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Turtles/Russian tortoise substrate/flooring


QUESTION: I have been seeing lately on some reptile websites a new idea for a lining of the bottom of a tortoise box. They are selling sheets of what is basically a durable cork board and stating it is comfortable, strong and safe for tortoises. I looked up cork wood and it is the inner bark of a type of oak. In your opinion would it be safe in a tortoise table as a lining for the bottom? I know that pine is not recommended for tortoises but am not sure about oak bark. Thank you, Sarah

ANSWER: Hi Sarah,

Do you have a link?  This is something I haven't heard about, so I'd like to check it out. Cork is safe, and in fact I use pieces of (rough) cork bark in my enclosures because it's very durable. As a substrate, no, or at least not what I'm envisioning here--pieces of flat, smooth cork, right?  Tortoises need natural substrates, and that means some version of dirt, whether actual topsoil or something like a sand/coir mix.  They need the footing it provides, as well as the humidity/moisture and the burrowing factor.  Burrowing is especially important for Russians, and they like a deeper substrate because of it, although I've found that piles of hay or straw can work as a substitute. But if you can give me a link I'll look at it more and let you know what I think.

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Thank you for your quick answer. You can do a search for cork reptile mat on eBay and/or Amazon. They don't come in very large pieces and would have to be pieced together. I have seen larger sheets of cork board on Amazon that would fit better but are not advertised for that purpose. They are more for household uses but do state that are not toxic and are eco-friendly. I think they would be the same but more convenient. I may use them on the bottom of the box with a loose substrate over it. Thank you again, Sarah

OK, I get what you mean. I think generally those are used in backgrounds to create a more natural look for lizard and snake enclosures. You could use them
with substrate over them, but it's probably best just to use a proper substrate. For a Russian, substrate should be 4-6" deep to allow them to burrow a bit, and also kept slight damp for humidity. Let me know if you have any other questions!


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Questions regarding husbandry of Russian tortoises and other Mediterranean species, sulcata, and redfoot tortoises; general tortoise and turtle care; box turtle care. If I can't answer a specific question, I can provide sources for further research. Disclaimer: My advice is not a substitute for vet care. If I think your tortoise/turtle has a specific medical condition or injury that warrants a vet visit, I'll tell you so, and if possible I'll help you locate a vet. It is neither legal nor ethical for me to provide veterinary advice.


I have kept and bred Russian tortoises for over ten years and have other Mediterranean species plus redfoots and box turtles. I've worked with other tortoise and turtle species while doing volunteer rescue work; mostly sulcata but some leopards, California desert tortoises, yellowfoots, all box turtle species, red-eared sliders, etc. I don't personally keep aquatic species, but have access to a wealth of information and research to help you with any questions you might have.

My knowledge is based on hands-on experience keeping, breeding, and working with tortoises and turtles.

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