Substrate is a tricky thing, and depending on the location in which you live, some of the woods that I am going to talk about may be hard to come by.
But here we go:
I use Aspen, but I use them in Sanichips. You can buy it at Petco or other large retailers as shredded as well. This wood is a great substrate for your every day tub or tank. I use Sanichips primarily, and although there are some drawbacks, such as mold when it gets too wet for too long, the thing I like the best about it is that it is like cat litter. You scoop what is dirty, leave the rest. Simple clean up.
|The exact bags I get|
Shredded has a tendency to be too big sometimes, and if you feed over it, it can get embedded in an animals mouth.
Another con with Sanichips is that it is small enough to be ingested, but it is small enough to get embedded in the orifices of males (which is BAD). This is a substrate that if you breed on it, you need to be vigilant for absorption of pieces within the hemipenal areas. It's not a fun time, but at least you can prevent a prolapse or an infection. BUT!!! You can switch to something like papertowels during breeding if you feel the need.
For me, babies get papertowels, larger animals get Sanichips.
Plus, it smells nice.
Next on the list is
Paper towels are expensive, but very useful and handy and clean. Blank newsprint works as well, but is not as cushy as the paper towels (depending on the brand). I like paper for animals I have to watch closely, aka injured or small or sick animals. White paper background shows off many issues that one may miss if using a particulate substrate.
Again, I start all of my babies on paper towels until they are large enough to move up to the subadult rack.
THINGS I HAVE NOT USED WITH GOOD REASON:
Repti-Carpet or whatever they call it. That green stuff you buy at Petco? The thing that looks like green and black felt? Yeah.. NO GOOD. If you use it and don't clean it, it will just keep soaking up the waste of your animal, and will lead to all sorts of problems. Even if you clean it, I can't imagine it lasting that long. (This goes for any other cloth substrate)
Sand (including calcium sand)... Ball Pythons do not live on sand. They might slither over it occasionally in the wild, but sand is just not a good substrate. It can be ingested too easily, and create a blockage too quickly. I don't recommend sand of any kind for any animal... other than kids in a playground, and then again they don't eat it (usually).
Pine or Cedar. One word. Toxic. Yes, it smells lovely, is nice and cheap, and is pretty and fluffy, but the chemical compounds in the oils of the wood are toxic to your critters, and if you care about them living a healthy life, do not use these woods.
Bark. I like it for some applications for other animals, but in the case of Ball Pythons, bark or even coconut husk is not useful. I have also had problems with splinters and dust with bark substrates, wherein the animal gets bark dust embedded in between the belly scales. Another problem again is with digesting a big chunk of wood, which I wouldn't suggest allowing to happen. Eco-earth and the like are mooshed in to this category.
Moss. Too expensive to be useful... Pretty, and keeps humidity up, but unless you have a bad shed issue and use it only in a small area of your tank/tub, I don't think its worth using.
Cypress... I've heard good things, and it tends to be cheap and accessible depending on the area in the world in which you live. Try it if you can. It is bigger than Sanichips in terms of size, so be careful of ingestion, but it holds humidity well and looks good.
I hope all of this helps!!! Let me know if I can touch on anything else for you.
Tomorrow is "favorites" day....
Have a great day, my friends!