Ball pythons being secretive-natured snakes have their origin from Ghana and Togo. The ball pythons are also called royal pythons, and they spend most of their time in termite mounds that have been abandoned or underground burrows. Their natural habitats include savannah, tropical rainforests, human-inhabited agricultural areas.
The name ball python comes from the unique trait of coiling up like a ball; as the snake feels intimidated, it curls up in the form of a ball. These reptiles can be cute pets, and the cage setup of the ball python requires a specific substrate.
The substrate is the flooring of the cage and must be chosen carefully to avoid any hazards. Below, we’ll provide a list of recommended substrates and the influence that it has on the health of the ball python.
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Ball python substrates for your pet
In the wild, these reptiles reside underground in rainforests and savannahs, where the humidity is higher. These reptiles also take shelter under the damp mosses, which makes them feel safe and secure. So when using a terrarium, you may use cypress mulch, orchid bark (reptile bark), pulverized coconut husk, or a mixture of these as the bedding.
The depth and type of substrate affect the health of your pet ball python significantly; as mentioned earlier, the snakes burrow deep in the soil to feel safe and secure.
What to look for when purchasing substrate for a ball python
There are a few things that you must consider while choosing a substrate for your ball python. Keeping these factors in mind will help you come up with the best decision for your reptile pet. Following is a list of the parameters, with each of them, explained in detail.
8 criteria to consider when choosing the right substrate
#1. Water retention and effect on humidity
The origin of a ball python is from African grasslands and forests where humidity is very high compared to other areas. So, when choosing a substrate, you must consider the impact that it can have on the humidity level inside the enclosure. The dry and rough substrate will hurdle the burrowing process and keep the ball python’s environment dry.
#2. Burrowing habitats
The ball pythons have a habit of burrowing the ground in the wild, although not common, yet some of these reptiles enjoy burrowing. So, you must consider the hardness and softness of the substrate that you’re planning to put in the enclosure. The loose substrate will keep this reptile happy and healthy in its cage.
#3. Fungal and Parasite Risk
Few substrates are very open and inviting for the growth of molds and parasites in high humidity levels. While choosing a substrate, you must ensure to avoid any of this kind.
Of course, you’re looking for an economical substrate and light in your pocket, so the next thing you need to consider while buying a substrate is the cost of the bedding you intend to purchase. The price may range from 1-50$ every time you clean the enclosure of your ball python.
#5. Ease of cleaning
The substrate must be easy to clean, or you’ll spend hours sitting and cleaning the enclosure of your pet.
#6. Convenience of purchasing
This one totally depends on the substrate that you’ve chosen for your ball python. Some substrates are readily available at the grocery store, whereas others might need to purchase online or from a particular shop.
The aesthetics of the ball python enclosure’s substrate is your personal preference. Housing the ball python in any suitable enclosure or substrate won’t make any difference, yet display enclosure requires more effort.
#8. Ingestion and Impaction Risk
The substrate that your ball python is open to depends on whether your pet can ingest it or not. Some substrates of loose particles may result in impaction if consumed by your python. So, it’s up to you which substrate you are exposing your ball python to.
Best Ball python substrates
Now that you know the criteria you should use to choose the substrate for your ball python’s enclosure. Here’s a list of fine choices of substrates
Curious or in hurry:
Here’s the most suitable ball python substrate which we recommend Redichip Coconut substrate.
Ball python substrate option #1: Coconut Husk
The coconut husks known as “Coco Husk” are known as the best substrates for the ball python.
There are several reasons for this recommendation, one being the capability of this substrate to absorb moisture. It provides a suitable humidity level to the ball python, which is the closest to nature.
It isn’t a great choice of the substrate if your ball python loves to mine in the soil; the large husk chunks do not allow the python to dig in. The antimicrobial nature of coco husks makes them resistant to the growth of mites and fungus. However, at times, this substrate can have some mites or parasites.
This is the most expensive substrate costing around 20-30$ on an average scale for one large bag of coco husks. It absorbs unpleasant odors and is easy to clean because of the large chunks of coconut. The dark color of these chunks makes it harder to check everything that came in contact with your ball python.
You can get this from a local pet or reptile specialty shop as this substrate is sold by volume instead of weight. You can even order this substrate online. As far as the aesthetics are concerned, the coco husk is a beautiful natural-looking substrate and would give an excellent contrast on a light-colored morph.
Finally, as the coco husk is made of large chunks of coconut, your ball python might end up ingesting them, and that can result in impaction. You can avoid this by placing a paper towel or a newspaper on top of the substrate as you feed your ball python.
- The coco husk is a good moisture absorbent and provides the required level of humidity.
- The antimicrobial nature keeps the mites, parasites, and molds away from growing.
- Provides an excellent close-to-nature look to the enclosure for your ball python.
- Coco husk is an expensive substrate, and you need to visit a specialty store to buy it.
- The large chunks could be ingested by the pet python, causing ingestion.
- Doesn’t allow burrowing because of the large coconut chunks.
Ball python substrate option #2: BioActive Soil
This substrate allows you to make beautiful landscapes as a close imitation of nature inside the enclosure. This soil is an excellent absorbent, holds the moisture, and maintains the humidity level inside the enclosure. However, it does require occasional misting. It also allows the ball python to burrow, which is a great engagement for your pet.
The soil consists of natural decomposers and can handle any kind of mites, parasites, and molds that come in contact with the substrate. The price of this substrate is very high, ranging from 50$-100$ on average, but if maintained properly, you don’t have to change it now and then.
The bioactive soil also helps in self-cleaning the wastes because of the decomposers inside the soli. These decomposers help to reduce the waste such as ball python waste and even the skin shed.
It is the most natural-looking substrate and provides excellent aesthetics, where you can even add live plants to the python’s enclosure. You can purchase a pre-made mix of bioactive soil from a specialty shop or buy individual ingredients to make your mix.
Finally, the bioactive soil can cause impaction if your ball python ingests it, depending totally on the size of chunks of the mixture that you’re putting in the enclosure.
- Provides a natural look to the enclosure.
- Offers a self-cleaning process with the decomposers inside the soil.
- An excellent moisture absorber and maintains the level of humidity.
- Allows burrowing to keep your ball python engaged in its biological activity.
- Very expensive
- It can cause impaction if ingested by the ball python.
Ball python substrate option #3: Coconut fiber
This substrate is made of finely ground coconut shell, creating dense, light, or fluffy fibrous soil depending on the dampness of the fiber. It retains moisture well, maintains the humidity in the enclosure, and allows the ball python to burrow whenever it likes.
This substrate allows a limited airflow because of being dense, which reduces the chances of mold growth. The coconut is antifungal and thus reduces the chances of fungal growth. A perk of this substrate is its moderate price ranging from 10$ to 20$ for a large bag. The substrate is also available in compressed chunks that are more economical and expand on hydration.
Cleaning this substrate is challenging, and even changing the substrate required time because of its sticky nature. You can purchase this from an online pet shop or a brick and mortar. The substrate gives a natural aesthetic look to the enclosure, but the risk of ingestion is high. However, the microscopic dirt-like particles are very unlikely to cause impaction.
- Good moisture absorbers and maintains the humidity level.
- Reduces the growth of molds and fungus because of its antifungal property.
- Suitable for burrowing.
- Doesn’t cause impaction.
- Provides a suitable aesthetic for your ball python.
- Challenging to clean and change this substrate.
- High risk of ingestion.
Ball python substrate option #4: Cypress mulch
This substrate is often used in landscaping and gardening and is made of ground-up chunks of cypress bark and wood. Cypress mulch is very moist and excellent at retaining moisture, hence maintaining the humidity inside the enclosure. However, regular misting is required as this substrate may dry out after some time.
Cypress mulch has large particles and is not an ideal substrate to engage your ball python in burrowing. The pieces of this substrate are big and sharp; its ingestion can cause impaction, which can be avoided by feeding your ball python on a newspaper or paper towel.
Cypress mulch’s antimicrobial nature prevents the growth of molds, mites, and parasites in the substrate. The cost of this substrate range from 15-30$ on average, and you can purchase it from a garden supply store. However, when you’re buying this substrate, ensure to purchase cypress mulch with no additives, as additives such as fertilizers and cedar can be harmful to your ball python.
Cleaning this substrate is a challenging task, and sometimes you’re even unable to identify the time when your pet python defecates. The wooden pieces provide a very natural look to the enclosure.
- Good at retaining moisture and maintaining humidity.
- Antimicrobial nature prevents molds, mite, and parasite growth and absorbs foul odor.
- Provides a natural look to the enclosure
- It is challenging to clean because of large chunks of cypress.
- The large and sharp pieces of cypress can cause impaction if ingested by the ball python.
- Doesn’t allow burrowing.
Ball python substrate option #5: Paper Towels, butcher block paper, and Newspaper
These three substrates are easy to maintain, cost-effective, and provide a simple aesthetic to the enclosure. It’s not an ideal substrate for absorbing or retaining moisture in the enclosure or impacting the humidity of the cage. It also doesn’t provide chances of burrowing to the ball python, as he can’t dig in a sheet of paper.
As the substrate is made of paper sheets, it is easy to clean and utterly resistant to the growth of parasites, molds, and mites. The substrate can be purchased anywhere and one of the cheapest substrates for the enclosure of your ball python. There are zero risks of ingestion or impaction when using paper substrate; however, it isn’t visually appealing and far from the imitation of nature.
- Safe to use, as it doesn’t allow the growth of mites, parasites, and molds.
- Easy to clean and change.
- Zero risks of ingestion and impaction.
- Readily available and very cheap to purchase.
- Not a good absorbent of moisture.
- Doesn’t allow burrowing.
- Doesn’t give a natural look to the enclosure.
Ball python substrate option #6: Aspen
Aspen is a good option of substrate for short-term use. It doesn’t provide effective moisture absorption or maintenance of humidity levels and can even dry out the air inside the enclosure. It can allow your ball python to burrow depending on the size of the shavings and are very cost-effective. The substrate gives a semi-natural look to the enclosure.
The large size of shavings, if ingested by the ball python, can cause impaction. This substrate is easy to clean of all other substrates; however, changing it can be a little messy as the lightweight shaving floats away, easily creating a mess all over the place. In addition to this, the substrate is very exposed to molds if it is left damp for a long time. It also allows the growth of mites and other mites.
- Allows burrowing depending on the size of shavings.
- Very affordable substrate option.
- Easy to spot-clean
- Easily available for purchase in online stores and markets.
- Provides a semi-natural look to the enclosure.
- Larger shavings can cause impaction.
- It doesn’t absorb moisture or help maintain the humidity level
- Very exposed to fungal and parasitic growth.
- Changing this substrate can be messy because of the lightweight of the shavings.
Ball python substrate option #7: DIY Tropical Mix
This substrate consists of organic soil and Zoo Med Repti soil 40%, and the rest of the 20% is sand. This substrate holds the moisture well and maintains the humidity level of the enclosure. It is also a very affordable substrate for your ball python’s enclosure, and the moist soil allows the pet python to burrow.
- Retains moisture and maintains humidity level.
- Very affordable option.
- Allows the python to burrow in the soil.
- The sand component of the tropical mix can irritate the skin of the ball python.
Ball python substrate option #8: The Bio Dude Terra Firma
It’s a natural substrate that retails humidity well and can provide a pleasant aesthetics to the enclosure by allowing the growth of live plants. This substrate allows the ball python to engage in the biological activity of burrowing.
The Bio Dude Terra Firma is a bit expensive, but the features that it comes with are definitely worth the price. It lasts longer, and the decomposers in the soil help clean waste on its own.
- Provides a close-to-nature environment inside the enclosure.
- Retains moisture and maintains the humidity level of the enclosure.
- Self-cleaning of waste through the decomposers.
- Very expensive
Ball python substrate option #9: Zoo-Med ReptiSoil
Zoo Med Repti Soil is an excellent substrate to hold moisture and maintain humidity. This substrate is composed of potting soil, providing a natural look to the enclosure and allowing live plants’ growth.
This substrate is very affordable and can be ordered online from amazon. It is a perfect substrate to allow your ball python for burrowing and laying eggs. However, to keep the soil moist and damp, you need to mist it occasionally.
- Holds moisture and retains the humidity of the enclosure.
- Provides a natural-looking aesthetic to the enclosure.
- Very affordable and readily available online through amazon.
- It can get muddy and difficult to clean.
Ball python substrate option #10: Lugarti Natural Reptile Bedding
Lugarti Natural Reptile bedding is a great substrate choice that maintains the enclosure’s humidity by retaining moisture. It provides the opportunity to burrow the ball python; however, the dampness may allow the growth of molds in the soil, resulting in mites and parasites.
The substrate is quite expensive and available online on Amazon. The substrate isn’t dusty and absorbs the unpleasant odor of the enclosure.
- Absorbs moisture and maintains the level of humidity.
- Provides an opportunity of burrowing to your ball python.
- Available in online stores.
- It isn’t dusty and absorbs any unpleasant odor.
- The substrate is very expensive.
- More exposed to the growth of molds, mites, and parasites.
Ball python substrate option #12: Zoo- Med Eco Earth
Zoo Med Eco Earth is a substrate made of coconut fibers and is eco-friendly. The antimicrobial nature of coconut fibers makes this substrate resistant to molds and mites. It also retains moisture and maintains the humidity level of the cage. The substrate allows the burrowing and the natural digging process of your reptile.
The substrate tends to get stuck in the heat pits of a ball python and can cause impaction if ingested by the pet.
- Holds moisture and maintains humidity.
- Allows burrowing and digging.
- Antimicrobial and stops the growth of molds and mites.
- Affordable option of the substrate.
- It can cause impaction if ingested.
- It can get stuck in the ball python’s heat pits.
Ball python substrate option #13: Zoo-Med forest floor
Zoo Med Forest Floor is made of cypress mulch that retains moisture efficiently while maintaining the humidity level of the enclosure. This substrate has large particles and is not an ideal substrate to engage your ball python in burrowing.
The cypress mulch is antimicrobial, which prevents the growth of molds and mites. This substrate can cause the impaction of ingested by your pet. The substrate is not very costly; however, it is very challenging to clean this one.
- Efficiently absorbs moisture and retains humidity.
- Prevent the growth of mites and molds because of cypress’s antimicrobial nature.
- It is very economical.
- Hard to clean
- Cause impaction if ingested by your pet.
- Doesn’t allow burrowing.
Ball python substrate option #14: Zilla Snake and Lizard Litter
Zilla Snake and lizard litter is made of aspen chips and is efficient in absorbing moisture. It can allow your ball python to burrow depending on the size of the chips and are very cost-effective.
The size of chips makes it easier to clean the enclosure, controls unpleasant odor, and is 100% biodegradable. If ingested by the ball python, it can cause impaction. In addition to this, the substrate is very exposed to molds if it is left damp for a long time. It also allows the growth of mites and other mites.
- Very affordable substrate.
- Good moisture absorbent.
- Allows burrowing for the ball python.
- Easy to clean.
- 100% biodegradable and easy to clean
- Controls odor
- It can cause impaction if ingested by your ball python.
- Allows the growth of mites and molds.
Ball python substrate option #15: Zilla reptile terrarium Bedding Substrate Liner
Zilla reptile terrarium Bedding Substrate Liner is easy to maintain and handle. The substrate can be cleaned and reused without any difficulty and is made of biodegradable enzymes, which minimizes the foul odor of the enclosure.
The substrate is soft and absorbs moisture effectively, but it can’t retain moisture and must occasionally be misted. The substrate is safe and cannot be ingested by your ball python, saving it from health complications.
- Good absorbent
- Easy to clean and reusable.
- It absorbs foul odor and is made of biodegradable material.
- Safe to use (no chances of ingestion).
- It can’t retain moisture.
Ball python substrate option #16: Carolina Custom cages
Carolina custom cages have this carpet for reptiles made of recycled plastic and easy to use and maintain. The carpet absorbs moisture but doesn’t retain it well and requires occasional misting.
Being a carpet, it doesn’t provide the ball python with the opportunity of burrowing. It is an easy to clean and affordable option for the substrate.
- Easy to clean and maintain.
- Absorbs moisture.
- Very affordable option.
- Cannot retain moisture or maintain the humidity level of the enclosure.
- It doesn’t allow the python to burrow.
Ball python substrate option #17: Hamiledyi Reptile Natural Carpet for Pet Terrarium
The Hamiledyi Reptile Natural Carpet for Pet Terrarium is made of coconut fibers with an antimicrobial property that prevents molds and mites’ growth. The substrate is a good absorber and easy to clean and maintain. It reduces the reptile odor in the enclosure.
- The antimicrobial property of coconut fibers stops the growth of mites and molds.
- Easy to clean and maintain
- Reduces reptile odor.
- Doesn’t retain moisture and humidity level.
Ball python substrate option #18: Scott Essential Multifold Paper Towels
The multifold paper towel is a very affordable option for those whose budget is tight. This substrate absorbs water efficiently and has zero risks of being ingested by your ball python. The aesthetic, however, is not anywhere close to nature and doesn’t allow burrowing too.
- An excellent absorbent
- Easy to handle and maintain
- No risk of ingestion or impaction.
- Doesn’t provide a natural look to the enclosure.
- It doesn’t allow your ball python to burrow.
Ball python Substrates to avoid
Now that you know which substrates are recommended for the ball python and which criteria you should use to check the effectiveness of substrate that you’re buying for your pet reptile, you must also know the substrate that should be avoided at any cost.
You might come across a few substrates and even purchase mistakenly without knowing the consequences; these substrates can be harmful to your ball python and affect the reptile’s health. These substrates are explained below in detail.
Substrates to avoid #1: Sand
As mentioned earlier, the ball pythons come from the African grasslands and rainforest, where the soil is very moist and the humidity level is higher. In captivity, the ball pythons require the same moist bedding where they can burrow and move freely.
Sand is a very dry substrate for a ball python, as it doesn’t retain moisture, promotes the growth of mold, and can cause impaction if ingested by the python. So you must avoid sand as a substrate for your ball python’s enclosure.
Substrates to avoid #2: Pine and Cedar Shavings
This substrate, although, seems natural and effective for the ball python, yet can be very harmful to your reptile’s health. It produces toxic oil and other compounds in the air that can directly cause respiratory irritation and neurological damage to your ball python.
Substrates to avoid #3: Gravel
The gravels can be very dangerous to the health of your ball python because of being easily ingestible. The pieces of gravel can cause impaction right away and don’t absorb odor or moisture at all.
Substrates to avoid #4: Artificial Outdoor carpet
This also releases harmful components in the air that can affect the respiration and neural system of the ball python. In addition to this, the substrate is not absorbent and can get very messy because of pythons defecations.
This substrate starts wearing out after a few washes, which means that you’ve wasted your money.
Substrates to avoid #5: Recycled fiber fluff and pellet products
This substrate is not comfortable for your ball python and can create dust that dries out the air. It is not suitable for burrowing and can cause impaction if ingested.
It is essential to clean the substrate as frequently as possible, as the ball pythons create a great mess in the enclosure while passing out the waste. The substrate must be replaced monthly or once every quarter, depending on the need of the time.
Choosing a substrate for your ball python is a tricky business; however, using some simple tips and tricks, you’ll just be able to get the right one for your reptile pet. While buying a substrate, consider its ability to absorb and hold moisture, safety in terms of ingestion, and how prone it is to mites and molds.
You must also consider your budget and then buy a cost-effective substrate that is easy to clean, convenient to purchase, and aesthetic in appearance. Do not fall for the claims of any substrate; instead, use your witts to select the appropriate one for your reptile.
Finally, don’t rush; take your time! Choosing the substrate greatly impacts the life and health of your ball python, so be patient throughout the process. It will help you select the best substrate for your ball python.