Substrate or no substrate? Which works better, to use substrate or not to use substrate for raising Tropical Roaches? What to use if you do decide to use substrate?
Read our roach care and breeding sections and you will find that we recommend using no substrate in roach enclosures. Still, some people just prefer to use substrate and there is no doubt that the roaches would prefer that you do. Yes, they breed just as well without it and it certainly makes roach keeping easier but many roaches like to burrow and all roaches need to hide. Babies especially will be found hiding in any substrate available. If you do as we do and do not use substrate, nymphs are often found hiding under food bowls and in the frass that just naturally acuminates at the bottoms of roach bins.
There are instances when substrate is preferable. Some species of roaches are much easier to successfully breed using substrate. Another reason for using substrate would be if you just canít get the humidity high enough in your roach tanks for them to successfully breed. This would only happen in especially dry regions of the country. If you prefer to supply your roaches with water by misting the sides of the enclosures daily instead of using water gel, it would be preferable to use an absorbent substrate.
Our favorite use for substrate is for growing out small nymphs in temporary quarters until adulthood. It gives them lots of places to hide and feel secure. This way we move them to no substrate permanent housing when they are adults ready to breed.
So with this all said, here are our recommendations for substrates for raising Tropical Roaches if you feel itís the only way to go.
Hey, itís the cheapest alternative and been used on the bottom of bird cages for years. Simply cut a thickness of 3 to 12 sheets to fit the bottom of the roach bin. Leave room between the edging of the paper and the walls of the housing for the roaches to fit. They will crawl under and between the sheets to hide. You can mist the sides of the roach enclosures and the newspaper will soak up the excess as long as you do not soak everything.
An alternate method is to shred the paper in a paper shredder. Simply place the shredded paper in the roach enclosure. It is not recommended to keep the shredded paper wet as it would then loose its volume.
The same wheat bran used to grow mealworms and superworms works just as well as roach bedding. The roaches hide in it and also eat it. The bran bedding molds if it gets wet so be careful to keep it dry. Misting is definitely out with bran bedding.
Laying Mash can be used as a food source only by supplying it in shallow bowls or as a combination food and substrate by adding a layer on the bottom of the roach enclosure. This way the roaches always have something to eat. Laying mash will mold if it gets wet so be careful to keep it dry.
Rabbit Pellets can be used instead of the laying mash as a layer on the bottom of the roach enclosure. The roaches will eat them and hide in them. You should additionally supply other sources of dry food for the roaches to eat. Rabbit Pellets will also mold if they get wet so again be careful to keep them dry.
Pine Bark Nuggets of any size that are sold as landscape mulch can be used as substrate. They have the advantage of being very natural looking if you have a display tank of your roaches.
Straw works well if you have large bins with a lot of area to cover or if you want the substrate especially deep without it compacting. It comes in bales and you can pull off pieces which then should be fluffed up as you use them. Straw provides lots of nooks and crannies for roaches to hide and hang out. Straw also mimics the idea of the natural habitat of Tropical Roaches.
If you are in the south, they sell pine straw which can be used in the same manner as common straw.
Dry brown leaves from the Fall make natural looking substrate that is as close to natural habitat for Tropical Roaches as possible.
The type of Aspen Shavings sold in Pet Shops as bedding for small mammals works very well as roach substrate. Do not use pine shavings. Aspen Shavings have the advantage of being easy to get and seem to last a long time.
Coconut Fiber is sold in bricks at most pet stores as reptile bedding. It has various brand names such as Coir, Bed-a-Beast, Eco-Earth, or Forest Bed. Prior to use, the dry compressed brick should be allowed to soak up water to expand to many times its original size. You can then use as much as needed for roach substrate and allow the unused portion of the brick to dry out until needed again.
Peat Moss sold in bales in most garden supply stores can be used in the same manner as coconut fiber. If you are a gardener, you probably already have some lying around. Peat Moss must also be thoroughly soaked prior to use.
An alternative to peat moss. Sphagnum moss is much courser than peat.
Certain substrates work especially well for holding moisture. If you want to keep your substrates wet the best choices are Coconut Fiber, Peat Moss or Sphagnum Moss since they do not easily mold. Keep the Coconut Fiber, Peat Moss or Sphagnum Moss wet on the side of the roach enclosure that is heated and allow the cool side of the tank to have dry substrate. Wet substrate should be damp to the touch but not soaking. Be careful to keep any dry food away from the wet side of the enclosure as it will mold and cause mites. Egg crates can be kept on the dry side but any placed on the wet side should be checked constantly to make sure they do not mold.
It is not a bad idea to sterilize the substrate prior to use. You can do this by microwaving the substrate while WET. Baking at low temperature is also a good method to sterilize substrate and the most effective.
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