Substrate, why?

OK, I’m admittedly relatively new to this game, and slightly embarrassed to ask this question. Simply put: Why any substrate?

I understand the benefits of humidity control, ability to clean, and possibly some roughage for shedding. I there’s newspaper, or something to make cleaning easier, and the temps/humidity are good am I worried about substrate after that??

Thanks in advance for being patient with me. In all my research I have not found reasons other than those outlined above for substrate.

For reference (and the record in case I get torched here), my tubs all have newspaper on the very bottom, then just enough coconut husk to bring up the humidity-like a small handful typically. The AC in the room keeps the ambient humidity around 35%, so I find the coconut husk helpful, but I do not need much, like a handful in each tub gets me to 50-60%. Thermostats, hydrometers, heat strips on each tubs shelf, and infrared gun all in use as well.

I do keep one BP in a terrarium in the main house (vs the finished basement). This one gets a bit more coco husk just to cover the glass bottom with no newspaper. Honestly, no real reason why other than aesthetics.

Am I missing anything? Is less more if the rest of the husbandry is in line?



Some people find particle substrate like mulch or Coco chips to be better for a number of reasons. Better humidity, easier for the snakes to crawl on and burrow into, easier to clean, absorbs odour, absorbs liquid waste, looks nicer and probably other reasons as well.

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I feel like you can answer this better than I @stewart_reptiles

I’m in the school of your last statement, less is more… I’ve strictly used newspaper for about 15 years …with the exception of dames about to lay eggs on cypress to give them a nest… at this stage I allow them to lay on the tub floor or on their newspaper…
I feel it’s superior for a multitude of reasons.
First off I don’t ‘spot clean’, this leads to much stricter, cleaner enclosures. Newspaper doesn’t mask odors or wick all moisture so Every time an animal urinates or defectates they get a substrate replacement because I can smell it and see it. This could be every day for a hatchling that is on a short feeding schedule or a week for an adult female that is developing with very little waste output. Utilizing newspaper also allows you to see what’s going on with breeding or any anomalies Comparable to using paper towel.
I also don’t have to amp up my hotspot to permeate the substrate to be suitable 1-2” above the hotspot and there is no threat of a male/female getting into 90degree temps. My males are set to a suitable temp for ‘cold sperm’ theory and my adult females are set to a temp thats suitable for them to lay on and maternally incubate until I get to them.
I think I can go on with a bunch of good reasons why I use it With success but I will note if I wasn’t in south Florida with good natural humidity my standard may be different… I usually can adjust humidity just with water bowl size within my tub…If I need a little humidity I can simply spray or spill my water bowl for a period of time without threat of mold are the other pitfalls of using wood substrate. If relative humidity is low it will wick before there’s any threat of these pathogens…Or I can simply pull it and replace it…Which isn’t really cost-effective if you’re using something like a triple milled cypress. I start hatchlings on paper towel so I can see everything that’s going on and then after a few meals they go right to a single layer of newspaper…Large females and other adults might have three or four layers of newspaper…And I might offer a bunch more for a female that’s nesting in the form of balled up newspaper… This is my best way!
I also have some specific folds that I use in hatchling tubs specifically shoebox and v18s That offers the security and simulates Hides…Eliminating the need for molded hides in my enclosures once they are adults… for the past 10 yearsimage|666x500


First, I would say that I agree with wickedfairymagic 100%. Especially if your primary goal is breeding then there is really no need for other substrates. But many of us keep our snakes as pets and breeding is a secondary consideration so the aesthetics of the cage matter too. Even when I was doing a lot of breeding, my wife would only tolerate minimalist type set ups in my reptile room, for the cages in other parts of the house (they were everywhere!) she did not want it to “look like a breeding facility” so those cages got substrate and bowls that looked like rocks and other niceties. Aesthetically pleasing cages also helped keep the kids interested in the animals and even had non-herp oriented visitors begrudgingly admitting that they might like a “set-up like that” in their own home. So I guess the point is that even if substrate does not necessarily make the snake any healthier or happier the human aspect of the hobby matters as well. After all if humans don’t enjoy the experience the herps won’t have a place to live.


Thanks all. I seem to be on the same page with everyone. I just wanted to be sure I wasn’t missing anything.

I see substrate recipes, and lots of debates over what to use, etc… That all made me think I was overlooking something.

I’ll continue to keep it simple. As usual, that’s often the best answer.


just substrate i would agree with you all, i just wanted to chime in that some individuals enjoy having bioactive habitats, where the substrate is more for the ecosystem and inverts than it is for the snakes, and the bio and inverts help with the cleaning, which is good for the snake. If your tank is not bioactive, then yes, basically astetics and humidity control.

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There’s also the question of enrichment, which is adding to an animal’s environment in a way that is meaningful to the animal’s genetic and behavioural needs and addresses species-specific needs. When keeping animals in captivity it’s important to provide them with enrichment to lower stress and promote behaviors that are natural to the species. It’s why animals in zoos are given toys, food that they have to “hunt” for, why it’s important to let dogs sniff on walks, etc and so forth. Even the laboratory mice I work with are required to have enrichment, we give them packs of stuff to make nests with.

Personally I think the idea of keeping a snake in a tub with only a bowl of water and newspaper as bedding is borderline inhumane because you are giving them little/no forms of enrichment. I’m currently in the process of switching to rack system from tanks and will still be providing substrate, hides, branches in the tubs for enrichment. Yes it does take more work to maintain and clean, but I really value my animal’s mental wellbeing as well as physical, and want to give them the opportunity to engage in natural species specific behavior as much as possible.


Well I have been summoned

I can tell you what I do and why and when I do it and do so without judgement like some people do.

So for me substrate comes down to a few things

First goals and expectations, if you have a large number of animals vs a pet you may not keep them the same way, second it will depend on the species and life stages and third your ability to provide proper humidity without or without that substrate (obviously people in AZ will have more difficulties than people in GA)

Since I breed Ball Pythons (among other things) I like to keep them in an environment that allows fast and throughout cleaning every time it is cleaned, I also like not to have issues like pieces of bedding getting in the wrong places especially with males when they retract their hemipenes (rare but it happens) so I use Kraft indented paper with my adults, now if I have to go out of town for a week I will use Coco Chips type bedding for it’s abortion since I am not there for daily maintenance.

Hatchlings I like to promote security so I use coco chips or aspen, it allows them to bury themselves and get that added security hatchlings need.

Now if I had BP as pets only I would likely keep them on coco chips bedding year round maybe even in a bioactive setup.

So ultimately do what is safe and what works for you and your animals.


That is a good point, though i was sticking to the topic if substraight itself and not the whole tub rack system. An enclosure can have hides, leaves, branches, basking shelfs, etc, but still have no substrate and i feel that would be fine dor enrichment. However, if there is no other enrichment, haveing substrate to dig through could be a form of enrichment in itself and something to think about. Mind you i use substrate (cypress) for my enclosures, so im not bashing using it haha, i was just trying to think about what pros substrate would have by itself :slight_smile: