Substrate is simply the bedding in your blood python's cage. In addition to absorbing any waste your snake passes, substrate may also serve as a hide, and can aid in maintaining humidity within the enclosure. While one's choice of substrate is largely a matter of personal preference, there are a few key points to keep in mind when selecting a substrate for your blood or STP.
What Kind of Substrate Do I Need?
Choice of substrate is usually pretty straightforward. First of all, determine whether you prefer a sheet type substrate like newspaper, or a particle substrate such as cypress mulch. Particle substrates allow for spot cleaning, where the soiled areas are removed and replaced with fresh bedding, and complete bedding changes are performed only as necessary. Sheet substrates must be completely changed when soiled. Both types of substrate can double as hides: blood pythons can burrow into a particle substrate, or sit between layers of a sheet substrate to feel secure. Additionally, sheet and particle substrates can be misted to help raise cage humidity, although some types hold up to moisture better than others.
Ultimately, your substrate of choice will probably hinge on aesthetics, ease of management, and cost. Some keepers can't stand the appearance of newsprint in their cages, while others appreciate its low cost and widespread availability. You may be the kind of keeper that doesn't mind paying a little extra for double-milled cypress mulch due to the more natural appearance it creates in your enclosures. If you maintain a large collection, you may prefer a particle substrate that allows for simple spot cleaning; on the other hand, your collection may be so big that free newspaper from friends & recycling bins may be your most cost-effective method. These are all points to keep in mind when making your substrate selections.
Sheet Substrates: Types & Considerations
While this is not an all-inclusive list, here are some commonly-used sheet substrates. Click on each photo for pros, cons and comments on each substrate:
The most commonly-used sheet substrate throughout this hobby, newspaper is cheap and easy to find.
Pros: Inexpensive, widely available, can be folded and layered as needed. Blood & short-tailed pythons like to sit between layers of paper, thus it doubles as an efficient hide spot, making the snake feel secure.
Cons: Bulky to store, not as aesthetically pleasing as natural/wood substrates. Not as durable in very humid conditions.
A nice alternative for those who don't care for printed newspaper. Check with local printers for "end rolls" at a reduced cost.
Pros: More aesthetically pleassing; no ink stains on enclosure or anima; can be folded/layered as needed. Unprinted newspaper has all the same functional features as regular newspaper, but without busy, unsightly ink.
Cons: More expensive than normal newspaper; heavy to ship; bulky to store.
Depending upon the paper weight selected, kraft paper can be extrmely durable. It is readily available in several weights & either indented (textured) or plain.
Pros: Available in different weights & sizes in both rolls and sheets. Heavier paper is quite durable, more aesthetically pleasing that newspaper.
Cons: Rolls are bulky and must be cut down to size for use. Sheets may be easier to store, but are bulky for shipping. May have to hunt around for bargain pricing.
Paper towels, especially the thick "shop towel" variety, make a nice substrate for hatchling bloods & STPs.
Pros: Great for hatchlings, very absorbent, soft. Looks nice, user friendly, holds up to light misting. "Select a size" rolls make it easy to line baby boxes with several layers.
Cons: Impractical for larger enclosures due to cost. May disintegrate quickly when saturated, especially if the enclosure inhabitant is active.
Particle Substrates: Types & Considerations
Again, not an inclusive list, but a good selection of particle substrates (some common, others not so much). Pros, cons and comments in photo captions.
Cypress mulch is a widely used substrate for many species, but the sustainable harvest of cypress trees is reason for concern.
Pros: Mold & rot resistant, available in coarse & finer grades. Pythons will burrow in it. Aesthetically pleasing for those wanting a more naturalistic vivarium.
Cons: Sustainability is a concern. Cypress can be dusty if finely milled. Bags are bulky to store and can be expensive. Larger chunks may present ingestion hazards.
Coarse grade chips seem to compact less than fine grade, and thus don't mold as easily. This substrate also doesn't pack down like shredded aspen can.
Pros: Available in fine grade or coarse grade, aspen or hardwood. Pythons will burrow if a deep enough layer is provided. Easy to spot clean or partially change.
Cons: Must find a distributor, bulk order may be required. Somewhat dusty. Handling can also be messy due to small particle size.
Aspen is another popular substrate among herpetoculturists. It looks nice, and when purchased in bulk can be relatively inexpensive. Shredded aspen is much lighter in weight than cypress mulch. Be very careful if using aspen with young bloods or short-tails, as this substrate tends to have a dehydrating effect.
Pros: Available shredded, flaked or chipped, compacts well, easy to spot clean. Snakes frequently burrow in this substrate when offered, and it's also aesthetically pleasing.
Cons: Can be extremly dusty. May be difficult to find depending on where you live. Can mold quickly in wet cages. Can be messy, may become lodged in the tracks of sliding cage doors.
This is made of ground coconut husks that are then compressed into bricks. The bricks must be soaked in hot water, and expand into lot of substrate. Easily found at many pet retail stores and reptile expos.
Pros: Absorbent. Compressed bricks make for easy storage of extra substrate. Nice natural appearance. Snakes will burrow if provided a deep enough layer.
Cons: Messy due to its dirt-like consistency. Can be dusty when dry. When over-watered this substrate can take a long time to dry out, and should be stirred regularly.
This paper-pulp substrate is not as frequently used for snakes, usually due to cost. Keepers with one or two snakes who want an alternative to wood particle substrates may find it a good solution.
Pros: Soft, absorbent, available in a variety of colors. Seems to control odors well. Allows snakes to burrow & can double as a hide.
Cons: Can be expensive, may not be cost-effective for the needs of larger collections. Difficult to find in bulk. May mold in high-humidity situations. Can be messy.
These compressed paper pellets are usually made from recycled newspaper. They slowly break down over time, and with the addition of moisture.
Pros: Very absorbent. Holds up well in high-humidity situations, especially if stirred regularly. An alternative to wood particle substrates.
Cons: Heavy, especially when a deep layer is used. Can be very messy once the pellets break down. Dusty if not dampened regularly.
Substrates to Avoid
Just as there are many substrates that work well for blood & short-tailed pythons, there are also a few that we feel should be avoided. Some are toxic, some are irritants, and others simply aren't effective substrate solutions.
• Cedar Shavings - The oils in cedar are toxic to snakes. This substrate should be avoided completely.
• Pine Shavings - Pine is extremely dusty, and its oils can be very irritating to a snake's resipiratory tract.
• Orchid Bark or Reptile Bark - These chunks of fir tree bark are not as asborbent as substrates made up of smaller particles.
They also present a hazard if swallowed during feeding.
• Astroturf, "Reptile Carpet" - Not as absorbent as other choices; may be difficult to effectively clean/disinfect.
• Sand - Heavy, dusty, may accumulate between scales and cause irritation. Repeated ingestion may cause impaction.
Fortunately the list of safe, frequqently-used subtrates is much longer than those that should be avoided. With a little planning and common sense, it is easy to select a substrate that works well for your blood python and your caging solution, as well as your budget and preferred level of maintenance.
There are almost as many different types of effective substrates as there are caging solutions. You may need to experiment with a couple of different types to find the one that works best for your setup. It's pretty hard to go wrong with paper substrate, like newspaper or kraft paper, and we've used this extensively throughout our snake keeping experience. For discussion on different substrates, you can also visit our caging subforum, part of the husbandry forum on our message boards. Threads specifically pertaining to substrate will be tagged with that heading.
Now that you have a good idea of the pros and cons of various substrate, let's address an extremely important aspect of creating the right environment: proper heating, and temperature control.