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The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection

Reptile Substrate – An Article About Nothin’

Should we use SAND on the bottom of our gecko enclosure? Should we use PAPER TOWELS? How about WOOD CHIPS? Or PEAT MOSS? We get this question about once a reptile show. Read on to find out what we do.

One of the biggest controversies you will find on the Internet is whether one should use sand as a substrate in their gecko enclosure (specifically leopard geckos). Want to start a “flame war” on any of the leopard gecko forums? Mention that your leopard gecko is sick and that you have been keeping her over sand for the past 6 months. If you post this…. DUCK! as the post will start coming your way! las vegas attractions

So, you are asking, is sand bad? Well, my response is ‘it depends’. For baby leopard geckos, never start your young animals on sand. Youngsters have smaller digestive tracks and are more susceptible to the sand causing impaction.TIP ALERT—For adult leopard geckos, keep a small bowl of a quality calcium in the enclosure. Leopard geckos lick their substrate for trace elements (including calcium). A calcium dish will DRASTICALLY reduce the leopard’s need to find other sources- including the sand.

Now a word about wood chips – orchid bark…. DON’T! Do not pass GO, Do Not Collect $200! Any type of wood chip is BAD. They will somehow make it into your geckos’ mouth and they will get caught in their digestive track! Some customers insist that their wood pieces are too big for the geckos mouth. Over time, big pieces become smaller pieces and one day you will see your crested gecko lunge for a cricket only to come up with a mouth full of small pieces of wood (otherwise known as splinters). Just DON’T:) Now for the better options- Peat Moss and Paper Towels. Both are good options for your geckos- paper towels for babies and adult leos, peat moss for adult crested geckos. The purpose of both is to hold humidity and they will do this. The reason we do not use either is simple- they can be hard to manage- they either dry out too quickly (especially in the winter) or become too wet and for peat moss, this means mold. Again, not bad options, they just need a bit more management.

Since we have quite a number of enclosure, we try to balance making things as easy for us but also as comfortable for the animals as we can. So your question now is what do we use in the crested and leopard gecko enclosures in our facility?

We use Nothin’! Well, that is partially true. For adult leopard geckos, we prefer a bare bottom tank. For baby cresteds and leopards we keep the bottom bare but will crumble up a full paper towel and throw that in the corner of their enclosure. When we mist, we hit a couple extra pumps on the paper towel to soak them pretty well.

For adult crested geckos, we prefer a different approach. As we have humid hides in our adult enclosures (crested and leopards) we will leave the crested enclosure bottom bare but will take cheap plastic plant strings with big leaves that you can purchase in any $1 store and cut them up into 4-6″ sections, then scatter them over the bottom of the tank. As you will be misting the enclosure every day/every other day, you should never have an issue with humidity anyways. The advantage to this approach is many- it’s very inexpensive, makes for a decorative enclosure, cresteds like to hid under the leaves, and this is super easy to clean- just throw the plants in a bucket and let them soak overnight.

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