Many times while out and about in the world we find an object that would be PERFECT for our naturalistic terrarium. Considering that one of the goals of creating a naturalistic terrarium is mimicking the natural world, it makes sense. Sometimes the objects we find, leaf litter, a piece of wood, moss, or rocks, can be dangerous in our terrarium, so we need to sanitize them. We will talk about ways to sterilize these things, but know that there is no way to 100% sterilize them, and there is always potential for risk. You can mitigate that risk by collecting from areas away from cities and rural areas where they may be contaminated with pollution, and in pesticide and herbicide free areas. Done properly these rocks, wood, and plants can be a great addition to your naturalistic terraria, and really help keep your animals happy and healthy.
There are three basic methods of sanitization of terrarium décor: heat, desiccation, and chemical sterilization.
With heat sterilization the goal is to heat the object past the point where most harmful organisms can survive. Chytrid for example cannot survive past 140 degrees Fahrenheit for more then 5 minutes. You can use your oven to heat up leaf litter and pieces of wood, never bake or boil rocks as they can explode. Scrub the objects free of debris before cooking as you may need to cook them for several hours to ensure even, 140 degree heat all the way through.
Desiccation simply means to dry out the objects. Many harmful organisms cannot tolerate being completely dry for very long. This is a good method of sanitization for objects that would not tolerate being baked, like mosses and some leaf litters. Simply remove any debris and store in an area with adequate air flow until the objects are completely dry and crispy. This can take a LONG time. Some mosses may die, but others will just enter a dormant state and spring back to life once placed into a terrarium that offers the proper conditions.
Chemical sterilization is a great way to quickly and efficiently kill off nasties. The most commonly utilized chemical sterilization is a soak in bleach. Bleach has shown to be effective at killing many different bacteria and fungus, including chytrid. A 1% solution of bleach can kill chytrid after 1 minute of contact, but for most uses a 5% bleach solution is recommended. This can be accomplished by using roughly 1 parts bleach to 10 parts water. Bleach can also be useful for rinsing live plants – remove all the soil, soak the plants in the solution for no more then 5 minutes, then rinse well. Some sensitive species may not fare well with this treatment however. Make sure to thoroughly rinse objects after their soak and allow any non-living décor to air dry completely before use.
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