Coco Husk/Chips Reptile Substrate

Are there risks associated with Coco Husk? Coco husk reptile substrate. Is Coco Husk a Good Reptile Substrate? Is Coco Husk a Bad Reptile Substrate? Coco Husk as a Reptile Substrate. What are pros and cons for coco husk? Are there benefits to using coco husk reptile substrate?


Coco husk reptile substrate is currently the most used among large scale Ball Python breeders. Coco husk is one of the substrates that I do use with my ball pythons and have experience with.

What is Coco Husk Reptile Substrate?

Coco husk is the chunkier version of Coco Fiber. Both made from coconuts, just processed differently. The difference between them is the fiber has a soil texture and the husk has pieces or chunks.

Coco husk is a great substrate that holds humidity well like cypress mulch. However, it does not hold humidity as well as cypress mulch though. (Explanation on that below) It is sold in compressed bricks or blocks that you must add moisture to help break the brick or block down. There are different manufacturers for coco husk, Exo-Terra and ReptiChip (not to be confused with zoo meds repti-chip substrate chips. Totally different.) are a couple examples. Usually, pet stores carry the Exo-Terra coco husk bricks while the Reptichip isn’t typically available in store. Cost wise it is not terribly expensive, but it is not the least expensive either. And it is the best smelling of all reptile substrates with the best odor control abilities.

Here will be included are some of the pros and cons with using coco husk as a reptile substrate. What type of enclosures this substrate is appropriate in along with what species to use. The most common health benefits and risks will be presented as well as tips or tricks to help minimize these risks.



Coco husk is great to use in all types of housing husbandry from tubs to glass tanks. Since humidity is harder to retain in a glass tank than a tub or wooded vivarium, ultimately, I recommend using Cypress Mulch if a high humid species. But the husk is the second best for glass tanks and most preferred by breeders with tubs.

Arid: Humidity 0%-50%

Risk: Very low

After the coco husk has been moistened enough to break down the block it can be laid in a bin outside similar to what is done during production. If the weather is not permitting the substrate may be placed in front of a fan to air dry. The Coco husk reptile substrate is ready for use once thoroughly dried.

Any saturated substrate will need removal to maintain low humidity requirements due to the absorption.

Humid: Humidity 50%-100%

Risk: Low

Coco husk does a great job raising humidity levels. The only reason that Cypress Mulch does a little bit better is because it has a higher mold resistance. Properly prepared Coco husk has little to no risk of use.


Preparation prior to use

Coco Husk does not come “ready to use” in a bag. Coco Husk will either come dehydrated in a compressed block or brick. Soaking the brick in an appropriate amount of water for appropriate time will prepare for use. When breaking husk down it is important not to add too much or too little water. The coco husk would then need additional time to either soak or dry. The substrate should not be dripping or saturated when using.

Organic and inorganic particles during Production

Most manufacturers use a natural drying method outdoors on a slab or table. Since the it is outside sometimes the wind will blow flowers, grass, or sometimes plastic pieces and even fabric into the substrate before compression. This does raise potential health risks depending on the species.


While coco husk is mold resistant it will still mold if kept moist at a high temperature for more than a few days. Before placing the substrate into the enclosure, a handful of the substrate should be squeezed. No water should drip as well as leaving no moisture on your hand. If properly hydrated not overly hydrated mold will not be an issue. Minor spills from water dishes or when your reptile uses the restroom should not cause molding.

Fine Fibers

Finally, fibers, Coco Husk is chunkier than coco fiber, but there are still coco fibers in the coco husk. These fibers occasionally do stick to food during feeding and may become ingested. If your husbandry is correct an adult should have no problem ingesting small amounts but depending on the species hatchlings can have some trouble ingesting the coco fibers creating an impaction risk.


Since this is a product of coconuts it is a dark brown color it can be difficult to spot feces left by your reptile. Regular changes and cleanings of tubs should be done every 4-6 weeks or as needed to ensure all waste is removed.


These only apply if other areas of husbandry are not correct or if using the coco husk incorrectly.


Respiratory Infection (RI) (Low)

With the slight risk of mold to Coco husk if not prepared properly it may result in a Respiratory infection. Reptiles’ respiratory systems are much more fragile than ours and some species only have one lung. Ball Pythons only have one lung, Chameleons have two lungs, yet the chameleon has a more delicate respiratory system. Breathing mold spores long enough will cause an RI.

Do note though RI’s can be caused in other ways such as having an arid species reptile kept in too humid of an environment and vice versa with humid dwelling species being kept in too dry of an environment. Also, stagnant air in a humid or arid environment will usually cause an RI as well.


Ingestion of fibers

This really only applies to hatchlings or small animals. Sometimes the fine fibers of the coco husk will stick to food items. Adults usually have no problems digesting small amounts unless husbandry is off in another way such as temperatures. Hatchlings though sometimes do have a more difficult time resulting in impaction.

Ingestion of foreign objects

Small pieces of plastic, flowers or other foreign material can remain in the substrate through the manufacturer’s natural dehydration process outdoors. If you are using with a reptile like ball python, then you do not have to worry about it unless it’s a sharp object they can rub up against. Ball pythons do not eat items other than prey. If using with a reptile that eats vegetation or stray objects, then the flowers and non-organic items will need to be removed as they may be toxic to your reptile or cause impaction.


When hatchlings try to pass impacted stool or a foreign object it can result in a prolapse. If a hatchling cannot pass the backup death may occur. If a prolapse happens seek veterinarian care. When part of your reptiles’ insides has come outside of the body this is a prolapse. Again, seek veterinarian care.

Scale Rot

Scale rot is any infection that occurs when the scales on the underpart of your reptile. Whether from an injury or another introduction to bacteria. A respiratory infection can also occur if any substrate is saturated for an extended time allowing bacterial growth. If your reptiles’ scales can’t dry properly that bacteria can start to grow on those scales causing an infection. When adding water to the coco husk you must make sure to not add too much. When you squeeze a handful, no water should drip from it.

If the temperatures are lacking in the reptile’s husbandry it can cause these problems and more.

Make sure your husbandry is correct!


Odor Control/Absorption

Coco husk is the best smelling of all the substrates with the best odor control. It does absorb liquids great as well. Since it will mask the smell of urine, its best just to remove any substrate that has become moist when spot cleaning.


Coco husk has a great color, great smell. Is very natural looking. Many people use it in glass tanks to help with humidity AND they like the way it looks better than say Cypress Mulch or Paper Towels.


Coco husk does have mold resistant (does not mean no mold will occur) qualities so it helps raise humidity levels for species that need higher humidity. While it cannot be as saturated as cypress mulch it will not mold as fast or as easy as with Aspen. Its molding properties fall between Aspen and Cypress Mulch.


Since it is a nice dark brown substrate it camouflages waste left behind by your reptile. This is both a pro and a con. While it does make it more difficult to spot clean, when showing reptiles people won’t necessarily see the poo.


While the fiber is more of a soil texture the husk is chunks of chopped and washed husk. Even though there are still fibers, this helps prevent clogged heat pits and lower impaction risks.



Overall coco husk reptile substrate is great low risk substrate to use. While it does have some cons such as longer prep time and lower mold resistance than cypress mulch and can have foreign materials. The overall humidity and smell benefits outweigh the major cons.

Why I Like and Use.

I am still playing around with substrates to see exactly what I like best and how I like to use it. Currently I like to use coco husk with my ball pythons in their rack during shed times to give an extra bump in humidity otherwise paper towels do the job just fine. I have never really had an odor problem…yet, but I imagine the larger my collection grows that will change. If I ever develop an odor issue, then coco husk will become my primary reptile substrate because it does smell the best and control the odor best.

For You

As with any substrate it is going to boil down to what works best for you and your reptile. What works for some will not work for others. What has worked for me may work for you, it may not.

There is always room for growth and learning when reptile keeping. These are just my personal general guides and recommendations to help others on the right track.

Cypress Mulch Substrate.

Cypress Mulch as a Reptile Substrate? Is Cypress Mulch a good substrate? Is Cypress Mulch a bad substrate? Cypress Mulch Substrate for ball pythons? Cypress Mulch substrate.


Cypress mulch is a great Reptile substrate. Maintenance required with Cypress Mulch compared to other reptile substrates is minimal. I have found that the best use for cypress mulch is in glass tanks, but many keepers choose to use it in other enclosures too.

As with all posts here we will discuss pros and cons of using Cypress Mulch as a Reptile Substrate. Health risks or benefits. How to appropriately use Cypress Mulch in different enclosures. What Species of Reptile to use Cypress Mulch with to complete their husbandry. Whether or not to add moisture or dry it out. Mite prevention…. etc.

Cypress mulch is sold at local plant nurseries or garden stores. (If going this route will want to make sure no pesticides were used in production). There are various brands specifically designated for Reptile use like Zoomed’s Forrest Floor. Cypress Mulch is one of the more expensive Reptile Substrates.

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.

Health Risks Associated with Cypress Mulch as a Reptile Substrate.

A slight minor risk regardless of what animal you are using with.

Flesh Wound (scratch or puncture)

[Dry (Moderate) Moist (Low)]

If you have a species that likes to burrow or dig Cypress Mulch substrate contains small, shredded pieces of wood. Sometimes those pieces can splinter, be jagged, or pointy especially if you are using dry Mulch. When a reptile is digging or moving along the mulch, they can get minor abrasions. If you have a snake and they go to strike at their meal and they hit a piece of mulch it could essentially “stab” your animal. Not super likely to happen, but it has happened and happens more common than with say Aspen Reptile Bedding. It is always best to make sure you run your hands through the Substrate thoroughly to pick out as many of those pieces as possible.


(Extremely low)

Similarly, as with the other risks if your husbandry is correct in every other aspect, you really should not have a hazard. Sometimes a piece of Cypress Mulch substrate may become temporarily lodged in the reptiles’ mouth (not throat) they usually will rub their face against something to try and brush it out. It is ok if they swallow a small amount of substrate. Reptiles are designed to overcome these types of obstacles in the wild. (Yes, I know there is nothing wild about captivity, biologically it is still there though) It is one of those things that will have to have a risk assessment done for the pet to weigh the pros and cons.

Hatchlings the Risk level is low-moderate for impaction. This is because they are not able to ingest and pass as well as adults.

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

Another way to use Cypress Mulch substrate is by drying it out and using with an arid dwelling reptile. Lizards like bearded dragons are an example. Cypress holds humidity well which may result in issues with and arid species though. Though it is generally recommended for use with Tropical/Forest or high humid dwelling species.

Shedding Issues


If you have an animal that is a “dry” shedder like a bearded dragon it can cause the shed to stick or prolong the period it takes for them to shed. Stuck shed can cause stress which can throw off coccidia levels in your bearded dragon causing more serious issues.

Alternately, Ball pythons will develop a stuck shed when kept in an environment too dry. Ball Pythons need humidity to shed as bearded dragons need arid environment to shed.

Respiratory Infection (RI)


Like with use of Aspen Reptile Bedding if Cypress Mulch substrate is dried it does contain a small level of saw dust. Though usually not as much as aspen. This is a common risk with Loose Reptile Substrates and Arid dwelling species of snakes. While some species of reptiles have biological measure in place to prevent dirt or dust from traveling through their air passage there are those who don’t and are often at greater risk. Make sure you know what the risks are for your species.

On another hand if the environment is too humid for your species it can also cause a respiratory infection.

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

Cypress mulch substrate holds Humidity so is preferred for use with high humid need species of reptiles such as Ball Pythons. You may have to make further modifications to your enclosure based off your reptiles needs in addition to a Reptile Substrate that holds humidity well. Covering a screened lid with a towel or HVAC tape can further assist raising humidity.

Scale Rot

(Low to moderate)

Scale rot is an infection that occurs when the scales on the underpart of your reptile remain wet for too long and it breeds bacteria. Majority of the time Cypress Mulch substrate will come out of the bag damp. If you do not add water this is typically not a risk. When adding water to the mulch you must make sure to not add too much. Allow time for the mulch to absorb the water into the wood pieces. When you squeeze a handful, no water should drip from it.

Respiratory Infection (RI)


With proper air flow around your reptile’s enclosure a respiratory infection is very low risk. Respiratory infections are caused by stagnant air in a humid environment allowing bacteria to breed. Another common cause is by being in an environment too dry irritating their lung. If the reptile is being kept in its appropriate humidity parameters, there should be no issues with an RI.

Why is Cypress Mulch a Bad Reptile Substrate?


Cypress Mulch can be one of the more expensive Reptile Substrates to use. Occasionally local garden stores will have more affordable prices than the specifically designed Reptile Cypress Mulch. Bulk orders can be much more affordable depending on the size of your collection. Ordering Cypress Mulch does add shipping charge as an additional cost. Sometimes owners only option is to order products though.


Production of cypress mulch is done by cutting down cypress trees. They do have a very important role to play in their natural homes. In Florida Cypress Trees that line the coast help to slow down or break up oncoming hurricanes. Cypress trees are a slow growing tree. This means the trees cannot be replaced as fast as they are being cut down. Eventually there will be a shortage that will last until more Cypress Trees mature.


Not a super big con, but since Cypress mulch substrate is a brown color, it does make seeing bowel movements difficult. Since there is a level of odor control feces can remain unseen. Therefore, regular scheduled cleanings about once a month are very important to remove anything that may not have previously been seen.

Why is Cypress Mulch a Good Reptile Substrate?


Cypress Mulch holds Humidity well. If the mulch does begin to dry out a simple cup of water mixed into it will rehydrate the wood. Since the wood does absorb the water, it slowly releases humidity into the air over time making it much more manageable for a humid dwelling species.

Mold Resistant

Cypress Mulch is probably the most mold resistant reptile substrate available. I have never met a person that uses Cypress Mulch that has had a mold problem occur. The wood absorbs the water or urine so there is not standing water left on the bottom of the enclosure or on the substrate for mold to thrive.

Odor Control

As stated above the wood absorbs liquids. It will absorb some of the liquidy parts of your reptile’s waste. It will not eliminate the smell, but Cypress Mulch does better than paper towels or Aspen in my opinion.


Cypress Mulch is a natural substrate that these reptiles can and do live in and on in the wild. When owning an exotic, it’s important to recreate its original environment when possible. Reptiles tend to thrive when in an environment that closely mimics their natural habitat.

Ready to Use

Cypress mulch substrate comes ready to use in a back premoistened. Simply cut open the bag and pour out the contents. Whereas with coco husk you must add water and allow time for the husk to absorb the water breaking the coco brick down.

Final Recommendations

Why Cypress Mulch Works for Me

Cypress Mulch Reptile Substrate is the go-to for a higher humidity environment. I do not use Cypress Mulch dry for an arid species or environment.  It is more natural, and the pros far outweigh the cons when it comes to using Cypress Mulch with Ball Pythons in glass tanks. I have not personally experienced any ingestion issues when feeding ball pythons. Never had any respiratory issues occur with any of my reptiles. While it is slightly more difficult in searching for feces since the smell is minor, I do routine cleanings every 30 days to avoid any missed piles. Glass tanks I highly recommend using Cypress Mulch. It really is one of the best Reptile Substrates for retaining high humidity levels.

For you

It all boils down to a matter of personal preference when it comes to reptile substrates. What your species is and what the requirements are. If you are wanting a reptile substrate that is high maintenance or low maintenance.

Only you can decide what will work best for you and your reptile in their enclosure. This information is just to help guild you the direction you want to go.

Paper Towels as a Reptile Substrate?

Paper Towels for Bearded Dragon? Paper Towels for Ball Pythons? Are paper towels easier to clean? Are paper towels a good reptile substrate? What are risks to using Paper Towels as a Reptile Substrate?

Paper Towels are the first substrate that was recommended to me by more than one person. It is a “fixed” or “stable” reptile substrate. Similar examples are eco carpet, puppy pads and shelf liners.

Initially, I was not a fan of the thought to using paper towels. It did not seem “natural”, I figured there was something other than paper towels. Secondly, aesthetics was a concern. I thought paper towels looked “cheap” …boy was I right and wrong. Yes, paper towels can be bought pretty cheap, but that is only an added bonus. Being new to the reptile world I was quickly learning that some odd things work great for reptiles, paper towels being one of those things.

What will be explained:

As in other posts, here we will look at positive and negative things with using Paper Towels as a Reptile Substrate. Any health risks associated if any. Any health benefits. What animal to use with this Reptile Substrate. Also, what Different enclosures to use paper towels in.





I want to begin with how paper towels are great to use during quarantine of a new reptile. If you just received a snake or some other kind of lizard that may have mites, you will want to use paper towels as the substrate. Even if you have owned your reptile for years, mites are always a risk with substrates, visit reptile shows handling other reptiles or sometimes new decorations can have mites in them.


Mites usually cannot survive on paper towels. With white paper towels mites are more visible when compared to aspen or mulch.

Collecting fecals

If you are preparing for a Vet visit and need to collect a fecal sample. Often vets will accept them with feces on paper towels (in a bag of course).

Medical care

Or, if your pet has some type of medical condition that requires close monitoring of bowels/urates/watching for blood…. etc. Taking care of a prolapse in a pet. Any type of open wound that your pet may have, majority of medical care will want to be provided with Paper Towels as the Reptile Substrate at least temporarily if not permanently.


Difficulty Level: HARD

High Humidity Levels

If you have a reptile requiring high humidity in a large enclosure such as pythons, iguanas, or tegus will make maintaining proper humidity levels difficult. As with other dry substrates like Aspen, there are ways to compensate though with minimal risk to your pet. (See below) Requires significantly more work and monitoring.

Difficulty Level: MODERATE

Mid Humidity Levels

Reptiles that require high humidity but are in a small-medium enclosure like various gecko’s or anoles. Also, ball python rack systems. With a smaller enclosure the way to maintain humidity would be to dampen the paper towels directly since there is not much room to compensate with humid hides or humid boxes. This does increase risks to your pet if not monitored carefully. (risks below)

Difficulty Level: Easy

Low humidity Levels

Most arid species in any size of enclosure paper towels work great for. With all substrates there are still minor risks associated, but far less risk than many other reptile substrates. Will work for Tortoises, Bearded Dragons, Veiled Chameleons…etc. Any kind of enclosure wood/glass/screened vivarium or terrarium.



While it does have a decent absorbency rate, paper towels do absolutely nothing for odor control. Paper towels must be changed once they have been soiled to avoid any lingering smells.


With some reptiles there is a slight impaction risk. Insectivores that hunt live bugs like bearded dragons are what have the higher risk. Not likely to cause a major impaction issue requiring veterinarian intervention, but too much of anything can cause problems.

Extra Maintenance:

Maintaining higher humidity levels in a larger enclosure will mean quite a bit of extra work that can easily be prevented by using a better suited substrate for the enclosure.


Lastly some people think paper towels are just ugly looking in their reptile’s home. Some keepers want to keep their reptile in the closest environment that they are originally from. Not necessarily in a bio-active enclosure, but something more “natural”. I was and still am that type of person depending on the reptile.


Overall Risk Level for Arid/Humid dwellers: Very Low/Minor


If using paper towels appropriately there is very little risk. With improper use there will be an increased risk.

Risks Associated with Improper Use of Paper Towels

Scale Rot:

Keeping paper towels saturated in a high humidity environment runs the risk of causing scale rot. There are ways to avoid this by using humidity boxes or hides, placing multiple water dishes in the enclosure…etc. Paper towels that are completely saturated for extended periods will cause scale rot. Scale rot is a risk for any reptile that has a “wet” floor. There is no time that standing water should be on the floor of the vivarium/terrarium. Something as simple as a large amount of urination can soak the paper towels causing health issues. Similar to Aspen Reptile Substrate and risk of mold/RI. Seek veterinarian care for scale rot. Untreated or improper care of scale rot can lead to death.

RI (Respiratory Infection):

This is a risk associated in keeping any Humid dwelling reptile in an Arid environment. It does not matter what substrate you use, if it is not used appropriately and proper humidity is not maintained they will be at risk for RI.

Risks When Using Paper Towels Appropriately


Secondly, there can be an impaction risk when feeding live feeder bugs to smaller reptiles like bearded dragons. I had this issue once occur with my bearded dragon. To avoid any paper towels being ingested use an escape proof feeding dish. I have also met keepers who will just totally remove the paper towels during feeding to avoid this issue as well, but a bare bottom often makes it more difficult for the reptile to hunt without sliding around all over.


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 rapidly and retains humidity. Your animal will have the option to go into that hide to reach whatever humidity they are seeking.

Issues to be aware of:

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. Death can and will result from untreated scale rot in a reptile. (See above for risks)

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. The amount of humidity boxes that will be put in the enclosure will depend on, the species of reptile and the relative humidity where living. You will want to monitor the moistness of the Paper Towels that are on the floor through the entire enclosure often to ensure they are not becoming “wet” from the humidity in the air. (See Risks Above)

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.



Very low risk, cost efficient and very versatile. If you for some reason run out of substrate and cannot find anymore, paper towels are a readily available option. It is something that anyone can find at almost any store even most gas stations carry rolls of paper towels for sale.

Medical Benefits:

Wound/Injury Care

Various medical care uses for a sick or injured pet. Paper Towels for reptiles makes wound care much easier and significantly decreases infection risks. Collecting fecal samples, watching urates…etc.


Quarantining new reptiles from your others, if you end up with a mite problem paper towels are one of the best substrates to combat it. Can also use paper towels to physically wipe your reptile down with whatever mite remedy you are choosing to use for your pet.

Closer Monitoring Visually

Overall monitoring of a pet is increased making it easier to see messes that will need to be removed. Which makes for a cleaner environment for the reptile decreasing health risks.


Ending with aesthetics, I did put this under “Why is Paper towels a bad substrate” along with including here because to some paper towels give their reptile home a “clean” look to it. Sometimes people like the “less is more” look for their reptile enclosure theme. Paper towels can also be a preferred accent to different “themes” when decorating habitats. For the same reason that some think paper towels are ugly is the same reason other people like the look of paper towels. Everybody has their preference.


Why I would:

Cost/Low Risks/Readily Available

Paper towels can be an all-around good to use substrate for any level keeper or reptile. Depending on the housing you have will determine the amount of extra work required for Paper towels to work efficiently. But there is very little risk overall to your pet when used correctly. All substrates will have some level of risks associated with it. It is nearly impossible to remove all potential hazards in a reptile home. Paper Towels is a Reptile Substrate with very low risk. (Risks Above)

Quarantine/Medical Care

When a new animal is in a quarantine or when giving medical care paper towels is the way to go. It is highly advised to do so by many long-time experienced keepers and veterinarians alike.

How I use Paper towels:

It was recommended when I first purchased a snake but was not really an option for us. This is because he is in a glass tank. Not a plastic tub, wood, or PVC enclosure. Humidity is more difficult to maintain in a glass enclosure vs a tub.

I was told to use paper towels for my Veiled Chameleon. It is what I currently use in the bottom of her enclosure, but it is not what I started with.

In addition to the chameleon, I use paper towels in my Bearded Dragons wooden vivarium. Similar to the chameleon, not what I began with. Eco carpet was the starting substrate, albeit not by my choice. We switched Reptile Substrates shortly after my beardie joined the house.

Why I would not:

Risks with Improper use/More work

I do not recommend using paper towels in a large enclosure for a high humid reptile, not because it can’t or won’t work, but because of all the additional work to maintain proper humidity levels. It really adds more risks than reducing risks. Often RI’s (respiratory infections) occur due to a lack of humidity in a humid dwelling reptiles’ environment. It can become a balancing act between having too low or too high humidity. Battling between an RI (from dry environment) or Scale Rot (from too wet environment). (Risks Above)


Odor control is something to think about when owning multiple reptiles. As stated above, Paper Towels do nothing for odor absorption! Depending on where in your home you keep your reptiles if you only have one or two more than likely odor won’t be an issue, but if you have multiple, it will get smelly pretty quick. Paper towels for large collections of reptiles requires immediate cleaning and removal of dirty paper towels to keep the smell under control.

Middle Ground:

Using paper towels in a snake rack for either arid snakes or high humidity snakes has equal pros and cons. I like to use them during certain events in the year. Snake pairing is a major time I use paper towels because it gets very messy in their breeding area. As a result, my tubs are cleaned thoroughly and more frequently during breeding season. During the off season I typically like to use a cypress mulch or coco husk. But there are plenty of breeders who swear by just paper towels and use them for their entire collections though.

For You and Your Reptile:

Only you can decide what will work best for you and your reptile in their enclosure. There will always be an opinion on why what is being done is right or wrong.

What works for some does not always work for others.

If you are willing to put in the additional work to meet your reptile’s humidity needs to be able to use paper towels with a humid dwelling species, then go for it. (Proper ways to raise humidity above)

If you’re a minimalist that wants something quick and easy to manage for an Arid dwelling animal that is great too.

No matter your reason If you think paper towels fits you and yours best, then use it.

If the animal is thriving that is all that matters.

Aspen Substrate

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.

Reptile Substrate and Why Reptiles Need it!

What is Reptile Substrate?

Reptile Substrate is the floor of your reptile’s enclosure that they live on. It is also what is used in a Dig Box or Lay Bin depending on the species that you own. The exact definition of substrate according to websters dictionary is, “the base on which an organism lives.” (1)

Do Reptiles Need Substrate?

Yes. Yes, they absolutely do NEED a substrate. While it does not have to be a loose substrate like Forest Floor or Aspen. Paper Towels or shelf liner are examples of common “stable” or “fixed” substrates. But some form of reptile substrate is crucial.

Why Do Reptiles Need Substrate?

Short answer. For their health and wellbeing.

Now for the Long In-Depth Answer to Explain. When you become an exotic pet owner that means it becomes your responsibility to recreate the environment they came from. These reptiles depend on us to have the proper means dedicated to them so they can live comfortably. The overall set up referred to as husbandry. Animals live in certain parts of the world because that is where they function best. In their natural elements. If we remove them from that environment, into one they are not suited for they will eventually parish. They do not easily adapt like mammals can and often do. Like a fish out of water. But, with reptiles it may take longer than minutes, could takes hours or weeks. This is especially important when dealing with cold blooded animals.

Fear not if you are already getting worried. It is much simpler than it sounds when initially hearing the information. Utilizing this blog will also help simplify things for you.

Key Differences. Typically.

If you were unaware, which is ok (everybody starts somewhere), reptiles cannot regulate their own body temperatures and have heating needs for proper digestion and growth. Another key difference is their respiratory systems differ from mammals. Meaning every reptile will also have their own humidity requirements, again, dependent on the type of reptile you own. Lastly, almost all will have a UVB requirement.

Since removed from their homeland it means they can no longer maintain their bodies homeostasis. It is at this point it becomes our responsibility to create a suitable living space for them. A useful tool to help balance this in your set up is good reptile Substrate.

To sum it up.

Included here (on the site) is how I have found through research and experience how each each reptile substrate to work in various enclosures. I will also be including what substrate is best suited for some animals. Thirdly, associated health risks such as impactions for various species. Lastly, also things that could be beneficial to your pet like like being able to shed proplerly and succesfully.

Everyone deserves to enjoy their pet happy and healthy. Your pet will get to enjoy you as well. Whether to look at and admire or to hold and handle. It is incredible to raise these guys. They really are amazing creatures! But, if you have a sick or uncomfortable pet, you will not be getting the most from them and will not be able to enjoy them as you should.

What kinds of Substrates are there?

I put Reptile Substrate in two distinct categories. Loose reptile Substrate and I will interchange between the words “fixed” or “stable” reptile substrate.

What is loose reptile substrate?

Loose reptile substrate is a substrate that moves around in small pieces. Some are made from a product that is broken down into smaller more appropriately sized particals. Examples of Loose substrate are Forest floor, Coco Fiber, Coco Husk, Repti-Chip, Aspen, Mulch, Sand…etc.

What is a “Fixed” or “Stable” reptile Substrate?

A fixed/stable reptile substrate is a solid substrate. It usually does not move around, and your animal cannot burrow/dig in it. I mean they can but if they do you will have to then replace it. Paper Towels, Non-Adhesive Shelf Liner, Non-Adhesive Linoleum Tile are examples of “fixed” or “stable” substrates. Occasionally people will even put actual wood flooring, if treated properly, in their enclosures.

Works Cited

  • (1) “Substrate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Dec. 2021