Natural Leopard Gecko Substrates
Natural Leopard Gecko Substrate Ideas
Natural Substrates - Sand
There are many different types of sand available on the market. Some are large grain sand used in construction and others are fine grain sand used for sandboxes and other small projects. There is also the horrid calci-sands, which we will discuss further below.
When choosing the sand you are going to use in your enclosure, either by itself or mixed, you want to select the finest grain silica sand you can find. Typically you can purchase decent sand at Home depot or Lowes. It will be labeled for use in sand boxes. (Also known as play sand.) The goal is to use a sand that can be easily passed through the digestive system, which means you want the smallest grains possible. If capable, you should sift the sand through some window screening before using it. This will catch any particles that are larger than the rest.
Sand is and will always be an impaction risk. That is unavoidable even if all precautions are taken. If you are going to use sand as a substrate, it should be a thin coat of sand so that the heat from the under tank heater can pass through it. It should also be displaced with smooth rocks of varying sizes to limit the amount of sand the leopard gecko has exposure to. Remember, leopard geckos do not come from the Sahara desert. An entire cage bottom made up of just sand is mimicking a desert, which is not where the animals reside.
If you choose to use sand, take caution to ensure the leopard gecko is at least 6 inches long. The smaller the gecko is, the higher the chance an impaction will occur. No hatchlings or young leopard geckos should be placed on a sand substrate for this very reason. To learn more about impactions, and what they can do to your leopard gecko, please read the impactions section under health.
This is the most horrid and commonly marketed substrate for use with leopard geckos. If I were to go into detail on this page as to why this stuff should be banned for use with any reptile, the pages purpose would be lost. I have dedicated a page to explain why calcium based sands are dangerous. That can be located here: Calcium Sand Substrates - Dangers
To put it mildly, don't use any type of calcium sand with your leopard gecko. If you are going to use any type of sand substrate, please use the sand mentioned above and please take the time to educate yourself on why calcium based substrates are dangerous.
Natural Substrates - Sand - Soil
Those that are looking to create a completely natural looking vivarium for their leopard gecko will likely be swayed toward using a combination of all natural soil and sand. This will allow and promote the growth of plants within the leopard geckos enclosure. The added soil and its compactability will help reduce the impaction risk, though it will not remove the risk completely. A loose soil and sand mixture will be too soft and awkward for a leopard gecko to traverse across, so the substrate mixture should be thoroughly saturated and compressed for one week prior to the gecko being added. Once compressed, the substrate will be able to dry out during the week helping the mixture to retain the more solid state. For more information on planting a leopard gecko enclosure, please read our Planting Information found within the Landscaping Section.
Natural Substrates - Sand - Stone
Enthusiasts who use sand as their base substrate should consider the idea that an enclosure floor completely covered in sand is not a natural habitat for a leopard gecko. In fact, this type of setup mimics the Sahara Desert and is completely unnatural. Adding flat stones on top of the sand will help reduce the amount of sand the leopard gecko has access to, increase the ease in which he can traverse his new habitat, and will help create a more naturalistic environment for him. The sand volume reduction will also help decrease the likelihood of an impaction by limiting the actual surface area of sand made available, though it will not remove it completely.
Natural Substrates - Clay
A dried clay substrate would mimic the natural environment of the leopard gecko closest. In its dried state, it is a much lower impaction risk than some of the other particulate substrates, though the risk would still be there. There is a product on the market now called "Excavator" that can be molded and dried out. This product is a form of clay (in its solid form) and is what has been used to create the sparse grasslands habitat in the image above.
Natural Substrates - Clay - Sand/Soil
A combination of clay, sand, and soil or a derivative of the combination can be used to help allow and promote plant growth. This type of mixture would help reduce an impaction risk, though it would not remove it completely. For more information on planting a leopard gecko enclosure, please read our Planting Information found within the Landscaping Section.
Natural Substrates - Clay - Stone
A combination of clay and stone would create the most natural leopard gecko substrate available. While the clay is still drying, pressing different sized flat stones into it would help lock them in their location. If this method were combined with a soil mixture, or recessed planting pots, a beautifully landscaped leopard gecko enclosure could be created.
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Author: Richard Brooks