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  1. #1
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    A seldom (never?) noted advantage of flat substrate (newspaper, paper towel, etc)

    I don't wish to start a debate on the "best" substrate, they all have their own pros/cons. But after 40 years of discussions at reptile expos, and a few years of reading reptile forums, I've never heard/read about a very obvious advantage of using a substrate flat/smooth enough so that hides can slide over it.

    In the photo below we see two 20 gallon longs (but they could just as well be 40 gallons, tubs in a rack system, 10 gallons, etc) each containing one hide.



    We all already know about the importance of thermoregulation, and the importance of a hot spot + cool side, so I won't get into that.

    In the photo the hot end is on the right and cool end on the left.

    After replacing soiled substrate (that's paper towel in the photos) and cleaning the tank, the hide with snake underneath is placed on the hot end. But as you can see the hide in the tank in the bottom of the photo is in the middle of the tank. How did it get there? answer: the snake moved it there. The tank on the top has a hide/snake that has recently eaten and needs a higher temperature for efficient digestion. The tank on the bottom has a hide/snake that has finished or is nearly finished with digestion.

    Reptiles with empty or near empty stomachs wish to be a few degrees cooler than those with full bellies. That's been my observations with numerous species over the years. (breeding, ovulation, that's another topic) Their metabolism is revved up with high temperatures - a good thing on a full belly requiring digestion - but a bad thing on an empty belly; a hot snake with no food in its gut is going to burn its fat/muscle reserves. Not what a reptile wants.

    An analogy is decompressing the gas pedal of an idling automobile. The engine revs up. Gas is being used. In order to conserve gas we'd remove our foot from the gas pedal, and thus burn just enough fuel to keep the idling car from stalling out.

    Reptiles are naturally inclined to conserve bodyweight. Underneath the hides they press up against the cool side, and again, and again, and centimeter by centimeter the hides/snakes slide until a spot is reached where metabolisms are idling enough to be comfortable without burning excess calories.

    Now, after I feed that snake in the bottom of the photo (you can see that she is already peeking out to see if I'm gonna toss her a rat) she will move her hide, and herself, back across to the hot end.

    This is textbook thermoregulation, and can't be done with bulkier, mulch substrates that prevent sliding.

    My $0.02 on substrate.

    Cheers.

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  3. #2
    bcr229's Avatar
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    My snakes in tubs lined with newspaper all do that. Usually while they're busy with the rat I'll move the hide to the hot spot. Over the next week the hide will slowly be turtled to the cool side.

  4. #3
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    In the example given, there's only enough room for one hide anyway. And we do advocate at least 2 hides, one warm & one cool side.

    While it may seem cool that a snake can "turtle" around with their hide & stop over the temperature they prefer, I'm not convinced that they're actually selecting the right temperature, or just landing on it by luck?

    There are 2 big reasons that I don't like "smooth" substrates (newspaper, butcher paper, etc):

    (1) They don't absorb urates/feces well, & the snake ends up smearing around in it. Not what I'd call optimal for my scaly buddies.

    (2) Snakes get no traction, which can be stressful for them. Smooth paper allows nothing for them to push off of, to move easily, which is another reason I have doubts that they're ending up on their temperature of choice. I think they're just as likely to end up sliding to the wrong temperature as to the one they actually need.

    I totally agree that snakes REQUIRE the opportunity to thermoregulate, I just don't agree with the OP as to the best way to ensure they can do that. That's my $0.02 on this idea.
    Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength.
    Eric Hoffer (1902 - 1983)

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  6. #4
    BPnet Veteran Luvyna's Avatar
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    My male BP is on cypress mulch and has heavy rock hides but he also is able to lift his hides while underneath them and move to a more desirable location. I've seen him do it many times since he has a pretty large UTH on the warm end of his enclosure which has slightly varying temperatures across it (I always make sure to measure the temp of the warmest part).

    I do think flat substrate has some advantages like being easy to clean and good for monitoring the snake's waste or seeing parasites if there are any, but I don't know if this particular advantage is exclusive to flat substrate.

  7. #5
    Registered User Snagrio's Avatar
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    If you provide a large enough enclosure with a multitude of hiding opportunities, (which, unless you're a large scale breeder who has to use rack systems, you should do by default), the snake wouldn't have to manually move their hide in the first place. One in the wild wouldn't shove a log or rock around until said object reached a desired temperature gradient, it would search until it found a spot that suited its current needs.

    That and a substrate with more depth can provide further security, as a snake has the option to nestle itself into the ground to feel more tucked in and hidden if it so desires. A flat, completely featureless bottom denies this extra little piece of mind.

    Now, flat substrates have their place for things like quarantine and treatment periods where you need to both see things clearly (like checking for mites) and have ease of more frequent cleanings. But for a long-term/permanent setting, more natural options are superior in my book.

  8. #6
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    Yeah, I "get" that some have a preference for smooth substrates- like for quarantine, or for those breeding & needing to "keep it simple". But IMO it's just not what you do for "pets" long-term.

    It's bare-minimum & most of us keeping pets want to offer our animals real comfort, along with some "enrichments". Even for quarantine, I'd personally only use plain paper towels, which DO offer traction & DO absorb quite a bit.

    Many snakes feel very panicky when they're placed on a slippery-smooth surface because it's suddenly HARD for them to move, so I sure can't blame them- it's not like they have hands & feet to grab on with.

    I can't imagine keeping them like this for their lifespan either: if they can't use their ventral muscles on a regular basis, that can't be healthy for them- any more than people who sit around all day. Getting out of shape is not good for anyone's longevity.
    Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength.
    Eric Hoffer (1902 - 1983)

  9. #7
    Grabbin life by the Balls Snow Balls's Avatar
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    Re: A seldom (never?) noted advantage of flat substrate (newspaper, paper towel, etc)

    Quote Originally Posted by Bogertophis View Post
    While it may seem cool that a snake can "turtle" around with their hide & stop over the temperature they prefer, I'm not convinced that they're actually selecting the right temperature, or just landing on it by luck?
    I agree with this! The only true advantage I saw when I used paper towels/newspaper as substrate was itís easy to clean. Paper towel substrate in my opinion also doesnít help with the smell and at the time when I had all mine in tanks it smelled god awful. In tanks, they hardly hold humidity either and I found myself misting multiple times per day which made it a pain when I had 7+ all around my apartment. In racks it held humidity a little better but I still found myself misting at least once per day. Iím not saying paper towels are bad for substrate, itís just what works for each individual persons animals. I have since switched to cocoblox in all my racks and I wonder why I didnít switch years before I did. I canít really comment on the thermoregulation part because I hardly catch any of my animals on the cool side unless my breeder females are building towards ovulation. Like I said, itís just what someone prefers for their animals. Thatís why thereís so many different substrates available


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  10. #8
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    Re: A seldom (never?) noted advantage of flat substrate (newspaper, paper towel, etc)

    Quote Originally Posted by Snow Balls View Post
    ...itís just what someone prefers for their animals. Thatís why thereís so many different substrates available...
    I agree, & it depends on what you're keeping, too. I mostly stay out of "substrate" questions because I don't keep BPs- my colubrids (etc) do well on things far different from what most here use.

    FYI, for most of my tanks, I line them with paper towels- folding up 2-3" on all sides & doing something like "hospital corners" so they fit snug- then I layer shredded paper substrates over them. The paper towels make for easy clean up, as well as traction & absorption. Some snakes have humid hides with sphagnum moss or orchid bark, as needed/preferred. But over the years, I've used all sorts of things. Oh, and 2 of my snakes use indoor-outdoor carpeting- which gets hand-washed when soiled. It's a "green solution" if you don't mind the handwashing- it's virtually indestructible, with great traction, & it looks good too.)
    Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength.
    Eric Hoffer (1902 - 1983)

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  12. #9
    Registered User Trinityblood's Avatar
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    I think they sometimes like a flat surface. I use deepish substrate and my BP tunnels through it like he's half sandboa. I don't know how he does it, but he shovels all of the substrate specifically out from under the warm hide until there's bare bottom under only that hide. And blocks his entrance with the displaced substrate. I find a mountain of substrate next to his hide like it was excavated on purpose.

  13. #10
    Grabbin life by the Balls Snow Balls's Avatar
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    Re: A seldom (never?) noted advantage of flat substrate (newspaper, paper towel, etc)

    Quote Originally Posted by Bogertophis View Post
    Oh, and 2 of my snakes use indoor-outdoor carpeting- which gets hand-washed when soiled. It's a "green solution" if you don't mind the handwashing- it's virtually indestructible, with great traction, & it looks good too.)
    My sister uses something like that for her leopard geckos, itís a very nice idea and cost saving too! I donít have tanks anymore but might have to use this idea whenever I finally pick up a Green Tree Python


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