What’s the Best Bedding for Snakes?
What’s the best bedding for snakes?
People choose various substrates to keep their snakes on for different reasons. In some case, it’s a matter of aesthetics, while others offer convenient and quick cleanup. Some choose a certain substrate for its ability to hold moisture and increase humidity in a safe, natural way.
All substrates have their pros and cons and no single substrate is perfect for every single situation. Different husbandry goals require different methods. Unfortunately, some substrates come with a high risk of injury or even death.
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It’s important to have an idea about these risks before deciding on what substrate you choose for your snake, or other reptiles for that matter.
Common substrates used by snake keepers
While not my first choice in choosing a substrate for a snake enclosure, it’s one of my favorites. It has a nice smell, is fairly easy to spot clean, and most importantly, it holds humidity for certain species that need such conditions.
While it is possible for larger snakes or lizards to accidentally ingest pieces while eating, the edges aren’t as sharp as the bedding I’ll be covering next. Therefore, ingesting some shouldn’t damage the intestines of the animal. I’ve yet to hear of such a case. It’s also aesthetically pleasing. This is my third choice as a substrate for reptiles with specific needs.
Cypress mulch is great for holding humidity, even better so than bark-style substrates. The problem with cypress mulch is that thin sharp pieces of wood are found throughout the mulch. This causes major issues if accidentally swallowed by a snake or lizard.
A monitor lizard has the best chance of surviving such an incident but there’s not much you can do for a snake. I’m speaking from experience here. In the mid-’90s, I worked at a pet shop for the second time in my life.
A ribbon snake accidentally swallowed a long, sharp piece of mulch which became lodged in its throat. There was no way of helping the snake and it was very sad to see. It also appeared extremely painful. This is why I don’t personally recommend cypress mulch, especially for smaller snakes.
I also don’t recommend buying cypress mulch from your local home improvement center or nursery store. This is because mulch from these places has all sorts of bugs. There is a way to solve this though.
Safely getting rid of bugs from mulch without using pesticide
Take a cookie sheet and completely cover it with tin foil. Then, place the mulch on the covered cookie sheet. Cover the mulch with another sheet of tinfoil. Place the cookie sheet in the oven for twenty minutes at 225°F. This kills anything that was living in the mulch including any eggs. Use oven mitts to handle hot cookie sheets. Allow plenty of time for cooling and don’t burn yourself.
I still recommend against using mulch but sometimes a large feeding dish placed in the enclosure lessens accidental ingestion of sharp wooden splinters. Just make sure to keep the bowl completely clean of any mulch.
Coconut husk nuggets
Coconut husk nuggets are my second choice of substrate for snakes. It is my first choice for keeping monitor lizards on. This is because these bits are easily passed if accidentally ingested. They also hold humidity better than any other substrate previously mentioned.
When this substrate becomes excessively moistened, beneficial bacteria grows that breaks down waste and keeps the enclosure from smelling bad. I used it with both my savannah monitor and my Argus monitor. It’s the only substrate I use when keeping monitor lizards. I also like the look of coconut husk nuggets. While I don’t presently keep any of my snakes on it, I would if the need came about.
Paper towels are my first choice as bedding for most of my snakes. I say “the majority” and not “all” because paper towels don’t work in every single situation. They certainly don’t work for lizards unless they’re hatchlings and you’re trying to avoid impaction from placing them on the sand too early.
I like paper towels because they’re easy to clean and replace. They also don’t have an odor. Paper towels are also absorbent of soiled areas. In my opinion, paper towels look fine in a snake enclosure, yet I can understand why people may disagree since there is a lack of aesthetic value.
Paper towels are also flexible. I usually lay three sheets down on top of one another so the snake can hide between them. This often eliminates the need for a hide box in certain situations.
On the downside
Paper towels are somewhat expensive, though just as expensive as other commercially available reptile substrates. They also must be taken up when they become wet. Sometimes, snakes knock over their water bowls. It’s not good to allow wet towels to stay in the enclosure for an extended period.
In some cases, when utilizing heat tape, the towels dry out completely before I notice the water bowl tipped over. If this happens often, use a large, heavy plastic water bowl to prevent tipping.
Other negative points on using paper towels as bedding include that they’re not great for achieving higher humidity levels. There are, however, ways around this. You can create a humidity chamber.
Create a humidity chamber
Simply take a plastic shoebox keeping the top on while creating a hole in the side so the snake can easily enter or exit. Bed down the floor of the humidity box with moistened vermiculite or better yet, sphagnum moss. This helps the snake when it’s getting ready to shed or if it simply needs a little moisture without soaking in its water bowl.
When I have a problem with poor-shedding, I use wet paper towels in a similar humidity box, only while this box is also covered, there’s no entry/exit point. I place the shoebox over the heat tape for added warmth and humidity and the snake sheds completely on its own every time. I always use plain white paper towels without coloring and without added scents or chemicals.
Aspen bedding is still popular among snake keepers. I don’t like it. It gets in the water bowl too easily. Aspen bedding is also nasty when wet. Definitely change out any dampened aspen bedding immediately. Mold may result otherwise.
I also don’t care for the smell of aspen bedding. Even when spot cleaning, it always seems like bits of the fecal matter remain. The best thing about aspen bedding is that if accidentally ingested, the snake will (most likely) be able to safely pass it.
Pulverized walnut shells
The best sand replacement bedding I recently discovered is pulverized walnut shells. This is, without a doubt the best alternative to sand. Whether it be snakes or lizard, this alternative produces far less dust than sand.
Other substrates used in snake-keeping
Newspaper is another popular substrate when keeping snakes. It’s the cheapest of all substrates since usually, people buy the newspaper to read. After reading it is complete, the paper gets thrown away or placed in the recycle bin. It’s no wonder some people use it as bedding for their snake enclosures.
I never use newspaper as bedding for any of my encloses. It’s not absorbent and more difficult to clean. Still, it’s much cheaper than paper towels. While I understand that, I’d rather have something absorbent that cleans up quickly and easily. Another issue I have with newspaper is the ink. Have you ever noticed that after you’ve read the newspaper your hands are blackened from the ink?
While I can’t say ink residue hurts the snake in any way, I don’t like the idea of them possibly ingesting food with newspaper ink on it. This is why I use plain white paper towels and avoid colored ones. It could be a matter of me being obsessively compulsive but, I avoid using newspapers as snake bedding.
Sand is okay in certain situations. Sand boas are usually kept in a sand-like substrate that’s not actually the play-sand you’d buy from a home improvement center. Go with a commercially available product specifically designed as snake bedding for sand boas or other such species.
Some snake enclosure substrates I don’t recommend
Pine bedding and cedar bedding
Avoid at all costs. They’re unhealthy and dangerous for your animals.
Pebbles or small stones
I’d avoid pebbles as a substrate for a number of reasons. Small pebbles could become ingested, they don’t hold heat or humidity especially well, they’re not easy to burrow beneath, and it’s difficult to clean.
AstroTurf was commercially available for the purpose of reptile enclosure bedding. I’m not sure if this stuff is still being sold today or if it followed the same fate as calcium sand. It’s not easy to clean, not good for humidity, not aesthetically appealing (at least in my opinion), and I don’t see much use for it. This reminds me of the Brady Bunch episode when Greg was mowing the AstroTurf lawn in their backyard.
Dirt and Potting Soil
When I was a kid, I used dirt from outside for my American toad enclosure. I think I once kept a garter snake I caught on dirt too. Never use dirt as bedding for snakes. It’s extremely messy and increases the time spent on enclosure maintence. Plus, contaminants might be present in the dirt.
The same goes for potting soil. I know you can buy potting soil that’s supposedly 100% organic, but it simply doesn’t make good bedding for snakes or even lizards for that matter. You certainly don’t want to use chemically fertilized potting soil.
Conclusion – Choose a substrate right for both you and your snake
You have many choices when it comes to choosing the right substrate for your snake. Quickly find your own personal preference that works well in your situation. The most important thing to keep in mind is the requirements of the specific snake or lizard that you’re keeping.
Do you have a substrate recommendation? Feel free to add your advice in the comments section below!