Selecting the best bedding for ball pythons is far from easy, due to the wide range of different products available, and differing opinions on many internet forums.
The purpose of this article is to discuss my own experiences with a range of different substrates, discussing the positives and the negatives of each. Hopefully, by the end, you feel like you’re far better informed, and can select a suitable bedding for your python.
Aspen shavings are one of the most popular types of bedding used for ball pythons, as well as a range of other snakes.
The good news is that aspen shavings are lightweight, relatively easy to find in pet stores (due to their popularity) and look great in a ball python cage. I also like the way that they are so fluffy, which helps to make them absorbent. Spilled water or faeces quickly dry out when using aspen bedding, which helps to keep the tank smelling as fresh as possible.
Lastly, being so light and pliable, I have found some of my ball pythons – especially younger ones – really seem to enjoy digging through it, which I think adds a measure of environmental enrichment to their surroundings.
- Green product made from a renewable resource
- Easy to clean
- 99.9% dust free
On the downside, a few keepers complain that if you’re not careful then you’ll find bits of aspen spread across your home. While there is a degree of truth to this, if you’re careful with your python then it’s pretty unlikely. I also think that the environmental aspects far outweigh any concerns over finding the odd flake on your carpet.
The other concern that is sometimes raised at aspen is that it can be dusty, but I have personally never found this to be the case. Perhaps some other keepers have bought lower-quality aspen shavings and assumed all of them are similar?
For me, there’s really only one downside to using aspen. The flakes are so light and fluffy, that if you’re not careful your ball python can pile them all up at one end of the cage, while the other end sits bare. I doubt this is particularly comfortable for the snake, but more importantly however any mess created at that end won’t be absorbed by the aspen.
While I use aspen myself to this day, and recommend it as one of the best beddings for ball pythons, I give this option 8/10.
Beech chippings are my own personal bedding of choice; sometimes mixed with a little aspen. Firstly, while beech chippings can be moved around by your python, they tend to be heavier in nature. This means you’re unlikely to find them all heaped up at one end of the cage (unlikely, but not impossible).
I find that the chippings do a pretty good job of controlling any smells, and are absorbent enough to deal with minor water spills too.
For those of us – like me – who like to observe our snakes on a regular basis, beech chippings also look great and are available in a wide variety of different gradings to suit your needs.
As for the downsides, beech chippings can be slightly more expensive than some other beddings on the market. Additionally, some keepers claim that swallowing a little chip of beech can be dangerous, leading to gut impaction. After 15+ years of keeping a variety of ball pythons on beech, however, I can honestly say I’ve never had a single issue.
For me, beech chippings are tie neck-and-neck with aspen as the two best substrates for ball pythons.
Coconut (Coir) Husks
I’ve been using coconut fibre as a substrate for my tarantulas for some years, but only recently started to consider it for my pythons. A comment on a reptile forum made me rethink the situation, though, and I have since tried it with a number of my snakes.
Unlike some other substrates, such as orchid bark, coconut husks are an inert substrate. This means it’s highly unlikely to come with any nasty bugs or parasites in it. Coconut fibre is also environmentally-friendly as it’s made from the refuse of the coconut milk industry.
It has other benefits too. Coconut fibre of possibly the most absorbent of all the more popular reptile substrates, making it ideal for mopping up spillages. It smells great and looks pretty good too.
- ECO-FRIENDLY ORGANIC and 100% BIODEGRADABLE unlike some reptile substrates that are contributing to deforestation and then go to the landfill
- INCREASES HUMIDITY for animals that need moderate to high humidity
- ABSORBENT composition allows it to soak up messes and odors, leaving a cleaner habitat for your pet
On the downside, I have found that while coconut fibre is quick to absorb moisture, it is less quick to dry out. This can lead to an overly humid tank, so dry to make sure the substrate is perfectly dry before popping it into your ball python cage.
If there is a downside to coconut fibre (and in truth, I have a hard time finding one) it’s simply that ball pythons – with their blacks and browns – often look better on lighter-colored substrates like aspen or beech than they do on dark bedding like coconut husk. Besides this, it’s a really great option.
Corn Cob Granules
When I first started keeping snakes (back in the early 90’s!) corn cob granules were surprisingly popular. These days, while you’ll still sometimes find them in reptile stores, they seem rather less common than they once were.
This reasonably attractive and lightweight substrate is formed from the unwanted husks from the middle of corn cobs, so has strong environmental credentials; no throwing away or composting these unwanted parts – instead they can become bedding for your ball python.
The weakness is that corn cob granules seem more likely to go mouldy than almost any other ball python bedding I have tried. If you’re not careful the odd drip from your snake’s water bowl as he or she drinks will result in a nasty grey or black mould forming around and under the water bowl.
While this isn’t necessarily an issue – keep an eye on it and replace the substrate as necessary – it does make it slightly less practical than aspen or beech if you’re a busy person. It also seems far less likely to be used for burrowing, except for a Californian Kingsnake of mine who was obsessed with the stuff.
Overall, not a bad bedding for use with ball pythons, but it also doesn’t come top of my list.
Bark is a popular option for keepers of rainforest species such as tree frogs. The tiny dark chippings can make a very attractive display, especially if supplemented with artificial plants, rocks and moss.
- 100% natural cypress mulch
- All natural green "product"
- Recommended terrarium substrate for many species of snakes, lizards, land turtles, tortoises, frogs, toads, salamanders, tarantulas
For ball pythons, however, there are a number of potential downsides. Firstly, forest bark is the only substrate I have ever experienced that had mites and other nasty invertebrates in it. While these didn’t infect my snake itself, it’s still far from pleasant to see or deal with.
Secondly, while forest bark doesn’t generally go mouldy, it can retain moisture far too long, creating a damp, humid environment. Whilst it’s true that ball pythons appreciate perhaps a higher humidity than many keepers realize, sitting on a continually damp substrate can lead to scale rot, respiratory problems and other associated health issues.
Again, therefore, just like corn cob granules it’s not necessarily the worst substrate out there, but in my opinion isn’t as good as either aspen or beech chippings.
Lastly we come to what is probably the most contentious substrate: newspaper. Some ball python keepers love to use newspaper, due to its obvious cheapness and the ease with which one can clean the cage. No more needing to use a brush and dustpan – or even a vacuum – to get the last few flakes out of a tight corner.
While I may get shot down by some breeders, I must admit that I loathe the use of newspaper as a ball python bedding. Firstly, of course, it looks horrid. The first reason I keep ball pythons is because I find them stunning snakes – the last thing I want to do is ruin the appearance of my tanks with last week’s newspaper.
However there are other reasons I dislike newspaper too. Firstly, newspaper has virtually no absorbency, so any spilt water or faeces will quickly spoil the bedding. This means regular – sometimes daily – changes of bedding may be necessary. This, to me, is a little frustrating, and also risks your python sitting on wet paper for hours on end till you discover the problem.
Lastly, I don’t like the way that newspaper appears so “artificial”. It doesn’t look or feel natural, and it doesn’t allow your python to burrow, dig and move it around as it might with aspen or beech chippings.
While, as I say, there are a percentage of ball python owners who will disagree with me (we are, after all, talking about opinions as much as facts) I must say that newspaper is not my personal choice when it comes to the best ball python bedding material.
So What is the Best Ball Python Bedding?
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, choosing the best ball python bedding is far from easy as you’re dealing with opinion as much as fact.
Depending on your situation, any of the above commonly-used substrates can be put to good use. The choice is as much about practicalities as anything else – are you looking for something lightweight, a bedding that encourages natural behaviour or makes it as easy as possible to clean your snake?
Personally, after over a decade of keeping ball pythons on a range of different substrates my own preferences are for either aspen shavings or beech chippings – or sometimes a combination of the two.
Both substrates allow natural behaviour, look great, are readily available and are absorbent enough to do a good job of minimizing spilled liquids and keeping your snake cage smelling fresh.