best substrate for baby sulcata tortoise

Best Substrate for Baby Sulcata Enclosure

Artificial substrates have a negative reputation for being potentially toxic, so it’s important to carefully select the right bedding for your Sulcata tortoise. To simplify the process, I have compiled a list of the top substrate options in this article.

The best substrates for Sulcata tortoises include natural options such as cypress mulch, sphagnum moss, soil mix, and coconut barks. Additionally, there are commercial options available, such as all-natural beddings and compressed coconut bricks.

To help you make an informed decision, the article provides details about each substrate option, including their pros and cons. By reading the article, you’ll have all the necessary information to choose the most suitable bedding for your Sulcata tortoise.

Substrates to Avoid with Baby Sulcata:

While there are numerous safe substrate options for baby sulcata enclosures, it is crucial to avoid using the following bedding types:

  • Aspen shavings: Aspen is not toxic to tortoises, but it is a dry bedding material that does not provide the high humidity required for baby sulcata tortoises.
  • Cedar mulch or pine shavings: Both contain toxic oils that can harm your tortoise.
  • Hay: Although tortoises may eat hay, it is prone to mold in a high humidity environment.
  • Newspaper.
  • Pellets: Paper pellets and wood pellets are difficult for tortoises to walk on and can be harmful to their developing muscles and bones.
  • Play sand.
  • Soils with fertilizers, perlite

Review of 5 Best Substrate Options For Sulcata Tortoise:

Exo Terra Plantation Soil


Exo Terra Plantation substrate is a natural soil composed of compressed coconut husk fibers that are packaged under the Exo Terra brand.

Exo Terra Plantation is highly recommended as a top choice for Sulcata tortoises for two main reasons. Firstly, this substrate has excellent moisture retention properties, which is crucial for maintaining the high humidity levels that Sulcata tortoises require in their habitat. Secondly, it is specifically designed for reptiles and amphibians that burrow, making it a perfect match for the natural digging behavior of Sulcata tortoises. Additionally, the substrate’s ability to retain moisture also promotes the healthy growth of terrarium plants, and it can be used as an incubation medium for Sulcata tortoise eggs.

Another advantage of choosing Exo Terra Plantation substrate is its ease of use and maintenance. It is available in both loose and compressed forms. Regardless of the form, a small amount of water needs to be added to achieve the desired density. The recommended layer thickness for the habitat bottom is 2 to 4 inches of the coconut husk fibers.

In terms of maintenance, it is advisable to spot clean any feces or waste regularly. It is also recommended to replace the substrate every six months to maintain a clean and hygienic environment.


  • Made from natural coconut fibers
  • Suitable for planting live plants
  • Retains moisture effectively
  • Ideal for burrowing behavior


  • There is a risk of mites and bacterial growth, so regular monitoring and maintenance are required.

Reptile Sciences Terrarium Sand

Reptile Sciences Terrarium Sand


If you opt for a sandy substrate for your Sulcata tortoise, one option to consider is the Reptile Science Terrarium Sand.

Although sand is generally not recommended for Sulcata tortoises due to ingestion risks, the Reptile Science Terrarium Sand has been designed with their safety in mind.

This particular substrate consists of 100% natural orbicular coarse grain sand. The brand assures that it is made entirely of calcium carbonate, making it safe for digestion by tortoises.

Unlike other sands that may contain silica or phosphate, which can cause impaction in Sulcata tortoises, the Reptile Science Terrarium Sand is free from these substances. Instead, it contains beneficial elements such as Strontium, Potassium, and Magnesium, which are considered healthy for pets.

Therefore, if your Sulcata tortoise happens to ingest some of this substrate, it should not pose any harm. However, it is advisable to mix this sandy substrate with loose soil to make it safer and more suitable for the tortoise’s habitat.

One of the advantages of the Reptile Science Terrarium Sand is its water retention properties. It allows the Sulcata tortoise to burrow and enjoy the moisture in the substrate. Additionally, the water retention feature proves beneficial when it comes to cleaning the enclosure.

Furthermore, this sand is odorless and does not create a mess easily, resulting in a cleaner enclosure with a neutralized smell.

Maintenance is relatively easy. Simply remove waste daily and replace the sand every 4 to 6 months. Moreover, one bag of Reptile Terrarium Sand can last for over a year, depending on usage.


  • Edible sand
  • Retains moisture
  • Cleaner enclosure
  • Odorless
  • Good value for money


  • May leak water
  • Possibility of bacterial infection if not properly maintained

Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding

Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding


Mulches are a safe option for using as substrate in a Sulcata tortoise terrarium, and the popular brand Zoo Med has introduced the Forest Floor substrate to its product line.

The Zoo Med Forest Floor substrate is composed of 100% ground cypress barks. Since cypress and fir mulches are commonly used as substrate for Sulcata tortoises, this product is also considered safe for these pets.

Personally, I prefer the cypress bark forest floor substrate for the following reasons:

  • The cypress barks are not heat-treated, allowing them to retain moisture effectively.
  • It is easier to incorporate plants into this substrate, enhancing the natural aesthetics of the terrarium.
  • The ground barks can be used for egg incubation purposes.
  • The texture and density of this mixture create a forest-like flooring, providing a natural environment for the tortoise.

Compared to many other branded mulches available in the market, the Zoo Med Forest Floor substrate stands out. However, it is important to avoid products that contain fertilizers, chemicals, or pesticides when selecting a mulch.

Using the Zoo Med Forest Floor substrate is a straightforward process. You can use it straight out of the bag and simply mist the barks to maintain high humidity levels.

Regular spot cleaning and replacing the substrate twice a year will ensure a clean environment. Additionally, baking the barks at a low temperature can help eliminate any parasites that may be present.


  • All-natural composition
  • Non-dusty
  • Enhances the natural appearance of the terrarium
  • Easy to maintain
  • Suitable for digging and burrowing


  • Not edible for the tortoises
  • Ingestion of the substrate can lead to impaction
  • Possibility of eye problems

Zoo Med Eco Earth Compressed Coconut Fiber Substrate

Zoo Med Eco Earth Compressed Coconut Fiber Substrate


Coconut husk fibers are consistently a popular choice for a Sulcata tortoise substrate, and there are various options available in the market.

One such option is the Zoo Med Eco Earth, which is a natural and environmentally friendly substrate. Its main feature is its suitability for bioactive enclosure setups. According to the product label, this substrate aids in waste breakdown, promoting a cleaner and odor-free enclosure.

Similar to other substrates, the Zoo Med Eco Earth has the ability to retain moisture, creating and maintaining a humid environment. Additionally, its layered composition of coconut fibers makes it ideal for the tortoise’s natural digging and burrowing behaviors.

Furthermore, the substrate supports plant growth inside the terrarium. Experts recommend combining the Zoo Med Eco Earth with hydro balls or other natural soils to establish a natural drainage system for the plants.

The Zoo Med Eco Earth comes in a brick form and requires manual breaking into smaller pieces. Prior to placement, the fibers should be softened by adding a small amount of water. Daily misting is sufficient to maintain the desired humidity level within the habitat.

To maintain the Zoo Med Eco Earth substrate, traditional spot cleaning and replacement every two weeks are recommended.


  • 100% natural composition
  • Bioactive properties for waste breakdown
  • Promotes a clean and odorless environment
  • Suitable for plant growth
  • Provides opportunities for burrowing
  • Lower risk of mold formation


  • Not edible for the tortoise
  • Potential risk of impaction if ingested
  • May carry mites

Fluker’s 36005 Repta-Bark All Natural Bedding

Fluker's 36005 Repta-Bark All Natural Bedding


The demand for all-natural bedding has been growing significantly, and it is particularly well-suited for meeting the requirements of Sulcata tortoises.

Fluker’s All Natural Bedding is a substrate that is composed of organic ingredients. Unlike other substrates that tend to leak moisture, this bedding is designed to prevent excessive water absorption, resulting in a cleaner terrarium environment.

One of the notable advantages of this substrate is its ability to allow the Sulcata tortoises to burrow extensively due to its thick layers. Additionally, the soft and moist flakes ensure that the tortoises do not get injured while digging. The substrate’s water retention properties also make it ideal for supporting the growth of small plants within the enclosure.


  • Composed of all-natural ingredients
  • Prevents excess water absorption
  • Absorbs waste effectively
  • Easy to maintain
  • Less dusty compared to other options
  • Affordable price point


  • Potential risk of bacterial infection if not properly maintained
  • Not suitable for digestion by the tortoises
  • Can become dirty when damp

Natural Substrates And Their Related Problems

Wood Chips

While many owners consider wood chips to be a suitable substrate for Sulcata tortoises, others advise against using them for specific reasons. Here’s what you need to know.

Personally, I find wood chips inconvenient as a substrate for Sulcata tortoises. The sharp splinters can easily harm the pets, and ingestion of the chips can lead to internal organ damage. Additionally, wood chips are not fire-resistant, making them unsuitable as a substrate. However, when combined with other ingredients, wood chips can be a more suitable option for the tortoises.

Pine and Cedar

Using pine and cedar as substrates for Sulcata tortoises is strongly discouraged. While these materials may provide some water retention and burrowing height, they are highly toxic to the tortoises and can lead to impaction and severe health issues if ingested.


Although paper substrates can effectively maintain humidity in the enclosure and prevent dehydration, they are not recommended as a substrate for Sulcata tortoises. Paper easily becomes sticky, and the tortoises are unable to burrow in it. Therefore, it’s best to avoid using newspapers as a bedding material.


Pure sand is not suitable as a substrate for Sulcata tortoises. The particles can be sharp and cause harm to the tortoise’s skin. Ingestion of sandy substrates can lead to choking and impaction, and sand can also cause eye problems for the pets. However, sand can be mixed with loose soil and other ingredients to minimize these risks. Calcium-based sands have gained popularity as they contain coarse grains and are free of harmful ingredients, such as silica or phosphate. Calcium is safe and edible for tortoises.


Cypress and fir mulches are commonly used as beddings for Sulcata tortoises. These substrates are safe and have no significant negative impact on the pets’ health. They offer good water retention, burrowing thickness, and easy maintenance properties. However, it’s important to avoid mulches that contain preservatives, additives, or chemicals, as these can harm the tortoises’ health.

Peat Moss

Peat moss can be used as bedding for Sulcata tortoises, but there are a few things to consider. Unlike sphagnum moss or other substrates, peat moss does not absorb moisture well, which can cause dryness and potentially lead to scratches on the tortoises’ skin. Additionally, peat moss can easily harbor airborne and other infectious diseases. Mixing peat moss with other natural substrates is the best way to utilize it.

Sphagnum Moss

Sphagnum moss is a popular bedding option for Sulcata tortoises, available in various price ranges and grades. Low-quality sphagnum moss may not offer the best performance and will require more frequent cleaning and replacement. Sphagnum moss is valued for its high water absorbency, ability to trap warmth, and its density and thickness, which are suitable for burrowing. It can be reused after washing in warm water, making it cost-effective. However, sphagnum moss does not break down waste effectively, increasing the risk of bacterial and fungal growth.


Alfalfa hays are safe and edible for Sulcata tortoises, making them appear to be a potential substrate option. However, alfalfa hay does not hold water well, and using it as a bottom layer can result in dehydration for the tortoises. Excessive consumption of alfalfa hay can also lead to stone formation and bladder issues in tortoises, so it is best to avoid using it as a substrate.


Untreated soil without any additives, fertilizers, or pesticides is a suitable substrate for Sulcata tortoises. It is considered the best option for the base layer in their habitat. Additionally, soil can be mixed with other natural substrates to enhance its compatibility with the Sulcata tortoise’s needs.

There are several advantages of using soil as bedding:

  • It is entirely natural.
  • It can be blended with other natural substrates.
  • Sulcata tortoises can dig and burrow in the soil.
  • Loose soil retains humidity well and is suitable for incubation.

However, using soil as a substrate also has some significant drawbacks. For instance, it can make the enclosure dusty, and the soil itself is heavy. Moreover, parasites and infections can easily develop in this substrate.

All Coconut

Coconut-based beddings, such as coir, chips, shreddings, fibers, or husks, are available in the market. As long as these products are natural and safe, they can be used as substrates for Sulcata tortoises.

Coconut bark is a popular choice as a substrate for Sulcata tortoises due to the following reasons:

  • It is lightweight and easy to store.
  • It has good moisture retention properties.
  • Coconut barks do not have a negative environmental impact.
  • They are easy to maintain and use.
  • These beddings can also be used for incubation purposes.

However, coconut bark substrates do have some downsides. For instance, certain fibers may not absorb an adequate amount of water, leading to dehydration. Additionally, if the bark is too flaky, it can stain the tortoise’s skin.

Things To Consider While Buying Sulcata Tortoise Substrate

To create a suitable habitat for Sulcata tortoises, it’s important to consider specific criteria when selecting a substrate. These criteria include:

Moisture Retention:

Since Sulcata tortoises require some level of humidity, the chosen substrate should have the ability to hold moisture for extended periods. This helps prevent dehydration and keeps their skin and shells healthy.

Burrowing Compatibility:

Sulcata tortoises have a natural instinct to burrow, so it’s essential to choose a bedding that allows them to engage in this behavior. A bare bottom can cause stress, so a substrate that encourages burrowing is preferable.

Safety and Non-Toxicity:

Given the tortoises’ curiosity and tendency to eat substrates, it’s crucial to select a substrate that is safe and non-toxic. Ingesting inedible bedding can lead to impaction and potentially harm the tortoises.

Ease of Use and Maintenance:

Opting for a substrate that is easy to prepare and maintain is convenient. Substrates that only require misting to become usable are preferable. Additionally, selecting clean and odorless substrates simplifies maintenance.

How Much Substrate is Needed for a Sulcata Tortoise?

For baby and young Sulcata tortoises, a substrate thickness of 4 to 5 inches is typically sufficient for burrowing. As the tortoise grows, it may be necessary to increase the height of the substrate.

How Often Should the Substrate be Changed?

The frequency of substrate replacement depends on its quality. Lower-grade substrates may require replacement every few weeks, while higher-quality substrates can last 4 to 6 months before needing replacement. Some substrates can be reused after soaking them in warm water.


For Sulcata tortoises, it is recommended to create a substrate by combining two or more natural substrates. This allows you to provide the best possible bedding for these pets. However, using a single all-natural substrate is also an option to avoid complications. Regardless of the choice you make, it is crucial to prioritize cleanliness and ensure that the substrate meets all the requirements for an ideal bedding.

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