Substrates - Beneath The Surface

Updated: Mar 4, 2021


There are plenty of substrates out there and choosing one can be a confusing decision especially when given too much information by different sources! The idea of this guide is to give you enough information on the different types and then for you to make your own choice.

Many reptile keepers have changed substrate as much as we change our underwear! Always trying different ones until we find one that works for us and our animals.

Let us start with the 5 most popular substrates;

  • Aspen is a wood fibre substrate made from the aspen tree family. It is a popular choice amongst reptile keepers and is also similar to Lignocel. It is produced from softwoods in either “wood wool” or shavings. It is a much softer wood chip than others and can be used for animals that like to burrow and create hides. Aspen has the added bonus of being extremely absorbing and makes easy work of spot cleaning as it clumps together for easy removal. Used mainly on snakes it is a well-round substrate but just lacks the natural look and feel some reptile owners are after.

  • Sands (Silica/Desert) often used for the desert species of reptiles, it is easy to clean with a sand sieve and relatively cheap when bought in bulk. It allows species to dig and bring about natural behaviours, however, it must be used in conjunction with a correct diet as some animals will try to eat the sand if in need of certain vitamins and minerals. This can cause impaction in the gut and can be potentially fatal. But do not let that put you off. Correct husbandry and diet as well as following the advice from an expert will help avoid this. When using sand, do not keep young lizards on it, they tend to be ferocious eaters and will snap at their live food and often take clumps of sand with it! Like Aspen, it clumps well around waste and makes for easy cleaning.

  • Coco Coir Peat this is made from finely ground coconut shells, almost soil-like and normally comes in dried out blocks of certain weights/sizes. These blocks are then soaked quickly in water to produce a moist and excellent substrate. It is ideal for high humidity areas as it holds water well and is slowly rotting, so will last a long time. It can be used in conjunction with live plants to give a natural look to the vivarium, great for burrowing and digging species too, especially spiders and other invertebrates.

  • Coco Husk again made from the husk of coconuts but in larger pieces, almost bark-like. Naturally antimicrobial so will resist most mould and fungus growth. It is great for high humidity vivarium’s and considered one of the best substrates for Royal and Reticulated pythons. Due to the larger size of the husk, it makes for easy spot cleaning and will even absorb odours. It also allows for a natural-looking environment and can make the colour of your reptile stand out. One negative is the husk size does not really allow itself to be used well for burrowing reptiles.

  • Paper is widely used by breeders and enthusiasts who have a large collection of reptiles. People use newspaper, Unprinted newsprint or even chip shop type paper! Paper is easy to clean, cheap and waste is easily spotted. It is great for a quarantine vivarium allowing easy sight of any mites or other pests! The problem we have found is when a 16ft Retic decides to produce a large amount of urine, it soaks the paper and if not noticed dries out quickly and is like cement to get off. Better used on smaller reptile species.​

Again we hope we have been helpful on advising and guiding your choice in a substrate, any questions please feel free to contact us. Happy Herping!

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