Whether you’re keeping your ball python in a tank or in a rack, there are several options you can use as a substrate for your ball python.
Although ball pythons are not very demanding when it comes to their substrate, several boxes need to be checked when it comes to their substrate.
The ideal substrate should not contain any dust because it can get in the heat pits of your ball python. A great substrate should also absorb well and should help in regulating humidity levels.
Option #1: Paper
Some people keep ball pythons on kitchen paper or even on newspaper. It is obvious that this is not the most naturalistic option and is not pretty to look at.
However, it can be good to keep your ball python on paper when you just got him. If he has mites you'll notice it pretty quickly because the little black spots are obvious on white kitchen paper.
Another advantage of using kitchen paper is that you’ll easily spot their poop. This allows you to monitor your ball python closely and find out if everything is working as it should!
The final advantage of paper is that ball pythons tend to crawl underneath the paper to hide. This is something they like because they feel secure that way.
Some disadvantages are the unnatural look, the low absorption and the lack of maintaining proper humidity. We therefore we only recommend to use paper during the first few weeks after you’ve just bought you ball just to keep an eye on him.
Option #2: Coconut substrate
Coconut substrate is a great substrate that is used by many large breeders across the world. It is made from coconut fiber and is mainly used in racks, but can also be used in tanks.
It is great to maintain humidity, absorbs well, looks natural and the special texture could be considered enrichment for your balls. They tend to dig into the substrate to hide and usually shed very good.
Cheaper versions of this substrate can be found in your local gardening store, but these products are usually not very good. The problem is that they are too dusty. This can cause long issues if used long term and can get in the heat pits of your ball.
It is far better to use a coconut substrate that has specifically been developed by ball python enthusiasts that contains less dust. We therefore recommend reptichip. This substrate has been washed three times and is great for balls.
Option #3: Lignocel or Aspen bedding
Lignocel is made up of very small wood fiber particles. It was developed for rodents, but is also fantastic for ball pythons. In Europe, it is widely used in racks and tanks.
It has the lowest amount of dust of all substrates (except for paper of course) and has a clean, sterile look.
It has a bright yellow color that makes it straightforward to distinguish the dirty bedding from the clean one. This is possible because it absorbs extremely well thereby changing the color of the substrate.
There are a few downsides too. It does not keep humidity well and if you don’t make it wet your ball python won’t shed properly. For some reason, it also seems to find its way in every corner of your reptile room or even your entire house.
It is very cheap as well. It can be found on almost every reptile show in Europe, but it may be a little harder to come by in the US. Most pet stores also sell similar bedding for rodents, but these are not recommended! They almost always contain way to much dust! An alternative outside Europe that comes close to lignocel is Aspen bedding.
#4 Sphagnum Moss
Technically sphagnum moss does not fully belong in this list, but is worth a mention. You shouldn’t fill your entire tank with sphagnum, but you can use it some of your hides.
Damp sphagnum moss in some, but not all of your ball pythons hides will help him shed properly (make sure some hides are completely dry as well). For this, you just let it soak in some water, wring it out and place it in the hide.
If you use this for your entire tank your ball python will develop scale rot pretty soon so never do this!
Peat is a natural substrate that is great for naturalistic tanks. If you’re looking to make a tank that is as realistic as possible than you can use this substrate.
Right out of the bag this substrate is great and, if you want to, you can plant your plants directly in the substrate. However, most plants won’t survive for long in your tanks because and adult ball python can easily crush them.
However, after a while it will start to dry out and you should avoid that. If you add some water (it will absorb the water, but don’t add too much until you make it wet) once in a while you can keep the humidity high with little effort.
Peat can be found in almost any gardening center close to you and usually comes in big bags. Just make sure that you take peat where nothing was added (they sometimes contain fertilizer).
Please keep in mind that this substrate is not very eco-friendly. Peat is mined from peat wet lands. These are important carbon sinks and contribute to the reduction of gasses important in global warming. It also takes a very long time before they’re replenished.
Ball pythons are not very picky when it comes to their substrate or enclosure. They all have their advantages and disadvantages and a perfect substrate does not exist.
Each type of substrate of this list can be used for any enclosure and the one you pick depends on your personal preferences.
Please also keep in mind that other substrate shouldn't be used for ball pythons. Reptibark for example can be ingested during feeding and can cause issues. Sand is also something you shouldn't use. It does not absorb and does not maintain humidity. If you stick to the substrates on this list you should be pretty safe.