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Jarrarium Maintenance — Self-Sustaining Ecosystem

Maintenance in Jarrariums

One of the primary goals of a jarrarium is little-to-no maintenance. The term “self-sustaining ecosystem” by its very nature means that, once set up, you shouldn’t have to ever touch it again.

Despite our best efforts, this probably won’t be the case. Aquariums, in general, require a lot of maintenance. Like we’ve discussed before, the small size of the jarrarium will concentrate some of the toxic chemicals and require more frequent attention. This should be offset somewhat by the low-bioload we have since we didn’t include any vertebrates.

If you are attempting a sealed, entirely self-sustaining jar, you don’t even need to read this section. The scenario you created when you sealed the jarrarium will have to be sufficient to maintain life by itself.

Water Change

The first and most obvious maintenance an aquatic ecosystem will require is regular water changes. In a natural system, flowing water or cycles of evaporation and rain will change the water. Build ups of various chemicals and debris are removed by organisms, and sometimes by geological processes. We have some of these processes present in jars, but to a much lesser degree.


To supplement them we change the water manually. The frequency with which you change the water fluctuates based on the composition of the occupants of your jar. Do you have a lot of animals? If so, you need to change it frequently – at least once a week. If you have a lot of plants, though, you won’t need to change it as frequently. They act as a sort of filter, helping rid the jar of excess nutrients and sometimes even toxins. Do you have a soil or mud substrate, and was your jar cycled with mud from a pond? If so, you have an invisible, yet thriving, population of bacteria that help deal with excess nutrients. You won’t need to change the water as frequently.

There are many factors that impact how frequently you need to change your water. If you’re unsure, do it once every two weeks. If you have a low bioload or a high one, adjust accordingly. When you change the water, be sure that you replace at least half of it. Remove water by scooping it, or by using a water siphon (available at all pet stores). When adding more water, make sure you use treated water (like we detailed in the water section). Pour slowly, or pour over the back of a spoon, to prevent kicking up clouds and disturbing the occupants.

You don’t have to do water changes. If you’d prefer to perform no maintenance, it’s entirely possible your jar will survive for months or years. The environment inside will become progressively more stressful to the inhabitants, however. The best way to maintain a jar in its current condition is to do regular water changes.


If you have healthy plants, you’ll eventually find that they risk overcrowding your jarrarium. In a jar, these aquatic plants have the perfect conditions: plenty of light, no predators, few competitors, ample nutrients. They love it.

Trimming aquatic plants is just like trimming terrestrial ones. It can be made difficult, however, by the vessel you chose to make a jarrarium in. If the neck is too narrow for your hand to fit through, you might be out of luck. They do, however, make tools to address the issue. There are long-handled scissors that can reach in and snip plants. There also exists miniature claws to grab the clippings afterwards. Whatever the tool you use, make certain it is sharp. Having clean cuts helps a plant recover from the injury, and reduces the likelihood of infection.

Although it isn’t heavily important, trimming plants in certain fashions can be important. If your plant grows leaves at nodes, where all the leaves come from the same section of the stem, you generally want to trim right above a node. If you’re ascribing to a certain style of aquascape, take into consideration the guidelines for that style!


As in all facets of life, cleaning is the worst. Most jarrariums will need to be cleaned every month or two. Dead plant and animal debris will begin to accumulate on the bottom. Algae will start to creep up the glass sides of your jar. When your jar is ugly, it’s time to clean (unless you’re mimicking a pond – those are always ugly, no cleaning necessary). It’s important to clean your jar occasionally. If you leave too much dead stuff in the jar it can impact the chemical levels in the water.

Getting all the crud off the bottom can be accomplished in a couple of ways. While a bit extreme, you could replace all the substrate. Obviously, this is easier if you just have gravel or sand. However, you run the risk of disturbing your plants or animals. While cloudy water doesn’t bother aquatic organisms, dramatic changes can stress them out. A better option is to “vacuum” the bottom. With either a siphon or an aquarium vacuum you can suck up water and debris from the bottom of a jar. You generally want to do this when it is time for a water change anyway, as you’ll lose water in the process.

You’ll also want to get rid of that algae growing on the glass, too. You can always use an algicide, of course (don’t use a copper-based one if you have shrimp). They tend to be less effective on glass-growing algae than the other kind, though. A sponge or steel wool is a very efficient way to remove it if you can fit your hand in the jarrarium. Try to scrub the glass near the surface of the substrate. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to remove all the algae, but it should look better (temporarily).

Finally – How to Assemble your Jarrarium!

Choosing a Substrate — Self-Sustaining Ecosystem

Which substrate should I choose?

Choosing your substrate is perhaps the most important part of the process. What kind of jarrarium are you going for? Do you want an au natural jar that mimics a pond? Are you going for a finely crafted piece of art, and the jar is just the medium? Are you primarily concerned about caring for some healthy plants? Your goal determines the substrate.

Natural Style

If you want a little piece of a pond you should, of course, just use pond mud. Gather it by scooping a couple handfuls from shallow water. Transport it in any fashion; just make sure it has a little water covering it. Mud from a natural pond is rich with nutrients, bacteria, and invertebrates that make up the foundation of a healthy ecosystem. It also inevitably carries the seeds of life – eggs of tiny zooplankton like water fleas (Daphnia) and traces of algae that will eventually propagate.

Artistic Style

If you want a decorative centerpiece, you should just use sand or gravel. It harbors less life, which keeps a jar cleaner, and doesn’t cloud the water. You can gather sand from a beach or simply use pea gravel from a garden store. Aquarium gravel or sand is also fine. If you choose one of these substrates, you will lack some of the stability that an organic substrate provides – your jar will be less resilient in terms of maintaining essential chemical levels. That doesn’t mean that this type of jar is invalid, though!

Botanist Style


Finally, for the aquatic horticulturists among us, you need to do a combination of both of the above. Regular potting soil capped with sand will allow your plants the freedom to grow roots while remaining securely anchored to the bottom. It is important that you include a little bit of pond mud to inoculate the soil with the appropriate bacteria and invertebrates. This substrate paradigm balances the pragmatism of mud and the aesthetics of sand.

Further Considerations

Take into consideration the needs of the plants and animals you want to include. Many kinds of aquatic plants don’t uptake nutrients through their roots – they merely use them for anchoring themselves to the bottom. Those plants wouldn’t mind a non-organic substrate like rocks or sand. Other plants, of course, do want dirt. Most of the animals we will discuss in this guide don’t require soil of any kind. However, some (like snails) are most comfortable when they have the ability to burrow under the substrate a little bit. The substrate won’t be the difference between life and death in such an instance, but it could make your little buddies happier.

If you choose to omit soil or mud the most impacted group will likely be the micro-organisms. Many of them live part of their life cycle in the top couple inches of mud. You’ll miss out on seeing thread-like polychaete worms wiggling around, but the overall health of your jar is unlikely to be affected. Your plants might grow slower, and chemical levels will fluctuate a little more. You will definitely see more accumulation of debris, too. If you don’t use mud you may prevent some “biofouling” (that brownish green gunk you find on docks and such, which is mostly algae). In my opinion, the pros of using pond mud outweigh the cons though – I recommend it!

Alright, we’ve got dirt. Next is learning about the water part of your jar!

How to Create a Jarrarium

Instructions: How to Assemble your Jarrarium

After absorbing all that knowledge I just threw at you, you might feel daunted by the actual construction of a jarrarium. Fortunately, it really is quite simple. The whole process will take you a week or two, but only a couple hours of that is actual labor. Be sure to envision your goal before you start so you can prepare and assemble accordingly.

1. Gather materials

As is tradition, we start by gathering our materials. Everything you’ll need can be found in your home or very close by. You should almost certainly be able to complete this project without spending a dime.

  • Jar or similar vessel (can also use vase, fishbowl, old aquarium). The important thing here is that your container is transparent and glass. Bigger is better! Check thrift stores, they always have lots of these.
  • Substrate, the type of which depends on your jar. If you are emulating a pond, use pond mud. If you want to grow plants, you’ll need mud or soil capped with sand. Just plain old sand is an acceptable, neater option.
  • Water from a pond or cycled aquarium. You can also use water treated with neutralizing chemicals for fish tanks, but some amount of pond water is best.
  • Life – Jars can’t sustain vertebrates like fish, so do not put fish in your jar. Snails are, however, appropriate. You can also gather some aquatic plants from your pond if you want, or order them online.

2. Fill in substrate (and plant roots)

It’s time to pour into the bottom of your jar whatever you’re using for substrate. You generally want this ground layer to be about an inch thick. That provides ample room for the roots of any plants you have, as well as room for all of the invertebrates living in that substrate (if you used pond mud, you will have plenty).

If you decided you wanted to use soil + sand as your substrate, you will have an extra step. Put half an inch of soil, you can use regular potting soil, on the bottom. Use water (tap water is fine) to wet it so that the water level is just under that of the soil. Let it sit for a day, soaking up the water. This will prevent the soil from trying to float to the surface when you fill up the jar completely. If you have aquatic plants that need to be rooted, this is when you should plant them. It’s okay for them to be exposed to air for a day or two. After the soil is sufficiently soaked, carefully pour sand or gravel on top of it to create a cap about a half-inch thick. This separates the soil from the water, and should keep your water clean.

3. Fill in water

This part gets kinda tricky. While we already know that cloudy water isn’t harmful to a jarrarium, we don’t really want the water cloudy. When all that settles out it will be on top of your substrate. If you’ve just got mud, go ahead and pour your water with reckless abandon. Mud don’t care. If you have sand or gravel you want to look nice and neat, or you’ve already planted some stuff and don’t want to knock it loose, water can be dangerous.

There’s a couple of tricks to get around this though. Place a large rock in the center of your jar and pour directly on to it. Or, turn a spoon upside down and do the same. Both will serve to reduce the energy of the water before it hits the substrate. Tilting your jar to the side and filling it like a drink can work, if that doesn’t mess up your substrate.

Fill the jar near the top, but leave at least an inch. It’s important that there is exchange between the surface of the water and the air. If you have any additives to the water, like garden lime for calcium carbonate, it should be mixed in now. Finally, leave your jar overnight so everything can settle out of the water. It should be mostly clear by the following morning.

4. Set decorations and remaining plants

Whatever you chose to decorate your jarrarium with, be it natural or artificial, should be introduced to the jar during this step. There should be no significant disturbances to the jar for the remainder of the process.

Gently place decorations directly onto the bottom. Dropping objects in water tends to lead to unpredictable landings, so you’ll prefer to guide them all the way to the substrate. Cover the bottom with some substrate to anchor it if necessary. Or, use an aquarium weight.

Plants that are introduced at this stage likely have rhizomes that should not be buried, or are floating plants anyway. Plants can be secured to the bottom via aquarium weights, or you can tie them to objects like wood or rock before putting them in. Obviously, any floating plants like duckweed should be last.

5. Allow your Jarrarium to cycle

You should have chosen your cycling method before starting assembly (refer to the cycling section if you need a reminder). Generally, you should allow 2 whole weeks for cycling. During this time, the jarrarium should sit undisturbed in a place with moderate lighting. There are few, if any, outward signs that a jar is finished cycling. If you were to place a drop of water in a microscope on the day you assembled your jarrarium, you probably wouldn’t find anything. When a jar is fully cycled, however, that same drop of water will be flourishing with life.

If you are impatient, understandably so, you may be able to shorten this time. Using more than one method of cycling should speed up the process (i.e. build your jar with pond mud AND pond water). In this case, you may only need to wait a week.

The consequences of adding animals before a jar is cycled vary. The parameters of the water are likely still fluctuating, and it could harm or kill your animals. The added bioload of a few critters while the nitrogen cycle is still being established could lead to a collapse of your entire ecosystem! It’s best to give a jarrarium time to cycle fully to avoid any unnecessary danger.

6. Add animals

Reward your patience during the cycling phase by splurging on some cute invertebrates. Take a trip to the pet store or browse some online vendors to find a couple snails and/or shrimp. When purchased, they will arrive in plastic bags filled with water. They are undoubtedly quite stressed out by the transport and their temporary home, so you want to make their transition as easy as possible.

If possible, place the bag in your jarrarium on the surface for a couple hours. This will slowly change the temperature of the water in the bag to the temperature of your jarrarium. If it doesn’t fit, a similar effect can be achieved by setting the bag next to the jar in the same conditions for a while. When the temperatures are equivalent, slowly pour the water and the animals from the bag into the jarrarium. Don’t try to scoop them out or drain the water first, that will just bother them.

Don’t bother trying to feed them for a couple days. They will be traumatized from their move and are unlikely to eat. Additionally, in a cycled jar, there should be ample detritus for them to nibble when they get peckish.

7. Enjoy your Jarrarium

That’s it! You’ve made a jarrarium! No matter the style of jarrarium you constructed, you are sure to be entertained by the result. If you elected to create a sealed jarrarium, now is the time to close the lid. Good luck on your journey!

This step marks the beginning of your jar’s life. If you accepted the recommendations for plants and animals laid out in this guide, you should have a respectable low-tech jar. You shouldn’t need any filtration system or bubblers or extra lighting. Keeping your jarrarium in a window sill or near a light that is on all day should provide all the energy necessary to your system. Likewise, regular house temperatures between 67-74°F are ideal. Begin maintenance on your jar around this time as well.

Thanks for sticking it out to the end! If you liked the guide, consider buying the eBook to support the author, and to have this info with you wherever you go!

Choosing Animals for your Jarrarium

Here comes the fun part…

Finally, the section we’ve all been waiting for! Animals are probably what inspired you to this project. There’s nothing more fascinating than watching a minute copepod flit around in a jar or a snail crawl up the glass sucking in invisible algae. You wanted to find out what goes on underwater, and here’s your chance. You’ll spy invertebrates you didn’t know existed; like isopods trundling slowly but surely over debris. After a couple of weeks, you’ll notice a network of tiny tunnels in the mud next to the glass. You might even see a resident polychaete worm sticking its head out of the tunnel fishing for plankton. If you pulled any substrate or plants from a pond, you’ll almost inevitably find tiny little snails in your jar after a few days.

What kinds of animals can we choose from?

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s go over some lingo so we are all on the same page. I keep using the word “invertebrate.” What does that mean? Literally it means “has no vertebrae”. An invertebrate has no spine (or notochord, but that’s some developmental biology we don’t need to get into). Thinking about it, there are lots of animals that lack a spine: jellyfish, the octopus, bugs and spiders, snails and slugs, crabs and lobsters, etc. Then, of course, we have the vertebrates: humans, other mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and more.

I don’t like to generalize, but invertebrates tend to be biologically “simpler” than vertebrates. Sometimes it means that they have fewer requirements to live healthily. It might mean that, physiologically, their bodies are not very complex. Often times, they’re relatively dumb (why won’t moths stop flying into porch lights??). However, what invertebrate means to us as jarrariumers (jarrarists?) is “easy”.

See, a snail (invertebrate) doesn’t really mind being in a container the size of a peanut butter jar. Maybe it’s too dumb, or maybe it has transcended our petty, materialistic desires and has found nirvana in its minimalism. But if that snail has some chow, can breathe, and has enough room to turn around – it will be happy.

A betta fish (vertebrate), on the other hand, does not share the same satisfaction in such a jar. The typical betta container, those tiny 10 oz. cups, is one of the greatest sins of the aquaria trade. Betta fish are remarkable in that they can survive in such a small amount of water, without aeration, heat, food, for such a long time. Naturally, we have exploited them for this wondrous adaptation and that is why you see them stacked on top of each other on a Walmart shelf.

Why shouldn’t we use vertebrates?

”Bioload” is what we call an organism’s impact on the environment. The term encompasses the necessary food, gases (like oxygen), and waste of the organism. It places emphasis on the waste they produce because that can have a direct negative effect on its neighbors. Small containers have a lower bioload capacity, and vertebrates always produce many times the bioload of an invertebrate of equal size. The relative complexity of a vertebrate’s life systems, like digestion and waste, are usually more inefficient and end up producing a higher quantity and more potent wastes.

See, there is really no vertebrate that does well in tiny spaces. Even if you gave them everything technically required for life, the simple lack of space would stress them out. If preventing stress isn’t motivation enough for you, prolonged stress in animals often causes illnesses or early death (that goes for people too!). Because of this, you should not have any vertebrate in a jarrarium. Correct, that means you can’t have fish. Not even small ones. There is simply not enough space in a one or two-gallon container to provide a happy environment for any vertebrate, so I can’t condone their usage.

List of Beginner Animals

Don’t despair – there are plenty of invertebrates that are equally as interesting as fish. Note that when deciding to purchase snails, you’ll need to be aware of their reproductive habits or your jar will be overrun. Likewise, shrimp (another common jarrarium buddy) have a couple of special rules. Most shrimp are social creatures, and are much healthier and happier with another of their species. But shrimp also require space. You should ideally have one shrimp per gallon of water, but definitely no more than 2-3. Without further ado, we’ll go over some exciting candidates for your jar’s animal population.

Pond Snails (Lymnaeidae genus)

Pond snails are a pest when they spontaneously appear in aquariums or fish store tanks, but in jarrariums they are a welcome guest. They help clean up algae that grows on the glass or on your plants. They’ll motor around the jar, vacuuming up debris and leaving the environment cleaner than they found it. That’s what I call civil service.

They are hermaphrodites, like many snails, meaning they are simultaneously male and female. Most pond snails can even fertilize themselves. You will undoubtedly find snails eggs on the glass or spy them on a leaf at some point. The bunch of eggs will appear as 6-10 transparent dots encases in an equally transparent film. If you find that your snail population is exploding, it is because there is too much food. If you’re feeding the inhabitants of your jars, you need to cut down on the amount. The population of snails will eventually stabilize, although they may munch on your plants.

There are lots of species of Lymnaeidae all over the world. If you pull plants from a pond or use pond mud, you will certainly accidentally also get snails eggs. If you order plants or animals from a breeder, you will probably also get snail eggs unless they go to great lengths to avoid it. Don’t worry about it though, these guys are pretty cool. Watch them float upside down on the surface using an invisible band of mucus, or their circular, spiky tongue called a “radula” continuously scraping the glass for food.

Nerite Snails (Neritina genus)

These are the big snails you see at fish stores. They come in a variety of colors – golden, opal, zebra striped, and everything in between. These snails are pretty big too, often almost an inch long when full grown. Nerites are very hardy and will adapt to any reasonable water conditions.

One of the great things about nerites is that they require brackish water to reproduce. This means that you won’t have any problems keeping their population in check! This is fortunate for us, because the large size of nerites means that they have a significant bioload. You shouldn’t have more than a couple per gallon of water.

Nerites also fall in the “tank cleaner” category. They looove eating algae. All different kinds too! Some nerites burrow under the substrate and eat that hard-to-get brown algae. Others will scour the surface of your substrate, while yet others roam the glass. They tend to avoid eating plants, which makes them great additions to ornamental jarrariums.

Ramshorn Snails (Planorbidae genus)

These snails have a very distinguished spiral shell that is so characteristic to our ideal snail. They also come in several colors, and can be quite pretty to watch. When they’re young, their shells are transparent. Ramshorns are common at pet stores, and usually a bit cheaper than nerites.

Ramshorns, however, are quite prolific. If there is more than one Ramshorn in a jar they will breed. Ordered plants from online or a pet store may also come with ramshorn hitchhikers. Their eggs are found in clutches of clear goop. You’ll easily find them when they appear on the glass, but good luck finding the dozens more hidden in the jar.

They tend to be more active than nerite snails as well. They move faster and like to climb on plants and other decorations. Be warned: they will eat plants. They are normally content to feed on dead plant matter or shed carapaces of invertebrates, but if you have a soft plant they will take a bite. Hardier plants usually escape unscathed.

I like to keep both a ramshorn and a nerite in a jar – it adds variety and prevents snail breeding so your bioload remains low.

Ghost Shrimp (Palaemonetes paludosus)

Ghost Shrimp, sometimes called Glass or Grass Shrimp, are the perfect addition to any beginner jarrarium. They are ultra-cheap at aquarium and pet stores, and very low-maintenance. They are omnivores, so they’ll nibble on plants, algae, and detritus. Ghost Shrimp don’t hunt, per say, but have been known to eat their own larvae if they don’t have abundant food. You should rarely need to feed them directly in a crowded, lively jar.

These shrimps are very fragile, and thus, peaceful. They sometimes suffer in tanks with fish, as fish like to nibble at them. In order to make your Ghost Shrimp happy, make sure they have a couple of places to hide. The inside of shells, rocks, or dense tangles of driftwood are perfect refuge for them.

Ghost Shrimp are especially fun because they can turn a jarrarium into a game of hide-and-seek. It’s tough to spot the transparent little guys, especially before they’ve grown to adulthood at 1-2 inches. You can even identify different individuals, as they will often have a colored spot above their tail.

Amano Shrimp (Caridina multidentata)

The Amano hails from Japan and fits in well in all kinds of jars and aquariums. It is moderately tolerant of everything but salt. Amanos can thrive in a nice, clean, organized jarrarium, but it really shines in a messy one. It often has dark polka dots in lateral lines with a base color of tan or yellow.

This shrimp is something of a legend amongst aquarists for its supernatural cleaning powers. The Amano Shrimp is probably the single best tank-cleaner in the world. This crustacean moves its little pinchers unceasingly in an effort to pick up every last bit of muck, algae, or dead plant in its environment. All it wants is for you to be proud of it.

These are very active, friendly shrimp. In the absence of predators, it almost never stops moving. They’re quite entertaining to watch puttering around, scooping up handfuls of food and putting it in their mouth. Ensure they have an ample supply of algae, fish food, or plant matter to munch on.

Cherry Shrimp (Neocaridina davidi)

The Cherry Shrimp are the crown jewels of the aquaria trade. Most often found in the red variety, they are known for vivid coloring. The intensity of that color is actually measured in grades, with brighter red shrimp being more expensive than lighter shades.

Cherry Shrimp are at home in the conditions described in this guide: pH of 6.5-7, temperature around 70°F, etc. They like to sit on live plants while they graze on the biofilm of algae that grows on their surface. These shrimp will rarely, if ever, munch on plants, so make sure they have ample food from detritus or fish flakes.

The coloring of these shrimp provides great contrast with the typical dark greens of a planted jarrarium. If aesthetics is your goal, red Cherry Shrimp should be a tool. A small group of 3 is easily maintained in a jar of at least a gallon, and their bright colors will draw the eye to perceive small details in their surroundings.

Miscellaneous Invertebrates

If you choose to utilize pond mud and pond water, you will have a whole host of animals you may or may not be able to see. There are many thousands of creatures that exist just out of sight, either because of size or because of habits. For example, you might see miniscule, thread-like worms sticking up a couple centimeters out of the mud. Those are probably polychaetes, commonly called bristle worms. Even if you don’t see them directly, you’ll certainly find their network of small tunnels pressed up against the glass.

There are many microinvertebrates you will never see with the naked eye. If you took a drop of water from your jarrarium and put it under any old microscope, though, you would find loads of them. There are a few microinvertebrates that are on the edge of being visible, namely copepods and daphnia. These arthropods are noticeable as tiny specks that flit around in the water, eating algae or other microorganisms. You won’t notice them at a glance, but if you look closely at the debris on the bottom or near algae you’re sure to find them.

Even larger are the amphipods and isopods which are almost sure to show up eventually. These are a kind of crustacean, like shrimp, but they look just like a roly poly (or pill bug, which is also a crustacean). These are important detritivores in aquatic systems; they eat dead stuff that builds up on the bottom, recycling it into energy. Make an effort to capture a couple if you see them, otherwise you can depend on the fact that there will probably be eggs in the mud you grabbed. You can tell the difference between isopods and amphipods in their method of locomotion: amphipods swim on their sides and isopods walk along the bottom.

After animals is creating your style: How to Aquascape.

Self sustaining ecosystem by ThemeFinland on DeviantArt

«On the moon of Disga rests a research facility focused on biological waste management. As its namesake hints, the several dozen personnel manning the isolated station are trying to find means to dispose of biological matter through sustainable means, essentially creating a self sustaining ecosystem. If successful, the production of food and managing waste would be a worry of the past, something that the coalition of space faring races (CSFR) has found to be one of the largest barriers in establishing a permanent presence on planets and moons of the near space. The moon the research facility is based on also serves as an excellent location for the project, as drones had been sent to the moon for several decades to dispose of waste.

After years of research on DNA artification and manufactured ecosystems a success was finally made. A combination of the heredity of various insects they created a creature that was capable of eating all biological waste matter that the facility produced and that was present on the moon. This creatures intentionally unstable DNA and short lifespan allowed different parts of the hive to become adapted to consuming and processing different organic refuse. Most importantly though, the chefs of the facility were able to create satisfying and tasteful meals thanks to the insects high concentration of fat and proteins. These attributes combined with the addition of the vegetables and greens from the greenhouses made the facility entirely self sustainable, the only thing that the ecosystem required was radiation from the nearby sun, so as long as the sun didn’t go supernova everything was able to sustain itself in the facility.

To truly test the reliability and sustainability of this system, the facility was to remain isolated for 20 years to perfect the self sustaining ecosystem. Normally when people die in these facilities their bodies tend to be incinerated or launched to space. However, this wouldn’t be in the spirit of the research. Therefore, personnel were given the option to give consent for their corpses to be placed back into the self sustaining ecosystem. Majority decided to opt in for the sake of science, but a few more conservative personnel much preferred to opt out. It would be a few more months until the personnel inside the facility would suddenly begin to die from unapparent reasons. It didn’t take long for the reason of these deaths to be found. When the researchers were testing the nutritional values of the insects, there was apparently a completely new type of chemical that the insects produce which wasn’t picked up by their analyzers. This chemical would linger in their bodies for months until it was absorbed into the heart wherein it would destroy the arteries. Once the personnel began to die it was only a few days until everyone had perished. The abandoned workstations caused a generic SOS message to be sent out, but it would be months until it would be received by anyone.

Months after the incident, security forces landed on the moon. As the security entered the facility, they were surprised to find that the facility was still running for the most part, the plants continued to grow in the greenhouse and the lights were still on. On some of the walls were what seemed to be bullet holes. The air quality inside the base had become rancid, however, and everything was covered in a fine layer of moisture and dust. The most odd thing that they discovered were several audio recordings cautioning them not to proceed further into the facility, all of them distorted and sounding as if they were spoken by someone who was barely able to speak. The deeper they traversed into the facility the more they encountered these messages. They would also find makeshift barricades which were apparently built to keep people out of the lower portions of the facility. As they got close to the hive container they found one final message by the same voice. In this message it became obvious that whatever had been recording these messages was not part of the facilities personnel. In this message the voice almost pleaded the person listening not to go into the container and that «they» didn’t mean no harm to anyone if they were left alone. Some of the meaning in this message was left somewhat ambiguous due to the sometimes intelligible distortion in the voice and strange use of vocabulary. Once the security forces entered the container they found it caked in alien growths and shambling forms emerging from the darkness. Fingers on the triggers of their weapons the soldiers hesitated for a moment as they expected to perhaps find a new intelligent lifeform. As the figures in the darkness moved in closer, the horrible truth became obvious. As the light struck their forms the soldiers could see the limbs and joints of their kind, stretched and malformed as the creatures had used their bodies as a foundation for themselves. It isn’t clear which one of the soldiers fired first, but even without the authorization of their squad leader the entire squad began firing madly at these monsters. Some of the monsters fell, but their imposing frames absorbed a lot of their firepower before they would fall still onto the floor. In a reaction to this aggression the monsters began to surge at the soldiers, using their size and numbers to their advantage. The security forces suffered bad casualties as they evacuated the facility, but managed to fly off of the moon despite of this. Once they reach their home planet, it will be unlikely that these creatures will remain forgotten and hidden.»

What Is a Self-Sustaining Ecosystem?


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How to Make a Self-Sustaining Ecosystem: 5 Steps and Ideas


A self-sustaining ecosystem is one where all the occupants (plants, animals, microorganisms etc.) can survive without the constant care of a person. Ideally, the only interventions from the outside would be light and the addition of extra water occasionally. Some of the simplest examples of self-sustaining ecosystems you can make are the self-sustaining plant terrarium or self-sustaining fish aquarium. However, making such an environment is both an art and a science. The creation requires your knowledge of biology and botany in a fair amount, patience, and a few tests and experiments. If you want to mimic the self-sustaining outdoor ecosystems that surround us, you need to work on different levels of ecology. Remember that a self-sustaining ecosystem works on a conservation basis: nothing goes in; nothing goes out. The second thing you need to remember is that the larger the ecosystem, the easier it becomes to maintain. If you would like to make your own self-sustainable ecosystem, consisting of either plants or fish, here are some of the main principles, steps to take, and ideas to try!

Step 1: Pick a Container

As we said, a small container does not allow the ecosystem to grow properly and the elements within interacting correctly with each other. You can start by using a medium/large container to create the ecosystem. Larger containers allow for the inclusion of multiple diverse species and give everything room to evolve naturally. Here are some things you need to know about containers:

  • No matter what type of self-sustainable ecosystem you want to build, you need to pick a clear container to let the light in. Usually, terrariums and aquariums use glass containers. If you want to step up your eco-game, you can look for a recycled glass container as well.
  • You can go for a small container if you want to experiment and see what works best for you. However, medium and large containers are the ones you should opt for. Keep in mind that the size can lead to significant expenses and some discomfort regarding the placement of the future ecosystem in your home.
  • No matter what type of self-sustainable ecosystem you want to build, make sure the container is free of any residue before using it as a terrarium or aquarium.

If you want to build a terrarium for plants, make sure you get a bowl or a container that is sealable. The container should also feature a wide mouth/opening so you can work inside better.

Step 2: Establish the Substrate of your Ecosystem

This means that you can build a plant terrarium or a fish aquarium. Each of these two self-sustaining ecosystems features different substrates: soil or water. Let us see how to begin:


Add the first layer of small pebbles on the bottom of the terrarium. They will allow the collection of water without flooding the plants. Next, add a thin layer of activated charcoal to filter the impurities in the water and keep fungi and bacteria at bay, preserving the ecosystem clean and healthy. Top the charcoal layer with peat moss to hold the water and nutrients necessary for the plants to grow. On top of the peat moss, you can add the potting soil.

  • Add enough potting soil that your plants grow roots;
  • You can also add some organic fertilizers and soil amendments if necessary;
  • Keep in mind that succulent plants and cacti need a special type of soil;
  • Natural soil contains the microscopic organisms necessary for decomposition such as fungi, bacteria, and even microscopic worms. However, you can add larger earthworms to enhance the quality of the soil and increase decomposer biomass.


The first thing to add to an aquarium is a layer of sand and pea gravel to allow the plants to anchor and grow. Next, fill the container with water. If you use distilled or bottled water, you can also add some nutrients to promote growth. You can also use the water from another fish tank, as it already contains the nutrients you need for growth. Add some plants and let them take roots and grow before you add the fish. You may want to mix bottom growing plants, surface growing plants, and branched plants for diversity.

  • Don’t forget to add micro-organisms such as small pond snails, daphnia, and micro-planarians. Wait at least two weeks for them to be fully established before adding fish, as they will serve as nutrients for your fish, being an important link in the food chain.

Step 3: Add the Residents of the Ecosystem

The time has come to bring in the residents of the ecosystems we want to create.


Start with small plants. If you bought your plants from the nursery, remove them from their pots, trim some of the super-long roots if necessary, water them well, and place them in the terrarium soil – in holes you made with a spoon for instance. Pack the soil around the plant well. Make sure the potted plants’ leaves do not touch the walls of the container, at least in the beginning.

  • Some of the best plants you can begin with are strawberry begonias, ferns, and mosses, moon valley friendship, the nerve plant, variegata, aquamarine, or minimus aureus. You can make incredibly looking and low-maintenance terrariums with succulents or cacti, but make sure you pick the correct soil for them.


After you had the patience to let the micro-critters and plants establish and grow, add the fish, shrimp, and snails. Just as it happens with the terrarium, you need to start with smaller fish and add diverse species one or two at a time.

  • Keep in mind that fish reproduce quickly and smaller fish may serve as food for larger fish; this is why aquarium creatures need time to adjust; balancing the species in an aquarium can be tricky, therefore you need to keep an eye on them to make sure they are all adjusted.
  • You can start with the guppy, Endler’s livebearer, or cherry shrimp at first, and then add other fish and water creatures slowly and progressively.

Step 4: Let there be Light

Both an aquarium and a terrarium need light. You can place a terrarium in direct sunlight or another suitable light source (which must include the entire visible light spectrum). The aquarium needs fluorescent light to allow the growth of the plants in your ecosystem. Specialists recommend you to provide 2 to 5 watts per gallon of water for a freshwater aquarium. Keep in mind that incandescent light does not help with the plant growth.

Step 5: Maintenance

In comparison to aquariums, sealed terrariums need less maintenance. You need to check the soil’s moisture once in a couple of days. If the plants seem to dry too quickly or the leaves are burning they may be getting too much light, so adjust the light source’s intensity or move the terrarium in another area. When you maintain a terrarium, remember to add a bit of water if the plants are too dry. If the plants are too moist, lift the lid and let the ecosystem dry out for a bit. If you see creepy crawlers, fungi, pests, or other unusual plant predators inside, remove them and then seal the terrarium. Alternatively, you can add some plant companions that can live inside closed systems to protect the plants, oxygenate the soil, and keep predators at bay.

When it comes to aquariums, they need a bit more maintenance. You need to pay attention to the formation of algae, dead fish, diseases, and bacteria. You need to change the water, clean all installations, and make sure you remove dead or diseased fish immediately.


If you ever wondered how to make a self-sustaining ecosystem, these are the main steps to take. Now tell us, did you ever make one? Did you buy an already-made one from a reputable seller in the green business field? What are your thoughts on self-sustainable ecosystems?

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