The great setup debate

SCGeckos

New Member
Messages
99
Location
South Carolina
There has always been debates in regards to setups and substrates but it has heated up again as of late. There is of course the never ending and infamous "Sand debate" that always rears its ugly head every few days or weeks.

I personally feel that there can be much more to keeping Leopard Geckos than plastic tubs, paper towels, repti carpet, and cardboard.

Now just to be clear, My take on sand and Leopard Geckos is that it is an incorrect substrate (for this species) and should not be used. Leopard Geckos do not naturally occur in sand boxes.... They come from a region of densely packed clay/dirt and rocks. Therefore putting a Leopard Gecko in a aquarium full of loose sand is far from ideal and in no way mimics their natural habitat.

A huge part when it comes to using a naturalistic setup is understanding the proper care and husbandry of the species you are working with. You may have a beautiful setup that is an accurate depiction of the animals natural habitat but if your husbandry is lacking weather it is incorrect temps, incorrect diet, or incorrect supplementation (just to name a few), the animal will not thrive regardless of the setup.

Now all that being said, is it easier to keep these animals on paper towels, or tile with plastic hides??? Absolutely! That however does not mean it is the only way to keep these animals correctly. It is amusing to me if you think about it. Many keepers of Aussie species keep them on sand..... No problem. Many Cave gecko keepers keep there animals on coco fiber or a similar product..... No problem. You know why??? Because those substrates are similar to what they live in or around in the wild.

I would love to hear other keepers opinions on this topic (keeping it respectful). I would also love to see some pictures of some naturalistic setups that members have and how the animals are doing in these type of environments.
 

Neon Aurora

New Member
Messages
1,376
Location
New Mexico
I agree. I've seen some amazing naturalistic set ups using flagestone, grout, clay, tile, styrofoam, you name it. Everyone seems to assume that just because they are a desert species, they must live on sand, and this is not the case. I think many people get hung up on the idea that sand looks nice, but what they don't realize is that there are so many other ways to be creative and create a natural set up that is beautiful and healthy. One thing I've always wanted to do is use flagestone, but position it so there are gaps. You can then put desert plants and such in the gaps with a bit of soil and gravel on top. It would also be great fun to try to successfully create humid crevices in flagstone just like they would have in the wild (not flagstone in the wild, but you know what I mean) instead of the standard humid hide.

There are so many wondeful options that are safe for the species. =)
 

JennyBeen

New Member
Messages
87
Location
Denver, CO
I will say that I think the reptile community in general goes a little nuts over loose substrate, or anything that resembles loose substrate, and I do think it's a little excessive. I have my geckos on alternating reptile carpet, or exo terra rubber rock mats (they all take some time to dry after I clean them, so I've found I need multiple ones). Very frequently when I post a photo of one of my reptiles on one of the rubber rock mats, I quickly receive a lecture about loose substrate and how it can cause impaction, etc etc, sometimes from multiple individuals! (not on here, to clarify, but on other sites, yes). This knee jerk, condescending reaction is what I don't enjoy...especially when I'm NOT using a loose substrate!

I found the same treatment with photos of my bearded dragon, who is a large adult animal. I had used excavator clay on his habitat, and DEAR LORD did I receive multiple comments of backlash, even AFTER I posted my "white flag" saying that it is in fact, NOT loose substrate and is made of a solid material. Yet, I have heard of many dragon breeders who happily use sand in their *adult* animals, stating that they do not feed their animals on the sand and rather do so in a raised dish, and feed insects outside of the enclosure. Honestly, with this set up, I would not think it would pose a high risk, at least judging from the behavior of my dragon. Additionally, I've read multiple books written by several herpetologists who have said they prefer to use sand as a substrate for adult dragons, and have never had an issue with impaction in their hundreds of animals. Honestly, I am more apt to believe them than I am pet owners who have just heard horror stories from a friend of a friend.

That being said, I do not use sand for him, or for any of my lizards just because I don't like even the minimal risk of impaction (more so for the geckos, especially the way mine eat), or it is far too expensive to use in the dragon's tank ($40 to cover his 40 gallon tank, replacing it every 3-4 months). For the dragon, I will say that having sand would make cleaning up messes easier than his exo terra mat...it kinda dries on there -_-.

But I've also found the reptile community to be oddly opinionated about other strange things. I'm still confused as to why so many individuals think that eating mealworms can kill an adult bearded dragon by impaction, when our little leopard gecko friends, whom I would consider far more fragile, can eat them with no troubles? I read a post on a forum from a teen girl who was literally freaking out thinking her dragon was going to DIE because he ate a SINGLE meal worm. That, in my opinion, is excessive! But, understandably, another whole discussion on its own.

My point is, I think we all need to research for ourselves about these topics and consider what is logical, and be somewhat open-minded without making generalizations. Then we should decide for ourselves. Would I keep my geckos on sand? No, probably not. Might it work for someone else? Yes, it probably could in some animals if very fine sand is used, if the animal is older and in a stable environment it doesn't feel the need to explore with it's tongue, and if the owner takes the animal out to feed it on a flat surface. Is the aesthetically pleasing, easy(ish) loose substrate worth it? Maybe for some people it is...just not for me, and certainly not with my geckos who are younger and eat like sloppy pigs.

Some things in some communities may be well-intended advice, but I think it's important to take things with a grain of salt sometimes and make up our own minds (after researching) about what is best for our animals.
 

indyana

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,336
Location
Massachusetts, United States
Experienced keepers can certainly create wonderful naturalistic terrariums, complete with loose substrate, and keep their animals healthy. The substrate, in my opinion, should not be play sand. And, for the love of leos, never calcium sand. But no, loose substrate is not the devil.

I've seen all the threads this week, both here and on Facebook, with folks absolutely losing their mind over substrate. It is a little absurd considering that there's loose substrate everywhere in the world, and somehow, the geckos of various species manage to eat mostly insects and not die in mass numbers because they consumed too much dirt. Yes, our leopard geckos are a little different than their wild kin, but if we've bred them down to the point where they can't identify food, we have a problem.

Geckos die from sand impaction due to incorrect husbandry. Sand alone is not going to kill a healthy gecko, even a baby. That being said, you will never see me recommend substrate to a beginner keeper. I will always tell people to set up using tile, paper towel, or another safe floor covering, provide three hides, use a heat mat and a thermostat, etc. That is the default, dummies-guide-to-geckos setup. It is the setup that is the most forgiving if a new keeper doesn't provide the right nutrition and environmental conditions right away. For people not willing to do their own detailed research, who are looking for quick help, it is the simplest solution.

Personally, I have no interest in setting up naturalistic terrariums, but I do want my reptiles to have environmental enrichment. I straddle the line between ease of care and attractive setups by using a simple floor covering, like brown paper for leopard geckos, and then filling the habitat with plenty of caves and hiding spots, fake plants, etc. Does it look like the wild? Nope. But is it more interesting than a breeder tub? Definitely.

My quarantine setups are pretty sterile, and when I do start breeding, I'll be using racks like everyone else for hatchlings and juveniles. But my older geckos are always going to have a richer environment, even if I don't dive into the full on vivariums.
 

Neon Aurora

New Member
Messages
1,376
Location
New Mexico
I also agree that reptile enthusiasts are too over-the-top about loose substrate. I was actually heavily discouraged from being part of any reptile forums from the amount of flaming people did on stuff like that. I was really pleased to come across this forum because people are much more civilized and professional here.

Discouraging the use of sand on a general basis will stop a lot of newbies from using it. I probably wouldn't question it if it was an experienced keeper doing it, but I still think it should be generally discouraged.

But then, I think enthusiasts of all kinds can easily go too far and become aggressive over simple things. Dog forums can be especially intimidating places.
 

indyana

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,336
Location
Massachusetts, United States
It sometimes goes the other way as well--keepers who believe in naturalistic setups then start bashing the more simplistic or unnatural setups. We have to remember that these are animals, and, in many cases, they are pets. The entire natural/unnatural debate is really created by humans. A gecko doesn't look at something and think it's unnatural or natural. Its thought process is more along the lines of, "Hey, what's this? Can I climb it? Can I get inside it? Is there food here?"

If you believe in keeping geckos close to their conditions in the wild, good for you. If you want to set up a cage in which there isn't a rock or log in sight, that's fine too. I have no problem with either mentality as long as the animal's basic needs are met and it has some mental stimulation.
 

JennyBeen

New Member
Messages
87
Location
Denver, CO
I agree too that too much emphasis is put on "naturalistic" habitats as well, with some individuals. Indyana is correct in that our geckos, being captive bred for probably a dozen or more generations, have no idea what their natural habitat "should" look like. It should only matter that the set up be conducive to their natural, instinctive abilities and needs. That is, the gecko doesn't care what a hide is made of, just that they have a dark place to go; whether it's made of a tupperware container or authentic desert rock doesn't probably matter, because they have seen neither before.

That being said, sand isn't arguably a "natural" substrate for them either. I imagine it would be something closer to excavator clay, with ground tunnels in place and a rocky texture. But I agree that this longing to duplicate is for the owner's benefit, more than anything else.
 

stager

New Member
Messages
2,112
Location
Jersey
The thing about paper towels and bins with plastic hides is not just easier but provides a much cleaner environment. I've done both with my snakes in the past and in my opinion the thrive just as well on wood dowels and paper towels as some natural set up. The natural setups are hard to keep clean.
 

SCGeckos

New Member
Messages
99
Location
South Carolina
Sorry for the delayed response. Thanks for all the opinions posted. I agree that these animals can be cared for properly with or without loose substrate. No argument there. However I feel the problem with the loose substrate "debate" is that too many people see an animal that died with a belly full or sand or dirt, and automatically assume this caused the death so the dirt or sand is the problem. This is not the case.... Ever. In every single case of substrate based impaction something else was off. Poor supplementation, low temps, dehydration, wrong diet, etc. Placing the animal on paper or tile, while it will prevent it from ingesting substrate (usually, not always because some will resort to eating the paper towel) does NOT address the underlying issue that is the real culprit. The idea that reptiles go around eating sand or dirt until they die for no reason is an outdated myth, much along the lines of mealworms eating their way out of an animal's belly. If this was somehow true many of these animals would have went extinct long ago. This great hobby is in a constant state of evolution, and if you look to the animals natural habitat you will find the best source of information in regards to their needs.
 

NearMeGeckos

Member
Messages
36
Location
USA, Minnesota
I personally am against the use of loose substrate. It is no way replicates the geckos natural environment despite that being argued, and in the long run has no benefits and alot of risk. I tried out loose substrate (Coco fiber) when I first got my geckos many years ago.

My 4year old male and 13 month old female were on t-rex leopard gecko super food calcium plus, and a reptile calcium and multi vit free choice and dusted on a few of his feeder insects. They were eachin a 20 gallon tank, heat mat, 4 hides, ideal temps, perfectly healthy, 4x a year vet check. I put moist eco earth there tanks 7 months after getting them.

The first problem I had is that it dried out over the heat mat causing dry powder that would kick into the air when they dug. I sprayed it down twice a day but despite that it would still dry out. They would lunge for crickets and ingest massive amounts of eco earth.

I went for there 3 mothly checkup early as my female stoped eating and male had discharge from his eyes and nose. My female was badly impacted and was bleading internaly so nothing could be done and she had to be euthanized. Autopsy confirmed that eco earth caused the impaction. My male on the other hand had eco earth in his sinuses and eyes causing an upper respiratory infection and eye infection and was put on antibiotics. My vet told me to remove the substrate and never use it again. Did that and have never had in issue again.

I now use non adhesive under counter lining as repti carpet got my geckos teeth stuck on it and it holds in smell.

I only have 2 geckos now (one has seeing issues and one is a baby) so I have a simple but nice setup. I'm not against bioactive asking as you have a compacted substrate that is impossible to ingest. There are alot of nice setups out there bio and non bio.
 
Messages
11
This is a great thread. I know that I've never used sand or a naturalistic set up - I'm a nonadhesive shelf liner kind of gecko keeper. I did try to put reptisoil in a dig box in there ... I baked it dry and followed all the instructions but I feel like it still caused my gecko some issues? I think he ended up getting some in his nose, his breathing was funny until I removed it.
 

Visit our friends

Top