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October 12, 2015

Whether you call it bedding or substrate, almost all reptiles and amphibians need some material on the floor of their cage. It provides them with traction to move, as well as opportunities to perform natural behaviors such as burrowing. And while substrates may seem like a mundane category, manufacturers have produced quite few new types.

As with any other reptile products, the substrate you sell to the herp owner must match the needs of the species they keep. The humidity the animal needs is the more important aspect that affects the choice of substrate.

Humid Herps

Zilla has a wide variety of substrates, each designed for specific use with reptiles or amphibians,” said Ryan McVeigh, brand manager, Central Garden & Pet, makers of Zilla.

“For tropical animals, Jungle Mix and Coconut Husk Bricks both do well and can be used along with Terrarium Moss to provide a humid environment,” said McVeigh.

These products work well with most frogs, rainbow boas, anoles and other herps that require high humidity.

Zilla’s Bark Blend makes a good substrate for species that require moderate humidity levels.

“It is large, therefore not easily ingested by most animals and it retains some moisture which can assist with the animal’s shedding,” said McVeigh.

For the humidity lovers, Zoo Med makes ReptiBark and Forest Floor, made from fir bark and cypress mulch respectively.

“Forest Floor provides your terrarium with a natural forest floor look while retaining moisture to provide humidity to the enclosure,” said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator at Zoo Med. “This substrate is great for snakes, amphibians or tropical species of tortoises and lizards.”

While many keepers leave the bottom of turtle tanks bare, this is unsightly and boring for the viewer—and probably the turtle. Zoo Med’s new Aquatic River Pebbles provide a more natural look to the tank while being easy to clean. They are safe for all sizes of turtles.

Desert Dwellers

For desert species, sand is an ever-popular choice and there are numerous types available.

Zoo Med’s newest sand offering is Dragon Sand, a fine quartz sand that is perfect for bearded dragons, uromastyx, other desert lizards and sand boas. The company also offers ReptiSand in Desert White and Natural Red

Zilla offers Calcium Sand, a sand substrate that incorporates calcium carbonate. It’s available in several nontoxic colors.

Not all keepers of desert reptiles want to use sand. For them Zilla’s Desert Blend is perfect. It’s made from crushed walnut shells. It retains heat well, allows for natural behaviors and is compostable with yard waste.

One of the more innovative substrates is Zoo Med’s Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate. According to Rademacher, it is a clay substrate the owner can form as he or she likes while the reptile can still perform its natural digger behaviors. The keeper can create tunnels, outcrops and multilevel terraces for their pets to explore.

Zoo Med’s new Cavern Kit includes everything needed to make caverns, tunnels, and shelters with Excavator Clay. The hobbyist can use the kit to make naturalistic habitats limited only by the imagination.

Off the Beaten Path

For additional substrate options, retailers can encourage customers to look beyond the reptile department. Several products traditionally packaged and sold as small animal beddings actually work well as reptile substrates.

Eco-Bedding by FiberCore is a case in point. This paper-based bedding is made from 100 percent post-consumer waste, so it’s an eco-friendly option for concerned reptile hobbyists.

“FiberCore’s Eco-Bedding is a great product for most types of reptiles,” said Brian W. Wood, president of FiberCore.  “Since it is completely natural and free of additives, some have suggested the regular Eco-Bedding is preferable to Eco-Bedding with Odor Control.  Eco-Bedding works great with all sorts of burrowing snakes.”

Nikki Ocasio of the Pet Life Store in Bangor, Maine agrees.

“Hognose snakes, Kenyan sand boas, milk snakes and more benefit from the low to mid humidity levels offered by Eco-Bedding,” Ocasio said. She recommended it for reptiles requiring low to mid-range humidity, including a variety of snakes, lizards, and bearded dragons.

“Bearded dragons tend to play with it, rather than nest in it,” Ocasio said.

Carefresh from Healthy Pet is another paper-based small animal substrate suitable for a range of reptile species. This writer has used Carefresh successfully with corn snakes, king snakes, pine snakes and bearded dragons.

How do you convince reptile owners to buy a small animal substrate for their pets? Education and display are the keys, according to Wood.

“Increasing sales of Eco-Bedding to reptile owners is easily accomplished through in-store use and education,” he said. “It is available in several colors which call attention to the bedding, accent the pet and the store.  All of this draws attention to the product and lends itself to a conversation starter for the pet store staff. Additionally, Eco-Bedding is completely safe and eliminates the risk of impaction found in sand and other products.”

Selling Substrates

With so many substrate options available, it can be hard to know what to stock. A store needs to carry a variety of products to satisfy keepers of a broad range of species.

“A consumer wants something that looks natural and is designed to keep the habitat within the proper humidity and temperature ranges for their animal,” said McVeigh.  “For example, if you have a tropical animal such as a Pacman Frog, you wouldn’t want to use a dry bedding such as Lizard Litter.”

Store staff needs to be able to recommend the correct substrates for the species in question, and the store should carry substrates appropriate for all the animals sold there.

“The best advice is to understand the best uses for each,” said McVeigh. “Stores need to know the husbandry requirements for tropical and desert species they carry and know which bedding option is best for those animals. Zilla’s consumer product catalog also contains a bedding guide to help retailers and consumers to choose the best substrate for the animal they are keeping.”

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