“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:
- DIY tropical mix — 40% organic topsoil, 40% Zoo Med ReptiSoil, 20% play sand. Inexpensive and holds humidity well. 1 bag of topsoil + 1 24qt bag of ReptiSoil + 1 bag of play sand works well for an average 4’x2’x2′ enclosure. For best results layer with sphagnum moss and leaf litter.
- The Bio Dude Terra Firma — Bioactive-ready natural substrate that retains humidity well and nourishes live plants. Expensive, but lasts a long time, so it’s worth the investment. I recommend getting The Bio Shot with it!
- Lugarti Natural Reptile Bedding — Expensive, but holds humidity well, isn’t dusty, and absorbs odors.
- Zoo Med ReptiSoil — Potting soil made specifically for reptile enclosures. Reasonably priced, drains well, but can get a bit muddy. Great if you plan to use live plants. I prefer to mix it with organic topsoil and play sand as mentioned above.
- Reptichip — Branded coconut husk substrate. Absorbs odors and moisture very well.
These beddings aren’t very natural, but they do a decent enough job as a ball python substrate.
- Zoo Med Eco Earth — Coconut fiber. Cheap and holds humidity well, but may not be digestible. Many complain that it has a tendency to get stuck in a ball python’s heat pits.
- Zoo Med Forest Floor — A pure cypress mulch substrate. Attractive, holds humidity well. Not very eco-friendly, though, and the larger bits can be problematic if accidentally ingested.
- Cat’s Best Universal — Looks funny, but absorbs moisture and odors very well (not available in the US).
- Paper Towels – Cheap, easy to replace, but doesn’t hold humidity well.
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.
- Reptile carpet – Can’t handle big messes, difficult to clean
- Carefresh — Dusty, can’t hold humidity
- Pine/cedar shavings or bark— Oils cause neurological damage in reptiles
- Sand — Dusty, doesn’t hold humidity at all
Whichever substrate you choose, spot clean as necessary. Due to the nature of snake urine 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, or at very least once every quarter.
Although one can often save a lot of money by buying non-reptile branded items, substrate is often 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).