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Exotics Marketplace: A Bed To Burrow In


Stock a variety of herp substrates to help customers find bedding that is “just right.”

By Stacy N. Hackett

Sand. Bark. Walnut shells. Coconut fiber. Aspen shavings. Moss? When it comes to herp substrate products, the shelves of your herp section most likely contain an array of options, which can be very daunting to an inexperienced reptile owner.

They might have a difficult time choosing which materials are best for their pet.

This is where a knowledgeable, well-trained staff becomes an excellent asset.

“Knowing the needs of pets is very important,” said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator for Zoo Med Laboratories Inc. of San Luis Obispo, Calif. “Different reptiles require different habitats. The correct substrate, or combination of substrates, can really help create the right kind of environment for different species.”

According to Jesse Lopez, an associate at Villaggio Family Pets in Temecula, Calif., employees can answer questions about the substrate needs of all the herps sold at the store, from bearded dragons to ball pythons to sulcata tortoises. The enclosures for the animals include the appropriate type of substrate—and several bags of the bedding that are used in the enclosures are located nearby, Lopez added.

“For example, the store uses T-Rex Sani-Chips in the bearded dragon display and Zoo Med ReptiBark with the ball pythons,” he said.

Josh Waldron, an employee in the reptile and small animal department of Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich., said his store’s reptile displays also use the same type of substrates that the employees recommend to customers. 

“We use Eco Earth by Zoo Med with all the reptiles, which is basically ground up coconut fiber,” Waldron said. “It is pH neutral in case the pet ingests some of it, and it allows the owner to more easily control the amount of moisture in the enclosure.”

Preuss Pets stocks Eco Earth in three-brick packs, as well as brick packs of Exo Terra Plantation Soil from Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. Like Zoo Med’s Eco Earth, Exo Terra Plantation Soil is made from compressed coconut husk fiber. Waldron said the store recommends both substrates to customers.

“We also carry sphagnum moss, which is good for species that prefer a more humid environment,” he added.

Rademacher of Zoo Med said that the company’s New Zealand Sphagnum Moss is ideal for most species of frogs, toads, salamanders, newts and invertebrates including hermit crabs.

“It is great for live plants,” she said. “[It] can also be used with small snakes, including green snakes, ribbon snakes and garter snakes.”

Zoo Med offers a range of substrate options to meet the needs of all types of reptiles and amphibians.

Along with Eco Earth and Sphagnum Moss, the line includes ReptiBark, Forest Floor, ReptiSand, Vita-Sand, ReptiFresh and Terrarium Moss, among others.

One of the company’s most popular products is its Aspen Snake Bedding.

“This eco-friendly substrate is great for many kinds of animals including birds, lizards, tortoises, turtles, tarantulas and insects,” Rademacher said. “It contains no toxic oils, making it safe for reptiles and other animals with sensitive respiratory systems. It provides a naturalistic substrate that allows snakes, lizards and small animals to form burrows and nests as they would in the wild.”

An Array of Options
Just as one type of substrate can satisfy the needs of many animals, several types of substrate can satisfy the needs of a specific animal.

According to Lopez at Villaggio Family Pets, in such cases, the appropriate type of bedding is really the owner’s preference.

He and other employees are trained to explain what each type does and to help customers make informed decisions, he said.

Zoo Med provides several educational tools and resources to help employees learn more about substrates. For example, the company’s website offers care sheets, product selection guides and descriptions of the different substrate products’ properties.

“For some products, we have educational videos on our YouTube channel from which retailers can watch and learn,” Rademacher said.

With expanded knowledge, retailers confidently can recommend substrates for different types of reptiles and amphibians.

“We recommend [ZooMed’s]Vita-Sand for bearded dragons,” said Shelly Dillingham, owner of Pet Stop in Murrieta, Calif. “This bedding has calcium in it, in case the animal happens to ingest it.”

For the corn snakes she sells in her store, Dillingham recommends a bark substrate, such as Zoo Med’s ReptiBark or Bark Blend Litter offered by Zilla Products.

“They like bark. It stays moist,” she said. “Owners can dampen it slightly. They can also use moss with snakes, but I prefer the bark.”

In addition to Vita-Sand and ReptiBark, Dillingham stocks Zoo Med’s Eco Earth, Eco Carpet, Aspen Snake Bedding and Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate.

This latter option allows owners to form the bedding as they like while allowing the animals to dig tunnels and burrows as they do in nature.

“Keepers can watch their reptiles perform natural digging behaviors and can mold and create multilevel terraces and burrows in their reptiles’ terrarium,” Rademacher said. “We use this product to help make use of vertical space in a terrarium.”

Customers also will find crushed walnut shells in large plastic bags on the shelves at Pet Stop, a substrate that Dillingham uses in some of her displays. In the bearded dragon enclosure, she uses paper towels, which she finds easier to remove each day to keep the enclosure clean.

No matter what type of substrate ends up in the enclosure, the needs of the animals that live there must be considered.

“We select each of these substrates with this knowledge in mind,” Rademacher said. “Each substrate provides benefits not only for the animal being kept, but also for the people caring for the animals.”

Use It In-Store; Try It At Home

One of the best ways to sell a product is to know firsthand how it works. By using the herp substrates sold in the store with their own pets, employees can recommend these types of products with confidence.

Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich., uses Zoo Med Laboratories’ Eco Earth Coconut Fiber Substrate in the herp enclosures, and the store’s employees also use the product.

“I use it with all my pets at home,” said Josh Waldron, an employee in the store’s reptile and small animal department. “It works well with my crested gecko, snapping turtle and Burmese python.”

Waldron also uses his experience as a reptile owner to help new owners make economical buying decisions.

“I let them know that they can save money if they buy the bedding in the three-brick pack instead of buying them individually,” he said. “I do this for my own reptiles.”—SH



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