If you’re new to the world of pet ball pythons, then you may be wondering, “What is a substrate and why does my ball python need it?“
In simple words, a substrate is the flooring of a ball python enclosure. Just like how you have a carpet, wood flooring or tiles in your house, your ball python, too, needs the right bedding for its enclosure. A substrate plays a key part in maintaining humidity levels in the ball python’s cage.
A substrate is a crucial component in keeping good husbandry, which has a significant impact on the lifespan of a ball python. So, one of the most important aspects of setting up your ball python’s habitat will be to pick the RIGHT substrate.
There are a number of ball python substrate options available in the market that can confuse even the most ardent snake keepers.
The type, source, and depth of the substrate have a significant impact on your ball python’s health and wellbeing.
So, if you’re searching for some advice on which ball python substrate is right for you, this post is for you. We will be reviewing some of the best bedding options for ball pythons.
Best Ball Python Substrates
You cannot simply use any substrate for your ball python. Some options are perfectly safe to use while others should be avoided at all costs. Here’s a list of fine choices of substrates for ball pythons.
1. Coconut Husk
The coconut husks known as “Coco Husk” are known as the best substrate for the ball python. Its suitable not only for ball pythons but many other snakes.
There are several reasons for this recommendation, one being the capability of coconut husk to absorb moisture. Coconut substrate provides a suitable humidity level to the ball python, which is the closest to nature.
It isn’t a great choice of the substrate if your ball python loves to mine in the soil; the large husk chunks do not allow the python to dig in.
The antimicrobial nature of coco husks makes them resistant to the growth of mites and fungus. However, at times, this substrate can have some mites or parasites.
This is the most expensive substrate costing around 20-30$ on an average scale for one large bag of coco husks. It absorbs odors and is easy to clean because of the large chunks of coconut. The dark color of these chunks makes it harder to check everything that came in contact with your ball python.
You can get this from a local pet or reptile specialty shop as this substrate is sold by volume instead of weight. You can even order this substrate online. As far as the aesthetics are concerned, the coco husk is a beautiful substrate with a very natural appearance and would give excellent contrast to a light-colored morph.
Finally, as the coco husk is made of large chunks of coconut, your ball python might end up ingesting them, and that can result in impaction. You can avoid this by placing a paper towel or a newspaper on top of the substrate as you feed your ball python.
- Perfectly safe for use with ball pythons
- Lowest sodium and potassium levels
- Easy to use
- Attractive and holds humidity well.
- The antimicrobial nature keeps the mites, parasites, and molds away from growing.
- Provides an excellent close-to-nature look to the enclosure for your ball python.
- Helps maintain optimal humidity levels for snakes.
- Suitable for a baby ball python.
- Coco husk is an expensive substrate, and you need to visit a specialty store to buy it.
- The large chunks could be ingested by the pet python, causing ingestion.
- Doesn’t allow burrowing because of the large coconut chunks.
2. BioActive Soil
Bioactive soil is a great substrate for ball pythons. This substrate allows you to make beautiful landscapes as a close imitation of nature inside the enclosure. This soil is an excellent absorbent, holds the moisture, and maintains the humidity level inside the enclosure. However, it does require occasional misting. It also allows the ball python to burrow, which is a great engagement for your pet.
Soil consists of natural decomposers and can handle any kind of mites, parasites, and molds that come in contact with the substrate. The price of this substrate is very high, ranging from 50$-100$ on average, but if maintained properly, you don’t have to change it now and then.
The bioactive soil also helps in self-cleaning the wastes because of the decomposers inside the soli. These decomposers help to reduce the waste such as ball python waste and even the skin shed.
It is the most natural-looking substrate and provides excellent aesthetics, where you can even add live plants to the python’s enclosure.
You can purchase a pre-made mix of bioactive soil from a specialty shop or buy individual ingredients to make your mix.
Finally, the bioactive soil can cause impaction if your ball python ingests it, depending totally on the size of chunks of the mixture that you’re putting in the enclosure.
- Low risk of bacterial disease
- Natural Appearance 4
- Easy to use
- Provides a natural look to the enclosure.
- Offers a self-cleaning process with the decomposers inside the soil.
- An excellent moisture absorber and maintains the level of humidity.
- Allows burrowing to keep your ball python engaged in its biological activity.
- Very expensive
- It can cause impaction if ingested by the ball python.
3. Coconut Fiber
Another good substrate choice for ball pythons is coconut fiber. This ball python bedding is made of finely ground coconut shells, creating dense, light, or fluffy fibrous soil depending on the dampness of the fiber. It retains moisture well, maintains the humidity in the enclosure, and allows the ball python to burrow whenever it likes.
This snake bedding allows limited airflow because it is dense, which reduces the chances of mold growth. The coconut fiber is antifungal and thus reduces the chances of fungal growth.
A perk of this ball python substrate is its moderate price ranging from 10$ to 20$ for a large bag. The substrate is also available in compressed chunks that are more economical and expand on hydration.
Cleaning coconut fiber substrate is challenging, and even changing the substrate required time because of its sticky nature.
Coconut fiber gives a natural aesthetic look to the enclosure, but the risk of ingestion is high. However, the microscopic dirt-like particles are very unlikely to cause impaction.
- Ideal for reptiles, amphibians or invertebrates inclusing ball pythons
- Naturally absorbs and breaks down odor and waste products
- All natural green” product”
- Pack of 2
- Good moisture absorbers and maintains the humidity level.
- Reduces the growth of molds and fungus because of its antifungal property.
- Suitable for burrowing.
- Doesn’t cause impaction.
- Provides a suitable aesthetic for your ball python.
- Good at absorbing foul odors inside the pet snake’s tank
- Challenging to clean and change this substrate.
- High risk of ingestion.
- Can get stuck in your ball python’s heat pits.
4. Cypress Mulch
Another great snake bedding option is cypress mulch. It is often used in landscaping and gardening and is made of ground-up chunks of cypress bark and wood.
Cypress mulch is very moist and excellent at retaining moisture, hence maintaining the humidity inside the pet’s enclosure. However, regular misting is required as this substrate may dry out after some time.
The cypress material is naturally moist and thus is useful when your ball python has trouble shedding.
However, cypress mulch has large particles and is not an ideal substrate for ball pythons that like to burrow.
The pieces of this substrate are big and sharp; its ingestion can cause impaction, which can be avoided by feeding your ball python on a newspaper or paper towel.
Cypress mulch’s antimicrobial nature prevents the growth of molds, mites, and parasites in the substrate. The cost of this substrate range from 15-30$ on average, and you can purchase it from a garden supply store. However, when you’re buying this substrate, ensure to purchase cypress mulch with no additives, as additives such as fertilizers and cedar can be harmful to your ball python.
Cleaning this substrate is a challenging task, and sometimes you’re even unable to identify the time when your pet python defecates. The wooden pieces provide a very natural look to the enclosure.
- 100% natural cypress mulch terrarium substrate.
- Natural “forest floor” look while retaining moisture to provide humidity to the enclosure.
- Preferred terrarium substrate for many species of snakes including snakes
- Holds humidity well.
- Antimicrobial nature prevents molds, mite, and parasite growth and absorbs foul odor.
- Provides a natural appearance inside the snake’s enclosures.
- It is challenging to clean because of large chunks of cypress.
- The large and sharp pieces of cypress can cause impaction if ingested by the ball python.
- Doesn’t allow burrowing.
Aspen is a good option for short-term use. It doesn’t provide effective moisture absorption or maintenance of humidity levels and can even dry out the air inside the snake’s enclosure. If you live in a very humid climate, aspen can work as a way to decrease moisture.
It can allow your ball python to burrow depending on the size of the aspen shavings and are very cost-effective. The substrate gives a semi-natural look to the enclosure.
The reason I rarely recommend aspen is because it’s not capable of holding humidity. The large size of shavings, if ingested by the ball python, can also cause impaction.
Ball pythons aspen shavings are easy to clean of all other substrates; however, changing it can be a little messy as the lightweight shaving floats away, easily creating a mess all over the place. In addition to this, the substrate is very exposed to molds if it is left damp for a long time. It also allows the growth of mites and other mites.
- All naturalL aspen bedding made from pure wood
- Good for burrowing
- Odorless and dustless which means it’s Non-Allergenic!
- Easy to clean
- Allows burrowing depending on the size of shavings.
- Very affordable substrate option.
- Easy to spot-clean
- Easily available for purchase in online stores and markets.
- Provides a semi-natural look to the enclosure.
- Larger shavings can get stuck in your ball python’s mouth and can cause impaction.
- It doesn’t absorb moisture or help maintain the humidity level
- Very exposed to fungal and parasitic growth.
- Changing this substrate can be messy because of the lightweight of the shavings.
6. Paper Towels, Butcher Block Paper, Pine Shavings, and Newspaper
These three substrates are easy to maintain, cost-effective, and provide a simple aesthetic to the enclosure. Although paper can absorb moisture, it does not help impact the enclosure’s humidity. It also doesn’t provide chances of burrowing to the ball python, as he can’t dig in a sheet of paper.
As the substrate is made of paper sheets, it is easy to clean and utterly resistant to the growth of parasites, molds, and mites. The substrate can be purchased anywhere and is one of the cheapest substrates for the enclosure of your ball python.
Using a simple paper substrate for ball pythons will help avoid any accidental ingestion and impaction. However, it isn’t visually appealing and far from the imitation of nature.
- Tested and approved as safe and non-toxic for food-grade use
- Unwaxed and uncoated
- 100% natural pure virgin pulps
- Safe to use, as it doesn’t allow the growth of mites, parasites, and molds.
- Easy to clean.
- Paper bedding is easy to replace.
- Zero risks of ingestion and impaction.
- Readily available and very cheap to purchase.
- Not a good absorbent of moisture.
- Doesn’t allow burrowing.
- Doesn’t give a natural look to the enclosure.
Ball Python Substrates to Avoid
Now that you know which substrates are recommended for the ball python, you must also know the substrate that should be avoided at any cost.
You might come across a few substrates and even purchase them mistakenly without knowing the consequences; these substrates can be harmful to your ball python and affect the reptile’s health.
Ball pythons come from the African grasslands and rainforest, where the soil is very moist and the humidity level is higher. In captivity, ball pythons require the same moist bedding where they can burrow and move freely.
Sand is a very dry substrate, as it doesn’t retain moisture, promotes the growth of mold, and can cause impaction if ingested by the python. So you must avoid sand as a substrate for your ball python’s enclosure.
2. Pine and Cedar Shavings
This substrate, although, seems natural and effective for the ball python, yet can be very harmful to your reptile’s health. It produces toxic oil and other compounds in the air that can directly cause respiratory irritation and neurological damage to your ball python.
Cedar contains volatile oils known as phenols that can cause respiratory infections and skin damage in ball pythons and other caged animals.
The gravel can be very dangerous to the health of your ball python because of being easily ingestible. The pieces of gravel can cause impaction right away and don’t absorb odor or moisture at all.
4. Artificial Outdoor Carpet
This also releases harmful components in the air that can affect the respiration and neural system of the ball python. In addition to this, the substrate is not absorbent and can get very messy because of python defecations.
This substrate starts wearing out after a few washes, which means that you’ve wasted your money.
5. Recycled Fiber Fluff and Pellet Products
This substrate is not comfortable for your ball python and can create dust that dries out the air. It is not suitable for burrowing and can cause impaction if ingested.
What to Look for When Buying Substrate for a Ball Python
There are a few things that you must consider while choosing the best substrate for your ball python. Keeping these factors in mind will help you come up with the best decision for your reptile pet. Following is a list of the parameters, with each of them, explained in detail.
1. Water Retention and Effect on Humidity
The origin of a ball python is from African grasslands and forests where humidity is very high compared to other areas. So, when choosing a substrate, you must consider the impact that it can have on the humidity level inside the enclosure. The dry and rough substrate will hurdle the burrowing process and keep the ball python’s environment dry.
As much as ball pythons enjoy humidity, too much moisture in their substrate can be harmful. If a snake’s skin is constantly moist, it can become infected by bacteria and fungi. This can lead to diseases such as scale rot and infectious dermatitis, which can be deadly for ball pythons.
The ball pythons have a habit of burrowing in the ground in the wild, although not common, yet some of these reptiles enjoy burrowing. So, you must consider the hardness and softness of the substrate that you’re planning to put in the enclosure. The loose substrate will keep this reptile happy and healthy in its cage.
3. Fungal and Parasite Risk
Few substrates are very open and inviting for the growth of molds and parasites in high humidity levels. While choosing a substrate, you must ensure to avoid any of this kind.
Of course, you’re looking for an affordable snake substrate, so the next thing you need to consider while buying a substrate is the cost of the bedding you intend to purchase. The price may range from 1-50$ every time you clean the enclosure of your ball python.
The substrate must be easy to clean, or you’ll spend hours sitting and cleaning the enclosure of your pet.
The aesthetics of the ball python’s substrate is your personal preference. Housing the ball python in any suitable enclosure or substrate won’t make any difference, yet a display enclosure requires more effort.
7. Ingestion and Impaction Risk
When choosing a bedding for your ball python, make sure to choose the one with minimum risk of impaction. Some loose substrates may result in impaction if consumed by your python.
Frequently Asked Questions
It is essential to clean the substrate as frequently as possible, as the ball pythons create a great mess in the enclosure while passing out the waste. The substrate must be replaced monthly or once every quarter, depending on the need of the time.
Potting soil is safe for Ball Pythons if it has been sterilized and cleared from any harmful germs. Sterilization is usually done through baking to make sure it doesn’t contain mites, parasitic worm ova, or other pests and fungi.
Reptile carpet, all in all, is not a good choice of substrate for a ball python. It is unhygienic, and hard to clean. It doesn’t help hold any humidity (unless misted). It will also start smelling after a few days of use.
Ball Python humidity might range from 55 to 60 percent depending on your morph. When the tank becomes too hot, mist it every night, relocate the water bowl underneath the heater mat, or cover 75% of the screen with aluminium foil.
Ball pythons prefer to live in warm and humid environments. The most effective substrate for retaining humidity in the enclosure may help achieve the desired humidity. Your ball python would thrive in a substrate like cypress mulch.
Coconut fiber is okay substrate that comes with its own limitations and drawbacks. Its a cheap substrate option but presents many health risks such as ingestion. It can also get stuck in your ball python’s heat pits.
The forest floor bedding is another great natural choice for your Ball python. This is a natural cypress mulch that gives tanks a forest-like appearance. It efficiently retains water, lowering humidity, and it can be expanded over a large area.
Ball pythons substrates should be deep enough to support their burrowing activities. Normally substrates are 2.5-3 inches deep.
Aspen shavings can generally be quite useful in ball python habitat where humidity is high. It’s a relatively dry substrate that helps lower humidity within an enclosure. Use it only in high humidity areas.
Your ball pythons need a safe, natural substrate that will not introduce harmful toxins to their home.
Choosing a substrate for your ball python is a tricky business; however, using some simple tips, you’ll just be able to get the right one for your reptile pet. While buying a substrate, consider its ability to absorb and hold moisture, safety in terms of ingestion, and how prone it is to mites and molds.
You must also consider your budget and then buy a cost-effective substrate that is easy to clean, convenient to purchase, and aesthetic in appearance. Do not fall for the claims of any substrate; instead, use your witts to select the appropriate one for your reptile.
Finally, don’t rush; take your time! Choosing the substrate greatly impacts the life and health of your ball python, so be patient throughout the process. It will help you select the best substrate for your ball python.