The Science of Terra Sahara
From the desk of The Dude:
Natural bioactivity occurs in almost every climate on earth, from the lush jungles of the Congo to bone-dry Australian deserts. These ecosystems contain unique processes to manage the buildup of organic waste. Cleaning organisms and chemical processes break down matter, and nutrients return to the soil to support new life. Through these processes, the ecosystem is kept clean and healthy.
Our specially-designed substrates were developed to support the natural drivers of bioactivity. In supporting their natural functions, we can bring authentic bioactive environments to the home vivarium. Here, we will focus on our Terra Sahara substrate and the arid to semi-arid conditions it replicates.
Terra Sahara replicates the rocky, sandy soil found in most of the world's deserts and arid scrublands. Arid enclosures can be difficult to make bioactive, simply because the soil type and lack of available moisture makes it hard for a high population of decomposing microbes and microfauna to establish themselves. The soil also must be able to support the burrows and tunnels that most reptiles use to protect themselves from the dry air and the heat of the desert sun, adding another layer of complexity to the task.
Our Terra Sahara makes this usually troublesome task easy for even the most novice reptile keeper, allowing you to create a beautiful, self-cleaning desert landscape for your reptile to call its own. The substrate holds burrows flawlessly and drains water easily to provide a suitable environment for desert-dwelling plants such as succulents and cacti. The extensive root systems of these plants provide structure to your reptile's burrows, making it easier for them to hold up in the long run. Terra Sahara does not replicate loose sand deserts but rather the dried, rocky terrain inhabited by most common pet reptiles, including Leopard Geckos and Bearded Dragons. Although many outmoded keeping philosophies warn of impaction being caused by loose substrates, we now know that impaction of the gastrointestinal tract is very rare in otherwise healthy animals, and is nearly always a side-effect of an animal being dehydrated, not having access to sufficient heat, or another separate health issue that makes the animal vulnerable.
Although the top inch or two of the substrate layer ought to be quite dry, below that ought to contain a small amount of moisture. This prevents the microfauna from drying out and keeps a high population of beneficial microbial life alive under the soil. Desert environments still rely on springtails, isopods, and other small arthropods, all collectively known as microfauna, as the initial stage of decomposition, but most of the heavy lifting is done by microscopic life such as bacteria and fungi to finish the conversion of feces back into nutrients in the soil. These microbes can more easily withstand the heat extremes and the dry environment, and are able to build up a high enough population to completely dispose of waste, unlike the microfauna alone. Microbial life will eventually establish itself in your cage without intervention, but in the first few months some spot cleaning may be necessary until your vivarium matures enough to handle the waste output. Once this has been occurred, cleaning should not be necessary except in select cases, usually with very large species.
The slight amount of moisture in the deeper part of the substrate also helps to keep your animals well-hydrated. In the wild, reptiles dig burrows to hide not only from predators and the harsh sun, but from the dry air outside. Breathing dry air over a prolonged period of time will eventually lead to dehydration, as moisture in the lungs is released into the air via osmosis and exhaled as water vapor. This phenomenon is visible in colder weather, when we can see the water vapor condensing as we breathe it out. In warmer weather it is invisible, but you can still feel the moisture if you exhale into a cupped hand. For us, this is just a trivial facet of our biology. For desert-dwelling animals, however, every drop is precious, and any lost water may be the difference between life and death The moisture in the soil ensures that their burrows actually stay quite humid. The deeper they go, the more humid the air becomes. This humidity is their saving grace, and although it does not allow them to regain any moisture unless it condenses into liquid water, it helps minimize the amount of moisture lost by breathing. The more humid the air is, the less water vapor it can absorb from their lungs, and the less water is taken from them. This is why nearly all desert animals live in burrows, and it is why it is so important to provide them with burrows in captivity. Keepers have been doing this with leopard geckos for quite some time via moss-filled 'humid hides'. This simply takes it one step further by allowing them to excavate their own burrows, meaning they have more control over the temperature and humidity than they otherwise would.
Providing humid burrows to all desert-dwelling reptiles will provide a source of exercise, ensure perfect sheds and prevent chronic dehydration, and will dramatically improve your pet reptile's health and longevity.
Because Terra Sahara is used in dry environments, no drainage layer is necessary. Simply take care that you do not add too much water to the soil. We do not recommend the use of Terra Sahara if the animal in question has any existing health issues that may put them at risk of becoming impacted.
Humidity Range includes:
Common Animals Include:
- Bearded Dragon
- Rosy Boa Snake
- Leopard Gecko
- Ackie Moniter
- Josh Halter