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.
- $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
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.
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.