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Reptile Substrates 101

Anna RodriguezThe following post comes from Anna Rodriguez, PETCO's Associate Merchandise Manager for Reptile and Wildlife Supplies.When it comes to substrates (the underlying later in a tank) every reptile pet parent has their own preference on what to use for what animals.  There are a lot of options available, but in some cases it may be difficult to know the benefits of each substrate and which alternatives are available.  Here are some of the features and benefits of the different substrates PETCO offers. - - - sand substrateSand - Some people believe that it causes impaction in reptiles, however sand is generally not the reason reptiles become impacted (for more details see Truth or Myth: Sand Impaction). Sand is one of the most widely used desert substrates, it is easy to clean with a sand sifter and available in a wide variety of colors. Sand is great for many reptiles such as leopard geckos, bearded dragons, sand boas, banded geckos and many other kinds of desert reptiles. Of course if you prefer not to use sand there are other options. - - walnut substrateWalnut - Walnut is a great alternative to sand and is appropriate if you prefer not to use sand. Walnut is easy to clean with a sand scoop and can be readily compostable with everyday yard waste.  It is dry enough for many different kinds of desert reptiles such as leopard geckos, bearded dragons, sand boas, banded geckos and many other desert species. - - - aspen substrateAspen – It’s called “Aspen Snake Bedding” but it’s not only for snakes.  Aspen is a hardwood that is shredded and is great for burrowing animals.  It absorbs liquid as well as odor and works great for many types of reptiles such as bearded dragons, leopard geckos, ball pythons, cornsnakes, kingsnakes, and many types of tortoises. You can even mix some bark or Eco Earth with the aspen to create a more Mediterranean substrate. - - - sanichips substrateSani Chips - Sani chips are an aspen based hardwood chip that is heat treated to prevent mold and bacteria growth; it is chipped unlike the shredded aspen, great for non-burrowing animals.  This bedding is another great alternative to sand. It absorbs odor and liquid very well and is great for all types of animals.  Best of all, it can be mixed just like the aspen to create custom blends to achieve different humidity levels in the habitat.  Great for bearded dragons, leopard geckos, ball pythons, cornsnakes, and many other reptiles. - - - bark substrateBark - Bark is a clean, low dust substrate that will retain moisture and hold humidity in the habitat. This is a great for more tropical or sub-tropical reptiles. This bedding is great for animals that require higher humidity and need to be misted regularly.  Animals such as chameleons, iguanas, redfoot tortoises, anoles, crested geckos, firebelly toads, african fat tailed geckos, mountain horned lizards and many others do great on bark. - - - Eco Earth SubstrateEco-Earth - Eco Earth is a soil like substrate made from coconut fiber. This is a great substrate for animals that require high humidity levels.  It will absorb lots of water and keep the humidity level up in the habitat.  This substrate is also a great option for mixing with another type. Great for hermit crabs, frogs of all kinds, crested geckos, anoles, house gecko, tarantulas, scorpions and many other tropical reptiles. - - - moss substrateMoss - Moss is a critical part of many habitats.  Even for some desert reptiles. Adding some moss to your habitat will help retain moisture and add humidity. It is also a good idea to create a moist hide spot so your reptile can have a higher humidity area in the habitat.  Use with all reptile types. - - - - carpet substrateCage Carpet/Liners - Liners and carpets are a good alternative to the other substrate choices.  They are easy, convenient and make cleaning your habitat a breeze.  But keep in mind that they don’t absorb liquid or hold humidity. It is a good idea to add some moss to help add some humidity to the habitat. Carpet is a good choice for non-burrowing desert animals that don’t require a high humidity level. - - Understanding how to use all the different substrates is very important for the health of any reptile.  Here is a quick reference guide to help ensure the right substrates are being used for your reptile.

Reptile Substrate Reference Guide

Reptiles Substrate Options Additional Requirements
Leopard Gecko Sand Walnut Sani Chips Aspen Cage Liner Create a moist hide spot by using a hideaway and packing it with wet moss
Bearded Dragon Sand Walnut Sani Chips Aspen Cage Liner N/A
Cornsnake Aspen Sani Chips Cage Liner Create a moist hide spot by using a hideaway and packing it with wet moss
Ball Python Aspen Forest Floor Repti-Bark Jungle Mix Eco Earth Coco Nut Bark Blend Create a moist hide spot by using a hideaway and packing it with wet moss
Iguana Forest Floor Repti-Bark Jungle Mix Eco Earth Coco Nut Bark Blend Use moss throughout the terrarium to create high humidity levels
Hermit Crab Eco Earth mixed with Sand or Repti Bark(hermit crabs require high humidity so always make sure they have a substrate that holds moisture) Use moss throughout the terrarium to create high humidity levels
Crested Gecko Forest Floor Repti-Bark Jungle Mix Eco Earth Coco Nut Bark Blend Use moss throughout the terrarium to create high humidity levels
Anole/House Gecko Forest Floor Repti-Bark Jungle Mix Eco Earth Coco Nut Bark Blend Use moss throughout the terrarium to create high humidity levels
Frogs and Toads Forest Floor Repti-Bark Jungle Mix Eco Earth Coco Nut Bark Blend Use moss throughout the terrarium to create high humidity levels
Russian Tortoise Aspen Alfalfa Meal Repti Bark N/A