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    Lightbulb The REAL facts about Leopard Gecko Substrates...


    The REAL facts about leopard gecko substrates...

    Substrate for leopard geckos in particular has been an on going debate for many years.
    But after 30+ years of experience, this is how I prefer to have a semi-naturalistic set up that is safe, inexpensive, and looks good. I have NEVER had a single issue of impaction. My goal is something that looks nice as a display and is comfortable for the animal, while still being affordable and safe.

    Slate -

    This is my personal preference. I like to use slate (or other natural stone) tiles for the majority of the floor. Natural slate tiles can be found at your local Home Depot type store or often at landscape supply or plant nursery even. They're relatively cheap and can be found in a variety of sizes. Sometimes I'll even break the tiles up so they have more natural looking cracks and shapes. Then use a small amount of sand to fill gaps between the slate tiles and between the tiles and tank sides. A dusting of sand on top of the tiles for natural effect is nice too.

    "But what about impaction?" you ask. "Everyone says that sand will cause impaction and that leopard geckos don't live on sand in the wild".

    True, leopard geckos do not live on pure sand in the wild, but the do encounter plenty of loose particulate in their daily routine. The sand becomes a problem when owners use way too much of it and the geckos are forced to walk around in it buried up to their knees. Also, secondary issues like low temps, poor husbandry techniques, or an already sickly animal can create an issue where impaction may occur. A healthy leopard gecko, housed properly, with proper temps and access to proper food and water will not become impacted by a small layer of sand in it's enclosure.

    "But what about..."

    Paper towels?

    Paper towels generally work ok, but they certainly aren't pretty, and they definitely are not at all naturalistic for the animal. Cheap and easy to keep clean, but not at all what these animals were designed to live on. Also issues like teeth and claws getting stuck in the paper towel do occur from time to time.


    Again, this is usable, however, it has a tendency to unravel on the edges over time and become a choking hazard. Claws and teeth can get stuck in it as well. It's also fairly hard to get REALLY clean and can create a breeding ground for bacteria.


    This stuff is simply bad news in any quantity and should be avoided at all costs. If you're going to use sand, I suggest "Jurassic" brand (available on if you want something fancy, or regular play sand.

    Regular sand?

    In a thin layer, and under proper husbandry conditions, it can be used as a primary substrate, but avoid using it in any real depth. These animals in the wild are used to some sand and particulate, but not accustomed to desert like terrain and deep sand. Again, if you want to get fancy, I suggest "Jurassic Sand" available on or if not just regular play sand.

    Repti-bark, cocofiber, etc?

    These substrates are not at all natural for a leopard gecko, hold way too much humidity in general, and can cause a real concern for impaction depending on the size of the particular product.

    Bioactive set up?

    Bioactive can be a great way to go, but I would suggest it only for the more advanced keeper. It requires not only keeping the geckos alive and healthy, but keeping aa whole mini environment alive and healthy. So, while you can have a truly naturalistic enclosure, I would suggest making sure that you have a good bit of hands on experience with keeping geckos before trying this. I am providing a link to some good info on doing it for those of you interested:

    At the end of the day...

    At the end of the day, as keepers of these animals, it is up to us as individuals to decide what is best for us and our own animals. There's more than one right way, and certainly a million wrong ways to go about keeping your geckos. You need to find the balance that makes you happy, makes your geckos happy and healthy, and learn from your mistakes (which are bound to happen). This information is simply based on my hands on, real life experience and what I have found works best for me. This is not info based on some thing that I read somewhere on the internet and regurgitated back at you. I hope that you find it useful and that it helps put a bit of sanity in the madness that is the never ending debate of what is the "best" way to do it.

    Just for a visual idea of where Leos come from in the wild, here's a good photo of what their natual environment is like:

    Last edited by Riverside Reptiles; 10-19-2015 at 12:48 PM.
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