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Pet Reptiles

Lighting for Pet Reptiles

On a cold winter day, before you go outside you bundle up with a winter jacket, scarf, hat and mitts so that you can keep warm. You are an endoderm; you have internal mechanisms that help to maintain your body temperature to one different from the environment. This allows you to travel to environments of different temperatures, while maintaining a relatively constant internal body temperature. If you did not have this mechanism and stepped outside into 20 below zero weather, your body would not adjust to the temperature of the environment, and you would freeze and no longer be able to function. Reptiles do not have the same internal mechanisms as humans do, thus to be able to function properly, they need an environment that meshes with their ideal body temperature. This is called being an ectotherm.

Range of Temperatures

Ideally, a captive reptile’s enclosure should include a range of temperatures all of which are in the bracket of preferred temperatures for the animal. Why a range instead of just one constant temperature? A range of temperatures more accurately reflects a reptile’s internal body temperature. Throughout the day, their body will have fluctuations in temperature, and they can move in their environment to whatever temperature will make them the most comfortable. Therefore, it helps with digestion, activity, and their immune system. With all these benefits, there is no reason not to provide a proper temperature in your reptile’s environment. It can range from as high as 38 degrees Celsius to lower than 20 degrees Celsius, so it is important to become knowledgeable about the species and which range is the best range for that particular animal.

Does the Temperature Range Have to be Exact?

Yes! The proper temperature range is critical for the health of your reptile. A thermometer placed in the enclosure can inform you of any fluctuations in the temperature, which should be carefully monitored. A change in temperature as little as 5 degrees Celsius too hot can result in the early demise of some reptiles.

How Can I Heat my Reptile’s Enclosure?

There are many ways in which heat can be added to your reptile’s environment. One of the most common and effective means of giving your reptile heat would be a basking source of heat. This is reminiscent of the type of heat they receive in the wild; a reptile that wants to raise their body temperature will sit on a rock that has been heated by the sun, and bask away the day. Examples of basking lights include incandescent bulbs, mercury vapour lamps, ceramic bulb heaters, and infrared mechanisms. There are also undertank heaters (that should only ever cover 30% of the cage) and heat lamps that can be used. Be cautious if using a heat lamp, as it is quite easy to over heat your reptile – before using it make sure you know the dangers!

UV Light is Important to your Reptile!

Providing proper heat for your reptile is not enough, it also needs UV rays to remain healthy. Specifically, UV light helps to keep a reptile’s skin in good condition. Would relocating your reptile to the window to get rays from the sun be sufficient? Unfortunately, this method will give absolutely no benefit to your pet because when the sun rays go through the majority of glass and plastics (your reptile’s aquarium/enclosure) all the UV rays do not continue through with the rest of the light. This is why an essential addition to the enclosure is some source of UV rays. Fluorescent bulbs give off UVB wavelengths of 290-320 nanometers, and are cited as the most suitable source of UV rays for a reptile enclosure. Mercury vapour lamps can also provide UV light, and are nonfluorescent. However, oftentimes this artificial source of UV rays may not be sufficient, and a vitamin D3 supplement may be necessary.
If your mind if buzzing with all the options for lighting of your reptile, and you are not sure what is best for your species, be sure to speak with someone knowledgeable about reptiles – they will be glad to help you! Three keys things to take away are:

  1. Reptiles have the same body temperature as their environment, so keep their enclosure at an appropriate range of temperatures.
  2. Reptiles are sensitive to temperature, monitor the temperature in their environment and adjust.
  3. UV light is also necessary, it helps keep your reptile’s skin healthy.

Remember these three things and your reptile will bask in the glory of your lighting knowledge.

By Laura Platt – writer

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