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Why Do Reptiles Need Lighting?

For reptiles, lighting is a matter of life or death. Reptiles are ectothermic (cold-blooded) and depend on outside temperatures to regulate the temperature inside of their bodies. Reptiles instinctually move to where there is more sun when they are cold, known as basking, and move into the shade when the temperature becomes too hot. As a result, reptile owners must provide a temperature gradient so that the reptile can choose the appropriate temperature it needs.

Lighting should be adjusted to a certain temperature depending on what kind of reptile you own. Processes like digestion are only efficient at the right body temperature for the animal. If the reptile receives insufficient temperatures, it will become sluggish and bodily functions such as digestion will be impossible to accomplish.

How Do I Make a Temperature Gradient?


In most circumstances, a basking light should be placed at only one end of the tank or terrarium, leaving the other portion in shade. This gives the reptile the option of basking to get warm, or cooling off in the shade as it naturally would in the wild. For reptiles that like to hide, a shelter should be provided in both the warmer and cooler parts of its environment. This way, when it feels the urge to hide, it won’t have to compromise staying warm for the feeling of protection. For reptiles that are arboreal (climbers), the sufficient temperature should be created where the animal likes to climb as well as in its regular basking spot.

How Do I know If the Temperature is Correct?

After you find out what kind of temperatures your reptile requires, the best thing you can do is buy some thermometers. Place one in different areas of your reptile’s cage or terrarium and adjust the temperature and lighting accordingly.

What About Nightime?

For most reptiles, a drop of temperature at night is perfectly normal. You may want to maintain a minimum temperature when it gets cold. If your reptile is sleeping, it does not require the warm temperatures it receives during the day because it is not using any energy. For nocturnal reptiles who are more energetic at nighttime, you may want to use a Night Light Bulb, or Infrared Heat Lamp.

What Kind of Heat Should I Use?


1. Overhead heating:
more naturally replicates a reptile basking in the sun.

  • Basking lights, spotlights, incandescent lamps: These represent a simple and effective way to provide heat as well as day time light. They come in a variety of wattages and some experimentation may be necessary to find the right combination of distance and power to provide the right temperature. Repti Basking Spot Lamp is perfect for use with high heat basking reptiles, such as tropical and desert species. White bulbs can't be used 24 hours a day, though (your reptile needs some time in the dark too), so a dim colored bulb can be used at night. Bulbs made specifically for reptiles are a good choice, but any red, blue or green bulb that is opaque or frosted will do, such as the Daylight Blue Reptile Bulb (40 watt.) Other wattages are available also. Stay away from the clear colored bulbs as they are too bright. This type of heat is a nice choice since it provides a baking spot for your pet. To view all of your reptile lighting choices, check out our Lighting Products section.

    2. Under tank heating:
    A good option to supplement the heat provided.

  • Under tank Heaters: Special tank heaters can be purchased for reptiles such as the Reptitherm Under Tank Heaters. These under tank heat sources are a good choice for supplementing heat provided by a basking light, or providing heat at night.

    3. Heat source in the cage:
    When using a heat source inside the cage, make sure they are shielded to prevent direct contact between the reptile and the heat source to prevent burns. The REPTICARE Rock Heaters insure no hot spots!

  • Ceramic heating elements: These screw into a socket much light a bulb, but do not emit any light. They produce a lot of heat and must be used only in a ceramic socket rated for the element or there is a risk of overheating and fire. REPTICARE Ceramic Heat Emitters have a flat faced design (standard in the ceramic heat industry) is more efficient than conical designs in that it leaves less heat inside the emitter which will ultimately carbonize the element.

    The Importance of UV Lighting

    Ultraviolet light (UV) is important in the production of Vitamin D3, which is necessary for calcium metabolism. Vitamin D3 is produced in the skin with exposure to UV light (from sunlight). While vitamin D3 can be supplemented in the diet, it appears some reptiles, such as iguanas, make better use of vitamin D3 produced within their bodies than that provided in vitamin supplements. Sunlight is an impractical source of UV for most owners (UV light is blocked by glass, so exposure through windows is not a viable option). UV can be provided by special light bulbs.

    UV light is made up of UVA, UVB, and UVC wave lengths. UVC is harmful, and UVA and UVB is what the reptiles need. The most crucial consideration is the amount of UVB produced, and this is where the selection of an appropriate bulb is necessary.

    Reptisun 5.0 UVB (24 inch) contains the highest amounts of both UVB and UVA wavelengths (according to an independent laboratory spectral analysis.) Also available in other sizes. Check out our Lighting Products section.

    For iguanas, there is also the Iguana Light 5.0 UVB (24 inch) specially designed for providing iguanas with the adequate amount of UV light.

    Over time, the production of UVB diminishes, and UVB bulbs should be replaced every 9-12 months.

    For those species that require a UVB producing light, another source of light is generally required, as either a source of bright white light and/or heat. When placing the various heating and lighting elements, they need to work together. Place the UV lights and the basking light at the same side of the enclosure, or the reptile might spend its time basking and be to far away from the UVB lamp to reap its benefits.
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