Small Animals

Reptile Heating - Regulation

The Importance Of Reptile Heating & Regulation


Heat gradients, as described below, also pertain to housing various invertebrate species.

Heat Gradient

In the simplest of terms, a heat gradient is when the temperature in the enclosure has a gradual change of temperature from one end of an enclosure to the other. The temperatures that your reptiles are maintained is crucial to their survival and can be one of the most important features of an enclosure design. Heat is the key component of thermoregulation, which is how reptiles regulate their core temperature. Heat also plays a valuable role in digestion, reproduction and the immune system. It is also a contributing factor in upper respiratory infections found in reptiles. It is the responsibility of the owner to provide a proper heat gradient to ensure that your pet can properly and efficiently thermoregulate as they would in the wild. Your heating methods and techniques can literally mean life and death for your reptile.

In order to provide a proper heat gradient, you first need to have knowledge of the species and what temperatures are required for them to function and survive. When an animal is acquired, this knowledge should already be known and the enclosure should already be set-up and running for a few days to ensure that the temperatures do not fluctuate excessively. This will require the use of thermometers or thermostats.
Heat Gradient Example

Regulation - Monitoring

The simple role of observer can play a significant role in how you modify your enclosure set-up. Arboreal species and terrestrial species will utilize their enclosures differently. You may find that a particular species doesn't use certain parts of their enclosure. There could be several factors that could prevent your pet from utilizing certain areas and include inadequate hides - vulnerability, submissive animals and inadequate or excessive temperatures. Adjusting the temperatures, both ambient and basking, independently, can alter the behavior of your animals. Experimenting with the different thermal zones within the enclosure and adjusting the temperature of those zones being ignored by a few degrees can be all that is needed. Submissive animals should be granted access to the same type of thermal gradient and it may be required to create additional heat zones to accommodate it. If this isn't possible, it may be necessary to rehouse the submissive animal to its own enclosure. Adequate foliage, branches, and hides need to be used to offer the animal a feeling of security. Insecure animals will avoid areas where they feel vulnerable, even if that location contains the proper temperatures.

Heating Elements

Under Tank Heater - UTH

There are several methods for heating a reptile enclosure. The most popular method is with the use of an under tank heater. (UTH) Under tank heaters physically adhere to the bottom of glass enclosures and generate a belly heat once plugged in. There are numerous under tank heaters available on the market. They come in a variety of sizes that are labeled for use with specific sized enclosures. ALL under tank heaters should be controlled with a thermostat, dimmer, rheostat, or other device that controls the amount of heat the unit is emitting. Failure to properly monitor and control the temperatures could result in burning, your enclosure cracking, and they can even become a fire hazard. Take caution to use the under tank heater exactly as instructed. This type of heating is often used for belly heat with terrestrial species.

Heat Tape - Heat Cable

Another popular method for heating some reptiles, particularly by those using rack systems or custom enclosures, is with the use of heat tape or heat cable. These items typically require that the owner assembles them and then installs them for use. Like the under tank heaters, this type of heating produces a belly heat. These heating elements must also be controlled with a thermostat, dimmer, rheostat, or other device that controls the amount of heat the unit is emitting. Failure to properly control these units and the heat they emit can cause serious damage to the reptile, the enclosure, and they could even start a fire. Heating devices are not toys and should be taken very seriously.

External Links
Wiring Heat Tape
Wiring Heat Tape To Dimmer Switch

Colored Incandescent Bulbs

Certain substrates do not allow for the use of devices that heat from below. These enclosures require that the heat be provided from above. There are many different methods for providing heat from above. One of the more popular methods is with the use of the red or dark blue incandescent bulbs found online and at pet stores. These bulbs are geared toward nocturnal viewing, but they can also be used as a full time heating element. They come in different wattages, so you may have to experiment with the lights to determine which of them you require to sustain adequate temperatures in your enclosure.

Ceramic Heat Emitter - CHE

Another popular overhead heating device is the ceramic heat emitter. Like the incandescent bulbs described, these units come in varying wattages. They are extreme heat producers, so starting with a low watt unit is the best method for determining which wattage you will require. If a low watt unit isn't sufficient, simply return the unit and try the next wattage up. There is no way to determine what wattage you will require based on enclosure size as the rooms temperature will impact the enclosures temperature. The units get extremely hot and the temperatures within the enclosure need to be monitored closely. These units should also be controlled with a thermostat, dimmer, rheostat, or other device that controls the amount of heat the unit is emitting.

Radiant Heat Panels

These panels are designed to be mounted above the animal, in the ceiling of the enclosure. The Radiant Heat Panels have a limited surface temperature that will never burn you or your animal (even at full power), and are easy to connect through cage walls featuring a detachable cord. These panels should be connected to a proportional thermostat, making them pretty expensive but they come with a lifetime warranty on the heating element and are worth the investment for larger enclosures. They come in a variety of sizes.

Heat Rocks

Heat rocks make beautiful enclosure decorations. To use a heat rock correctly, you should first cut the cord off so the unit can never be plugged in. This will ensure that the unit works as it should, instead of how it was designed. To learn why heat rocks should have the cord removed, please read the following article: Heat Rocks - Hidden Dangers

There are many other methods for heating a reptile enclosure, but those listed above are the most commonly used methods.

This resource is courtesy of Herp Center (Richard Brooks) & is used with written permission.