With all the choices available for reptile terrariums, what is the best bedding for box turtles?
Setting up a healthy and authentic habitat is an essential part of caring for your box turtle.
Along with factors like tank size, lighting, temperature, and humidity, bedding (also known as substrate) can make a huge difference in your pet’s well-being.
In this article, we will discuss what makes a good substrate, why certain substrates are better than others, and how to create the best box turtle environment possible.
We’ve also identified five excellent substrate options for your box turtle’s enclosure and will discuss them in detail below.
Of those five options, the best choice is the Zoo Med Eco-Earth Coconut Fiber. It is an all-natural, compostable substrate capable of breaking down waste and retaining tank humidity. This loose-particle substrate allows box turtles to dig and burrow, just like they would in their natural habitat.
Box Turtle Beddings In This Review
What Makes The Best Substrate For Box Turtles?
Different animals require different substrates.
Something marketed as “reptile bedding” is not an equally good choice for all reptiles.
Box turtles are semi-aquatic.
Their natural environments are forest floors where high humidity and low lighting are common.
Their habitat requirements are very different from desert reptiles like bearded dragons or swimming turtles like red-eared sliders.
What To Look For When Shopping For Box Turtle Substrate
The best beddings for box turtles are those which mimic the density and consistency of a damp forest floor.
Substrate for box turtles must:
- Absorb and retain moisture
- Allow for digging and burrowing
- Be made of safe materials
Box turtles require a highly humid environment.
If the air is too dry in their enclosure, they may experience cracked shells, dry skin, eye problems, or respiratory diseases.
Loose and moist dirt is the best substrate for burrowing.
Box turtles have an instinctual need to burrow.
It helps them feel safe and secure and gives them privacy.
Box turtles unable to burrow have been known to stop eating and generally do not live as long as their burrowing counterparts.
It is best to combine several types of substrates in a box turtle habitat.
This mix of beddings will better match the feel and consistency of a forest floor and will add to the overall look and feel of the enclosure.
What To Avoid In Box Turtle Substrates
Substrates should not contain anything toxic, no skin irritants, additives, chemicals, nor dyes.
Impaction is a concern for box turtles, so any bedding capable of easily blocking the digestive tract is not recommended.
Toxic beddings for box turtles include:
- Cedarwood chips
- Pine bark
- Non-organic or fertilized potting soil
Beddings with coarse materials, which may scratch or injure box turtles, include:
- Walnut shells
- Aspen shavings
Substrate with a high risk of impaction include:
- Regular sand
Materials not retaining moisture and therefore not helping maintain high humidity include:
- Calcium sand
- Cat litter
- Reptile carpet
- Rodent pellet bedding
All of these products are not suitable for box turtle substrate.
What’s mentioned above is a pretty long list of off-limit substrates.
Reviews Of The Best Bedding For Box Turtle
Below are five of the best substrates for box turtle habitats we’ve found.
Let’s take a look at the details and compare some of their features.
Zoo Med Eco-Earth Coconut Fiber
- Naturally absorbs and breaks down odor and waste products.
- Ideal substrate for burrowing animals.
- Perfect for all types of reptiles, amphibians, small animals, or insects.
This substrate comes loose or in compressed brick form.
We prefer the brick form because it offers more control of the overall dampness of the soil.
The all-natural substrate softens and loosens when warm water is added.
Daily misting keeps this soil moist and helps retain overall enclosure humidity.
Its looseness and dampness are perfect for burrowing animals like box turtles, especially when combined with another substrate like sphagnum moss.
Eco Earth breaks down waste naturally in the turtle’s enclosure.
This means you don’t have to change the bedding often, especially when you also spot-clean solid waste from the tank.
- Soft, sandy texture.
- Naturally breaks down waste.
- Retains moisture and helps to create humid tank conditions.
- Budget-friendly, especially considering how infrequently it needs to be replaced (approximately $1.00 per liter of substrate).
- Available in different amounts.
- Available in loose or brick form.
Reptile Prime Coconut Fiber Bedding
- Optimal substrate for terrarium set-ups incorporating reptiles, amphibians, or invertebrates.
- It can be used with tropical species or desert dwelling as it can be used Dry or Damp.
- It has superior Humidity retention capabilities.
This is a similar product to Zoo Med’s substrate listed above.
It is also made from all-natural coconut fibers, offering a soft and sandy texture.
It comes loose, which some reviewers say cuts down on the amount of dust the substrate contains when compared to bricks.
Reptile Prime boasts a “dust-free” product.
Reptile Prime’s version of coconut fiber bedding also naturally breaks down waste.
The company encourages spot-cleaning solid waste to control odor and make the substrate last longer.
Compared to Zoo Med’s coconut fiber, Reptile Prime bedding is slightly more affordable for the amount of substrate you get.
- Retains moisture and promotes humidity.
- Soft texture.
- Comes in a recyclable bag.
- Budget-friendly (approximately $0.77 per liter of substrate).
Mountain Valley Seed Company Minute Soil
- Minute Soil Wheelbarrow Block - 1 Block - Add 5.5 gallons of water to each brick to re-hydrate - Expands up to 15 times - Yields approx 15 gallons of soil per block - Approximately a wheelbarrow full of soil
- Minute Soil by Mountain Valley Seed Company is pure, untreated, raw fibrous coconut coir that is compressed into light convenient discs or blocks that quicky expand into an amazing grow medium when you add water - OMRI listed for organic production.
- CONVENIENT - Lightweight, compact and Rehydrates quickly - Just add water - Peat Free - Eco Friendly - Raw & Non-ammended (add your own fertilizer). Much easier and tidyer than hauling large bags of damp potting soil.
This soil is made from coconut coir, giving it a similar consistency to the Zoo Med and Reptile Prime coconut fiber beddings.
This soil will allow for burrowing and promote humidity.
Many organic potting soils still come with fertilizer.
Despite this fertilizer being “organic,” it is still not recommended for good turtle care.
Mountain Valley’s Minute Soil, however, is completely organic and free of fertilizer, so you don’t have to worry about any unwanted chemicals.
This is a budget-friendly option for those who are comfortable purchasing substrate not marketed to reptile owners.
There is no guarantee for how long this soil will last in a box turtle’s enclosure, but it will break down waste just like the other coconut-coir substrates do.
- Comes in compressed bricks; just add an adjustable amount of water to achieve your desired consistency.
- Available in different sizes.
- Untreated, with no chemicals or dyes.
- Very budget-friendly (under $0.50 per liter of substrate).
Zoo Med New Zealand Sphagnum Moss
- Holds more water and stays moist longer than any other type of moss.
- Natural compounds in moss prevent it from decomposing in humid environments.
- Excellent top substrate for Zoo Meds Naturalistic Terrariums.
This is the best-reviewed moss we found.
It’s a great substrate for drainage, retaining moisture, and promoting humid enclosure conditions.
It is sustainably harvested and isn’t treated with any additives, chemicals, or dyes.
The moss also stays damp with daily misting and is capable of holding up to 20 times its weight in water.
Sphagnum moss possesses anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties, so it will not decompose or mold when it’s in a humid habitat.
It will last a long time in your box turtle’s tank, perhaps even longer than the self-composting soil substrates.
This moss is a great option for substrate when combined with a dirt material like the coconut fiber substrates listed above or some organic, fertilizer-free potting soil.
The mix of the two creates a flooring loose enough for easy digging but firm enough to hold its shape when your turtle burrows.
- Washed and sieved for a clean moss, free of chemicals and parasites.
- Soft texture.
- Sustainably harvested.
- Washable and reusable.
- Approximately $3.50 per ounce of substrate.
- All-natural: no dyes, additives or chemicals.
Galápagos Terrarium Sphagnum Moss
- Long-Lasting: Long-Fiber and Leafy Green Sphagnum Moss
- High Absorbency: Controls Tropical & Wetland Humidity
- Sustainable: Ecologically Regulated Harvests
Compared to Zoo Med’s moss, this is much more budget-friendly.
This product is authentic sphagnum, despite not being from the Galápagos Islands themselves.
“Galápagos” is just the name of the brand.
This moss holds moisture quite well and will help maintain a humid enclosure, which is an essential aspect of box-turtle bedding.
It is also sustainably harvested.
Galápagos’ moss is dyed green with non-toxic food dye.
Some reviewers have observed the dye rubbing off on other parts of their pet’s tank.
If you are concerned about dyes (even those deemed “safe”), this product isn’t right for you.
However, it has received stellar reviews from many people.
Our best advice is to give this moss a good, long rinse before placing it in your box turtle’s enclosure.
- Soft texture.
- Retains moisture and creates humid conditions.
- Helps maintain structure of burrowed soil.
- Resealable bag for safe storage.
- Approximately $1.40 per ounce of substrate.
How To Create The Best Box Turtle Habitat
Are you designing an environment for your box turtle and want to make sure you’re getting it right?
What are the other most important aspects of a box turtle’s environment?
It’s essential to understand what environmental factors play essential roles in box turtles’ health and well-being.
Box turtles live an average of 40 years, known to live as many as 60 years.
They can have long and fruitful lives when their mental and physical health is maintained in an enriching and safe environment.
The best box turtle habitats must include the following:
- A large enough enclosure size for exercise, activity, and privacy.
- Correct lighting.
- Temperature and humidity, which can vary between species.
- Access to water.
- Appropriate substrate.
- Enrichment features.
These are the basic requirements which can recreate conditions similar to those experienced in the wild.
We’ll discuss more each of these categories and gives an overview of the suggestions below.
Enclosure Sizes And Types For Box Turtles
Turtles need space so they can exercise, explore, and have privacy from other turtles.
These are basic requirements for any living creature.
Your box turtle, at the very minimum, should have a 3′ feet long x 2′ feet wide x 1.5′ feet High (.9 m x .6 m x .45 m) enclosure.
However, the larger you go, the better!
Outdoor enclosures are the best option for box turtles.
However, if you want to have your box turtle indoors, it’s entirely possible to do so.
Glass aquariums are not the best choice for box turtles.
Turtles can sense movement on the other side of the glass and become very stressed.
Better options are:
- A children’s plastic pool.
- A sandbox.
- A large Rubbermaid container.
Plywood and plastic, which are opaque materials, are better choices for turtle habitats.
Your turtle won’t be able to see people moving on the other side of their enclosure.
Overall, they will remain calmer and more at ease.
Lighting For Box Turtles
Box turtles respond best to natural, unfiltered sunlight.
This is another strong argument in favor of outdoor enclosures.
If your turtle is indoors, however, it requires 5% UVA/UVB lighting.
Box turtles also require various light levels throughout their enclosures, including a basking area with direct lighting.
Make sure it is dark at night.
Turtles need a natural 24-hour cycle of day and night.
If it gets cool at night, you may need to provide other heating elements to keep your turtle warm overnight (see “Temperature and Humidity” below).
One word of caution about UV light bulbs: make sure you change the bulbs regularly, every six to nine months.
This is because the UV output of the light will decrease before the light itself goes out.
Don’t wait for the bulb to burn out before you change it.
Temperature And Humidity For Box Turtles
Box turtles must have access to a range of temperature in their enclosure.
Because they are cold-blooded, they require external sources to warm up or cool down as needed.
One side of the tank should be cooler, between 70-80° degrees Fahrenheit (27° C).
The other should be warmer, between 80- 90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).
The basking area should be the hottest part of the tank.
At night, make sure the temperature never dips below 60° degrees Fahrenheit (15° C).
Since you must recreate nighttime by turning off your UV heat lamp, you must provide alternate heat sources in the tank, so the turtle can stay warm until morning.
Heat pads or tapes are appropriate heat sources.
Do not use heating rocks or any other exposed heating element capable of burning your turtle’s skin.
Only use indirect heating methods.
Appropriate humidity levels will vary depending on your species of box turtle.
For example, Eastern Box Turtles require humidity between 60% and 80%.
Water For Box Turtles
Provide a shallow bowl of clean water for your turtle at all times.
The water dish should be wide enough for your turtle’s whole body to fit in, so it can soak and drink at its leisure.
The water should be no deeper than your turtle’s chin when it’s partially retracted.
Box turtles are semi-aquatic, so they do not swim as much as some other turtle species do.
They will drown if their water dish is too deep.
Be prepared to change your turtle’s water frequently.
Box turtles will often defecate in their water bowl as they’re soaking.
This may seem gross, but just remember; it means an easier cleanup job for you!
Substrate For Box Turtles
Substrate is an essential part of all reptile enclosures.
It is meant to mimic what an animal would experience in the wild.
It provides the correct flooring texture, regulates heat and humidity, and breaks down feces and urine.
The texture of your turtle’s bedding is essential.
The bare floor of a plywood, plastic, or glass container is either too slippery or too abrasive.
Your turtle must be able to walk easily on the ground and get good traction.
It also must be able to walk on a ground incapable of scratching or irritating its feet and other parts of its skin.
When substrate absorbs and retains moisture, it is much easier to maintain appropriate humidity and temperature levels in your pet turtle’s home.
Substrate immensely helps in the overall sanitary conditions of your turtle’s enclosure.
Without substrate, you would be doing a lot more cleanup to eliminate feces and urine.
With appropriate substrate (like coconut fiber bedding), urine gets naturally broken down, leaving you with the much-easier task of spot cleaning.
Your turtle will feel cleaner, the enclosure will be more hygienic, and odors from the tank will be much better controlled.
As we’ve already discussed, it is best to provide a loose substrate with the following characteristics:
- Retains moisture.
- Allows for burrowing.
- Consists of non-toxic materials.
- Has a smooth texture; nothing coarse capable of scratching or irritating skin.
Substrates like reptile carpets, sands, cedar or pine wood chips, shavings, shells, or vermiculite are all off-limits to provide the safest and healthiest environment for your pet turtle.
A mix of two or three substrates is best, particularly a coconut fiber bedding mixed with a more structured soil.
This mixture allows the soil to hold its form better when the turtle burrows.
Enclosure Enrichments For Box Turtles
Imagine all of the rocks, sticks, logs, mosses, grasses, bumps, puddles, and hills a turtle might encounter on its morning walk along a forest floor.
It’s important to recreate the look and feel of this environment in your turtle’s enclosure.
Box turtles particularly require hiding and low-climbing areas.
Because they are used to low lighting, make sure to provide your turtle a hide box for privacy, as well as dark spots shaded by the direct lighting in the tank.
Logs, plants, decorative rock formations, etc., could all provide different shading throughout the enclosure.
The hide box is an absolute necessity.
Turtles need privacy, whether from other turtles or the humans looking at it from the other side of the cage.
Turtles who cannot escape to privacy may experience serious mental health complications, which may even lead to death.
It’s also a good idea to provide some rocks low to the ground.
Turtles are quite capable of climbing and seem to enjoy the challenge.
However, make sure nothing is high enough off the ground for your turtle to tip over onto its back.
Do All-natural Substrates Introduce Bugs Into My Turtle’s Enclosure?
There have been very few reports of insects infesting commercially sold soils and substrates.
However, it has happened.
It’s impossible to know whether those bugs came from the substrate or other conditions in the enclosure which led to the infestation.
Are There Ways To Play It Safe And Make Sure Bugs Don’t Infest My Turtle’s Enclosure?
While there are very few reports of a commercially sold substrate introducing insects into a reptile’s enclosure, there is something to do to eliminate unwanted guests.
Bake bricks of compressed soil at a low temperature (around 300° degrees Fahrenheit or 150° C) for several hours to kill off anything potentially lurking in your substrate.
Will Sphagnum Moss Revive When I Add Water To It?
Commercially sold sphagnum is dead.
It won’t come back to life, begin growing again, nor will it turn green when you soak it in water.
Still, dead moss does wonders as a reptile substrate.
It is quite useful for retaining moisture, providing drainage, and adding structure to the soil landscape.
Why Does Vermiculite Pose A High Impaction Risk For Box Turtles?
As with any substrate, your pet is at risk of ingesting a bit of it whenever it eats.
Vermiculite is particularly dangerous because it expands when it’s exposed to moisture.
When a turtle accidentally consumes some of it, it will expand in its stomach and potentially create a blockage in its digestive tract.
What Is The Difference Between Sphagnum And Peat Moss?
Sphagnum moss is the living, or recently dead but still intact, plant.
Peat moss is a more decomposed version of sphagnum, which may also contain other decomposing plant material.
It’s more likely to sustainably harvest sphagnum than peat because the natural decomposition process takes a long time.