aaah substrate - the eternal reptile debate - especially for
You are going to read a lot about substrates if you do any research on
the net - but for reference purposes here is my two pennies worth! I will list the most common
substrates and whether I like them or not below.
This is the one that causes most of the debate. Fine sand has the potential
to cause problems with Leo's. Young Leo's especially have a habit of mouthing the substrate and
eating fine sand particles. No-one "really" knows the definitive answer to why they do this. Adults
generally tend not to fall into the silly habit but they can pick up grains of sand by chasing down
the food items you provide for them as a side effect.
Sand has the potential to build up in the Leo's digestive tract and
eventually cause impaction - a blockage if you will. You can read more about impaction in
the Health section.
There is a product called Calci-Sand which is fine sand mixed with calcium.
They would lead you to believe that if the reptile eats it, it at least gets the benefit of the
calcium. Sadly it clumps like crazy when wet and the addition of the calcium only
encourages the reptile to eat it. Silly idea really - I advise you not to go
It's worth bearing in mind however, that the oldest captive leopard gecko
was raised on sand. But personally - it's not a substrate I would use myself - impaction
can and does occur and is often
fatal - My recommendation is no on that
This debate about sand you will find causes many heated arguments amongst
Herp keepers. I like to look at it like this. If you are on a bicycle you are entitled to cycle on
the road and on the cycle paths. You can do either BUT the potential for being run
over by a car is non-existent on a cycle path - hence it is always the safer choice!! I don't know
about you but I will always tend towards the safer option myself ;)
The most common misconception I have found is that Leopard Geckos live in
deserts so therefore sand must be OK. There are slight problems with that. The
first is that they don't actually live on sand or indeed in a desert! Now at first glance that may
seem like an oxymoron - so let me explain.
The definition of a desert is : "a region so
arid because of little rainfall that it supports only sparse and widely spaced vegetation or no
vegetation at all." this is the most common definition (you may be interested
to note that even oceanic areas devoid of life are classed as deserts!). But herein lies
the confusion when it comes to the western world - Our common conception of a desert is the Sahara
or places like it; and we associate the copious amounts of sand with the concept of a desert. The
problem though is that places like the Sahara are the very extreme examples of the
If you take the trouble to research the original locations of the
wild Leopard Gecko you will soon note that the land does indeed have some sand (I'd actually
call it dirt) BUT it is mainly dry clay-ish ground,
with sparse areas of rock/pebbles/fine dirt with lots of shrubs. Other areas
seem to be very rocky indeed. There crucially however is nothing like a pure sand terrain where the
greatest concentration of Leopard Geckos are to be found..
Remember that you are taking an animal that has evolved over thousands of
years to cope with it's native terrain - yes it will do fine on just paper towel - but it's not
designed for it - it's simply just more convenient for us and healthier for the animal which is now
confined to a small location . If you want to make it as easy as possible for the reptile you need
to mimic it's habitat as closely as possible and I think an ideal realistic setup, would be
something like a slate tile base, rocks/tiles to create caves/cracks/crevices for the geckos to
hide in. Maybe some dried dirt spread in a few spots to give a more real effect. Use tiles etc to
"hide" plastic humid hides to keep the natural look but keep functionality of a single entrance
Humid hide that retains humidity well.
At the end of the day - the choice is ultimately yours BUT it will be your
reptile that will suffer from the copious amounts of sand - NOT you if anything goes wrong- bear
that in mind ;)
Eco earth is basically coconut fibres shredded up and you will receive it as
a desiccated hard block. It works amazingly similarly to the way Wiley Coyote would make things
from ACME. Add water and watch it grow!
When prepared it makes an excellent moist box substrate and I use it for
that myself. I have not noticed the geckos showing a desire to eat the stuff myself - but it does
have the potential to cause impaction.
I also use it on the my Vivarium floor but crucially I do not use it all
over the floor of the Vivarium (more on that
Some keepers use Eco earth all over their Vivarium floor - I tried it once -
it caused so much evaporation all my Vivarium windows were condensed right up to start with. That
will stabilise it has to be said but as the moisture evaporates you will then have to constantly
spray it down every day to keep it moist. Myself I prefer not to do that - so I do not use it as my
Slate and tiles
Now we are onto my favorite substrate. I use three pieces of proper old roof
slate in my Vivarium. Suitably cut down to size and with edges smoothed so as not to be harmful -
slate can have very sharp edges to it! I basically have my Vivarium set up as follows. I place 3
polystyrene tiles on the floor of my Vivarium - suitably sized and one with a notch cut out of it
for the power connector of my heat mat. The polystyrene is an excellent insulator and thus a
reflector of heat. It ensures that the heat mat wastes none of it's energy heating the wooden floor
and reflects it all upwards into the substrate medium!
I then place the heat mat on it's poly tile and then around the edges and in
between I will fill the gaps with Eco earth. Then I place the slate tiles on top and again fill
in-between them and around the outsides with more Eco earth.
This works great for me - the mat heats the slate well and there is enough
Eco earth on the perimeter to encourage digging when the females are in the mood but not enough to
allow them to lay eggs anywhere they fancy - they invariably always then retreat to the Eco earth
moist hides to do their laying! ;)
If you can get hold of old slate roof tiles all the better - but you can use
any porcelain or ceramic tiles from say B&Q for example equally as well. The big benefit is
that they are easy to clean!
Kitchen towel and/or
The old steadfast favourite is kitchen towels - and they are great. They do
have the ability however to suck up the moisture from the air like a sponge - so keep an eye on
your humidity levels if you intend to use kitchen towels as your sole substrate medium. I prefer
not to use it as the sole substrate as it does have any aesthetic appeal to me - not that the
geckos would mind!
I do however use kitchen towels exclusively in my breeder Vivariums which
are medium and large exo terra faunariums. Every two days I take out the old towels and replace -
cleaning is simple this way!
Like Eco earth it magically grows with water! It holds water extremely well
- but also has the potential to dry out very quickly in the warm areas of the Vivarium. I use
sphagnum moss as the moist hide substrates for my hatching's. They need the moisture much more than
a place to lay eggs as they are nowhere near egg laying age naturally! For that purpose it works
I personally wouldn't bother using it as my sole substrate or even as a
mixer for say Eco earth - just too much hassle really.
There are many other substrates you could try - like repti carpet or rubber
tiles etc.. but some are poisonous to geckos - like pine for example - the top 5 I mention are the
most commonly debated and the third is in my opinion probably the best - but again that's my
I am always on the lookout for a new substrate solution - so if you stumble
upon one - feel free to drop me a mail and let me know!