The Best Substrate for Baby Sulcata Tortoise in 2021

by Carl Crane | Updated: October 7, 2021

The use of a substrate goes beyond just covering the floor of your pet’s enclosure.

It allows you to provide a level of comfort to your pet that is similar to what it would have in the wild.

Sulcata babies need to be able to dig down and bury themselves.

This is what they do in the wild and the instinct even in a captive bred Tortoise is the same. 

Substrates give your baby tortoise something to dig into as is natural for them.

This way they can thermoregulation and also maintain appropriate humidity.

So choosing the safest and best substrate for baby sulcata tortoise will be an important first step as a tortoise keeper.

The Best Substrate for Baby Sulcata Tortoise

1. Coconut Coir

Made of fine grains, it’s easy to dig and stimulates digging and burrowing behaviors in your pet.

It’s safe and best kept moist because it can get dusty when dry.

Your baby sulcata tortoise would need to stay hydrated and this is a good option to keep it that way.

Top Pick

Zilla Reptile Terrarium Bedding Substrate Coconut Husk Brick

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

2. Orchird Bark

These types of substrates can be gotten easily from the local garden shop. Just like the coconut coir, they hold humidity well are a good way to keep your pet hydrated.

But unlike the coconut coir, they do not get dusty and are less likely to irritate your pet’s eyes when dry.

Keep them moist nonetheless to keep the humidity level in the enclosure to optimum levels.

Top Pick

Fluker Labs Repta-Bark All Natural Bedding

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

3. Cypress Mulch

Unlike the use of pine and cedar that are unsafe as substrates for your tortoise, cypress mulch is much safer and loved due to its comfort.

They are easily purchased in your local garden store and your baby sulcata would love digging into this.

Top Pick

Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

4. Top Soil

Organic Topsoil is one of the best forms of substrate for baby sulcata tortoise as it closely resembles their natural environment.

When choosing this form of substrate, however, make sure it’s free from chemicals and all forms of fertilizers.

Top Pick

Scotts Organic Group Proom Top Soil

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

5. Peat Moss

Peat moss is a fine grain moss and resembles topsoil. It has high water retention capacity and can help to raise the humidity levels in the terrarium.

Be careful though to regulate the humidity level within safe limits according to your pet’s needs.

Top Pick

Espoma 8-Quart Organic Peat Moss

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

6. Sphagnum Moss

Just like peat moss, sphagnum moss has high water retention capacity so you can raise the humidity levels to meet the needs of your baby sulcata tortoise.

It however molds easily so when used you have to be careful and watch out for molds and decomposition.

Top Pick

Galápagos Terrarium Sphagnum Moss

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Guide for Best Substrate for Baby Sulcata Tortoise

Your baby sulcata tortoise is a reptile and as is the case with cold-blooded animals, they can’t regulate their body temperature themselves.

And so after absorbing much heat from the surface, they would need to hide in burrows to cool down and that’s why they need a substrate.

Substrates also make them feel comfortable and closer to their natural home, and a comfortable pet is a happy one.

To get your choice of substrate right, you need to try to make a choice that is similar to what is obtainable in the wild.

Since sulcata tortoises are originally from Africa specifically in Chad, Nigeria, and Ethiopia, a substrate that is similar in composition to the environment there would be the best.

The soil is relatively dry and contains some sand.

Substrates to Avoid Using with Your Baby Sulcata Tortoise

Even though they are a lot of substrates that can be used with your baby sulcata tortoise, some still exist that you should avoid using.

1. Aspen shavings

Aspen is not a toxic type of substrate to use with your tortoise, but it’s a very dry type of substrate.

This makes it unsuitable for your baby pet as they need much hydration and high humidity for healthy growth.

2. Cedar and pine shavings

Both cedar and pine shavings are toxic for use with your tortoise.

They have toxic oils and when ingested could be poisonous to your pet.

3. Hay

Hay is a good substrate for use with your pet as it gives a good level of comfort, but it molds easily.

So you should try to avoid using it, especially in a high humidity environment.

4. Newspaper

The newspaper doesn’t provide any type of benefit to your tortoise and molds easily.

They catch fire easily especially the ones in the basking area so they are not worth the risk.

5. Pellets

Pellets of paper and wood are not stable, hence difficult for your tortoise to walk on.

This can harm their developing bones and muscles.

6. Fertilized Soil

Avoid using soil with fertilizers and any forms of chemicals as they are toxic to your pet.

Top Pick

Natural Chemistry Reptile Mite Spray

If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Things to Look Out for in A Good Substrate for Baby Sulcata Tortoise

The most important thing when purchasing a substrate is to try to get one that closely resembles the natural home of your pet.

Sulcata tortoises live in Africa and are used to dry soil with sand.

So you should aim for this type of substrate or an equivalent that can meet up with your pet’s humidity and moisture needs.

Note however that too much moisture in the substrate makes your pet prone to being infected especially when shedding.

The following are important when buying a substrate for your baby sulcata:

Commonly Asked Questions About Substrate for Baby Sulcata Tortoises

Do Tortoises Need a Substrate?

Yes, they do.

Substrates help them feel more comfortable as they would in the wild and it’s something for them to dig into for fun or temperature regulation.

What Depth of Substrate Should a Tortoise Have?

For a baby sulcata, the depth of the substrate should be about 2 inches.
This way they can dig and burrow as they like.

Is Sand a Good Substrate for Tortoise?

Sand is a good substrate and it helps to regulate the humidity of the enclosure.

When used on its own, your pet is likely to eat it and get sick.

So only the digestible types should be used and it should be mixed with soil.

Can Tortoise Live On Sawdust?

Just like sand, sawdust can cause impaction so it’s not advisable for your pet tortoise to live on it.

Moreover, it’s flammable and can get dusty.

It’s Your Turn

Caring for a baby sulcata tortoise is a delicate task as it requires much care and attention.

One way of ensuring your pet stays healthy and happy is to provide it with the right substrate on which it can live.

In all, every product mentioned here will be a good pick to get started with your new reptile pet.

Carl, the reptile-obsessed creator of this website, got his first turtle years ago and he made a ton of mistakes along the way. His goal now with TheCritterCove is simple: help others to not make the same mistakes that he did!