The Best Substrate for Leopard Tortoise

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best substrate for leopard tortoise

The leopard tortoises is a charming, large species of tortoise that has become a very popular reptile pet in the past years. 

They are found in the savannas throughout eastern and southern Africa, which makes them an arid type of tortoise species and can do very well on a variety of dry substrates in captivity.

With the great number of available tortoise substrates in the market, it would be tough to make a safe choice especially if you are a new tortoise keeper.

The most important things to look out for when buying the best leopard tortoise substrate is if it’s first of all safe and if it meets the conditions of the natural habitat of the leopard tortoise.

Best Substrate for Leopard Tortoise

Fine grade orchid bark works best since I’ve seen so many people raise literally dozens of leopards on orchid bark and they all say it’s the best type of substrate of leopard tortoise.

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Fluker Labs Repta-Bark All Natural Bedding

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Being that leopard tortoises are from arid regions, this would be a great replica of the savanna environment that they are used to, allowing you easily accommodate your leopard tortoise.

Its ideal depth should be at least 2 inches as it stimulates digging behavior in your pet.


  • Prevents excessive moisture and absorbs waste
  • Natural bedding for all high humidity loving reptiles
  • 100% natural Repta-Bark substrate
  • Good at absorbing humidity (<50%)
  • Might help a small bit with smell


  • Can mold in high humidity

Understanding Leopard Tortoise Substrates

Leopard Tortoise Habitat

Leopard tortoises live in Africa, extending from Sudan and Somalia, all the way to Namibia in all the savannas type on habitats, meaning that Leopard Tortoise thrives in an arid environment.

This tortoise is a grazing type of species that favors semi-arid, thorny grassland habitats.

Grazers eat a mixture of grasses and succulent plants in the wild with grasses making up for most of their diet.

Moisture Level of a Substrate for Leopard Tortoise

The moisture level of a substrate for a leopard tortoise should be somewhere between 40% and 60%.

Simply stated, the moisture level is the quantity of water contained in the soil where generally, soil moisture can range from 10% to 45%, but can be higher during and after watering.

The humidity can be altered by different means but the best is to make use of pulverized water over the substrate.

To do this you can use any kind of bottle with a pulverizer as long as you disinfect it completely.

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Why the Humidity Level is Important

The humidity level of the substrate is very important because the substrate is in direct contact with your pet.

Humidity helps your tortoise to keep warm and maintain optimum body temperature.

A wet substrate would generally be more humid than a dry one.

So have the needs of your pet at the back of your mind when adjusting the humidity of your terrarium.

Overly high humidity isn’t the best and can cause shell rot.

Low humidity below normal limits would also lead to dehydration and the skin and shell would be unhealthy too.

With a humidity level within the safe range for your leopard tortoise, it would be fine.

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REPTI ZOO Reptile Terrarium Hygrometer

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The Required Substrate Depth for A Leopard Tortoise

Sometimes it’s to get away from the heat, and other times it’s to lay eggs.

With this in mind, it’s important to use a substrate that allows digging, and you have to make it as deep as possible.

The ideal depth for the substrate is about 6 inches, but as this would require a lot of space not everyone can afford that depth.

No matter the limitations you face, make sure your substrate is at least 2 inches deep so that your pet can dig freely.

How Often Should You Change the Substrate of a Leopard Tortoise?

Most pet owners have a hard time knowing when to change the substrate and they end up leaving it for too long.

There is no one right time to change the substrate as this depends on factors like the depth, size of the tank, and some others.

With a 2-inch substrate, you would need to change it after about 3 or 4 months.

Cleaning after every meal is good practice.

If you have a substrate that is 6 inches deep, you would need to change it after 5 or 6 months, and you would not necessarily have to change the whole thing.

You can just take out the first 3 inches and replace that.

If you have more than one tortoise, this guide would not apply as the time to change the substrate would be half that for a single leopard tortoise.

If the size of your enclosure is up to 40 inches in width, you would need to change the substrate once a year even if it’s just 2 inches deep.

Regular cleaning of the substrate would delay the need to change it regularly.

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Things to Look Out for in A Good Substrate for Leopard Tortoise

1. Can Retain Moisture

Leopard tortoises especially juveniles require some quantity of water to stay hydrated.

They either drink it or absorb it, and that’s why the substrate must absorb good quantity to maintain adequate humidity.

Being arid dwellers naturally, they have a low tolerance for too much moisture, so regulate the moisture content to a minimum.

A substrate with too much moisture content can be a favorable ground for the growth of bacteria and other harmful microorganisms.

The presence of these would cause shell rot, respiratory infections, and other diseases in your tortoise.

Look out for a substrate that can absorb moisture but not for too long.

The substrate should be easily drained to prevent a collection of water puddles.

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Gouevn Soil Moisture Meter Sensor Soil Test Kit

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2. Easy to Dig

The substrate you buy should be easy to dig so your pet can live comfortably and enjoy its home away as it’s meant too.

Its ease of digging should not come with a lack of structural integrity.

The substrate should be able to maintain its structure after being dug into rather than collapse on itself.

3. No Threat of Impaction

No matter how hard you try, there’s a possibility that your tortoise is chewing the substrate.

This poses a danger to the health of your pet and is one of the challenges pet owners face as the substrate could cause impaction.

Impaction occurs when a substance is in the digestive system and doesn’t get broken down or passed out, leading to obstruction and a rupture.

So when choosing a substrate, go for a substance that can be broken down and passed out by your pet safely.

4. Stable and Fit to Be Walked On

When choosing a substrate, bear in mind that your pet would walk on it all day and as such should be stable and easy to walk on.

Large chunks of coarse materials are usually unstable and not easy to walk on especially for hatchlings.

Finer particles are easy to walk on as they are tightly packed but if it’s too fine, their legs would sink through making it difficult to walk on.

Even though smaller particles are easy to walk on, the risk of impaction is higher, so when making a purchase, go for the ones that are easily digestible by your pet.

5. Non-Toxic Substrate

This is a very important point as a toxic substrate could even cause death.

Contrary to what you may think, some beddings that may seem fine to you are toxic to your leopard tortoise.

For example, wood or mulch is good as substrates, but not all wood is safe for use.

Some produce a toxic resin that could harm your tortoise, and so you have to be sure that the substrate you choose is safe.

The use of soil is common as a substrate, but soil could contain chemicals, and when in contact with your pet could be very harmful.

Always choose purely organic and chemical-free substrate to ensure your pet comes to no harm.

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Zoo Med Eco Earth Loose Coconut Fiber Substrate

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Commonly Asked Questions

Why Does My Tortoise Dig Holes?

In the wild the behavior of digging holes is for hiding, searching for food, or to cool down in the moist microclimate.

Even if there are no predators around your pet, the instinct still comes naturally, as well as the reason for thermoregulation.

Can Tortoises Eat Soil?

Yes, they can.

They do this often as they eat their food off the ground and as long as the soil is free from chemicals, they would be fine after eating small amounts.

Can I Grow Plants in My Tortoise’s Enclosure?

Yes, you can, but if you intend to beautify the enclosure with the plants you would be disappointed.

Tortoises eat up everything and will destroy the plant shortly.

Be careful however of the choice of plants you have as some could be poisonous.

It’s Your Turn

Choosing the best substrate for your leopard tortoise can be a difficult task sometimes with the abundance of available products in the market, but in truth, it’s actually pretty easy once you get to learn more about your reptile tortoise.