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When you adopt a box turtle as a pet, you have to make sure that you are providing everything for its comfort. Substrate for box turtle’s habitat may sound a minor thing, but trust me, it is not. Choosing the perfect substrate for your box turtle is a huge responsibility.
Different people have different opinions regarding the best substrate for a box turtle. Some prefer natural bedding, and some may prefer commercial beddings. But which one is the best?
Well, I have been raising box turtles for many years, and I have done many types of research on this topic. I think I have found the closest answer possible. In this article, I will share my findings with you, and also, I will clear some of the confusion people often face regarding a box turtle’s substrate.
What Is A Substrate?
A substrate is an element, pet owners use as bedding for their reptile pets. Clay, coconut fiber, wood shaving, and many other things are used as a substrate. A substrate is not appropriate for all reptiles.
Each species or subspecies has its own preferable substrate. Many pet owners prefer commercial substrate which is better than the natural ones in some cases. The choice of substrate depends on the subspecies or species.
The Best Substrate For A Box Turtle
The best substrate is the one, which can replicate the environment a box turtle can experience in the wild. Now think about where most of the box turtles live. Most of the box turtles live in forested areas where the sunlight can barely touch the ground. The lands are not sandy, dry or compact, but the soil is loose and highly humid.
It proves two things.
- Box turtles prefer high humidity.
- Box turtles can live in a low light environment.
It means you have to do three basic things to replicate the wild environment.
- Plant small plants, shrubs or vegetation.
- Provide a high humid environment.
- Place loose, moist dirt that can hold the moisture of the soil.
What Qualities Good Bedding Needs?
- The bedding can retain humidity.
- The box turtles can burrow into the bedding.
- The bedding is healthy and non-toxic to the pet box turtle.
- The bedding should not cause any skin problem to the box turtle.
Best Substrate I Can Recommend For Box Turtles
I have mentioned earlier that I have been raising box turtles for several years, and I have done many types of research on a box turtle’s substrate. To be honest, I have faced many problems due to the substrate. And Finally, I have found the best substrate for my box turtle.
For me, Zoo Med Eco Earth Compressed Coconut Fiber Substrate is the best substrate by far I have used. The substrate comes in both loose soil and brick form. Personally, I prefer the brick form.
Zoo Med Eco Earth Compressed Coconut Fiber substrate is basically coconut fibers, which have been compressed into bricks. To make a substrate from the brick, first, you have to put it into a large bucket. Then add a little bit of warm water, and it will expand into looser, moist bedding.
The expansion occurs really fast. These brick types’ substrates give you the freedom to choose what kind of bedding you want. If you want damp, moist bedding, add a bit of warm water. If you do not want damp bedding, break the bricks with hand, and do not add any water.
The brand and particular model is perfect to use as bedding for the box turtle because it is organic, non-toxic, and inexpensive. I have been using this for many years as my box turtle’s bedding. The reason I prefer it because it is not sticky, and gives a sandy feeling in the enclosure.
The substrate is perfect for burrowing if you mix some other materials with it. In many cases, the box turtles find it difficult to burrow into the substrate because it can not hold its shape. Without any mixing, the box turtle cannot burrow in this substrate too.
I would suggest mixing the substrate soil. You have to use moist and clumpy soil. Mix it in a 50:50 ratio so that the substrate can hold up together. The coconut fiber can retain moisture very well, and it will keep the enclosure’s humidity level high if you spray water daily.
Instead of soil, you can mix the substrate with leaf litter, peat moss, sphagnum moss too. I personally prefer these elements as the toppings of the bedding instead of the base.
Perfect Wooden Tortoise House For Outdoor & Indoor!
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Other Substrates Options For Box Turtles
You can use natural substrates as beddings for box turtles too. Coconut husk fiber is an ideal substrate for a box turtle. Large bark nuggets and sand can be mixed with the substrate to make it more comfortable for the box turtle. You can mix other elements too.
What are these additional elements we can mix with the substrate? I am providing a list of additional beddings for the box turtle.
Additional Beddings For The Box Turtle
- Sphagnum moss
- Cypress mulch
- Peat moss
- Regular soil
- Leaf litter
- Orchid bark
- Leaf mulch
- Hay (If you are going to use it, limit the quantity. It can coarse a bit, and the turtle can get scratches from it)
- Wood chips
- Wood shavings
- Organic potting soil
Combination Of Substrate For Box Turtle Bedding
You can mix the substrates into different combinations. Here I am recommending some combinations of the substrates you can follow.
- Coconut fiber mixed with peat moss
- Coconut fiber mixed with organic potting soil
- Coconut fiber mixed with dirt
- Organic soil, sphagnum moss, and cypress mulch
- Coconut fiber mixed with sphagnum moss
I am talking about coconut fiber a lot because it is the best substrate for your box turtle. I have added the list of additional substrates that you can mix with coconut fiber and make your own substrate. While making substrate, your box turtle’s comfort and health should be your first priority.
Sphagnum moss is an admirable additional substrate to the main base of the bedding. Why? It is because sphagnum can hold the moisture and heat of the bedding better than any other substrate. Box turtles love to burrow into this kind of bedding.
I use the combination of coconut fiber and sphagnum moss as the bedding of my box turtle. I daily spray water on the bedding. The sphagnum moss holds the moist and releases throughout the day. It helps to keep the bedding warm and humid.
Substrates You Should Avoid For Box Turtles
Every box turtle owner wants to provide soft and safe bedding to its pet turtle. But not all the materials are safe and healthy for your box turtle. Some materials can even be toxic to the box turtle.
While buying a substrate or choosing one, read the materials it contains. You must avoid the substrate that contains:
- Pearlite: Pearlite is a type of volcanic rock. It looks like small pebbles.
- Vermiculite: Vermiculite is a type of mica. It has been designed in such a way that it can expand.
- Styrofoam: It is one kind of polystyrene foam.
- Any added chemicals or dyes.
- Anything with added additives.
You have to avoid these because your box turtle may eat these. These elements are not good for the box turtle’s health, which can cause digestive problems. Even some of these can block the box turtle’s intestines.
Here is a list of substrates you should avoid,
- Recycled newspaper
- Cat litter
- Walnut shells
- Rodent pellet bedding
- Aspen shavings
- Potting soil that is not organic
- Calcium sand
- Pink bark
- Cedar wood chips
- Reptile carpet
- Anything too coarse
Why Avoid These Substrates For Box Turtle Habitat?
Calcium sand: you have to avoid calcium sand because it can not hold the moisture at all. So, the box turtle’s skin will dry out and will cause many skin problems.
Sand: many owners find regular sand okay. But sand restricts the passage of oxygen.
Gravel: gravel can cause scratches to the box turtle.
Shavings, walnut shells: these can give the box turtle scratches. Moreover, these elements can not hold humidity.
Cat litter: cat litter is very dangerous to use as bedding for your box turtle. It soaks the entire moisture of the bedding.
Newspaper: it can not retain humidity or moisture. Moreover, it gets moldy if you spray water on it.
Reptile carpet: reptile carpet may be good for other reptiles but not for a box turtle. We know that a box turtle tends to burrow from time to time. Reptile carpet does not allow burrowing, and also it can not hold the moisture or humidity.
Without experimenting with anything new, you should avoid these elements. I always say one thing. That a plain floor is always better than these toxic substrates.
“Cedar wood shavings are toxic to reptiles and should never be used.”
How Much Substrates Do Box Turtles Need?
The quantity of the substrate depends on the size of the habitat or enclosure. I always suggest putting at least 3 to 4 inches of substrate. If you can provide more layers or depth of the substrate, it will be better.
The reason for the deep layer is that a box turtle tends to burrow for many reasons. If the substrate is not deep enough, the box turtle will be unable to burrow. It can cause mental and physical effects on the box turtle.
Click here to know the perfect enclosure size for your box turtle.
Why Do We Need A Good Substrate For Box Turtles?
I have mentioned earlier that a good substrate is the primary condition of good habitat. If the substrate is not good enough, the box turtle may face many difficulties.
- Box turtle can not burrow.
- A dry substrate can cause medical issues to the box turtle.
- The box turtle may lose appetite.
Box Turtle Does Not Prefer A Dry Substrate
Most of the subspecies of box turtle do not prefer a dry environment. It can cause many damages to them.
- Shell crack
- Dry skin
- Swollen eyes
- Respiratory diseases
A box turtle may suffer from these medical conditions due to a dry substrate. So, as a responsible turtle owner, you have to ensure that your box turtle is getting damp, humid or moist bedding.
Substrate For Outdoor Box Turtle Habitat
Many people think that an outdoor enclosure of box turtle does not require bedding or substrate. It is not accurate. An outdoor enclosure does need proper bedding. The beddings material or substrate will be the same as the indoor enclosure.
In this article, I have talked about one of the most important elements of a box turtle’s enclosure. I hope you guys have found it helpful. If you have any confusion, do not forget to contact me.
Frequently Asked Questions
is potting soil safe for box turtles?
Potting soil can be used as a substrate for box turtles and is safe as long as it does not contain any harmful material such as perlite, vermiculite, or Styrofoam. Organic soil is recommended as a good option for bedding.
how often to change box turtle substrate?
The frequency of changing box turtle substrate depends on the type and condition of the substrate. Commercially made substrates may claim to last up to a year, but it is still best to change them every 6 months for the box turtle’s health.
How deep should a substrate be for a box turtle?
The depth of the substrate for box turtles should be sufficient for them to burrow in. The depth of the substrate should be at least 4 inches (10 cm) to allow for burrowing.
What is the best organic soil for box turtles?
Any organic soil without any chemical additives or fertilizers can be used as a substrate for box turtles. However, it is recommended to use a soil that is free of pesticides and herbicides. A mixture of organic topsoil and sand is recommended, with a ratio of 3:1 respectively.
How do you layer a substrate for a box turtle?
The substrate for a box turtle should be layered in a way that simulates its natural environment. The bottom layer should consist of rocks or gravel for drainage, followed by a layer of mesh or screen to prevent the turtle from digging too deep.
The next layer should be a mix of soil and sand, followed by a layer of cypress mulch or coconut fiber.
The final layer should consist of leaf litter, which will provide a natural hiding place for the turtle and help maintain humidity.
is coconut fiber good for box turtles?
Coconut fiber is good for box turtles as it closely resembles their natural habitat, helps prevent odors, and provides moisture and heat. It is recommended to mix with soil for a more compact bedding option that allows for burrowing.
Coconut fiber substrate, along with other options like sphagnum moss and cypress mulch, are considered safe and effective substrates for box turtles.
is aspen bedding good for box turtles?
Aspen bedding is generally considered safe for box turtles. It is soft, absorbent, and free of harmful chemicals or toxins. However, some sources suggest that aspen bedding may not be the best option for box turtles as it may not hold moisture well and may not allow for burrowing. Other bedding options like coconut fiber, cypress mulch, and soil mixed with sand are recommended for box turtles.