Substrates Ideal for Holding Humidity
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By Jennifer Greene
Orchid Bark, Cypress Mulch, and Coconut Husk Beddings
This month's featured product is actually several similar substrates, the various kinds of bedding that you can use to help maintain a specific look or humidity within your tank. Exactly which substrate you use is a matter of personal choice, so don't be afraid to try each type to find which you like best for your situation.
What It Is
The three most commonly available types of bedding that can be utilized for tropical tanks and/or maintaining humidity are Orchid Bark (aka Reptile Bark), Cypress Mulch, and Coconut Husk (both fine particle and chunky types). Each one has a somewhat different texture and look to it, and again, which you like best is entirely your preference.
Orchid bark is so called because orchid growers use a very similar sized bark for growing and maintaining their orchid plants. Typically, orchid bark comes from Fir trees, a type of bark that usually breaks down much slower than other types of tree bark. This is perfect for maintaining a humid environment in your cages, as even with moisture being added to the bark on a regular basis it takes several weeks, if not months, for the bark to start breaking down as a result.
Cypress Mulch is usually the leftover milling from when cypress trees are cut for other purposes. It is a light weight bedding, and due to the way it loosely packs within the cage, it can be ideal for reptile species that enjoy burrowing. It absorbs large amounts of water and readily allows for it to evaporate, which means that you regularly need to add more water to it. However, this increased rate of evaporation translates to higher ambient humidity within the cage without necessarily having soggy bedding.
Coconut husk beddings are exactly what their name says - bedding made from the husk of coconuts! Coconut husk can come in large, or coarse, chunks, all the way down to very finely ground husk that resembles soil. Initially, coconut husk substrates are very dusty, but they hold the most water out of all 3 types that I am discussing. Coconut husk bedding can absorb large amounts of water without breaking down, making it ideal as a substrate for frogs and other species that require extremely high constant humidity.
Which One Do I Use?
When deciding on which one to use, consider what animal you are using it for, and what needs you have for the bedding. Orchid bark is the least expensive type of substrate, which is ideal when you need to add bedding to a large cage, or if you expect to change the substrate often, such as when caring for large snakes and monitor lizards. Cypress mulch is ideal for animals that require high humidity, but can develop skin problems if they sit in bedding that is too damp. Cypress mulch is the most versatile type of bedding, being suitable for a wide range of situations depending on just how much water you regularly add to it. Fine grade Coconut Husk is perfect for most frog species, especially the kinds that burrow, as well as ideal for mixing into either Cypress Mulch or Orchid bark to increase the amount of moisture you can add to them. Coarse grade Coconut Husk works similarly to cypress mulch, but holds significantly more water.
Which type of substrate works best for your situation is something only you can decide. Don't be afraid to try every type of bedding before deciding on which one you like best, and also consider mixing the substrates together! You can add fine grade Coconut Husk to any of the other types to increase moisture without oversaturating the bark beddings, or add in an area of bark to your primarily coconut husk substrate cages to allow your animals the choice to get out of the damper bedding if they choose.
How Is It Packaged?
It can be quite confusing to go to the bedding section and try to decide which bag of bedding to get. Orchid bark and Cypress Mulch come in LLL packed bags, in 4 quart, 8 quart, and 16 quart sizes. Not sure which size to get? 4 quarts fill a 10 gallon cage with a 1/2" layer of bedding, 8 quarts fills a 20 gallon (30" x 12" footprint), and 16 quarts can fill a cage as large as 48" x 16" with a ½" layer of bedding. Buy a larger bag than you strictly need to have leftover bedding to add as you clean, or order exactly as much as you need.
Coconut husk beddings come either in loose bags for both fine grade and coarse grade, or there are several brands that offer the fine grade bedding in a compressed form. The compressed bricks of coconut husk bedding require moisture to decompress and expand, meaning that some planning is needed to have bedding available to clean your cages, but it is often much less expensive to make it from the compressed form.
None of the substrates discussed in this article are high priced or difficult to find, so try each one, mix and match, experiment with each to find what you like. Each time you need to replace your substrate, pick up something new, and give them a chance! Any of these substrates can help make your life easier when maintaining a specific level of humidity within your cage, whether it is close to 100% or just slightly above your household humidity level.