Australian Arid Native Vivarium

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Feb 12, 2022
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Hi There,
I am very new to reptile keeping - so new I don't even own one now! We are planning to get a bearded dragon to come and live with us in a big tank we have inherited. I'm super new to that and am readin loads to be a good Lizard parent!

I am an experienced plant grower however, and have a passion for growing native aussie plants - I live 5 hours inland in Oz so although we're not central I do have good experience of what arid looks like!

I therefore want to create a native arid vivarium - I've been reading everything I can online but there isn't loads of info, so I'd love any advice people have about my plans, and I'd love to post and document how it goes :)

Here are my plans and my questions:

Tank Large Exo Terra 90x45x45 - front opening doors and ventilation built in

Set up equipment:
Mesh roof
Heat halogen lamp
UVB lamp
Led strip grow light (will this be OK for Lizard? - it's mainly for plants...)
2 strip thermometers
Humidity measurer

Possibly a back wall that has climbing areas
A cave to hide in
Logs, rocks, paperbark, banksia seeds, etc. have all these in my garden - planning boil or light bleach to clean
Do I need to be very careful with this cleaning or is it not a huge deal?

I'm planning this set-up as soil:
Charcoal on bottom (I do this on plant based indoor things as a cleaner - any reason I can't do this with a Lizard?); Substrate of 2 parts play sand; 1 part indoor topsoil (indoor is treated for bugs); 1 part coco fibre, 5 inches deep
Layer of Australian desert sand for top
I have no idea what Lizards will do to soil will they dig loads?! It's not really a big problem if they do I guess

I'm planning to add these insects to the substrate as little cleaner uppers:
Powdery orange isopods
Superworms - I know lizards eat these, but I saw someone put them in well under soil and suggest that then they can hide and Lizard just finds one as a snack occasionally
Arid Springtails - I'm hoping I might not need these? They seem hard to get, and in the dryer tank mould wise are maybe not needed?

Plants - ruby red salt bush (Enchylaena tomentosa), old man salt bush (Atriplex nummularia), pigface (carprobrotus), Cynanchum viminale (Aus native succulent), native leek (bulbine bulbosa), yam daisy/murnong (Microseris lanceolata)

I have all these plants, they propagate well, and they grow well in arid conditions. They might need watering about once a month - I am hoping to water right down into the substrate to try and avoid causing rises in humidity in the tank, using a tube pushed down to the bottom of the tank - sand layer in top hopefully makes a good barrier. I'm not sure if these plants will respirate a lot though so I think that could be a concern.

The bigger concern with the plants is whether the bearded dragon will eat them - they are all edible to humans, and are pretty tasty - Australian native succulents don't tend to be spiky, so I'm worried the Lizard will eat all the plants!! Do people think that's unlikely or inevitable?!

I've read very little on arid vivariums and there is no inro at all on arid native aussie plants so any thoughts would be very appreciated thanks!

Most of those plants wouldn’t survive, becoming a tasty snack for the beardy.
The strip light will be fine.
The saltbush are safe, not sure on the pigface.
Even if the plants aren’t eaten. All of these plants are bushy, making the usable space in the tank much smaller.
The red sand will quickly become mixed in with the soil.
Remember that isopods and springtails are not arid animals. They like the environment to be moist.
Cook or boil the wood and bark, and you can just spray the rocks.
Also get a taller tank. 60cm minimum.
Uv bulbs aren’t the best. Mercury vapour bulbs are great, you only need to replace 1 every year.
Strip UVB is also better than UV bulbs.
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As Friller said most of those plants will get destroyed (1 way or another) and even if they didn't, they take up too much room.
But I will give you some reasons why that tank wont work.
First up that is not a LARGE tank, it is too small for an adult beardy ! It needs to be at least 120x60x60.
You mention multiple layers of substrate being 5 inches deep but your tank is only 45 cm which is 18 inches which doesn't leave enough space for a heat lamp ,or a UVB which needs about 30cm (12 inches) also beardies love to dig so the different layers would end being 1 mixture plus they would dig out the plants they haven't eaten.
You said mesh top, that makes me think it's a glass enclosure, glass doesn't hold heat well and the mesh lets it out the top anyway.
Next is the halogen lamp, they concentrate heat in 1 small area, you are better off with a spot lamp available from your hardware store for a few bucks ( make sure you use ceramic fittings as plastic can't take the heat )

I don't want to put you off your plan for a beardy, they are great critters to keep, I have several. But you need to be realistic about how much stuff you can put in a little glass tank.
Might I suggest you reduce your plan to a couple of inches of sand and get a pygmy beardy, put a couple of plants in pots and rotate them in and out of the enclosure .
If arid plants and dragons are your dream , is it possible to do an outside thing ? If you have a yard you could build a pit and put all your plants in there.
Hey Rachael, welcome to the reptile hobby but be careful- it can be addictive.
Just a heads up, bio active set ups take a lot more regular maintenance than most people realise and imo are probs not the best place to start out, there's a lot of borderline incorrect advice out there.
If you really have your heart set on it then maybe just try it out in one corner of the tank and treat it like an oasis in the desert so to speak and nestle your water dish into the same corner but having a bit of a log, leaf litter and slightly damp area there, then you have a spot for isopods and microfauna to do there thing, you may need to adjust your plant selection to suit this sort of approach as well, springtails and isopods aren't the big bio connection that everyone seems to make them out to be, springtails will munch on moulds and fungus when needed, isopods will smash decaying plant matter but neither of them are real keen on munging out on fresh turds, having the correct bacteria in there is so much more important in cleaning waste than most bioactive enthusiasts realise there are products used in biodynamic farming that are more beneficial than a whole bucket full of springtails. You still need to be able to get around the enclosure to clean and remove poo, uneaten food etc
In my arid enclosures I tend to do what @dragonlover1 suggested and swap pots out when needed, in this tank I built a false floor to accommodate pot sizes and chose native plants that look the part but actually aren't proper arid species. Picture attached20220411_173258.jpg

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