Is substrate just personal preference?

Discussion in 'Enclosures, Heating & Lighting' started by Pterodactyl, Oct 19, 2011.

  1. Pterodactyl

    Pterodactyl New Member

    I've doing some researching on different kinds of substrates. Everyone pretty much agrees that bark like substrates are not ideal since they can potentially eat it. Some people don't have an issue using some substrates, while others do. What would you guys suggest as a good substrate?

    JEFFREH Administrator Staff Member

    There are a number of factors to consider when selecting a substrate (somewhat rhetorical, not asking you to answer these, just things to consider):

    1) What is the species?
    • This is an important consideration - herps from a tropical environment will likely fair best in some kind of substrate that retains moisture, while those from a desert environment will fare just fine with something that retains no moisture at all (tiles, shelf-liner, etc).
    • Also, anatomy and metabolism play a role. Bearded dragons have a fairly poorly constructed digestive tract, the way the stomach empties into the intestine greatly intensifies impaction risks. Most juvenile herps also have a hard time passing particulate substrate, even if its quite small.
    2) What is the age of the animal?
    • Small animals = smaller organs. This means a few tiny granuals of sand (etc) can be much more influential to a juvenile than an adult of the same species who has larger organs. Consumption of a few grains of sand to a baby gecko is much more likely to do harm than the same amount consumed by a full grown adult.
    3) How is this animal being fed? What is its feeding behavior?
    • Bearded dragons consume vast quantites of food, which increases their risk of consuming particulate substrates with every bug they swallow. Leopard geckos and some other common species are notorious for having poor aim - diving mouth first into their substrate. Most are smart enough to reject the majority of the substrate, but a few strands or grains can easily be swallowed. If feeding from a bowl, using another container for feeding, etc you reduce risks of ingestion immensely.
    4) What is your skill level at assessing the animal's behavior and health?
    • If you take the risk of using a particulate substrate, are you confident with your abilities to know when things aren't going right? It's important to keep tabs on bowel movements, alertness, behaviour consistency...taking close note of any negative change such as lethargy, constipation and lack of interest in food. These can be signs of impaction from the substrate (or disease in general).
    That being said, I have no problem with some natural substrates. I use particulate substrates for all of my snakes (Aspen shavings) and I use bioactive substrate composed of coir (coconut fiber), peat moss, soil, bark, and sand for my Rhacodactylus geckos. My Bearded Dragon lives on non adhesive shelf liner, and I feel that a non particulate substrate is always best for this species.

    The key is to be responsible. Feed from a bowl, in a separate container, and know your pet. If they are notoriously bad at hitting their target or would readily consume substrate during feeds, its best to avoid a particulate substrate. Its also always best to wait until ANY animal is an adult before using particulate substrate. Prey items also play a factor - for example, I would never feed a silkworm on the ground level to my geckos...they grip the soil and will pull in tons of it with them into the mouth. Mealworms and superworms (zophobas) burrow and are hard to grab by herps without snooping up some bedding.

    -Paper Towel
    -Newspaper (printed or unprinted, the latter prevents ink stain on light colored animals)
    - Non-adhesive shelf liner (not ideal for tropical/humidity loving herps)
    -Slate tile (non-adhesive, also not ideal for tropicals)
    -Cage liners
    -Reptile Carpet (not ideal for those herps with larger claws, loose strands can get stuck)

    My favorites are by far the shelf liner and tile, they can look absolutely phenominal even in naturalistic display, are completely safe, affordable and they are easy to clean.

    -Large Wood Chips/Bark, Cypress mulches (Tropical)
    -Coir (Eco-Earth, Bed-a-Beast, Sani Chips...etc)
    -Washed and Screened Playsand
    -Aspen (Snakes only)
    -Leaf litter (Hardwoods)
    -Carpet type Mosses
    -Potting soil mixes and Sphagnum mosses (No fertilizes, pesticides, perlite, or vermiculite added!)

    Responsibility is needed when using any of these substrates, but they can be used effectively. I'm an advocate for naturalistic vivaria - but we also have to be smart and keep our herp's safety priority #1. I don't recommend these for inexperienced keepers and for juvenile animals and I prefer safer feeding strategies when using them.

    -Calci Sand
    -Crushed Walnut
    -Vermiculite and Perlite
    -Small pebbles/rocks
    -Pine and Cedar (and phenol producing tree)

    These substrates are proven to be lethal... will it happen to 100% of the cases? No. But why jeopardize the life and well-being of the animal to have them on something that looks pretty? Some of these are mislabeled as safe and digestible - I can provide vet documentation and necropsy photos that suggest otherwise.

    All in all - the #1 consideration tends to be impaction: where the reptile consumes substrate and cnnot pass it. Other considerations are overall safety (nothing sharp or hazardous) and what is best for the animal. I wouldn't house a Rhacodactylus or Uroplatus gecko in a viv with sand just like I wouldn't house a Leopard gecko in a viv with coir and sphagnum moss due to their husbandry needs.

    Also - one final rant on sand. Very few species are accustomed to living on it. Its NOT natural... watch a desert dwelling leopard gecko or beardie walk on sand; they clumsily make their way around. Those who have adapted to life on sand have feet with larger surface area - like Namibian Web-Footed geckos. If you want to make a naturalistic environment for your reptile, research where they come from and what they live on and go from there. There is nothing wrong with making naturalistic vivaria for you herp if you know what your doing!

    Hope that helps some! = )
    glendalk, Rhianne, Cammy and 2 others like this.
  3. Pterodactyl

    Pterodactyl New Member

    That helped a lot more than just some. That has to be the best explanation I have found as of yet as to the differences between all the substrates. This will definitely help me :)
  4. Pterodactyl

    Pterodactyl New Member

    Also, I just received a 29 gallon aquarium that didn't come with a hood or a screen. I want to get a regular screen for it but most that I've found are ones that slide onto the top. Do they make screen lids that just sit on the top of an aquarium?

    JEFFREH Administrator Staff Member

    Yes, there should screen lids available that are hinged in the middle. This allows you to either remove the the entire top or just lift up one half or the other to access the contents of the enclosure. I know for a fact you can get this kind of 29 gallon's as I've used one before... I assume by sliding you meant the screen tops that slide open and lock halfway longways across the enclosure (I've never been a fan of that kind either). <-- this one should sit on the top, unhinged

    This one is hinged in the middle, allowing access from one half or the other (or can be liften off entirely). I tend to prefer this type at
    These are clips for the above brand, they are particularly useful for animals that are strong enough to push the lid up. You can also place some kind of weight on top of the lid.

    lllreptile also has lids for 20 gallon long and 29 gallon aquariums that are not hinged and just sit on top. The 29 gallon and 20 gallon 'long' aquariums both have the same footprint, 30" x 12". The 29 gallon is just 6" taller.

    Hope this helps some! = )
    Edit: Totally just now realized this was in the beardie forum - I thought it was in enclosures lol. Could have made this post less elaborate and tailored to beardie needs alone but... oh well! The more you know! =D

    **I've moved this to the "Enclosures, Heating, & Lighting" forum and its been stickied there as this can be a useful general substrate tool for anyone (and any herp). I'm leaving a permanent redirect in the Beardie forum though.**
  6. Pterodactyl

    Pterodactyl New Member

    It never hurts to have too much information lol and yes, I was referring to the ones that slid in and locked in longways. The tank I have doesn't even have a way for one of those to work, which was why I needed one that just sort of sits on it. Thanks for the links!! And I totally goofed not originally posting this in this thread the first time. It was a long day for me yesterday :)

Share This Page