How to Create a Bioactive Setup for Your Leopard Gecko

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Bioactive Terrarium. Small garden with rock and driftwood.

I’m a big fan of setting up a bioactive environment in your leopard geckos tank. It mimics your geckos natural environment which is great for their health and wellbeing.

But you need to make sure you get it right.

In the article below I’ll walk you through setting up a bioactive tank for your leopard gecko step by step.

What is a Bioactive Terrarium?

It simply means designing your tank to mimic your leopard geckos natural habitat. The goal is to create a self-sustaining ecosystem that benefits both the gecko and the environment within the enclosure.

You want to create an arid bioactive vivarium. This includes elements such as live plants, microfauna (small invertebrates), and a bioactive substrate.

The substrate should consist of a mixture of soil, sand, and mulch. Layering the substrate can support plant life and promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms.

Benefits of a Bioactive Tank

Creating a bioactive environment for your leopard gecko brings many advantages compared to traditional non-bioactive enclosures.

Mimics Natural Environment

A bioactive tank replicates a gecko’s natural environment. This provides mental stimulation for your Leo.

In this self-sustaining environment, you’ll have a variety of natural elements such as live plants, substrates, natural hiding spots, and clean-up crew insects, which your gecko can explore and interact with.

With a bioactive setup, your gecko will feel more at home in its surroundings.

Low Maintenance

With the addition of clean-up crew insects like isopods and springtails, you’ll have a natural cleaning system that helps break down waste. This means you’ll spend less time cleaning your gecko’s habitat and more time enjoying their company.

Natural Temperature and Humidity Regulation

Creating the right environment in your bioactive setup also helps maintain the proper temperature and humidity levels. This is particularly important for their overall health, as it aids in hydration, shedding, and digestion.

A Whole Ecosystem

Lastly, bioactive setups can foster increased biodiversity. Introducing different species of live plants, clean-up crew insects, and other microorganisms creates a more dynamic and thriving habitat. This, in turn, contributes to a healthier, more stable ecosystem for your leopard gecko to live in.

Essential Components

Creating a bioactive environment for your leopard gecko involves several important elements.

Drainage Layer

A proper drainage layer is crucial for maintaining moisture levels and preventing the substrate from becoming saturated. You can create a drainage layer using solid rocks or hydroton. This layer should be about 2 inches deep and can be separated from the substrate with a layer of mesh.


The substrate is the foundation of your gecko’s bioactive enclosure. Combine a mix of organic matter, such as coconut coir and sphagnum moss with sand and soil.

The substrate should be 3-4 inches deep and promote beneficial microorganisms’ growth while allowing the clean-up crew to do their job.

Clean-Up Crew

A bioactive setup requires a clean-up crew to break down waste and maintain a healthy environment. The clean-up crew typically consists of isopods, springtails, and earthworms. These organisms work together to break down organic matter and keep the enclosure clean, reducing the need for frequent maintenance.

Live Plants

Incorporating live plants into your leopard gecko’s bioactive terrarium adds to the aesthetics and functionality of the enclosure. Plants assist in maintaining humidity and can provide natural hiding spots for your gecko. Choose hardy plants that can thrive in the gecko’s environment, such as succulents, pothos, and snake plants.

Hides and Climbing Structures

Leopard geckos require various hides and climbing structures to feel secure and comfortable in their environment. Provide at least two hides: one dry hide for resting and a humid hide to assist with shedding.

Climbing structures, such as branches, cork bark, and rocks, help promote natural behaviors and provide mental and physical stimulation.

Creating the Perfect Environment

Temperature and Lighting

Set up a heat gradient across the enclosure, providing a warm side with temperatures around 88-92°F (31-33°C) and a cooler side with temperatures around 75-80°F (24-27°C).

Use a thermostat to control the temperature, and choose a belly heat source like an under-tank heater or a heat mat, to ensure your gecko’s comfort.

Leopard geckos require a specific lighting schedule to maintain their natural circadian rhythms.

Ideally, you should provide your gecko a 12-hour light and 12-hour dark cycle.

While less essential for leopard geckos than other reptiles, you may consider offering a low-wattage UVB light for a few hours a day to promote their overall well-being.


Maintaining proper humidity levels in your leopard gecko’s enclosure is essential for its health. The ideal humidity level for leopard geckos ranges between 30-40%.

You can maintain the appropriate humidity by using a hygrometer and misting the enclosure as needed.

Providing a humid hide is crucial for supporting your gecko’s shedding process. This can be a simple plastic container with a small entrance hole, filled with damp sphagnum moss or eco earth.

Remember to provide your leopard gecko with a water dish to keep it hydrated. Ensure that the water dish is shallow enough for your gecko to drink from without the risk of drowning.

Step-by-Step Leopard Gecko Bioactive Tank Setup

Choose the Right Enclosure

First, choose a good quality vivarium with decent lamination that will protect the boards. The size of the enclosure should be appropriate for your leopard gecko.

A 20-gallon long tank is generally recommended as the minimum tank size for an adult leopard gecko. Ensure the enclosure has proper ventilation and a secure lid to prevent escape.

Install the Drainage Layer

Begin by thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting your terrarium. Add a drainage layer, such as LECA (Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate) or a mesh layer to prevent the substrate from becoming waterlogged.

This will help maintain the proper humidity levels.

Add the Substrate

After installing the drainage layer, add a suitable substrate for a leopard gecko’s arid environment. Some options include coconut coir, organic topsoil, or a mix of both.

Avoid using substrates with small particles like sand, as they can cause impaction if ingested by your gecko.

Introduce the Clean-Up Crew

Next, introduce a clean-up crew of insects, such as springtails and isopods, to help break down waste and keep the vivarium clean.

These creatures also help maintain the bioactive environment by breaking down organic matter and keeping the substrate aerated.

Set up Live Plants

Adding live plants to your leopard gecko’s enclosure will not only enhance the vivarium’s aesthetics, but it can also help maintain proper humidity levels.

Some suitable plants for a leopard gecko enclosure include snake plants, pothos, and succulents. Make sure to research each plant’s requirements and ensure they are compatible with the enclosure’s conditions.

Place Hides and Climbing Structures

Leopard geckos are nocturnal creatures, so providing them with multiple hiding spots is crucial for their well-being. Provide at least one humid hide and one dry hide for your gecko.

Climbing structures like rocks or branches can also be added to enrich the environment and allow your gecko to explore and exercise.

Maintenance Tips

Here are a few maintenance tips to help you ensure that your gecko stays healthy and happy in their bioactive setup.

Monitor Temperature and Humidity

It’s essential to keep a close eye on the temperature and humidity inside your gecko’s enclosure. Daytime temperatures should be around 85-90°F (29-32°C) on the basking side, with the cooler side ranging between 75-80°F (24-27°C).

Nighttime temperatures should not dip below 70°F (21°C). Use a reliable digital thermometer to check the temperature regularly.

Similarly, maintain proper humidity levels by regularly misting the enclosure and monitoring with a hygrometer. Leopard geckos thrive with a humidity range of 30-40%.

Clean the Enclosure:

While the bioactive setup does help with reducing waste buildup, it’s still essential to spot clean and remove any visible waste or uneaten food.

Performing a deep clean of the enclosure every few months is necessary to keep it sanitary. Don’t forget to inspect hiding places and humidity hides for mold growth and promptly deal with any issues.

Feed Your Gecko Properly

A balanced, nutritious diet is crucial for your leopard gecko’s well-being. Offer a variety of live insects, such as crickets, mealworms, and dubia roaches. Dust them with a calcium and vitamin D3 supplement. Juveniles should be fed daily, while adult geckos can be fed every other day.

Maintain Your Cleanup Crew

The cleanup crew consists of microorganisms and invertebrates that help break down waste products. Ensure your cleanup crew is healthy by providing appropriate food sources and environmental conditions. Regularly check on them to see if their populations need replenishment.

Update Decor and Enrichment Items

Leopard geckos are curious creatures that benefit from enrichment in their environment. Regularly rotate or update hides, climbing branches, or other decor items to keep things fresh and interesting for your gecko.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When creating a bioactive setup for your leopard gecko, it’s essential to avoid some common mistakes that could compromise the health and well-being of your pet. Here are several pitfalls to watch out for:

Inadequate Substrate

Choosing the right substrate is crucial. Avoid using sand or other loose substrates, which can cause impaction if ingested.

Instead, opt for a bioactive substrate specifically designed for leopard geckos, such as The BioDude’s TerraSahara. This type of substrate supports burrowing and maintains proper humidity levels in the enclosure.


Too much moisture in the habitat can lead to mold growth and bacterial issues. Be cautious not to over-water plants or mist the enclosure excessively.

Neglecting Clean-up Crew

In a bioactive setup, isopods and springtails work as natural “clean-up crews” by breaking down waste and preventing harmful bacteria buildup.

Make sure to provide a healthy population of these microorganisms in your leopard gecko’s enclosure. Leaf litter is especially important, as it offers a habitat for these beneficial creatures.

Unsuitable Plants

Not all plants are appropriate for a leopard gecko’s habitat. Be sure to choose reptile-safe plants that can thrive in arid conditions, such as snake plants and pothos.

These plants not only contribute to the appearance of the enclosure but also help maintain proper humidity levels.

Insufficient Hides and Enrichment

Leopard geckos need both dry and humid hides in the enclosure to feel secure and aid in shedding. Additionally, provide enrichment, such as rocks, branches, and cork bark, for your gecko to explore and climb upon. This will encourage natural behaviors and promote a healthier, happier pet.

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