blog Terrariums and Housing

Substrates for Amphibians & Reptiles » Amphibian Care

What is a substrate and what does it do?

A substrate is the fabric in the bottom of the cage. The substrate’s most elementary perform is to soak up waste produced by your pet. Substrates also serve other purposes, resembling:

  • Retain moisture and keep humidity ranges
  • Supply padding towards a tough plastic or glass bottom
  • Provide cover/shelter for burrowing and terrestrial species
  • Buffer a warmth source placed underneath the enclosure

What’s one of the best substrate to use?

This is dependent upon the reptile or amphibian you keep. A species from the desert needs a special sort of substrate than a species from the rainforest. It’s also essential to think about your pet’s feeding wants. Substrates may be ingested and trigger impactions and blockages, so using the flawed variety might be harmful.

Simple Substrates vs. Natural Substrates

I have divided generally used herp substrates into two categories: those which might be used because they’re sensible (simple substrates) and people which are organic and enhance the best way a setup appears (natural substrates).

In the perfect state of affairs these two classes overlap and probably the most engaging substrate can also be probably the most sensible, however typically this isn’t the case. You will have to think about the needs of your pet, how typically you propose to wash the cage, how the remainder of the enclosure is about up, and the price involved when deciding what to make use of.

Leap To: Bare-bottom | Paper towels and newspaper |  Reptile carpeting, mats, and liners | Aspen and Carefresh beddings | Moss | Soil blends | Coconut husk fiber | Coconut husk chunks | Fir bark | Cypress mulch |  Leaf litter | Sand | Gravel

Half 1: Simple substrates

Naked backside

Typically you don’t want to use any substrate in any respect. For arboreal species that spend virtually all of their time above ground, a naked backside may be the simplest choice. On this case, a drain is fitted in the backside of the enclosure and the entire cage hosed out with water for straightforward cleaning.

A naked bottom can also be a great choice for many aquatic reptiles and amphibians. Aquatic turtles are particularly well-suited to reside in an aquarium with no substrate.

Execs: straightforward to wash, no danger of animal ingesting substrate

Cons: requires frequent upkeep, doesn’t supply cover or assist keep humidity ranges, might be aesthetically unpleasing

Greatest for: Aquatic turtles like red-eared sliders, cooters and painted turtles, the water section of setups for semi-aquatic amphibians like bullfrogs or leopard frogs, extremely arboreal species like chameleons and certain tree frogs (red-eyes, monkey frogs, and so forth.)

Paper towels and newspaper

Using a layer of paper towels or newspaper is an effective choice for a simple setup as long as you don’t thoughts altering them regularly. They could must be changed as typically as day by day in some situations.

Paper towels are the preferred substrate for many reptiles. For species that need excessive humidity, create humid microclimates in the cage through the use of other moisture retentive substrates, comparable to moss, underneath shelters on prime of paper.

For amphibians, use solely plain paper towels without colors as a result of dyes might be harmful. Additionally, pay close consideration to how moist or dry the paper towels are. Wet, soiled paper towels are a breeding ground for unwanted bacteria and can lead to well being issues.

Paper towels aren’t well-suited for burrowing reptiles or amphibians. Additionally they usually are not the only option for especially giant or lively animals, which can flip a substrate of paper into confetti. For these species, go together with reptile carpeting or mats as an alternative.

Execs: straightforward to wash, inexpensive, hygienic

Cons: have to be changed ceaselessly, might not maintain sufficient moisture for some species, aesthetically unpleasing

Greatest for: Common pet snakes and lizards together with corn snakes, kingsnakes and milk snakes, leopard and crested geckos, and bearded dragons. Can be used for virtually any reptile and works properly for some pet amphibians like White’s tree frogs and young pacman frogs.

Reptile carpeting, mats, liners, and comparable products

Cage carpet is best-suited for reptiles from arid environments

One other simple substrate choice is reptile carpeting and reptile mats. These merchandise are used kind of like newspaper but have the advantage in that they don’t must be thrown away afterwards. As an alternative, it’s greatest to have two items of carpeting or mats in order that when one is dirty it may be changed with a clear one while the opposite is washed and then dried.

Reptile carpeting isn’t suitable for use with amphibians.

Execs: straightforward to wash, extra engaging than newspaper

Cons: requires frequent cleaning, not suitable for species that require a moist or humid surroundings

Greatest for: Pet reptiles when newspaper or paper towels are undesirable.

Aspen Bedding, Carefresh, and other small animal bedding

A ball python and aspen bedding

The most effective substrates for snakes is aspen bedding

The final of the straightforward substrate choices that I feel I ought to mention are beddings sometimes used for guinea pigs, hamsters, mice and different small pets. A few of these substrates are also great options for protecting snakes, notably aspen shavings and bedding produced from recycled paper merchandise resembling Carefresh. Whereas a great choice for snakes, small animal bedding isn’t appropriate for most different reptiles. It also isn’t applicable for amphibians as a result of most small animal bedding spoils when wet. An exception may be using moist recycled paper-based bedding for caecilians.

Execs: absorbent, controls odor, snakes can burrow in it

Cons: spoils if moist (so not good for species that require fixed high humidity)

Greatest for: Snakes!


Phyllobates terribilis on sphagnum moss

Sphagnum moss as a substrate for a juvenile dart frog

Many varieties of moss can be found at pet shops and backyard centers. A few of these are purely decorative—they don’t seem to be to be used as a substrate but somewhat as accents or décor inside a terrarium.

Different mosses are marketed nearly as good substrates for reptiles and amphibians but will not be so. This is especially true of green mosses bought at pet stores in bricks or bales. This green moss tends to mould and is not nearly as good at holding moisture as the most effective type of moss: sphagnum moss.

Sphagnum moss is brown, tan, or pink in colour. It grows in bogs and decays right into a soil additive referred to as peat moss. Sphagnum moss can be used alone as a substrate for many amphibian species and certain lizards. Additionally it is good for putting underneath shelters and hides on prime of different substrates to offer humid microclimates.

To use sphagnum moss as a substrate, take a handful of dry moss and ring it out underneath water. It should take in the water like a sponge. Notice that sphagnum moss is acidic. Because of this, it isn’t an awesome substrate for terrestrial and burrowing amphibians. Sphagnum moss can be ingested and probably trigger impactions. This can be a higher danger if it isn’t stored moist and padded down tightly on the underside of the enclosure.

Execs: holds moisture nicely, creates a damp surroundings, appears natural

Cons: sure kinds of moss spoil easily, might be swallowed and trigger impactions, sphagnum moss is acidic

Greatest for: Frogs and toads. For other pets, place clumps of moist moss across the enclosures to create humid areas.

Soil blends

Quite a few soil mixtures are available at pet shops. There are also soil substrate “recipes” to make your personal from elements out there at backyard facilities. Totally different soils have totally different qualities, so it can be troublesome to guage their suitability for use as a substrate. All the time keep away from soils with rocks, perlite, or vermiculite. Soil blends bought for reptiles and amphibians from pet suppliers are the most secure choice.

Soils work nicely for terrestrial and burrowing species from humid or tropical environments. It is very important pay attention to the moisture content material of soil. Typically it would be best to use a drainage layer of gravel or different materials beneath so the soil doesn’t turn out to be waterlogged in notably humid environments.

Execs: natural appearance, stay crops could be grown instantly in it, long-lasting if not overly moist, can be used to create a tropical terrarium

Cons: if too wet will spoil, some varieties might irritate the pores and skin of certain amphibians (concentrate to what is in it), can probably trigger problems if ingested

Greatest for: Terrestrial frogs, toads, and salamanders, as well as some geckos. Soil is an effective substrate for species that burrow and reside in humid environments.

Coconut husk fiber

A large adult African bullfrog on a substrate of coco fiber

Coconut husk fiber as a substrate for an African bullfrog

Discovered for sale in a dry compressed brick, coconut husk fiber is created from the bottom up fibers of coconuts. These bushy fibers are referred to as coir. When positioned in water, the dry brick expands into a superb substrate for reptiles and amphibians. For those who sustain on spot cleansing, coconut husk fiber doesn’t have to be changed typically. Coconut husk fiber also holds moisture properly. Combine it with different elements like sphagnum moss, sand or soil to create a substrate mix that works for your pet.

Execs: long-lasting, holds moisture properly, doesn’t spoil simply, usually protected if swallowed

Cons: can irritate amphibians if not given time to completely broaden and settle earlier than use, will spoil if saturated with water for prolonged durations

Greatest for: Most species excluding these from dry or arid environments. It’s an particularly good substrate for terrestrial amphibians when used together with sphagnum moss and leaf litter. Also good for terrestrial turtles and tortoises.

Coconut husk chunks

Just like coconut husk fiber, coconut husk chunks are additionally obtainable in a dry compact brick. They include the bushy coconut fibers across the shell of a coconut that haven’t yet been floor.

Coconut husk chunks have comparable properties to coconut husk fiber, but as a result of they’re larger they may be more susceptible to causing problems if ingested so take care with which species you employ coconut husk chunks with. Typically their greatest use is when combined with coconut husk fiber or a soil. When combined with other substrates, coconut husk chunks assist enhance drainage in a tropical terrarium. Additionally they are a more pure wanting various to small animal bedding for many snakes.

Execs: similar as coconut husk fiber, an excellent various to cypress mulch

Cons: potential to be ingested

Greatest for: When used alone, coconut husk chunks are greatest for reptiles. Most snakes, lizards, terrestrial turtles and tortoises that aren’t from dry arid climates stay properly on it. Combine with coco fiber or soil for amphibians.

Leaf litter

Extra typically collected than bought, leaf litter can type the bulk of the substrate for some amphibians and reptiles. It works particularly properly when placed over a soil mixture, coconut husk fiber, or other natural substrate. Stay oak and magnolia leaves are most frequently used.

Leaf litter can be utilized as is, however there’s a danger that pests or infectious illnesses could possibly be introduced with freshly collected leaves.

Dendrobates tinctorius on magnolia leaves in a terrarium

Leaf litter over a soil combination in a vivarium for dart frogs

As an alternative, think about washing leaves beneath scorching water after which letting them air dry in the sun for several days. You can too microwave leaf litter to kill pests.

Execs: pure appearance, supplies cover for small herps, good addition on prime of soil/coco husk fiber

Cons: potential to introduce undesirable pests, illnesses, or chemical pollution reminiscent of herbicides and pesticides

Greatest for: Amphibians, especially salamanders and terrestrial frogs and toads. Leaf litter may be placed over a bare-bottom in tree frog enclosures to enhance the looks of the setup or used on prime of soil or coconut husk fiber in additional conventional amphibian housing.

Fir bark

Fir bark was once the only pure substrate choice marketed particularly for reptiles and amphibians. Typically referred to as by the popular model identify reptibark, fir bark seems to be natural and will help retain humidity in an enclosure. It isn’t applicable for all species, nevertheless, being greatest reserved for use with snakes or certain terrestrial turtles and tortoises from humid environments.

The primary difficulty with fir bark is that it is specific straightforward for amphibians and lizards to by accident ingest while feeding. For my part, coconut husk fiber chunks are often a better choice in virtually all situations, though fir bark can work nicely when combined with soil or coconut husk fiber. On this approach it serves an analogous position as coconut husk chunks, helping break up the substrate and enhancing drainage.

Execs: readily available at pet shops, aesthetically pleasing substrate for snakes

Cons: causes impactions if ingested, doesn’t retain moisture as well as other pure substrates, could be dusty

Greatest for: Fir bark can be used successfully for many snakes and some tortoises, but there are often higher substrate options.

Cypress mulch

Cypress mulch is one other substrate for reptiles and amphibians made out of wooden. Extensively obtainable at pet stores and backyard facilities, cypress mulch works better in moist or humid circumstances than fir bark. It can be used successfully with many amphibians, turtles, tortoises, and lizards.

Sadly, cypress mulch shouldn’t be sourced in a sustainable manner. Cypress logging within the southeast United States damages wetlands and necessary amphibian and reptile habitat.

Execs: withstands wet and humid circumstances, seems natural, doesn’t spoil shortly when wet

Cons: unsustainable wood product

Greatest for: None. As a result of cypress mulch is made in a approach that damages wetlands, it’s best passed by for extra sustainable bark substrates resembling coconut husk chunks.

Sand (calcium sand, play sand, and so forth.)

Fine sand as a substrate for Stenodactylus geckos

Positive sand as a substrate for Stenodactylus geckos

Sand can be utilized alone as a substrate for some reptiles from arid areas. Some individuals use common previous play sand, but be careful to verify it for rocks or debris that would cause issues if ingested. That is particularly necessary for lizards stored on sand.

There are additionally sands produced from calcium carbonate specifically for reptiles. These merchandise are safer to use than sand because if by chance ingested your pet is less more likely to have a problem with impaction.

Sand shouldn’t be used by itself with amphibians, although it can be combined with soils to type a more pure substrate. When added to soil mixtures, sand helps the substrate hold its type.

Execs: pure look for reptiles from arid regions

Cons: quality varies depending on sort and should have to be cleaned, may cause impactions if by chance ingested

Greatest for: Desert reptiles. When combined with soil or coconut husk fiber, sand also can type part of the substrate for geckos, skinks, certain snakes and tortoises, as well as some amphibians.

Gravel, Stones, and Rocks

Many varieties of gravel, rocks, and stones are available for pet reptiles. Be careful when utilizing rocks as a substrate. If swallowed they will be troublesome for your pet to move and will cause an impaction.

To avoid blockages, use stones which might be too giant for your pet to swallow. Many species that may stay properly

Turtles in an aquarium on a gravel substrate

Gravel substrate for aquatic turtles. It is crucial that stones are too giant to be ingested.

on a bare-bottom additionally might be stored on giant stones or river rocks, and these can improve the appearance of the enclosure.

Aquarium gravel should virtually all the time be prevented. The exception is when it is used beneath one other substrate as a drainage layer, or with sure small aquatic species in an aquarium. Do not use small grade gravel with aquatic turtles or giant amphibians, go for the large stuff. The rocks should all the time be too giant to swallow.

Execs: available, natural appearance, can add surface space to aquatic areas to increase room for useful bacteria to develop

Cons: dangerous if swallowed, heavy

Greatest for: Giant river stones and rocks are okay for some tree frogs and aquatic turtles. Most other reptiles and amphibians are greatest stored on other substrates.