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Anna, Reptile Expert, Biologist
Category: Reptile
Satisfied Customers: 11424
Experience:  Have owned turtles, snakes, amphibians, and lizards. Study and provide habitat for wild herps.
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is bed a beast mixed with sand a safe substrate for box turtles

Resolved Question:

is "bed a beast" mixed with sand a safe substrate for box turtles? what if they eat it?
will the sand cause a blockage? It is the tube sand that is a little courser than the play sand type. I was finding it hard to keep humidity above 20 percent and am worried. I tried soil last year, but it is so muddy and dirty. Also, one of my turtles ended up with shell problems, maybe because of the natural fungi in the soil and compost that I mixed in. Thank you.
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Reptile
Expert:  Anna replied 6 years ago.

Box turtles naturally live and burrow in soil and sand. While many other reptiles will consume sand and become impacted, it's not a big risk with box turtles. Many experienced keepers recommend a mix of Bed-a-beast, sand, and sphagnum moss. It should be misted every day to maintain humidity.

Shell problems are often due to wrong temperatures and lack of UVB lighting. It's extremely important that they have a UVB light. Without it, they develop a painful condition called Metabolic Bone Disease, that results in a slow death. Box turtles also require high humidity. The turtle will need a basking light, and the area directly under it should be kept at 87* to 90*F. The diet should consist of half animal-based foods - worms, insects, etc. and half plant foods. These sites have more information on care:

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Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Thank you for answering so quickly. Much of this information was available already on your website.

My turtles are both rescues and were kept on newspaper for years and years. The difference is, one did not have any heat source for over 15 years and the other was from IL, so the humidity wasn't an issue. Now, I am struggling to keep the humidity above 20%. If I don't mix in the sorghum moss, is that okay? I have an issue with the sustainability.

I do have a UVB bar light across the top and a ceramic basking light over a rock (temp 85-90 in that area). The heat light dries everything out very quickly. I put my turtles (I have a 40 yo also) outside whenver I can, but do not have a yard of my own yet, so they don't have an outdoor enclosure. My turtles seem to get full of the sand and coconut fiber mixture (bed a beast) because it fills their soaking dish. I know they are eating it and just wanted to check on any personal experience with issues, or shell damage from scraping the attached sand when they walk on rocks, etc... It makes a horrible screaching noise. Thanks again!!
Expert:  Anna replied 6 years ago.
The main purpose of the moss in the substrate mixture is to hold moisture, so not having it will make the humidity issue worse.Bed-a-Beast does pose a small risk of impaction if ingested.Sand could scratch the shells, but isn't likely to cause deep damage. Every substrate has drawbacks, and you'll have to decide what you can live with. Sterilized potting soil poses little risk of impaction, holds humidity well, and is easy to burrow in. But you have a problem with it getting muddy. That could mean your enclosure is too small, making it easy for the turtles to splash and urinate without it being soaked up.

At least one breeder uses non-medicated plain rabbit pellets from a feed dealer as a substrate. She scoops out the wet areas with a cat litter scoop every day. Some grind up fallen leaves to make leaf litter. Others use composted hay. The problem is that if we keep turtles in an unnatural environment, we can't duplicate the conditions in nature, and there will be problems. There is no perfect substrate. Soil comes the closest to nature, if you can find a way to deal with the wetness. Perhaps a deeper, more absorbent layer would help. You'll have to consider the advantages and drawbacks of each in order to decide what is best for you.

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