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What is best for your gecko & what I use myself.

aaah substrate - the eternal reptile debate - especially for Leo's!

 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 near it.

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 one.

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 desert concept.

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

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 later).

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 main substrate.

  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 paper

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!

 Sphagnum Moss

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 great.

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.

Other substrates

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 opinion!

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!


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