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Loki, our Chinese water dragon, got an awesome new home renovation! Check out the mini jungle we made for him.

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Thank you to Skillshare for supporting this episode of Animal Wonders. The first thousand people who click the link in the description can get a two-month free trial of Skillshare’s premium membership.

Welcome back to Animal Wonders, I’m Jessi and this is Loki and he is a Chinese water dragon. We’re always looking for ways to improve the animals’ lives in whatever ways we can. And Loki got an awesome new habitat that I’m really excited to show off.

A few months ago, I had an idea for a project that would increase the space for two of our lizards. One of them was Jade the savanna monitor who is still doing great and the other was Loki here. I’m pretty proud of Loki’s new habitat because it’s just so lush and so well-suited to his needs.

Loki was previously living in a large esoteric glass enclosure that you can buy from a store. Which was fine for him when he was smaller, but as he grew he needed more space and we couldn’t just purchase a huge enclosure from a reptile specialty company for two reasons.

First, we have limited space in our reptile room so in order to give him as much space as possible we had to make a custom piece. And second, it’s really expensive to buy a large custom-built enclosure. Something like what I want to build would cost around $5000. And since we don’t have an unlimited budget, I was happy to put in most of the work myself so we could save on the total cost.

I asked my brother to help and going into the planning stage the first we needed to consider was making sure both enclosures fit into the space we had left in our reptile room. It was more challenging than just making two squares because we have this ventilation duct that makes the space available oddly shaped. Since Jade the Savannah monitor would require more horizontal floor space and Loki would utilize more vertical climbing space, we arranged their spaces accordingly.

Jade would get the bottom and we’d build stability into the structure so I could fill Loki’s habitat with lots of heavily saturated soil, water, and branches we also need to leave a little nook for our cockroach colony and to make sure we made use of all the space, we built in two shelves under the ventilation duct to house our leopard geckos and then Loki got all the rest of the space all the way up to the ceiling. We’re literally using every inch of space that we have available.

When the plans were complete, we purchased plywood and two by fours, measured and cut, and then screwed and glued everything together. And then it was ready for sealant, I used Pond Shield on the inside which is a kind of epoxy paint that creates a strong waterproof barrier. To prevent any moisture from getting into the wood.

This is really important because water dragons live in a tropical environment and the habitat I was making would be very humid and any organic material would naturally decompose over time. After I sealed the inside, I used Great Stuff foam to make a textured background and secure branches for Loki to climb and rest on. I also added built in space for plants since I want a whole space to be lush and alive.

After I’d carved the foam into the shapes I wanted. I applied a layer of silicone and pressed coconut fiber, soil, and moss into it. So, the walls would look more natural but also be able to retain moisture. After letting the enclosure dry and air out for a week, we moved it into the reptile room, and I added the drainage layer and substrate. This is one of my favorite parts. There’s just something about nutrient rich soil that makes me really happy.

So, I wanted to re-create Loki’s natural habitat as much as possible, so I made it bioactive. This means the habitat has nutrient rich soil with living detritivores like isopods and worms to break down the organic materials. It also has living plants which absorb the nutrients in the soil and continue to grow and flourish.

Loki will eat some of the detritivores, but not all of them. He also creates waste which nourishes the detritivores which then cycle the energy into the plants and the cycle continues. In order to make sure the habitat is suitable for all the living organisms it hosts everything has to be just right. Especially the soil.

So, on the very bottom I put a layer of clay balls which allows for excess water to drain out of the soil to prevent it from getting boggy. And then laid down a layer of mesh and covered it with my soil mixture. Which included topsoil, coconut fiber, charcoal, cypress mulch, and sphagnum moss.

This was covered with a top layer of moss, leaves, and other organic material like thick plant stems. And finally, I added in some living plants on the floor and also all the way up the walls. To make sure the plants and Loki thrived, I added in two lights. A 6500K LED and a high-quality UV light.

Now this habitat has only been going for about three months so it’s still really young and needs a lot more time for the plants to grow in and for the soil to mature. Some of the plants might not survive but there’s a lot of hardy species in here that I’m hoping will be happy and really start to fill-in over the next year.

Some good news is that, so far, the habitat is healthy. And I can tell because of the cycles it’s already been through. The first week of the whole wall area was covered in mold. Which might sound terrible at first, but I let it be and a herd of springtails, which are tiny little insects which are part of the cleanup crew, came in and ate all of the mold.

Then all the pill bug population boomed and started decomposing the leaves. At that point Loki joined the party and whenever he poops the cleanup crew has it cleaned up in less than a day. And just a few days ago these little mushrooms showed up which tells me that the environment is thriving and it’s going through some natural cycles which is perfect.

So to maintain Loki’s habitat I mist once a day and about once a week I check how the drainage layer’s looking and if it’s getting dried out I’ll add some water directly into the soil and that’s the reason I built this bottom area to have a glass front so I could easily monitor the soil and make adjustments as needed.

The last piece of making this a suitable habitat for Loki was making sure it was the proper temperature which is a bit easier for us than it might be for those who don’t have a reptile room kept at a specific temperature. The ambient temp in here is about 80 to 85°F during the day and drops between 75-80°F at night. So, everything worked out perfectly and Loki has been enjoying his new home for a couple months now.

My favorite part about all of this is seeing how much happier Loki is. I was worried about having this big expanse of glass in the front here because in Loki’s previous history he did rub his face against glass when he was inappropriately housed but he hasn’t done that behavior which tells me that he’s really comfortable in his new space.

Overall, I am loving Loki’s new habitat. I’m excited to see what it looks like a year from now when all the plants are grown in and hopefully Loki continues to enjoy it too. It’s amazing what live plants can do to enrich an animal’s life and that includes humans. Plants are a wonderful way to liven up your space and bring a bit of nature into your home.

If today’s video has inspired you to fill your home with plants and you’d like some help with that you can head on over to Skillshare to find classes on how to pick the right plant for you. Botanist Chris Satch teaches a class on the benefits of bringing plants into your home which can include boosting productivity, happiness, and even oxygen levels.

He also teaches you how to shop for healthy plants and how to choose the best plant for your environment. If you’re looking to get some plans to add more happiness and creativity to your space, I highly recommend Chris’s class.

Skillshare is an online learning community that offers membership with meaning. So much to explore, real projects to create, and the support of fellow creatives. Skillshare empowers you to accomplish real growth and it makes it easy with short classes that will fit into your daily routine.

A premium membership will give you unlimited access so you can join the classes and communities that are just right for you and an annual subscription to Skillshare is less than $10 a month. And if you’re one of the first 1000 people to click the link in the description, you can get a two-month free trial of Skillshare’s premium membership.

Thank you for watching I hope you enjoyed seeing Loki’s new home and getting another look at how we’re working hard to keep every animal in our care happy and healthy if you’d like to keep learning about animals and how we’re caring for the other 90+ animals at Animal Wonders be sure to subscribe and I’ll see you next week. Bye.