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You are here: myPetSmart.com > Care Guides > Reptile Habitat Heating And Lighting

Reptile Habitat Heating and Lighting Guide

reptile heating and lighting guide

Reptile Habitat Heating and Lighting Guide

Did you know? Many reptiles are dependent on ultraviolet light for production of vitamin D, an essential vitamin necessary for strong bones. Although proper lighting actually plays a much larger role in the care of your pet including, indication of day and night cycles, thermo-regulation, ability to see properly and physiologic well being of your pet. Without proper heating and lighting, serious side effects, including potential death of your pet may occur.

Step 1Lighting

Lighting Basics
• Proper lighting is essential to the health of your reptile (for specific information, consult the individual pet Care Guide).

• All reptiles benefit from a 12-hour light/dark cycle and should be provided with visible light for 12 hours per day to simulate daytime.

• Most reptile habitats will require two different light bulbs: a bulb specifically designed to produce heat (often referred to as a heat bulb or basking bulb) and a bulb to provide visual/ultraviolet light.

Ultraviolet (UV) Light
• Not all UV light is created equal. UV light is broken down into types based on the wavelength of the light emitted. For reptiles, we target UVA (visual) and UVB light (vitamin production).

• UV bulbs come in three primary formats: linear fluorescent bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs and combination (heat & UV) bulbs.

• Diurnal animals, those animals that are active during the day, require UVB light to produce vitamin D and absorb calcium. For desert animals that are exposed to higher levels of UV in their native environment, a desert-specific UV bulb should be used. Pets from more tropical environments require less UV and should have a bulb designed for tropical pets.

• Nocturnal animals, those animals that are active primarily at night, likely do not require as much ultraviolet light, if any, provided they are supplied with a dietary source of vitamin D. Providing lowlevel UV light during the day may be beneficial.

Natural Light
• While natural light is beneficial under certain conditions, there are serious concerns that can arise if light is not supplied correctly.

• Glass filters about 90% of UVB light which means pets will not absorb much, if any, UVB through glass windows or glass terrariums.

• Glass terrariums also get very hot in direct sun resulting in overheating of pets. The opposite is also true, in that during cold months, reptiles that are left outside can get too cold. 

Step 2Heating

Heating Basics
• Reptiles are ectothermic, meaning they depend on heat from their environment to warm and cool themselves.

• Most reptile habitats should have a cool side and a warm side of the habitat to allow your pet the ability to control their body temperature throughout the day. For arboreal animals (those that like to climb), the gradient is created from the top of the habitat closest to the heat source to the bottom of the habitat where it is cooler. Warmth is created by the use of heat-producing bulbs, under-tank heaters or ceramic heat emitters.

• Diurnal animals require basking areas. Basking areas are the hottest point within a habitat and are created by the use of high-wattage heat bulbs often centered over a piece of decor which is used to elevate your pet close to the bulb.

• Nocturnal animals, still require a heat source and a temperature gradient within the habitat, although they do not generally require the high temperature basking spots. The warm side of the habitat is warmed by either low-wattage heat bulbs, under-tank heaters or ceramic heat emitters.

• For most indoor environments, nighttime temperatures do not need additional heat sources. If necessary, nighttime heat should be provided by a night-specific heat lamp (one that provides minimal visible light), ceramic heat emitter or an under-tank heater.

Heat Levels
• It is essential to monitor the temperature and humidty in the habitat to provide a healthy environment for your pet (see diagram and specific pet Care Guide for thermometer placement and recommended temperatures).

• Higher-wattage heat bulbs are used for animals needing higher temperatures. The specific bulb wattage necessary will depend on the pet, the ambient room temperature and the distance of the bulb to your pet.

Step 3Light Bulb Features

Bulb Type Heat UVA UVA

Florescent: Compact or Linear

  X X
Halogen X X  
Incandescent X X  
Mercury Vapor* X X X

*Mercury vapor bulbs are an all-in-one solution but only available in larger wattages suitable for larger terrariums.


Bulb Maintenance & Safety and Cleanliness


• UV Bulbs should be replaced every six months oraccording to package instructions. Just because the bulb appears lit, does not mean it is providing adequate UV light.

• Automatic timers and dimming switches help ensure consistency in the lighting patterns provided to your pet.

• Always unplug bulbs and allow them to completely cool before handling bulbs.

• Do not place bulbs inside the habitat, where your pet can come in direct contact them.

• Hot rocks should be used with extreme caution and are not recommended by many reptile owners, due to the risk of serious or life-threatening burns that can occur as a result of direct contact with the heat source.


• Use caution when handling pets and remember that all pets may bite or scratch, especially when stressed. Supervise children around pets.

• Pets may transmit disease to humans; be sure to wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling your pet, their food or cleaning their home. Adults should assist children with hand washing.

• Persons at an increased risk for health concerns (children, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems, infirm or elderly), should use caution when in contact with the pet or its habitat.

• Do not clean terrariums in the kitchen or food preparation areas.

• Do not release pets into the wild as they most likely will not survive and may impact the native environment.