One of the most important responsibilities of a tortoise owner is to create an environment where their pet tortoise can thrive. This means you’ll need to give them a place that is very similar to their habitats in the wild, despite having to keep them in a captive environment. You will need to provide them food, lighting, shelter, water, and of course, heat.
So whats the best heat lamp for a tortoise? There are plenty of ways you can provide heat for your tortoise indoors. This can be done through means, but the most commonly used ones are basking lights and coiled heat lamps. Heat lamps come in different shapes and forms, so to help you choose the best heat lamp tortoise pets need to thrive, we’ll be taking a closer look at each of them, and later, give our own recommendations.
The Thing About Temperature
Tortoises, just like most reptiles, are cold-blooded, or ectothermic. Unlike endothermic, or warm-blooded animals, like cats and dogs, tortoises can’t produce their own body heat. So, in order for their bodies to function normally, such as to digest food or to simply move around, cold-blooded animals will need to rely on external sources of heat. That’s where heat lamps come in.
Tweaking the right temperature for your tortoise is a difficult prospect, however. You don’t want it to be too cold so as to freeze your tortoise, but you also wouldn’t want it to be too hot that you end up cooking them. You would also want to create a heat gradient, where there’s a hotter basking spot on one side and a cooler, more humid area on another. You wouldn’t want your entire enclosure to be the same temperature. Your tortoise should be able to choose whether they want to warm up or cool off.
Setting Up Your Heat Lamp
In order to properly utilize a heat lamp, location is important. Make sure that it is on the opposite end of your enclosure, directly opposite from the humid hide. You will also need to put your heat lamp about 10 – 12 inches above the substrate. Any further up and its heating effects are nullified. Any closer and you might end up dehydrating or overheating your tortoise.
What you’d want is to have a basking area that’s about 35 – 37 C (95 – 100 F). Certain species that live in forests or heavily shaded areas would prefer a cooler basking spot at around 32 C – 34 C (90 – 94 F). You can also add a piece of flat stone on your basking area that can retain heat for hours at a time. This piece of stone will act as a basking platform and can help heat up your tortoise’s underside as well.
Position your heat lamp so that the cool side of your enclosure is about 25 C (78 F). Try not to get this spot any cooler than 20 C (68 F). Hatchlings are very sensitive to temperature fluctuations, so you will need to be meticulous when it comes to them. Adults are more tolerant of temperature extremes.
Types of Heating Lights
Lamps consist of a reflector, and a fixture where the bulb goes into. There are different kinds of lamps, including clip-on lamps, suspended lamps, or ones with a stand. The type of lamp you use doesn’t really matter as much, and whichever type you use depends entirely on the type of enclosure you have and your own preferences. What actually makes the difference is the bulb you affix to the lamp itself. Here are the types of heat or basking bulbs available in the market:
Probably one of the most common types of heat bulb, basking lights provide light as well as heat for your enclosure. These bulbs produce a lot of heat, so they tend to come in high wattages, sometimes up to 100 W. They can be prone to catching fire, so make sure that your lamp fixture is able to support high wattages, and make sure to check your setup regularly for any potential damage.
Coiled Heat Lights
Coiled bulbs tend to be more efficient at transferring heat. They are able to produce a lot of heat despite being low wattage. Some of them are designed to produce UV lights as well, that can help your tortoise produce vitamin D to prevent metabolic bone disease. Older models of coiled bulbs are known to blind tortoises or cause irritation to their eyes because of their intense light, so make sure you’re using a newer heat lamp, or you can position the lamp much higher than usual.
Ceramic Heat Lamps
These types of lamps produce heat, but not light. They’re small inserts that basically function like light bulbs minus the lighting. They tend to last longer than light bulbs do, and if you want to maintain a good temperature at night, then they’re a good way to do it. Ceramic heat lamps tend to be a bit more expensive than regular bulbs, and it can be hard to tell if they’re heating up properly. Avoid touching them if you are unsure, because they can cause burns.
Mercury Vapor Bulbs
A more recently introduced type of bulb, this is basically the tortoise keeper’s dream bulb. It produces everything you need to raise a healthy tortoise, including heat, light and UVB, all in one. They come in very high wattages, so if you plan on using them, make sure that your lamp is able to support a high wattage bulb to avoid causing fires.
5 Best Heat Lamps for Tortoises
Now that you have a basic idea about the importance of using the best heat lamp tortoise pets should have, let’s move on to the most recommended heat lamps available on the market.
Zoo Med Reptisun Fluorescent bulbs are a type of coiled bulb that produces both heat and UVB, so you can pretty much get away with using just the one. They come at a 10.0 UVB variant and a 5.0 UVB variant. You can use the 10.0 UVB for desert or Mediterranean species, and the 5.0 for forest species, or ones that don’t bask as often.
One good feature of this light bulb is that it can be oriented either horizontally or vertically, and it would still radiate its light and heat effectively. This means you can screw it into any fixture in any orientation, and it wouldn’t affect its output.
If you’re looking to provide heat for your tortoise, and wouldn’t want light to come with it, you can use a good infrared heat lamp as an alternative. Exo Terra’s Heat-Glo Infrared Spot Lamp is a good item to use for this. They produce plenty of ultraviolet heat without the light, which makes it perfect at keeping your tortoises warm during the night.
It comes in different wattages, from 50 watts to 150 watts, though you shouldn’t need anything higher than 50. Aside from heating, this spot lamp also produces plenty of UVB for your tortoise.
For a 24-hour heating solution for your pet tortoise, ceramic heat emitters are the way to go. Zoo Med’s CHE’s are one of the best available in the market, and they also come in a variety of wattages, from 60 to 150. Just like infrared bulbs, they don’t produce any visible light, so there’s no UVB from these. They do produce a lot of heat, so they’re great for warming up your tortoise in the evening, or during the colder months.
Unlike regular heat lamps, these heat emitters can last much longer. Zoo Med’s particular model is known to work for at least 5 years with no issues.
As we’ve mentioned before, mercury vapor bulbs are able to produce UVB, lighting and heat in one package. The mercury vapor bulb you can get from Evergreen Pet Supplies does exactly that and is very effective at simulating natural sunlight and heat. It produces UVB and UVA and is manufactured in such a way that the UV itself can penetrate the farthest areas of your enclosure. This makes it effective at sending UVB for up to 14 inches away.
If you’re looking for a more traditional basking lamp, Exo Terra’s Sun-Glo basking lamp may be the right one for you. It’s effective at heating up the ambient air temperature, and the lighting it produces can provide a more naturalistic look to your enclosure. It’s ideal for daylight basking.
If you’ve planted in your enclosure, this spot lamp also produces a broad-spectrum light that can support plant life as well. This does come in higher wattages, so if you plan on using this basking bulb, make sure that your fixtures can support it.
Between lighting, UVB and heat, there’s plenty of things that can confuse a new tortoise keeper. These are very important things to consider, however, as missing just one of these things can single-handedly ruin your tortoise’s chances of leading a healthy life. Lacking these important components can stress your tortoise out, leading to complications down the line. Of course, they’re very easy to prevent. You just need to know the right lamps to use, and after reading this article, hopefully, you know better.