spacious and airy habitat was quickly becoming a correx and plexiglass cocoon to guard against the variable temperatures of my tenement living room.

I decided to copy what everybody else was doing successfully and use a vivarium.

Having had an under-cage heat pad fail previously for a guinea pig, I was nervous about the heating system. The woman who bred the hedgehog I was getting gave me links to what I would need from SwellReptiles and explained how each piece of equipment fit together – though there are a lot of good write ups from well meaning hog enthusiasts too.

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clockwise from top left: Ceramic Bulb Holder, Ceramic Heat Emitter bulb (150w), Pulse Thermostat and High/Low thermometer probe, wire grips.
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The bulb holder is connected to the – thermostat plug. And the thermostat plug is connected to the – power socket. Then the holder-and-probe go into the house.

Once I had everything in front of me it started to make sense.

The thermostat has a probe which is placed into the vivarium so it can measure the temperature in the vivarium and decide whether it needs to give electricity to the bulb or not to increase the temperature. The temperature is set on a dial on the front of the thermostat and two lights indicate that the thermostat has power and whether it’s currently powering the ceramic bulb or not.

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The probe and ceramic bulb are fed into the vivarium through a hole at the top of the vivarium above an air vent. 

Once we fed the wire for the ceramic bulb and temperature probe for the thermostat we put the lid onto the vivarium.

The High/Low thermometer probe is sitting at the other side of the vivarium, it’s currently reading a low 17°C with the heating equipment off and no central heating running. With the central heating on the vivarium will only reach 20°C showing the need for the heating equipment in my flat.

To install the light I fed enough cable into the vivarium so the ceramic bulb holder would reach the center of the vivarium roof but the manual off-switch will still be accessible outside the vivarium. Position found, we started to hammer the wire holders in to hold the bulb holder in place.

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I’m sure there might have been an easier and more eye-safe way to do this.

Et Voila! 

A perk of having my head inside the vivarium for so long while hammering the wire grips into place is we were able to hear how loud tapping on top of the vivarium is INSIDE the vivarium. So we moved the vivarium away from the television and added a blanket to make for a calmer home.

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