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.

Chai enjoying some Vivarium-Warming meal worms to hunt. Picture taken in the evening when I finished setting it up.
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.

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.

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
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!

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.

clockwise from top left: Ceramic Bulb Holder, Ceramic Heat Emitter bulb (150w), Pulse Thermostat and High/Low thermometer probe, wire grips.
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.

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.

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.