Do Turtles Need Heat Lamp? Why?

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Turtles can be your friends for a lifetime if you take good care of them. You have to create a comfortable habitat for them to live long. As a first-time turtle owner, you must have many questions about providing the right conditions for your pet. Hence, you may wonder, “Do turtles need a heat lamp?” 

Turtles need heat lamps. Turtles are cold-blooded reptiles. They depend on external heat sources to regulate their body temperature. Thus, you should get a heat lamp for your turtles if you keep them indoors or in a cold place. 

From this article, you will learn exactly why your pet turtles need heat lamps to live a healthy life. You will also know how to choose and set up a heat lamp. 

Why Do Turtles Need Heat Lamps?

With a heat lamp, you can provide the required heat to maintain the body temperature of your turtles. The turtles use heat to regulate their body temperature. This heat is crucial for their metabolism, breeding, and immune system. 

Like all reptiles, turtles are cold-blooded. They cannot regulate their body temperature like we humans do. Therefore, turtles depend on sunlight and heat. They absorb the UVA and UVB light from the sun necessary for their bodily function.

When you keep your turtles indoors, you have to create an enclosure that is similar to the natural environment of the turtles. A heat lamp will provide similar warmth and comfort for the turtles that they should get from the sun. 

Thus, the turtles can digest their food and absorb the nutrition. The heat also helps absorb calcium and helps with overall shell growth. 

What Can Happen To Turtles Without Heat Lamps?

If turtles live in a cold environment for a long time, turtles develop many health problems. Heat lamps help turtles to fight germs and keep their immune system active. Thus, your turtles can catch a cold without the warmth of a heat lamp.

Untreated cold can lead to respiratory infections which can be fatal for the turtles. When they are sick with a cold, you can see their nose running. They will have difficulties in breathing. As a result, they become less active. 

They can become almost immovable, which leads to even more complications. Turtles are slow reptiles. They do not like to move much, but complete immobility will affect their organs and bones. 

Heat is also essential for their digestion. Your turtles will suffer from indigestion when it gets too cold. Eventually, it will lose its appetite. So, setting up a heat lamp for your turtles is a must for their survival. 

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How to Set up Heat Lamp for Your Turtles?

As you can see, a heat lamp is an integral part of a turtle tank. So, you must know how to choose a heat lamp that produces the right amount of heat for the species of turtles you have and how far you should set the light. 

Here are some factors you need to consider for choosing the correct heat lamp:

What Type of Heat Lamp to Choose for Turtles?

The lighting system of a turtle tank must have a combination of UVA light, UBA light, and a heat lamp. All of these combined can produce heat and light resembling natural light. You can buy these lights separately. Or, you can save a lot of space by getting a heat lamp that provides the heat and both UVA light and UBA light.

A heat lamp is a kind of incandescent bulb. Its main purpose is to produce heat not only light. Heat lamps come in various wattages, voltages, and sizes. You can either choose a compact bulb or a tube bulb. 

What Is The Ideal Heat Lamp Temperatures For Your Turtle?

You should know that not all turtle species bask in the sun. So, not all turtles need heat lamps. However, some species of turtles cannot survive without a proper heating system. Again, not all species require the same amount of heat.

The ideal heat lamp temperature for different species of turtles fluctuates between 75 degrees F. to 95 degrees F. 

Here is a list of turtle species and the correct amount of heat they need from a heat lamp:

Turtle SpeciesTemperature FahrenheitTemperature Celsius
Box Turtle80 – 90°F26 – 32°C
Juvenile Box Turtle90 – 95°F32 – 35°C
Cooter80 – 85°F26 – 29°C
Juvenile Cooter90 – 100°F32 – 37°C
Map Turtle75 – 80°F24 – 26°C
Juvenile Map Turtle80 – 90°F26 – 32°C
Mud Turtle                 90 – 95°F32 – 35°C
Juvenile Mud Turtle   90 – 100°F       32 – 37°C
Pond Turtle85 – 95°F         29 – 35°C
Juvenile Pond Turtle90 – 100°F       32 – 37°C
Red Eared Slider        90 – 95°F         32 – 35°C
Juvenile Red Eared Slider95 – 100°F       29 – 37°C
Snapping Turtle          90 – 95°F32 – 35°C
Juvenile Snapping Turtle95 – 100°F29 – 37°C

The above list shows the required temperature for both adult and young turtles of different species. You must have noticed that the required amount of heat varies not only for different species but also for different ages of turtles. Young turtles require more heat to stay healthy compared to adult turtles. 

How to Choose The Wattage Of The Heat Lamps?

Now, here is a catch. Heat lamps do not say they have 85 degrees F. bulbs or 95 degrees F. bulbs. The heat lamps come mostly in 50-watt, 75-watt, and, and 100-watt bulbs. Depending on the distance, these bulbs can provide 75 degrees F. to 121 degrees F. temperature for the basking area of your turtle. 

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If you are a new turtle owner, you need to know which bulb you must choose for your turtles. For that, you have to consider the size, number, and species of turtles you have. The size of the turtle tank also matters. 

For example, you may have a small 4-inch turtle in a medium-size tank. In that case, a 50-watt heat lamp is enough. If you have multiple small turtles, you will need a large tank with a heat lamp having 75-watts to 100 watts. Thus, large turtles need a bigger tank and a 100-watt heat lamp. 

Where And How Far You Should Place The Lamp?

You have to be careful when you set a heat lamp in the turtle tank. You should place it at one corner of the tank where the basking area is located. The turtles should get their required heat while basking.

Also, it has to be easy for the turtles to retreat from the heat zone to the much cooler side. So, you should have a tank with ample space. 

The heat lamp should be vertical to the tank. You need to consider the wattage power of the heat bulbs as well. Deepening on how much heat the heat lamps produce, keep a 6 to 15 inches distance between the light and turtles. For example: 

  • A 50-watt heat lamp should be placed 6 to 7 inches away from the basking area. 
  • A 75-watt bulb should be 7 to 9 inches away.
  • A 100-watt bulb has to be 12 to 15 inches away from the turtles. 

Read the instruction manual that comes with the heat lamps for more information. It is better to use an infrared temperature reader to check the temperature. If you find the temperature high, move the heat lamp farther away. Adjust the heat lamp until it matches the correct temperature for your turtles.

Placing the heating lamps too close to the turtles can cause many problems. They can have eyesight problems or get burned. 

Do Turtles Need A Heating Lamp 24/7?

Turtles do not need a heating lamp 24/7. They do not need constant heat from the lamps. To maintain your turtle’s health, 12 to 15 hours of heat from a heat lamp is enough. 

In fact, keeping the heating light on 24/7 can hamper your health. If you are concerned about the temperature, you can keep the water heater on to maintain a steady water temperature for your turtles. 

Do Turtles Need Heat Lamp At Night?

Turtles do not need a heat lamp at night. During the night, always make sure to turn off the heat lamp or any other lighting system in the tank. Your turtles need darkness like they need light. 

You have to imitate the natural environment. In nature, the turtles get sunlight during the daytime, and at night, they live in the dark. The heat they absorb during the daytime, is enough to keep their body warm at night. So, turn off the heat lamp when the sun goes down. Thus, you can create the same natural heating and lighting conditions for the turtles. 

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Can Turtles Live Without Heat Lamps?

The answer depends on a few factors. As I have mentioned before, not all species of turtles bask. So, a heat lamp is not mandatory for them. But the temperature in the tank has to stay warm one way or another.

But those turtle species that need to bask cannot have a healthy life without a heat lamp in the tank. 

However, your turtles can live without a heat lamp if they are outside where they can get enough sunlight. But keeping turtles outside is risky. Predatory animals can break and attack the turtle tank.  

How Long Can Turtles Live Without Heating Lamps?

Turtles kept indoors cannot live without a heat lamp for too long. Yes, they can go on without heating lamps for weeks. But after the first week, their health will deteriorate. 

The turtles get sick in a cold environment without heating lamps. They can develop severe respiratory problems. Their metabolism slows down, and they lose appetite. Their immune system gets weaker and cannot fight against germs. Thus, they get attacked by many diseases. 

How Do You Keep Turtles Warm Without Heating Lamp?

What if you cannot manage a heat lamp for your turtles? In that case, you can try a few ways to keep the turtles warm. You can put the tank outside where it can get natural sunlight. If that is not possible, you can try using Mercury vapor lamps/Incandescent light bulbs, and heating pads. 

Sunlight 

When you are not using any artificial heating source, let your turtles bask under direct sunlight for 2 to 4 hours.Start by allowing them to absorb sunlight for 10 to minutes. Then gradually increase the basking time. 

Now is it safe to let the turtles bask under direct sunlight for the whole day? No, it will hamper their health. If you plan to keep the tank outside, create a hiding place for the turtles so that they can retreat when they feel too hot. 

Mercury Vapor Lamps/ Incandescent Light Bulbs

You can use mercury vapor lamps as an alternative to heat lamps. They provide heat, UVA light, and UVB light. So, you can save some space in your tank.

However, mercury vapor lamps require a lot of energy. Besides, there are sine reports of an explosion. Hence, it is better to use a regular heating lamp to keep your turtles safe from any accidents.  

If you want to use any other Incandescent Light Bulbs or halogen bulbs, make sure they provide a sufficient amount of heat and lights for your turtle species.

Heating Pads

Heating pads are suitable for keeping the water warm for the turtles. These are not great alternatives for heat lamps. They are not as efficient as heat lamps that provide heat from above. 

However, you can use them as a support system to keep the tank warm in extremely cold conditions. But you must be careful while providing a heating pad to your turtles. Make sure it does not get too hot for the turtles. 

Do Baby Turtles Need A Heat Lamp?

Yes, baby turtles need heat lamps. In fact, baby turtles need the correct amount of heat to grow healthy. So, you must have a heat lamp to provide heat for the initial two to five years of a turtle. 

Unlike adult turtles, baby turtles cannot live so long without heating lamps. They will struggle to adjust their body temperature. They will soon suffer from respiratory infections and indigestion.

Conclusion

So, do turtles need heat lamps? By now, you must have got your answer. As you can understand now, turtles cannot survive for long without the correct amount of heat and light. Therefore, you must place a heat lamp in the tank along with other lighting systems for a long, healthy life for your turtle friends. 

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.

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