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Heating Reptile Enclosures

In the wild, depending on the latitude, the temperatures to which a
turtle is exposed vary widely.
While there are recommendations for many species, none of these rules are
hard and fast.

For water turtles, a good temperature is around 80F. At this temperature
the turtles' immune system works well, they eat well, and they are comfortable.

When the temperature is around 50F/10C, turtles start thinking about hibernation.
If the temperature is warmer during the day, but drops below 50F/10C at night,
this is true, too. They will stop eating, but their metabolism will not slow down
very much. A turtle that stays in this limbo state for too long, will get weak, sick,
and eventually starve.

If you are more ambitious, find out from a field guide, where your kind of
turtle lives and what temperatures it prefers; then set up its environment
accordingly. Be generous with warmth. Many turtles get sick and die because they
were too cold for too long.

The following gadgets will help you heat your turtle enclosure:

* Incandescent light

This is the ideal way of providing a basking spot. The temperature of the basking
spot should be between 85F and 95F, depending on the kind of turtle.
All turtles must have a basking area that is on land and dry.

* Fluorescent light/Full-spectrum light

This provides little heat. Fluorescent light can illuminate an enclosure, and it
can help plants grow in it (algae, too). If you use a full-spectrum lamp designed
for reptiles, you don't have to supplement with Vitamin D3, usually.

* Infrared light/Ceramic bulb

These heat emitting bulbs are suitable for animals that need to be very warm at
night, too. You can also use such a bulb for a basking spot. However, ceramic bulbs
are expensive. They also last forever.

* Heat rock

Is an alternative to a lamp to create a basking spot and heat the enclosure.
The problem with most heat rocks is that they are too hot, and if the rock
overheats, and the reptile sits on it and doesn't notice, you will have a
very dead and very dry animal in the best case. In the worst case, your animal
will have severe burns that will require treatment.
I don't recommend heat rocks.

* Under tank heating pad

These are a good solution. Ideally, they would be used with a thermostat, but few
of use can afford a thermostat per pad. You can use a pad from the drugstore designed
for people, or you can use a pad especially designed for tank heating. All pads
are recommended only for glass tanks. The reason being, of course, that if the pad gets
too hot, would will char and plastic will melt. These pads have varying levels of
heat, depending on brand and setup.
For a pad that does not need to be stuck to the tank, I use a cotton towel
between the pad and the tank to prevent burns.
For a pad the does stick to the tank, I make sure the pad is covered with
newspaper in such a way that the animal cannot sit directly on the pad.
You can also heat a tank filled with water using such a pad. The advantage is,
that the animal will not break the heater. However, this is not a very efficient way
of heating a water tank.

* Submersible aquarium heater

Used for water turtles. Since water turtles can break an aquarium heater, you should
put it behind rocks, or inside a tube (make sure water circulates well through the tube,
for example, by adding slits on the side). These heaters have a thermostat and will
maintain an even temperature. Don't forget to turn it off when you change the water.

* Heat tape

Good solution, especially for shelved tanks. Usually some assembly is required.
Usually, the tape is stuck to the tank. Make sure the animals cannot directly
sit on the tape.

Use a thermometer in each tank, and check it regularly!
If you live in the South, and it gets hot, invest in a thermostat that will turn off
the heating pads when it gets too hot in the room or the tanks.

Breaking Aquarium Heaters

Reader tip from

"One item I had for you was regarding submersible aquarium heaters.
Even though we live in an area that averages 80-85 degress in the
summer, it often gets up to 95-105 degrees... so they love it. In the
winter they slow down a bit, and sometimes (if I find it's going to get
very cold 40 down to frezing, I will pull out my two 300 watt aquarium
heaters. These I do put in a protective screen, however, I do loose some
heaters due to internal leaks and breakage. Should this happen the
turtles would undoubtedly be electrocuted if it wasn't for the GFI
protection device I place in between the wall outlet and the electrical
cord that supplies power to the heaters. They can be purchased almost
anywhere including Kmart. It is a foot long extention cord with a GFI
(Ground Fault Interupt) breaker built into the cord. A GFI will
disconnect power even with most minute current so that it will
disconnect even if you put your fingers accross the terminals... so you
won't get a shock.

Note: Putting the heater into a rock cave or a plexiglass tube with slits
will also protect it from turtles banging into it.