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.
SPECIES AND HOUSING RECCOMENDATIONS
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%
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.
WHY IS COCO HUSK REPTILE SUBSTRATE BAD?
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.
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.
HEALTH RISKS AND BENEFITS
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 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!
WHY IS COCO HUSK A GOOD REPTILE SUBSTRATE?
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.
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.