Substrate selection is not a terribly important consideration for many reptiles, such as arboreal geckos or snakes. They only rarely come into contact with their bedding and do not burrow or dig as a matter of practice. The same cannot be said of savannah monitors, who spend the bulk of their lives in direct contact with their substrate. Additionally, as the reptilian equivalents of badgers, savannah monitors spend long periods of time digging into the substrate. Accordingly, the best substrate for savannah monitors is one that is safe, replicates the substrate of their natural habitat and allows them to dig stable tunnels.
Custom Crafting Your Savannah Monitor Substrate
Unfortunately, there are no widely available commercial products that fit this description. You will have to make your own custom substrate blend for savannah monitor maintenance. Sands marketed for use with reptiles are available – and they can be used as a component in your custom blend – but they are not suitable on their own. Similarly, bark and mulch products for reptiles can be used in a custom blend, but they should not be used by themselves.
Ideally, you should use a combination of sand, clay – and to a smaller extent mulch or bark chips – to create an ideal savannah monitor substrate. However, it is impossible to provide a blanket formula for a proper mix, as the sands and clays available to keepers vary widely. You will need to experiment with different ratios to arrive at the perfect mix. I recommend you to get maybe a little bit more than needed of the three following products to create the perfect substrate. I will show you below how you know when the substrate has the right consistency and what you also should know about substrate.
So here are the three products I recommend to mix together:
Ensure Your Savannah Monitor’s Bedding Is Safe
Many new keepers fail to take substrate safety into consideration, and allow their lizards to become sick or injured – some savannah monitors surely die from exposure to unsafe substrates. Characteristics that make a substrate unsafe are varied, but the primary thing to watch out for is substrates containing things that produce toxic fumes.
Toxic fumes are primarily a concern for substrates that include the wood of cedar trees. Cedar wood is naturally insecticidal (hence its use as a closet wood – it repels clothes-eating moths), and the fumes released from the wood have been implicated in the deaths of countless reptiles. Accordingly, you must always be sure that any substrate you purchase or make contains no cedar-derived products. Keepers are also wise to avoid eucalyptus or pine based products, as these trees also produce aromatic compounds.
Mimic Nature for Your Bosc Monitor’s Substrate
Savannah monitors – like their name suggests – live in savannahs and open woodlands. Most of their natural habitat features hardened clay-heavy soil, covered with a thin layer of sand, dust and organic debris. This means that sand-based substrates are more natural for your pet, but there is an additional benefit as well.
In most open habitats, the substrate is rather dry, which results in a low humidity level. However, in other locations, such as a small clump of trees, the shelter will serve to keep the sand damper, thus providing a higher local humidity level. Savannah monitors rely on these humidity gradients in the wild to maintain proper hydration levels. You can accomplish the same thing by using sand-based substrates in your pet’s cage. Sand and clay-based substrates can be moistened to varying levels – this provides a range of humidity levels for your lizard, which provides a number of health benefits.
Savannah Monitor Substrates Must Allow Tunneling
The most difficult aspect of providing your lizard with the best substrate is enabling the construction of stable tunnels. Bosc monitors use these tunnels as hiding places, but they also enable the lizards to thermoregulate. Most particulate substrates will not retain a tunnel once your lizard starts digging. You lizard may still choose to remain underneath the substrate, but he will not be able to use it as he would in the wild.
The best way to work around this is by adding enough clay and water to the sand to allow the substrate to retain its shape. As a rule-of-thumb, you must be able to compress the mixture into a small ball in your hand if it is to work well enough for tunnel construction.
Savannah monitors are often enjoyable monitors to maintain, and their husbandry requirements are relatively easy to provide. The greatest challenge you will likely face is blending your own substrate. Just remember to use safe materials, strive to make the substrate as similar to the substrate they encounter in the wild and be sure that the substrate will allow the construction of tunnels. You may need to adjust the mixture several times at the outset, but once you arrive at the proper mixture, your lizard is sure to appreciate your efforts. Once you see your bosc monitor climbing down a freshly excavated, stable burrow, you’ll know the ratio is correct.