Question: What is the best substrate for ball pythons (or for any snake for that matter)?
In this article I am going to give my review and opinion on 5 different substrate options you could use for your ball python, boa, corn snake, king snake, etc.
I am all about NATURAL SUBSTRATES! The best substrate for ball pythons in my opinion is either aspen or coconut husk. If you own a different species of snake, you may find another substrate on this page to be beneficial.
Here are the 5 Snake Substrates I review in the article:
What is the Best Substrate for Ball Pythons and Other Captive Snakes- VIDEO:
Brands/ Where to Buy:
The most common brand available is Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding.There are other brands of “pet” aspen bedding widely available as well but the nice thing about the Zoo Med product is it is designed for snake use.
The issue with “general use” aspen bedding, i.e. bedding that is made for rodents, birds, etc. is that the chips are much larger (could potentially lead to digestion issues if swallowed), and they tend to be quite dusty.
Zoo Med Aspen Snake Beddingis “double shredded” for smaller chips (can safely pass through digestive system if they happen to ingested, this needs to still be avoided!) and they have also removed all of the dust!
Aspen has a nice, natural “woody” scent
It absorbs waste well
Its texture and size make it a great substrate for burrowing animals
It is very light in color— this may seem like a random “pro” so let me explain. The light color makes it very easy to spot your snakes waste in the enclosure. Spot checking is much quicker with aspen when compared to darker substrates (the waste sticks out like a sore thumb!)
Messy! No matter how careful you are… you will need to vacuum or sweep your floor on cleaning day. The light weight aspen will find its way to the floor no matter what!
If aspen is left damp for a long period of time it will grow mold
Aspen is often considered the best substrate for ball pythons, boas, corn snakes, king snakes, hognose… well pretty much any kind of snake! This is totally subjective but I definitely recommend trying it out to see what you think! This is a great substrate if you are looking for something natural looking (and smelling) and will give your animal something to burrow through.
I would only advice against using it in very humid enclosures, for example I wouldn’t use it for my Brazilian Rainbow boa.
Brands/ Where to Buy:
There are many different brands of coconut husk available on the market, and it really comes down to your personal preference. A few of the popular pet brands are:
Repti-Chip(I have not tired Repti-Chip but I always hear it advertised on Herp Nation Radio)
This substrate is highly absorbent! It does a great job of not only absorbing liquids but also smells too.
Like most coconut products, coconut husk is anti-bacteria/microbial meaning you do not need to worry about mold growing on the substrate.
Coconut husk is made of fairly large “chips”. Because of this I am always extra careful when feeding my snakes on this substrate, as swallowing a large piece of substrate could cause digestive issues. On occasion one of my animals will ingest some coconut husk… It has never caused a problem but I still try and avoid it.
Due to its size it in not the best substrate for burrowing
I highly recommend coconut husk as a snake substrate for pretty much any snake you own (ball python, boa, corn, etc.). Is it the best substrate for ball pythons or other snakes? Again, it is up to personal preference. I love coconut husk and it is pretty much all I use for my boas (although right now they are on a aspen/coconut husk mix). Here is a reason you might not want to use it:
Due to its coconut husk’s color and amazing ability to absorb smells and waste it can actually make spot checking a little more challenging as your snakes waste is camouflaged better (both visually and scent-wise). Now this is hardly a “con” but it you have many animals to check on, you might gravitate towards a lighter color substrate (such as aspen) so you can more easily see your snakes waste.
Brands/ Where to Buy:
The only brand of cypress mulch I have found locally is Zoo Med Forest Floor, although you might be able to find better deals on Amazonfor other popular brands. You can also find cypress mulch at your local gardening store but make sure it contains CYPRESS MULCH ONLY, some contain pine and cedar chips which are toxic to your animal.
Cypress mulch is the go-to substrate if you need a bump in your humidity. When cypress mulch is bagged it begins to go through a decomposition process, this process releases moisture from the wood chips. You will notice when you first open a fresh bag, the chips are very damp.
Luckily cypress mulch is very resistant to mold growth so the heavy moisture level is not an issue.
Initially, cypress mulch will induce a humidity spike in your enclosure. Although, over time cypress mulch will dry out. After that you can mist down cypress mulch every few days to try and re-hydrate it, as it holds onto moisture quite well…although it will never be as wet as it is right out of the bag.
I would not consider cypress mulch as an ideal burrowing substrate as it is not easily dug through (without feet and claws that is!).
The chips size is variable but some pieces are very large, and rather sharp. This is another substrate I am very careful when feeding on.
Cypress mulch is not the best substrate for ball pythons, as most likely it would provide more humidity than you require. However, cypress mulch is a fantastic substrate for other snakes, especially humidity living animals such as rainbow boas.
This is another GREAT smelling substrate too, it will give your animal’s enclosure a nice “woody” scent and provides some awesome environmental enrichment.
Brands/ Where to Buy:
Coconut fiber is the last natural substrate I am covering in this article. The brand I use is Eco Earth Loose Coconut Substrate. You can find it in both a “loose” form and “compressed” form. The loose stuff is definitely easier to work with as the compressed stuff needs to be soaked first. This is another subsrate you may be able to find in a gardening store: Kempf Compressed Coco Fiber.
Due to coconut fibers “soil like” texture it makes for a great burrowing substrate!
Again, just like coconut husk, coconut fiber is highly absorbent of snake waste (including smell).
Its high surface area allows it to retain much more moisture than coconut husk
This is a messy substrate! When it is dry it gets everywhere and is actually quite dusty which is a definite downside.
This is a snake substrate that I would again reserve for animals that require higher humidity, i.e. I wouldn’t rank it as the best substrate for ball pythons, and would actually recommend against using it for any snake that doesn’t require elevated humidity. Again it is quite messy and retains quite a lot of moisture. Used on its own is usually more work that its worth (gets in water dishes etc.) although, I have come up with a good solution:
I am currently using a blend of cypress mulchand Eco Earth for my Brazilian Rainbow boa. I find the cypress mulch contains the mess of the Eco Earth and the Eco Earth allows for more opportunity to burrow than the cypress mulch would have to offer on its own.
PAPER TOWEL/ NEWSPAPER
Paper towel and newspaper are probably the most frequent substrate recommendations, however, are they actually the best substrate for ball pythons or other snakes?
I think NOT! Although they can still play an important role in your animal’s care.
There are two scenarios (actually maybe 3) when I would consider paper towel to be the best substrate for ball pythons and other captive snakes. The scenarios are:
Each of these scenarios require you as the caregiver to observe your animal more closely and more carefully. Eliminating the variable of substrate can be highly beneficial when monitoring an animal’s health.
If you are not using paper towel in one of the 3 scenarios listed above, I highly recommend against using it!
Paper towel provides no enrichment for your animal. They can’t dig through it, burrow under it, or smell it. When they slither over it, it provides zero environmental feed back.
Many claim paper towel/ newspaper to be the “easiest” and “quickest” substrate to use, clean and maintain. I totally disagree with that! Unlike the natural substrates listed above, paper towel allows for urates and waste to spread across a much larger area as it is not capable of absorbing as much liquid.
I find the mess from your snake’s waste is much less contained (smell included!) and requires a much larger clean up.
All in all it is a boring substrate to use. As animal owners we can do much more to provide a more enriching environment for our captive animals! There is plenty of research showing, environmental enrichment leads to healthier animals… I find that very easy to believe, I hope you do too!