Best Substrate for Baby Sulcata Tortoise (2021) | Buying Guide and Reviews

by Carl Crane | Updated: April 3, 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.

As a pet owner, you intend to make your pet as comfortable as possible and that can only happen if you know your pet’s needs and meet them.

So to successfully replicate your baby sulcata’s natural home, make your choice from the best substrate for baby sulcata tortoise.

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

This way they can thermoregulation and also maintain appropriate humidity.

So read on to find out what to look out for in a substrate for your pet and which ones are the best for its use.

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Complete 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.

Categories of Substrates to Use for Baby Sulcata

Coconut Coir

These categories of substrates are good at retaining humidity, enabling you to effectively control the humidity of your pet’s enclosure.

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

Orchard 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

The Best Substrate for Baby Sulcata Tortoise

1.   Zoo Med Repti Bark

Top on our list is the Zoo Med Repti Bark. It’s 100% natural and made from fir bark with high moisture absorption.

So you can properly hydrate your baby tortoise by providing optimum humidity.

You can also use this substrate for high humidity loving reptiles. Apart from its humidity provision, it also conducts heat properly and distributes it evenly, allowing absorption of a good amount.

Sulcata tortoises are naturally burrowing animals and this substrate would give them something to dig into.

This act helps in thermoregulation as they can keep cool when they have enough heat.

It’s highly absorbent and can absorb waste easily helping to maintain a clean surface. If you desire a natural environment for your pet, using this substrate is one way to achieve that.



2.   Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding

Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding is great for smaller sulcata tortoises as it retains enough moisture to cool them down and keep them hydrated.

In all, you can say it helps in the healthy growth and development of your pet.

This product is also easy to maintain and replace, so your terrarium stays clean at all times and your tortoise stays comfortable.

An alluring feature of this product is the deodorizing effect it has to eliminate the smell.

With no toxic chemicals included, your pet is safe on this product. It’s 100% natural and gives the enclosure a natural vibe.

So you can maintain healthy humidity levels while eliminating odor with this product.

It’s made with your pet in mind and to prove that it’s also made with your pocket in mind it’s affordable.



3.   Pangea New Zealand Long Fiber Sphagnum Moss

As a juvenile one of your pet’s needs is adequate hydration and moisture.

With this Sphagnum Moss, you can be sure that your pet would enjoy the high humidity levels of its terrarium.

You don’t have to check it regularly for rehydration as it absorbs a lot of water and doesn’t dry out easily.

It also absorbs waste and helps keep the place clean and free from spilled liquid.

Due to its acidic nature, it acts as an anti-bacterial and discourages the growth and habitation of bacteria and fungi.

This takes care of your worry for infection and you can be at peace knowing that your baby sulcata is safe.



4.   Reptile Sciences Terrarium Sand for Aquarium

It’s not usually advisable to use sand as a substrate because of the risk of ingestion and impaction, but that risk is reduced with the Reptile Sciences Terrarium Sand.

Being an inhabitant of arid regions, sand is more natural to sulcata tortoises and so with an environment of sand, you can make it feel more at home.

This product is made of digestible calcium carbonate so that your pet can pass it out without any harm. Don’t forget to mix it though with soil or other substrates.

To keep the chances of odor in your pet’s enclosure low, this product was made to absorb the smell.

So what you have is a safe product that effectively neutralizes odor and leaves the terrarium smelling fresh.

Apart from your sulcata, you can use this product as a substrate for the enclosure of other pets like iguanas, lizards, and snakes.



5.   Zoo Med Reptifresh Odor Eliminating Substrate

We will round up the product reviews with this Zoo Med Reptifresh Odor Eliminating Substrate.

Its user friendly as it’s easy to use and also maintain, so those busy pet owners would benefit greatly from this.

Once bought, you may not need any replacement for up to 12 months.

Made with natural components, it’s safe for use with your pet without fear of causing harm or injury.

Your sulcata tortoise would also enjoy digging and burrowing in this substrate to keep cool.

For wee babies, however, you would have to mix with soil to reduce the chances of ingestion.

Apart from sulcata tortoise, other animals can benefit from this substrate so you can save less and provide comfort for all your pets.



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.


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.

The Zoo Med Repti Barkis a great substrate that allows digging and burrowing, and also distributes heat evenly.

Another good option is Zoo Med Forest Floor Bedding as it eliminates odor and provides adequate humidity as required by your baby tortoise.

Pangea New Zealand Long Fiber Sphagnum Moss is an antibacterial substrate that helps to prevent infection, absorbs waste, and also retains moisture.

In all, every product reviewed here is of top quality and promises good value for your money.

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!