DIY biosphere AKA ecosphere

I fell in love with the idea of enclosed ecosystems when I went on vacation and saw one in a gift shop. The idea is that this miniature system will be able to feed itself with very little intervention from the outside. The plant and marimo ball will take the CO2 and waste from the inhabitants and filter it while producing oxygen. The inhabitants will eat the waste matter and algae from the plant while providing nutrients for the plant in the form of their waste.

A word of warning: aquariums and aquatic life are not my strong suit. I would never subject fish, shrimp, or even snails to intentional cruelty so I have everything set up in my larger aquarium to accommodate these new little guys, just in case things go south.

Now, the items you’ll need are as follows:

  1. Container (I chose to use a large mason jar [the regular sized ones are much too small for a shrimp so go with the largest that you can]) – $8
  2. Gravel of any kind – $3
  3. Plant (I would recommend elodea because of it’s ease, but my petstore didn’t carry it! So I chose water wisteria instead) – $7
  4. Marimo ball (if you have access to pond or lake algae, scoop up a cup full of algae and water and use that instead) – $7
  5. A snail or two (I chose the Mystery Snail) – $4
  6. One ghost shrimp (they’re very territorial so you should limit yourself to only one) – $0.39

Total cost: approximately $29.39


So, with your items (and inhabitants) all laid out, you can start pouring the gravel into the jar. Use as much or as little as you like.


Once you’ve covered the bottom of the jar sufficiently, add in your plant and anchor it with more gravel.


Add your new little snail(s), marimo ball, and ghost shrimp! I used half petstore water and half distilled water. If you have access to a pond or lake, add in your algae water. Don’t worry about any cloudiness as it will eventually settle.


You can see my placement here but arrange yours however you want.


And that’s it! I’m going to leave the top off for a few days to make it easier to check on Shrimpy. Ghost shrimp, unfortunately, are very easily stressed on the ride home from the petstore so if he doesn’t make it, that is probably the reason why.


One final note: it may take some time for your system to be able to sustain itself. If you want to, you could drop in some very small pieces of fish flakes for your Shrimpy to eat. They’re not very big and you certainly don’t want to overfeed, so make sure the amount is TINY (maybe the size of a pinhead?).

Good luck!

Edit: I’ll update this as time progresses and let you know how long my biosphere lasts and how well or badly it’s doing. I’ll also adjust the above instructions if I find better methods of preserving the biosphere.

Day 1: I found Shrimpy dead (the morning after putting together the biosphere) but Snelly the snail is still doing fine. Went and got another shrimp from the petstore and added him. Ghost shrimp are notoriously difficult to keep alive immediately after purchase (they’re commonly sold as feeders so they’re not exactly a shining example of optimum care at petstores). We’ll see how Shrimpy II does.

Seven months later: Well, Shrimpy II was looking a little sick, so I put him into my larger aquarium hoping that would revive the little guy but I had no luck. He died. 😦 The very next day, Snelly died too. I had a suspicion that maybe it was because of the petstore care (?) so I went to a different petstore and got another snail. That all happened about a week after I set up my biosphere. It’s been six and a half months now and Snelly II is doing so beautifully! She(He?) has grown so much. I did notice that she was having a little trouble keeping up with the amount of algae, so I put another snail into the biosphere with her. It’s been a month since Rocket was added and the algae is slooowly being reduced.

Something that I didn’t expect to happen was that my plants came unrooted! They’re now floating at the top of the container but since they seem to be doing okay, I’ve decided to just leave them. I’m not very good with the plants, but there are still plenty of green parts so I assume the plant is alive and well. Seems like it could be doing better, though, so maybe I’ll try to figure out what it needs.