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One of the hardest parts of setting up a new reptile enclosure is the décor. Sure, you can have your heat lamp, your UVB, substrate, food and water dishes, hides — those are the basic components. But it’s the accessories — backgrounds, plants, branches, rocks — that make the enclosure beautiful. And more importantly, they make the enclosure much more functional, interactive, and enriching for the reptile that it houses.
There’s just one problem: decorating reptile enclosures is hard.
You want plants? Okay…which plants? How big? How many? Are any of them toxic if ingested? Where do you even get them? How will you arrange them?
You want branches? Okay…what type of branches? Where will you get them? How do you clean them? Do they need to be sealed? How big do they need to be? What shape do they need to be?
You want a background? Okay…will you make it yourself or are you going to buy one? One the one hand, making a background is cheap, but there’s no guarantee that it will turn out looking good, or that you even have the time to do it. On the other hand, you can buy the background. But from whom? And do you want it 3D or more like a poster?
…starting to sound familiar?
If you’re creative, you’ll have some pictures of the reptile’s natural environment, and try to recreate it that way. If you’re not so creative, you’re more likely to just walk into the pet store or hop on Amazon and grab whatever accessories fit your budget and look cool. For the first, that’s a lot of work. For the second, it’s very difficult to visualize the final result or whether everything will even fit. And in both cases, there’s no guarantee that the finished enclosure will actually look good.
What if — after all that work and expense — your reptile’s enclosure still looks ugly??!
Custom Reptile Habitats is a new reptile product distributor with an innovative new idea: enclosure décor kits! So far they have released arid environment kits for both 36”x18” and 48”x24” enclosures, and ReptiFiles had the opportunity to give one of them a test run: the Alice Springs 4 Foot Reptile Décor Kit. Sure, the pictures look good, and it’s an exciting concept, but it must be too good to be true…right?
Keep reading to find out!
Custom Reptile Habitats Alice Springs 4′ Reptile Decor Kit — Product Specs
- Price starts at $390
- 48”x24” naturalistic 3D background
- 1 climbing ledge
- 1 large artificial basking log
- 2 large artificial rocks
- 1 small artificial rock
- 3 tall artificial plants (optional)
- 1 medium artificial plant (optional)
- 1 small artificial plant (optional)
- 1 large dragon skull hide (optional)
- Water bowl
- Food bowl
- Insect bowl
- 1 cartridge of animal safe silicone, black
- advertised as easy to clean
- advertised as very long lasting
Test Subject: Rough-Scaled Plated Lizard
The test subject for the Alice Springs 4 Foot Décor Kit was Sorilea, my 1.5 year old rough-scaled plated lizard (Broadleysaurus major). Rough-scaled plated lizards are adept climbers that are often found in and around rock piles in the wild. Her previous setup mimicked these rock piles by using real stone, and it was HEAVY. While I do love the look, smell, and heat-retentive properties of natural stone, its weight and sharp edges can make it impractical for using in large quantities inside a reptile enclosure. I looked forward to seeing how this décor kit could help fulfill my plated lizard’s need for plentiful hiding spots, while also encouraging her to exercise the way that she’s built to do.
This décor kit was installed inside the Maximum Reptile Essential 4 Enclosure (we did a review on that, too).
Packaging & Unboxing
The kit came very well packaged. If anything, there was too much bubble wrap (although let’s be honest — is that really possible?). Once I finished tearing through all the layers of bubble wrap with a knife, I was pleased to find that nothing had been damaged in transit. However, I did notice an immediate chemical odor from the background, ledge, artificial rocks, and artificial log — all Universal Rocks products. It was enough of a nuisance to give me a bit of a headache after prolonged exposure.
As a side note, the dragon skull ornament is much larger than one might anticipate just from looking at the pictures. I have a fairly average-sized head, and was surprised and pleased to find upon unboxing that I could wear the thing as a mask! XD
Putting it Together
I received the Maximum Reptile Essential 4 Enclosure and Alice Springs kit at the same time, so the background and ledge came already firmly adhered to the enclosure, with no gaps. I let the enclosure and décor sit for a while to let the plastic décor air out.
Because I wanted to try going bioactive with this kit, I opted for the “4 Foot Décor Kit + Dragon Skull – No Artificial Plants”. However, the artificial plants in the kit photo look very attractive, and they are advertised as fireproof and nontoxic.
Alongside the artificial rocks, log, and food/water dishes, and added the following live plants:
- Orange sedge grass (1)
- Blue oat grass (2)
- Moonbeam coreopsis (1)
- Tricolor ice plant (3)
- Echeveria, unknown varieties (2)
Each plant and its roots were thoroughly rinsed before planting to minimize transmission of chemicals into the enclosure. They were not overly stressed, despite the rough treatment.
Although the online photos of the Alice Springs kit create a pretty good template for anyone who wants to reproduce that particular layout exactly, I arranged the décor slightly differently in order to accommodate a different set of plants, a larger water dish, and hides in a variety of areas around the enclosure for a range of thermoregulation opportunities that the plated lizard could use while still being hidden.
The Final Result
For lighting this enclosure, I used a 100w Philips PAR39 halogen floodlight bulb, a 22” T5 HO Arcadia Dragon 14% UVB, and a 22” Light Your Reptiles 6500K fluorescent bulb.
An Olimaster Laptop Cooler fan was also installed on top of the enclosure to encourage air flow and prevent overheating by creating a gentle breeze. The strength of the “breeze” produced was not too strong or too weak, and did well in the desired purpose. However it does produce something of a ringing noise that can get grating after being in the room for a while.
The Maximum Reptile Essential 4 Enclosure allows for a substrate layer up to 5” deep. In this case I used 3 36-qt bags of The Bio Dude Terra Sahara. Fortunately 5” easily accommodated the largest of the plants that I purchased for the build. These plants, by the way, have become an additional source of partial cover for Sorilea when she wants to be able to watch us from a “hidden” location.
Because I wanted this enclosure to be bioactive, I added approximately 150 powder orange isopods, 50 Texas fast isopods, and a number of pink springtails to populate the soil. I haven’t seen much of them since, but I assume they haven’t all been eaten by the plated lizard.
I didn’t like how small the water dish was, as personally I prefer to use water bowls that are large enough for my reptiles to soak in if desired, but shallow enough to prevent drowning. So I swapped it for the Exo Terra Large Reptile Water Dish. The other dishes for food and insects have performed well — I particularly appreciate how the lip of the Exo Terra Worm Bowl effectively prevents even large dubia roaches from escaping.
The construction of the Universal Rocks artificial rocks makes them completely hollow. These can be carved with a Dremel to create holes in the side that enable the enclosure’s occupant to use them as hides. I considered doing this, but plated lizards are proficient diggers, and mine was quick to dig tunnels underneath and into the rocks’ hollow spaces.
I prefer a stone basking area because stone absorbs heat best, but the Universal Rocks décor does a fairly good job of absorbing heat evenly without developing dangerous hotspots. I have also noticed that the objectionably chemical odor that concerned me earlier has almost entirely (if not completely) faded within 1 month of unboxing.
The Universal Rocks wall and ledge were quickly put to good use by Sorilea. Although she is an adept climber, there were some spots (namely, the top of the ledge) that I thought she would not be able to get to — or at least not easily. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I found a poo on top of said ledge shortly thereafter, indicating that she had conquered it. I have seen and documented her hanging out there on a few occasions since. Observation and evidence have shown that she has also been able to scramble around the entirety of the 3D background with ease.
The dragon skull hide is easily the focal point of the setup, and upon posting a teaser photo to Instagram, I have already gotten inquiries about where I acquired it. It’s really quite spectacular! However its immense size makes it compete for space with the log, and it has become more of a climbing object than a hide.
Things I Liked About the Alice Springs Reptile Décor Kit
- I appreciate the inclusion of an escape-proof insect dish. Exo Terra’s is much more effective than the cheap white plastic ones. It’s also more attractive.
- All décor is waterproof, which means that you don’t have to worry about humidity levels.
- The fact that this kit is available with several different options on what to include and exclude gives reptile owners a nice amount of flexibility in creating the look they want. Also helps make it easier on the wallet, too, for people who can’t afford to go all-out but still want a beautiful enclosure.
- The ‘No Plants’ option for the kit is awesome for people who want to use live plants in either a naturalistic or bioactive setup. You don’t have to worry about buying the whole kit and then wasting the plants.
- I have a background in landscaping, so I extra appreciate how the artificial plants are varied in color, texture, and size. This adds a lovely balance to the scenery of the enclosure. On a more practical note, it’s also fantastic that these plants are free of harsh chemicals and virtually fireproof.
- The Exo Terra dishes are some of the heaviest I’ve ever felt, relative to their size. This makes them difficult to tip, which is an important feature especially for a water dish.
- The “rocks” are hollow and can be modified with a Dremel to become natural-looking hides.
- The dragon skull is AWESOME.
- The 3D background takes vertical space that often goes unused in a reptile enclosure and makes it available to the occupant, expanding the amount of usable space in your average 4’x2’x2’ enclosure — practically doubling it from 8 sq. ft. to about 16 sq. ft!
This kit is GORGEOUS. It really transforms a reptile enclosure into a stunning, zoo-exhibit quality centerpiece that could be easily displayed in your front room as part of your home décor. I still have to poke my head into the reptile room every day (often multiple times a day) just to admire it — to say nothing of the animal inside!
And seriously, easiest. enclosure. décor. ever.
Things I Didn’t Like About the Alice Springs Reptile Décor Kit
- Shipping isn’t free. According to Custom Reptile Habitats’ shipping policy, shipping for the whole kit can cost an extra $50-$70, depending on which version of the kit is purchased.
- The smell of the Universal Rocks products is concerning, as objectionable odors usually indicate the presence of VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
- Although the Universal Rocks pieces are advertised as easy to clean, their rough texture can be an obstacle, especially with the log, since it has lots of crevices that poo can get stuck in.
- The provided water dish is too small for use with most species that would be potentially housed in a 4’x2’x2’ enclosure.
- The dragon skull, although very cool, is HUGE. It takes up a lot of space in the enclosure, and combined with the log it comes dangerously close to over-cluttering the enclosure. This is fine for smaller species and snakes that appreciate clutter, but it might be inconvenient for species that appreciate open spaces, such as a bearded dragon.
Conclusion: If You Love Your Reptile, Get This Décor Kit!
ReptiFiles Rating: 5.0 stars!
Although there were some things I didn’t like about this kit, they are relatively insignificant compared to the many benefits that it offers. The market has needed a décor kit for so long, and Custom Reptile Habitats is doing it right, making beautiful, enriched reptile enclosures a reality for those of us who are a little (or a lot) challenged when it comes to enclosure design aesthetics.
Depending on what version of the kit you use, the Custom Reptile Habitats Alice Springs Reptile Décor Kit can potentially be used for any tropical, subtropical, or arid terrestrial reptile species housed in a 4’x2’ enclosure, such as:
- Ball python
- Bearded dragon
- Blue tongued skink
- Gopher snake
- Milk snake
- Plated lizard
- Rainbow boa
Who should get this décor kit? If you own one of the above reptiles, are currently housing them in (or are planning to upgrade them to) a 4’x2’x2’, and want the enclosure to look like it was designed by a professional — you need this kit.
Our Advice for Reptile Keepers — When you bring this kit home, here’s some tips for success:
- Rinse all décor well before using inside the enclosure.
- Let the Universal Rocks items air out in a well-ventilated area for at least 2 weeks before using.
- Use distilled water for misting to prevent the accumulation of water spots and subsequent discoloration of décor.
- Scrub the Universal Rocks products with an old toothbrush and chlorhexidine or F10 to remove stuck poo.
It’s been about 6 months since I started using the Custom Reptile Habitats Alice Springs Reptile Décor Kit, and here’s how it’s held up:
- The background and “rocks” still look like new. They clean up and disinfect pretty easily whenever they come into contact with poo or urate, and they really enhance the photogenic value of the setup.
- Plus, I love that the ledges and climbable texture of the background and ledges enables my Sudan plated lizard to make use of the enclosure’s vertical space as desired.
- The rocks have turned out to make excellent hides, even without holes drilled into them for entry. They seem to stimulate my Sudan plated lizard’s instinct to create her own shelter by digging under objects.
- The Exo Terra food and water dishes are still some of the most attractive I’ve used, but they are a little hard to clean due to their slightly rough texture. Fortunately it’s nothing that a scrubbing sponge can’t take care of.
- The dragon skull decoration was a limited-edition item. The large skull has been completely sold out, but there are still some of the smaller ones available here. Note that the material these are made from does not seem to be UV-resistant, and yellows with age.
- It looks like there may be some missing paint on the log. I can’t remember if there was exposed foam when I first received the kit, but now when I look closely I can easily see small patches of caramel-brown foam. I’ll be keeping a closer eye on this piece to watch for further degeneration.
- I was hoping that this would disappear with time, but the Universal Rocks decor has retained a faint plasticky odor. I can’t smell it on a normal day, but I can whenever I mist the enclosure and the humidity rises.
Fortunately, these are small concerns. This is still an awesome product that I recommend to anyone who wants a more attractive, more functional reptile enclosure. I look forward to seeing more options from Custom Reptile Habitats!