As you set up an enclosure, you need to choose the best substrate for your ball python. Ball pythons may not be burrowing snakes, but they often do like to bury themselves in their bedding in captivity. These snakes also need a good, absorbent substrate to keep humidity levels up.
Aspen bedding, coconut husk, and cypress mulch are all good substrates for ball pythons. A benefit to aspen bedding is its light color, which makes it easier to spot clean. Coconut husk is antibacterial and antimicrobial, so mold will not grow on it. Cypress mulch is moister than the other substrates, useful for maintaining the 60% humidity level which ball pythons require. Substrates made of paper products are also an option, but they are best for hatchling ball pythons rather than adults. Avoid harmful substrates such as sand, cedar shavings, pine shavings, gravel, dirt, and sawdust.
Providing the right substrate for the needs of your ball python is absolutely essential. We will discuss the different types of bedding that are good for ball pythons, looking closely at the pros and cons of each type in detail.
What Is The Best Bedding To Use for Ball Pythons?
Ball pythons should never have a bare enclosure floor. In the wild, they spend their days in humid underground burrows left behind by other animals, coming out to hunt at night. These terrestrial snakes need something comfortable and natural to slither around on.
You have many options when it comes to choosing a substrate for your ball python’s enclosure. Let’s look at what makes a good bedding type.
Easy To Clean
Ball pythons need a clean home in order to live a long, healthy life. You want to spot-clean your snake’s enclosures every day, getting rid of waste when you notice it. We recommend that at least once each month you completely clean and disinfect the enclosure, replacing the substrate.
This means that you want a substrate that is relatively easy to clean. You don’t want cleaning to feel too much of a chore. If the substrate is light-colored and therefore easy to notice waste on it, that is all the better.
Safe And All-Natural
Like all snakes, ball pythons are vulnerable to toxins in their environment. Your ball pythons need a safe, natural substrate that will not introduce harmful toxins to its home. All of the substrates which we discuss here are all-natural products, without any extra chemicals which could harm your snake’s scales or lungs.
Holds in Humidity
The substrate is also a key part of maintaining humidity levels in the ball python’s environment. An absorbent substrate will hold in enough water to keep humidity levels up. Ball pythons require a humidity level between 55% and 60%. When they are shedding their skin, a higher humidity level of around 80% is highly recommended.
As much as ball pythons enjoy humidity, too much moisture in their bedding can be harmful. According to the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, if a snake’s skin is constantly moist, it can become infected by bacteria and fungi. This can lead to diseases such as scale rot and infectious dermatitis, which can be deadly for ball pythons.
You need a happy medium for your ball python’s substrate. You want bedding that will absorb moisture well without getting too damp, and which can be cleaned out easily if it does get too damp.
Aspen bedding is popular with people who own all kinds of small animals, including snakes. These wood chips absorb waste well and have a light color. This color makes it easier to spot urine or feces when your snake leaves waste behind, so you can spot clean your ball python’s enclosure much more easily than with a darker substrate.
This bedding is known for its pleasant natural scent. It has a good texture for burrowing animals. While ball pythons are not active burrowers in the wild, in captivity ball pythons often enjoy burrowing in their bedding.
Aspen bedding can grow mold if it is left damp for too long. However, since ball pythons require lower humidity than other snakes, it is relatively easy to keep the bedding dry.
One difficulty with aspen bedding is that it tends to get messy as you change it out. It’s hard to keep the lightweight shreds from getting on the floor.
Zoo Med Aspen Snake Bedding
This aspen bedding is odorless and has a 191% absorbency rating. Unlike other aspen beddings, this one is created with snakes in mind, with smaller chips and low dust.
Coconut husk can be commonly found in gardening stores, but it is also created with the purpose of keeping snakes comfortable. This is a highly absorbent substrate that keeps in liquids and odors.
Best of all, coconut husk is both antibacterial and antimicrobial. This means that mold will not grow on this substrate, making it especially safe when it comes to keeping your snakes free of illnesses and diseases.
Coconut husk has larger chips than other substrates. This makes it less comfortable for burrowing snakes, but ball pythons shouldn’t mind.
One other challenge involved with coconut husk substrate is that its dark color and odor absorbency make it difficult to spot check for waste. If you regularly clean your ball python’s enclosure regardless of whether you can see or smell waste, then this will not be a problem.
ReptiChip Premium Coconut Reptile Substrate
This coconut husk substrate is a 100% organic and sustainable product. Adding water expands the blocks into mixed sized chips, at the same time providing the necessary humidity to your ball python’s enclosure.
If you are having trouble keeping up the humidity level in your ball python’s enclosure, cypress much can be of assistance. Cypress mulch is moister than other substrates and so raises the humidity level as well.
Over time, cypress mulch substrate will dry out. You can mist the inside of your snake’s enclosure to rehydrate it every few days, bringing the humidity back up again. Be cautious not to raise the humidity level too high for your ball python.
Cypress mulch is also resistant to mold growth. This makes the higher level of moisture of less concern for your snake’s health. Cypress mulch is also popular with snake owners due to its pleasant scent and appearance.
You can find cypress mulch at nearby gardening stores. However, make sure that it only has cypress mulch inside. Sometimes these mulches are mixed with cedar or pine chips. Cedar and pine are toxic to ball pythons.
Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding
This substrate contains 100% natural cypress mulch, with no other chips mixed in. It creates a natural forest floor appearance to your ball python’s enclosure and helps you maintain the humidity in the enclosure.
Many people will recommend using newspaper or paper towel as substrate for your ball pythons. These products are certainly easy to find, especially if you are new to keeping ball pythons. Paper substrate is also often the cheapest option.
The benefit to paper substrates is that it is easy to monitor your ball python’s health. You can immediately tell if the substrate is damp or has waste on it. It is also relatively easy to replace paper bedding.
However, paper substrate does not provide as much enrichment for ball pythons. It is more difficult to burrow through, and it does not add any natural smells to the environment. Many newspaper products are not as absorbent as other substrates when it comes to keeping in liquid or odors.
We recommend using paper towel or newspaper for ball python hatchlings or if you are concerned about your ball python’s health. Healthy adult ball pythons will do better with a different kind of substrate.
Ball Python Substrates To Avoid
Now that you know the best substrates for ball pythons, you need to find out what substrates you should not use. Not all wood chips are the same. According to an article in Virology Journal, ball pythons and many other reptiles are particularly vulnerable to respiratory infections.
Some people have the mistaken belief that sand is a good substrate. However, this is untrue. Ball pythons prefer forests and grasslands in the wild. Also, sand can get stuck a snake’s scales, causing painful lesions.
Cedar or Pine Wood Shavings
Cedar trees and pine trees have extra oils in their wood which are toxic for snakes. These toxins cause respiratory infections, so substrates made of cedar or pine should be avoided at all costs.
Gravel is difficult to clean and does not absorb liquid or odor at all. Consequently, it will not fulfill any of the qualities your ball python needs from its substrate.
Worst of all, it is very easy for urine and feces to get trapped between the individual rocks of gravel. This leftover waste, impossible to completely clean out, creating a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.
As natural as it might seem to just take some dirt from your garden and use it to line the bottom of your ball python’s enclosure, this could give your snake a dangerous infection. Parasites, mold spores, bacteria, and other microorganisms harmful to snakes run rampant in dirt.
Snakes have sensitive respiratory systems that are prone to infections. Any particularly dusty substrate, such as sawdust, can make your ball python very sick as it inhales the dust particles.
We recommend providing paper bedding for hatchling ball pythons, and then upgrading to aspen bedding as your pythons grow up. If your ball pythons are having a difficult time shedding, then the extra humidity provided by cypress mulch will make this process much easier for them.