“Substrate” is another word for bedding. There are good ball python substrates, and then there are bad substrates you should never use. Avoid the bad and choose what works best for you from the good:
- Paper Towels – Cheap, easy to replace, but doesn’t hold humidity well
- Aspen Shavings – Cheap, burrowable, good for humid climates (molds quickly, however)
- Coconut Fiber — Cheap and holds humidity well, but may not be digestible
- Peat Moss — Holds humidity well, but may be a little dusty
Due to their fine texture, all three of these options tend to get stuck in a ball python’s heat pits (“holes” along the ball python’s lips that are sensitive to infrared radiation, aka potential prey). If you take special care to keep them clear, you shouldn’t have a problem.
- Lugarti Natural Reptile Bedding — Expensive, but holds humidity well, isn’t dusty, and absorbs odors
- Reptichip — Branded coconut husk substrate. Absorbs odors and moisture very well
- Cypress Mulch (not blend!) — Attractive, holds humidity well
- Cat’s Best Universal — Looks funny, but absorbs moisture and odors very well (not available in the US)
These are widely known as the best choices for ball python substrate.
- Reptile Carpet – Can’t handle big messes, difficult to clean
- Carefresh — Dusty, can’t hold humidity
- Reptibark — Treated with too many chemicals and based off fir (pine) bark
- Pine/Cedar Shavings — Oils cause neurological damage in reptiles
- Sand — Dusty, stinky, encourages bacterial growth, doesn’t hold humidity at all
Whichever you choose, spot clean as necessary. Due to the nature of snake pee and feces, complete changes of bedding and tank cleaning may be required frequently. If for some reason your python has managed not to make a mess for an entire month, substrate should be replaced monthly.
Although one can often save a lot of money by buying non-reptile branded items, substrate is an exception. Cypress mulch in particular can be contaminated with herbicides, pesticides, or even mites.
If you are still worried about contamination after purchasing cypress mulch from the pet store, soak the bag of substrate in water, spread on a baking sheet, then bake in the oven at 250 degrees for an hour or so (until dry).
PRO TIP: Install a layer of tile on the bottom of the terrarium, underneath the substrate. This provides an effective barrier between the snake and the heat pad in case the snake chooses to burrow (because glass doesn’t count), preventing potential burns. This layer also enhances the enclosure’s insulation value.