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Product Review: Jurassic Natural Australian Desert Dragon Habitat

ReptiFiles was provided a free sample of Jurassic Natural Australian Desert Dragon Habitat in exchange for an honest review, whether positive or negative. The review below is our honest, unbiased opinion. This article also contains affiliate links.

Depending on which forums and Facebook groups you’re in, loose substrate can be a pretty touchy topic. Thanks to years of sub-par reptile husbandry practices and vocal reptile rescues, “NO LOOSE SUBSTRATE!” has become a central tenet of folklore husbandry.

But here’s a secret: loose substrate really isn’t that dangerous. And it definitely doesn’t cause impaction.

Whaaaat? How can that be? After all, everyone on the Internet will tell you that loose substrate is the devil and that reptiles are better off housed on tile, linoleum, or paper towel.

But here’s another secret: tile, linoleum, and paper towels don’t exist in nature. Sand and soil do.

So how have reptiles survived for millions of years in the wild on a substrate that is most certainly plotting their death? After all, they’re bound to get a mouthful of dirt or sand every once in awhile as they hunt down insects and small animals. Easy — they digest the dirt along with the prey. And then this dirt gets expelled along with the rest of the waste at the other end of the digestive tract. No blockages, no impaction.

When reptiles in captivity have the resources that they need to be healthy — proper temperatures, UVB, hydration, etc. — they do the same thing that their wild counterparts do: ingest it with the food, eliminate it with the waste. And yes, that INCLUDES bearded dragons. They’re not that special. In A survey of diseases in captive bearded dragons: a retrospective study of 529 patients conducted by S. Schmidt-Ukaj et al., “Gastrointestinal diseases (42.67%) like endoparasitism, constipation, sand ingestion, tympany and meteorism were the most common disorders. In 51.92% of the cases of constipation, endoparasites were present, whereas in 38.46% of the cases of constipation, metabolic bone diseases and imbalances in calcium and phosphorus levels were detected.”

Translation: Although constipation (impaction) was a common problem among the bearded dragons that were studied, the vast majority of impaction cases were a side effect of larger health issues, namely parasite infestation and metabolic bone disease.

Furthermore, according to an analysis performed by Dr. Jonathon Howard on Australian soil from bearded dragons’ natural habitat, their natural habitat’s “substrate” is:

  • 0.3% gravel
  • 1.5% silt
  • 2.3% clay
  • 95.9% fine sand

In other words, bearded dragons have evolved to live and thrive on a thick layer of packed Australian red sand. Jurassic Natural mines this sand from the heart of Central Bearded Dragon territory, and the result is their Australian Desert Dragon Habitat substrate.

succulents and australian desert dragon habitat substrate

Product Specs

  • $23 per 20lb bag
  • Available in 10lb and 20lb bags
  • Consists of authentic Australian red sand
  • Responsibly collected from Central Australia
  • Intended to be completely replaced every 4-6 months

Functionality Assessment

Being sand, each bag of Jurassic Natural Australian Desert Dragon Habitat is fairly small relative to the weight of the product. I received two 20lb bags of this product by mail for this product review, and I could have broken my foot on the box by kicking it. (I pity the poor mail carrier who had to deliver it!)

Upon opening one of the bags, I was surprised to find a variety of particle sizes present, from pieces the size of fine gravel all the way to microscopic silt. It’s an attractive orange color, but not so bright as to suggest that it was dyed to look that way, as many other “red sand” products on the market are.

Although the bag is perforated at the top to allow for easy opening, it doesn’t open in a straight line — be aware that the plastic will tear in any direction it pleases, so open the bag in a location where you don’t mind some sand spilling out.

Upon pouring the substrate from the bag into the test container, I noticed that although it’s not dust-free (a natural result of the finest particles in the mix), it’s very low-dust compared to the washed play sand that is most popular with the reptile keepers who are comfortable with loose substrate. I also noted that it was free of contaminants like plant matter or trash.

I tested this substrate both dry and wet-packed to see how it would react:

→ As expected, the substrate compacted more readily when water was added to it, and I suspect that the smallest particles played an essential role in this. The result was a dense layer of substrate that would likely readily hold a burrow. However, I was surprised to discover just how stubbornly the sand held onto the water. After initially saturating it, 2 weeks later the sand was still damp. Turns out that sand preserves moisture more readily than most give it credit for!

 → Dry, the substrate stayed fairly loose and would likely have a harder time holding a burrow, if at all. However, the small particles sunk to the bottom while the larger particles stayed on top, making it more difficult for my bearded dragon to soil her water bowl with the substrate.

In a practical test in my own bearded dragon’s enclosure, aside from mostly staying out of her food and water bowls, the substrate did a good job of clumping around poo, making spot cleaning easy — like cleaning a cat litter box. However, the larger particles get sifted out if you use a sand scoop for waste removal. She ate some roaches and a superworm on the substrate, and I noticed that the sand did not cling to the insects, so substrate ingestion was minimal. She did get one large piece in her mouth at one point, but that was promptly spit out.

Things I Liked About Jurassic Natural Australian Desert Dragon Habitat Substrate

  • 100% natural — Collected from Pogona vitticeps’s actual home turf, which is awesome.
  • Attractive — Naturalistic appearance makes for more attractive enclosures.
  • Dense and burrowable — Variety of particle sizes makes it nicely dense and gives it good burrowing potential, especially if packed in with water beforehand.
  • Holds water well — Holds water better than expected, better for creating a natural humidity gradient even for arid species.
  • Encourages natural behaviors — (ex: digging) Aside from providing a valuable form of environmental enrichment, this also keeps lizard claws filed down naturally.
  • Competitively priced — Although it seems pricey to purchase in a large enough quantity to create several inches of substrate in a 4’x2’x2’ enclosure, it’s very comparable to (if not less expensive than) similar products on the market.

Things I Didn’t Like About Jurassic Natural Australian Desert Dragon Habitat Substrate

  • Limited bioactive compatibility — Due to the uniformity of its composition, this substrate is not very bioactive compatible. Better to layer on top for a bioactive substrate.
  • Limited availability — This product is currently only available online. I would like to see it available in stores for easier access and bulk purchase.
5 bright green stars

Conclusion: Arguably the perfect bearded dragon substrate!

ReptiFiles Rating: 5.0 stars!

Since I first brought home my own bearded dragons and became aware of the heated debate surrounding bearded dragon substrate, I have daydreamed about being able to collect authentic Australian soil from their natural habitat and end the debate once and for all. Jurassic Natural Australian Desert Dragon Habitat Substrate is a dream come true, and I’m so excited to see it being introduced to the American market.

Although best suited to bearded dragons, Jurassic Natural Australian Desert Dragon Habitat Substrate can be safely used for Central Australian reptiles. It can also be used for other species native to arid, sandy environments:

  • Central Bearded Dragon
  • Centralian Carpet Python
  • Knob-Tailed Gecko
  • Stimsons Python
  • Woma python

Our Advice for Using This Product —

  • Spot clean daily. Sand scoops don’t work well with this product, so remove all contaminated substrate along with waste.
  • Completely replace every 4-6 months as recommended by the manufacturer in order to prevent bacterial growth and potential illness.
  • If you are concerned about ingestion, feed your dragon on a paper plate or with a bug-friendly bowl.
  • One 20lb bag creates a layer approximately 1″ deep in an enclosure with 8 sq ft of floor space (ex: 4’x2’x2′).
  • Use at a depth of 4” or more for best results.

Some people may be concerned about the large size of some of the particles in this substrate – some are large enough to be considered small pebbles. While ingestion could potentially cause a problem, it’s important to keep in mind that most reptiles, including bearded dragons, will spit out hard small objects rather than swallowing them.

Are you a reptile product manufacturer with an awesome new product that you want the world to know about?

Reach out to Mariah at reptifiles@gmail.com to pitch your product for review!

7 Comments

  1. Yes. As long as you are providing appropriate UVB, basking temperatures, and hydration as outlined by the ReptiFiles Bearded Dragon Care Guide, even baby bearded dragons should be able to be housed on this substrate safely. However, if you’re nervous about housing a young bearded dragon on sand, you can use a thick layer of paper towels (for cushion) until they’re about 6 months old before making the switch.

  2. Would this substrate be suitable for baby and juvenile bearded dragons?

  3. When I was researching care for sandfish skinks (a species that absolutely requires fine sand as a substrate), I also became concerned about the risk of silica exposure, and started to look for sands that don’t contain silica. There are a lot of mommy blogs that raise alarms about silica in play sand and its dangers. However, like in all things, it helps to listen to actual experts rather than paranoia and hearsay. I found Jerry’s perspective, the geologist behind Jurassic Sands, very helpful. You can read his full explanation here, but here are some specific quotes pertaining to your question:

    “Yes…[most sands] have crystalline silica in them because they contain quartz sand grains (which is the common name for crystalline silica). These are the same quartz grains found on 99.9% of the ocean, lakes and stream beaches in the US.”

    “Some manufacturers of alternative play sand materials often refer to cancer warnings on bags or cite California Prop 65 warnings in an effort to raise concern but don’t bother to describe why the warning or who it is intended for. Fact 1: It is not the crystalline silica that is the concern of OHSA or the California Prop 65 legislation. It is the ‘respirable’ portion of that material – the tiniest of particles that can get deep into your lungs. These are generally created when sand is crushed or pulverized or used in sand-blasting operations. It is these processes that create the respirable dust of concern. [Natural sands] come from deserts (or mountain ranges) where Mother Nature makes sands nearly perfectly pure and they aren’t crushed or pulverized.”

    “Fact 2: These warnings are for industrial workers who have extended periods of exposure every day, 8 hours/day for 20-40 years. That’s what the epidemiological studies have determined. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (US CPSC) has looked at the issue of crystalline silica and respirable silica, and decided it was not a hazard to children using play sand in a sandbox.”

    “Fact 3: Makers of alternative play sand material such as feldspar, marble and limestone don’t bother to explain this because they rely on people not digging deep enough to understand the what the warnings are for.”

    Tl;dr — Jurassic Naturals Australian Desert Dragon Habitat substrate is 100% natural and thus extremely safe for use both with reptiles and around humans.

  4. Thanks Mariah for the info :)) I was wondering about
    the possible silica content in this? CA has a prop 65 for
    play sand and such because of the silica. Would it matter?

  5. Fortunately my contact was able to get back to me quickly. Here’s why Jurassic Natural Australian Desert Dragon Habitat is an environmentally-friendly substrate:

    Among other factors, we measure sustainability by the following main 3 aspects:

    1) Permits: Australia has some of the most vigorous and difficult to obtain harvesting laws in the world. The product is collected under Australian government license and obtaining such a license includes conducting environmental impact studies, meeting extremely high environmental targets and contribution guarantees for rehabilitation if needed.

    2) Size of collection zone. As you know Australia is a huge country. For comparison, the collection zone is about the size of England and is almost uninhabited. The harvesting from this zone is so limited in comparison to the material available it is considered infinite. I.e it is humanly impossible to harvest at a rate that is faster than the generation of new material from natural erosion.

    3) The material itself can be considered renewable. The habitat is a result of millions of years of erosion of bigger particles-iron oxide in particular. This is why the habitat is a mix of fine sand up to small gravel size. This erosion is happening constantly with the sand we are harvesting being replaced at a greater rate from weathering of lager rocks, hills and mountains.

    Rest assured this is one of, if not the most, sustainable products on the market.

  6. Good question, Divyaraj. As far as I know, Pisces is a fairly eco-conscious company, and the official manufacturer description for this product claims that it is sustainably harvested. And if you are conscious of your carbon footprint, this is probably not the best substrate for you. I have reached out to my contact at Pisces Jurassic Natural asking for details about what makes their Australian Desert Dragon Habitat sustainably harvested. Hopefully I can give you an answer soon. 🙂

  7. Hey! While there’s no doubt that natural substrate would really be awesome for the dragons, one thing that kept bothering me was how sustainable is this? Won’t this result in habitat loss (over a period of time of course) and doesn’t this sort of increase your carbon footprint? I honestly feel we should go local and source material from as close as possible.

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