Is aspen a good Reptile Substrate? Will aspen work for ball pythons? Is aspen a bad substrate? Does Aspen mold? Why not use aspen? Can a cornsnake use aspen?

Aspen is one of the most if not the most common types of loose substrates in general. Here we will look at positive and negative things associated with Aspen bedding. While it is not the greatest substrate out there, it is rather cheap and affordable. Which is a big one…Aspen Reptile Substrate is cheap. Additionally, it is readily available almost anywhere. Completely non-toxic and one of the more environmentally friendly Reptile Substrates on the market. All these reasons combined is why many reptile keepers still choose to use it. While it does have some detractors overall it has an extremely low risk to injure your pet.

A warning: almost all loose substrate you will have the risk of mites being in the substrate. To avoid infecting your animal freeze the substrate for at least 24hrs prior to use.

Types of Housing to use Aspen bedding.


Difficulty Level: Easy

For an Arid species of reptile (Cornsnake, hognose, some types of boas), I recommend using Aspen in a tank or vivarium. (Reasons given below)

Difficulty Level: Moderate-Severe

I do not recommend using Aspen for a species (Pythons, geckos or any amphibian/aquatic) that has a higher humidity requirement. (See risks below). There are better Reptile Substrates out there to retain high humidity.

But I have talked with some people that have success using Aspen in rack tubs for ball python hatchlings. (Does add small risk of impaction (see below))

Why is Aspen a Bad Substrate?

Starting with some general reasons Aspen bedding is not a favorable option.

Although aspen does have a rather large absorbency rate of liquid, it also has a very high mold rate. This stuff can begin mold growth in a day or two. The mold hazard alone is why this is not something you will want to use for a reptile requiring high humidity levels. An RI or respiratory infection can happen from mold being in an enclosure. I think breathing mold spores is bad for just about everyone on the planet though.

As such, the same reason is also why Aspen is ok to use with an Arid Species. It should not be wet, damp, or moist. Aspen needs to be dry. Still not without its minor risks though. When Aspen is dry there is always a small level of saw dust that your animal can potentially breath in causing respiratory infections. (See Arid Dwellers below)

Last main risk associated with Aspen is the risk of impaction. Typically, only applying to hatchlings. Hatchlings can (not saying will) become impacted from ingesting a large quantity of Aspen or is possible if a large piece of Aspen is swallowed.

I have yet to hear of an instance of an adult ball python ingesting a piece of aspen and becoming impacted requiring some form of additional care. Now, if this has happened to you, please contact me, and share your experience. I would love to learn what your experience was.

Health Risks Associated with Aspen Substrate.

Arid Dwellers anything ranging 0%-59% (humidity) Risk level: Low

This possibility has a very low risk. I just want to make sure to include it because it is still A risk. Using Aspen substrate with an arid reptile like a hognose snake or sand boa comes with the hazard of a Respiratory Infection or RI resulting from the dust. For these reptiles who burrow, they are swirling around digging in the aspen all day. The risk level is low that the dust would be the exact cause. Last small potential risk to your pet is being scratched or poked by the Aspen if large or sharp pieces remained in the bag. (It is always best to run the aspen through your fingers to remove any hard or sharp pieces that might slip through processing.) This risk resides with almost all loose substrate though to a degree.

Humid Dwellers ranging 60%-99% (humidity) Risk Level: Moderate

Reasons Aspen is not good to use with a humid dweller is because Aspen can and will mold very quickly (As stated above). If water is splashed from the water bowl, by either filling the dish or the animal simply climbing in and out of its water bowl the aspen will get wet and must be removed from the enclosure immediately. Wet Aspen left in an enclosure will begin to mold after one to two days. Meaning, you have to keep the Aspen Substrate dry at all times.

Now, it is possible to use Aspen with a humid dweller if you compensate somehow for the dry substrate like using a humid hide (more on that in a minute). Using Aspen with a humid dweller like a ball python also increases the risk of obtaining an RI. Whereas this is not the case if used with an Arid Dweller. From my understanding Respiratory Infections can result in pythons due to their lungs being weakened and irritated from a dry environment. Meaning lack of humidity can cause an RI in a ball python. Now, there are other ways that Pythons can get RIs. Just because you don’t use aspen or if keep your environment humid it does not mean that your ball can’t get an RI. Keep that in mind.

Another common if not the most common issue I have seen with Aspen is shedding issues. Like having a stuck shed. Majority of the time serious issues do not occur from a stuck shed. But, they can. And again, I am including it here since it is a risk. A stuck shed could turn into a somewhat serious problem if you end up with stuck eye caps that do not come off. Or, if your reptile’s pooper vent stays covered and they are unable to have a bowel movement. The solution for a stuck shed is to create a humid box, exactly like a mini sauna for your animal to spend a few hours in. That should loosen any remaining stuck shed. Since they would only be spending a few hours in that box there is no worry of scale rot. (See risk association below)

How to appropriately raise humidity when using aspen.

Humid Hide

One way to compensate for the low humidity is to use a Humid Hide. Different than humid box or humid containers (will get to those in a moment). A humid hide is a hide that has a compartment in the top to put wet paper towels, wet sponges, sphagnum moss…etc. Pretty much anything that does not breed bacteria and retains humidity. And your animal would go into that hide to reach whatever humidity they are seeking.

Common issues with the humid hide method to be aware of. Often owners keep it too humid in the hide. Causing the reptile to end up developing scale rot (As mentioned above). Scale rot occurs when a reptiles’ scales don’t have a chance to dry. They develop an infection that spreads. Eventually the infected scales rot and fall off. Once began Scale Rot requires medical attention. Scale Rot can require antibiotics. If Scale Rot is not treated correctly death can occur.

Humid containers

While like the hide box, A humidity container, your animal cannot hide in or access directly. All it is, is a plastic box or container with a lid that has holes in it. Inside the container you would put your humidity holding item; paper towels, sponge, moss, eco earth…etc. Depending on the humidity levels needed, multiple humidity boxes can be placed throughout its enclosure. I want to add though YOU WILL STILL HAVE A MOLD RISK with the aspen. The aspen will still need to be changed often.

Multiple water Dishes

Sometimes the placement of water dishes can also help to raise humidity. If you are using a Heat Lamp or CHE overhead for heating, you can place the water bowl under it. Add another dish on the cool side of your enclosure as well. I have also seen where people have put a 3rd dish right in the middle of their reptiles’ home.

Why Aspen Reptile Substrate a good Substrate

Aspen is really affordable; you get a fairly large quantity for not a lot of money. Aspen spreads very well it is light and fluffy. Aspen is highly unlikely to harm your animal if used appropriately. Again, If your husbandry is correct you can work around these issues.

Another reason people like it Aspen is for aesthetic purposes in the enclosure. It does have a nice light color it makes it very easy to see messes to spot clean. There is also some odor absorption with the Aspen when your reptile uses the restroom. Meaning it will absorb any pee or liquidy substances that your reptile releases. Again, there is a mold risk. So, make sure to remove the saturated part as soon as possible.

The risk of impaction is also low with Aspen. Only higher risk if you were to use Aspen with like a gecko for some reason. They would have a difficult time with Aspen over say a snake. Usually, an animal like ball python can pass small amounts of loose substrate without trouble.

Final Recommendations

I don’t typically use Aspen as a reptile substrate. Because, there are others out there that are just better suited to my needs. That don’t come with all the extra steps to compensate to the needs of my reptiles. Repti Chip or Forest Floor are examples of what I use. But… I did start off with Aspen Reptile Substrate for my ball python. Even though I was advised against it. I was recommended at the time paper towels (seemed silly at first). It was a lot of work though, and I was constantly having mold issues.

Now today, if I was in a pinch and aspen was my only option for a substrate. Yes, I would use aspen again for my snakes.

I actually use Aspen for my rats. This is because my local feed store only carries pine, cedar, or Aspen. Pine and cedar are toxic to small animals and reptiles. In my situation the pros outweigh the cons. Bottom line for me using Aspen with my rats is the Cost. If that is what it is for you too then ok.

There are keepers that house entire collections on Aspen along with feeders due to the cost efficiency. Sometimes the benefits outweigh the risks. If you make sure to put forth the extra work that comes with Aspen, and you want to use it. Then why not use aspen reptile substrate?

Even if you just want to use it for aesthetic purposes.

If YOU like Aspen Reptile Substrate, put in the extra that comes with it and want to use it then great! That’s Awesome!

If you are just trying to find something that is cost effective that is ok too! Aspen Reptile Substrate is really cheap. As long as your pet is happy and healthy that is what is important.

Only you can decide what is going to work best for you and your reptile. What works for others may not work for you and vice versa.

Leave a comment