It’s the job of every responsible pet owner to make sure that their animal friend’s needs are met. Whether it’s food, water, or shelter, failure to provide any of these needs will result in a very unhappy and very unhealthy animal. Now, not all animals are built the same, and some will have needs that are more important than others, especially so for tortoises.
Tortoises, and reptiles in general, require certain conditions in their environment to be met that not many people even think about when they’re dealing with mammals or birds. One of the most important, and sometimes one that is most overlooked, is the temperature.
Because tortoises are cold blooded, they aren’t able to produce their own body heat, and will need to spend time basking under the sun in order to function normally. In artificial enclosures, the way to produce heat in order to raise a healthy tortoise is by using a tortoise heat lamp.
Tortoise heat lamps are a definite must-have for any tortoise habitat, and if you’ve done the proper amount of research, your tortoise should already have one in their enclosure. Of course, having the heat lamp may not be enough. You’ll need to understand how long a tortoise heat lamp should be kept on daily, because too little of it or too much of it for too long will have consequences.
How Long Does a Tortoise Need Their Heat Lamp On?
If you’re living in a climate that’s generally cold, or one that has harsh winter seasons, then chances are that your area doesn’t have indigenous tortoises living in it. This means that if you’re keeping a tortoise as a pet, they will be living in a climate they are not accustomed to. It’s your job as a tortoise keeper to make sure that their living conditions are as close to the ones they’re used to in the wild.
In the wild, a tortoise’s habits are dictated by changes in their environment, and none are more important than the sun’s cycle. A tortoise heat lamp, in tandem with a UV lamp, is meant to simulate the heat and ultraviolet light the sun projects. That’s why in order to provide your tortoise with a healthy lifestyle, it’s important to give them heat for about 8 to 12 hours every day, much like how we have sun for about the same time per day outdoors.
Of course, keeping the tortoise heat lamp on for more than 12 hours per day, especially during the summer, might be detrimental for your tortoise’s health. In certain scenarios, too much heat can cause dehydration, heat stroke, and even death. That’s why tortoise heat lamps should only be kept on when needed. Lamps are only meant to maintain the proper healthy temperature for tortoises, which varies depending on species.
Desert or Mediterranean tortoises will need an enclosure that’s about 90 F (32 C) at the basking area and no less than 75 F (24 C) for everywhere else. Forest species tend to be more resilient to cool temperatures, and some of them don’t even bask often. Still, for forest and tropical species, it’s best to have temperatures that don’t go lower than 70 F (21 C) for the ambient temperatures, and 85 F (30 C) for the basking area.
Can Tortoises Survive Without a Tortoise Heat Lamp?
Tortoises, despite all their very specific needs, are actually quite resilient, and are very adaptable. There are certain species that are able to survive in non-optimal climates, provided that the temperatures aren’t too extreme. There’s even a story of a tortoise surviving inside a locked room without being given food or water for 30 years.
Some species, like the African Spurred Tortoise, otherwise known as the Sulcata, are generally used to arid environments, but they are still known to thrive outdoors in states like Florida, where the humidity is very high.
For a healthy adult tortoise, so long as it’s not freezing, they are able to function normally in temperatures as low as 60 F (15 C). The lack of a tortoise heat lamp is a problem mostly reserved for hatchling or juvenile tortoises.
Younger tortoises are still pretty much underdeveloped, so they will need proper heating in order to grow up healthy. For any tortoise older than 3 – 5 years, however, you can be forgiven for any lax on the heating department.
How Long Will Tortoises Need Tortoise Heat Lamps For?
If you’re worried about the costs of running a tortoise heat lamp daily, and since adult tortoises are able to survive without them anyway, then you might be wondering, how long do tortoises need tortoise heat lamps for?
Well, a general rule that tortoise keepers have when it comes to tortoise heat lamps is that so long as your tortoises are kept indoors, they will need a tortoise heat lamp, regardless of their age. Heat and UV should never be excluded from any of your habitats under any circumstances.
As a matter of fact, even if your tortoise is living outdoors, it’s still a good idea to set aside an area, perhaps a hide, where they can hang around if it ever gets too cold. This is very important if your outdoor enclosure has very little in the way of sunlight.
If you’re looking for a more cost-effective way of heating the tortoise house for your outdoor enclosure, then you can always insulate your outdoor hide so heat is retained passively, without the use of a tortoise heat lamp. If you’re using an indoor setup, then you can move your tortoise table outside when the sun is out, or next to the window if the sun is able to shine through.
Just make sure that your tortoise table is sufficiently protected from predators, and are well-ventilated if you do take them outside. Also, this is only an option if the climate is not too hot or too cold.
If It Gets Too Hot
For a lot of people, being out in the sun too long or getting yourself too hot without cooling yourself down quickly can put you at risk of getting heatstroke. Heatstroke can cause permanent brain damage or even death if not treated immediately. Tortoises are no different. That’s why you don’t keep the heat light on for 24 hours, unless it’s unnaturally cold where you live.
If tortoises spend too much time under the sun without any shelter, they will die of exposure. That’s why tortoises that get flipped over are in such danger. It’s not that they have difficulties breathing or are unable to eat or drink when they’re flipped over, it’s generally because they’re exposed under the sun for too long.
This is where hides and plants come in handy. If you’re not using an automated thermostat system to maintain your tortoise habitat’s heating, lighting and humidity, then having places around where your tortoise could get shelter is the next best thing.
Having heat gradients in your enclosure, where there’s a warm side and a cool side, will allow your tortoise to move between warmth or coolness depending on their needs. Hides provide a cool spot your tortoise could shelter themselves that will not only protect them from the heat and excess UV, but also to maintain a humid resting area. Plants, whether fake or real, not only provide shade for your tortoise, but also help with retaining humidity.
A sufficiently heated enclosure is needed if you want a healthy tortoise, and keeping your tortoise heat lamp on for 8 to 12 a day should be enough to keep them happy. Temperatures should also be kept between 75 F (24 C) and 90 F (32 C), so if it gets hotter than this, turn the lamp off, any colder, turn it back on.
Unlike a tortoise’s need for UV lighting, however, heat can be subject to many factors, including down to the individual tortoise’s needs and preferences. Yes, tortoises can have individual preferences.
Any figures you’ve encountered while reading through this article with regards to the temperature doesn’t have to be followed down to the last decimal. Tortoises are resilient and are very adaptable, so the temperature you’ll need to provide for their needs can be quite forgiving.
The trick to finding the goldilocks zone for your tortoise when it comes to heating is to be as observant as you can with their behavior.
If you notice your tortoise might seem sluggish or that they aren’t as active as you would expect from an active tortoise, then they probably need a bit more heat. Of course, this is with respect to a number of factors. Hatchlings, for example, tend to be a lot less active, especially in their early months, since instinct tells them to keep hidden for most of the day.
On the other hand, if you notice that your tortoise seems to spend too much of their time under the shade or inside their hide, then it might be too hot for them. If you have a place for them to soak, like a deep enough water dish, you may notice them drinking more often or even soaking for far longer than usual. This is also a sign that you’ll need to turn the tortoise heat lamp off.
Keep your tortoise’s enclosure at the right temperature, and you’re definitely going to have a healthy and happy animal.