Lighting is one of the most important and basic concepts of a turtle tank. Like feeding and basking, lighting is also an essential requirement for a healthy turtle. I have seen that the thing that confuses most of the beginners is the lighting. So, in this article, I am going to write a complete turtle basking light guide for all the beginners. This guide should answer all your problems regarding basking light for turtles.
Lighting in a turtle tank isn’t mean only for us so that we can see the turtles. lighting is extremely important for the healthy shell growth and bone density of turtles. In the wild, aquatic turtles receive vitamin D3 from the sun while they are basking. As in indoor setup, they can’t get any sunlight, we need to provide them proper lighting. This proper lighting includes both a UVB light and a heat lamp.
The UVB light emits UVB ray which contains vitamin D3, which is essential for the turtle’s shell growth and digestion. The heat lamp provides the essential heat that is needed for basking. Basically, these two lights imitate the sun on the outside. Your turtle needs both vitamin D3 and enough heat to thrive.
What type of lights does turtle need?
Basically, you need to imitate the sun inside the turtle tank. Turtle gets UVB ray and heat from the sun in the wild. So, you’ll need two types of light: a UVB light and a heat lamp.
As the name implies, the UVB lamp provides the essential UVB ray for the turtles. The UVB ray is essential for producing vitamin D3 which promotes healthy shell and bone growth in turtles. the UVB also encourages activity, feeding, mood as well as breeding.
like the sun provides heat to the turtles in wild, the heat lamp does exactly the same. It produces warmth for the turtles. As turtles are cold-blooded animals, they can’t generate their own heat. So, they need to depend on other sources for maintaining body temperature. The heat lamp helps to do this. It also helps to fight germs.
Without proper lighting, most aquatic turtles will get sick in a very short time and at worst cases, they may die from metabolic bone diseases. Like all living animals, turtles also maintain a circadian rhythm. Which means, they need day and night in a 24-hour cycle just like us. Without a day-night cycle, the daily habit of your turtle will be disrupted, it will cause stress and reduce the immunity of your turtle. So, lights are extremely important for turtles.
Why turtles need UVB?
- Turtles, including all reptiles, need UVB to produce vitamin D3 in their bodies. It also helps them to properly digest food and get calcium. Vitamin D3 is responsible for healthy shell and bone growth. So, in the absence of UVB light, the turtle may suffer from metabolic bone diseases and other shell issues. At worst, this disease can cause death to turtles.
- UVB ray is essential for digesting food. Without a proper UVB light, many baby turtles can die within only a year. Many turtle owners come to me and say their turtle died suddenly. In most of the cases, they didn’t have any UVB light in the setup.
Things to consider when getting a UVB light
- Don’t rely on the knowledge of the salesman when getting anything for your turtle. I have seen that most turtle sellers don’t even know that they need UVB light for living. So, I’ll suggest you do your own research before getting a UVB light for your turtle.
- If the package of the bulb says “Full-Spectrum” or “Sun-Spectrum” it doesn’t necessarily mean that the light is UVB. In fact, most full spectrum lights have a negligible amount of UVB. So, don’t get fooled by this letters.
- UVB lamps don’t actually last very long. Even though they produce light, they don’t necessarily produce enough UVB after about 6 months. So, you need to replace the UVB bulb every six months.
- There are different types of UVB lamps in the market. For turtles, most experts recommend getting a 2.5, 3 or 5 percent UVB lamp. Lamps in this range are often called the tropical UVB lamps and ideal for turtles. There are also 10 percent UVB lamps which are called Desert UVBs. These are not ideal for aquatic turtles.
- If you have to use a 10 percent UVB, then I’ll suggest setting it up far away from the basking place. it’ll work only as a temporary solution until you get a tropical UVB light.
- You need to place the UVB at the right distance, so the turtle can get the proper amount of UVB. For 2.5 percent UVB lamp, this distance is about 12 inches. If the UVB is 5 percent, place it at least 18 inches away from the basking light.
- UVB rays can’t go through plastic or glass. So, if you have a glass or plastic cover over the turtle habitat, then most of the UVB will get absorbed by it. So, you need to use a metal screen cover. Make sure the meal cover has large holes otherwise, it also can suck away most of the UVBs.
- If your UVB lamp gets hot, then you need to place a mesh screen below it. Sometimes, these lights can break with a splash of water from the turtle. the shattered glass can cause serious injury to your turtle. so, it is recommended to take proper precautions if you use a UVB light that gets hot such as halogen, mercury vapor or incandescent light.
- LEDs and fluorescents lights are safer as they rarely break or heat up.
Can you use a Mercury Vapor Lamp for turtles?
I know I have told earlier that you need at least two types of lights for your turtle tank: a UVB light and a heat lamp. However, there is a type of light that can replace both of these lights. In fact, all of the turtle’s requirements will be fulfilled with only this light alone. This is the Self-Ballasted Mercury Vapor Lamp.
Self-Ballasted Mercury Vapor Lamps provide daylight, heat, UVA, and UVB simultaneously. Owners who don’t have enough room on their turtle habitat or want to get only one light, this can be an excellent choice. In the recent years, the price has gone down too! Most turtle owners love them because they replace the need of using two types of lights.
However, Mercury Vapor Lamps come with some disadvantages too. Here are the downsides of these lights:
- Mercury vapor lamps consume more electrical energy than a typical fluorescent UVB lamp or a halogen basking light. In fact, a recent study found that these lights consume twice more energy than a normal light.
- As these lights consume unbelievably more energy than normal basking lights, the electricity bill can go through the roof, especially if you live in an area where the electricity cost is high.
Different types of UVB lights:
There are basically two types of UVB lights in the market right now: The Linear or tubular light and the Compact UVB light. Most turtle owners these days often go for the compact UVB lights.
The compact UVB bulbs are squiggly shaped. You need to screw them into the socket. When these bulbs first came out, they weren’t very reliable. Some bulbs produced no UVB where some produced more than the specified amount of UVB. However, the manufacturers redesigned these bulbs and now they are the most popular choice for turtle owners. However, that doesn’t mean tubular UVB lights are obsolete. Some turtle owners prefer the tubular ones than the other.
If you do choose a compact style UVB bulb, I’ll strongly recommend not to use a mirror style reflector with it. It will over concentrate the UVB onto the basking area. You can go for a metal or white painted interior with the compact UVB bulb. If the bulb is too much powerful, your turtle will show eye irritation. If you observe any type of irritation in your turtle’s eye, turn off the light immediately and wait for a few days before you turn it back on.
Just because a UVB lamp is lighting up doesn’t necessarily mean that it is producing enough UVB. So, you need to replace the UVB bulbs at 6 months or 1-year interval, depending on the bulb.
Heat lamps, also known as the daylight lamps, are also essential for a turtle’s healthy growth. Heat lamps produce light and heat at the same time. Incandescent lamps are a popular choice for heat lamps. There are also halogen heat lamps. Some of these lights come with reflectors to increase the concentration of the heat.
The heat lamp should be directed to the basking area at a perfect distance. Set up the lamp in such a way that the temperature of the basking area is at least 10-12 degrees warmer than the temperature of the water. The warmest part of the basking area should have a temperature between 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. You can increase the range to about 95 degrees Fahrenheit if the turtle is sick.
The perfect way to set up the heat lamp is to make a nice temperature range in the basking area. This way, the turtle will choose its preferred temperature. The warmest part of the basking area should be the high end of the temperature range. On the other hand, the coolest part will indicate the low end of the range. This way, the turtle can regulate its body temperature easily by moving on the basking area. That’s why you need to buy a bigger basking area for your turtle.
How to measure the temperature?
Never ever try to guess the temperature of your turtle habitat. Temperature is a very crucial thing for turtles. You need to know the exact temperature of the water and the basking area. That’s why I always recommend using a reptile oriented thermometer for your turtle tank.
I love zoo med’s reptile thermometer. I have been using them for years and they never gave me wrong results. Granted that they can be a little overpriced than other thermometers, however, I don’t want to risk getting a cheap low-quality thermometer which can essentially put my turtle’s life into danger. When measuring the temperature, do not remove the cover of the turtle tank (if you have any). Covers can control how much light and heat are entering into the turtle habitat. So, removing them will give you a false reading on the thermometer.
“Safety Precautions” for us:
When we are handling with lightings for turtle, we need to take some precautions beforehand. Here are the safety precautions we need to take:
- Never ever look directly at the lights. These lights are very powerful and can permanently damage your eyes. UVB lamps are more dangerous than the heat lamps. If stared directly into those for a long time, you can get permanent blindness. Also, ensure that there is nothing in the room that reflects the UVB ray directly into peoples’ eyes.
- Make sure that you have tightly secured the bulbs in the socket. They should never fell off in the water. Such accidents can get your turtle electrocuted. That’s why I like to use a mesh cover on my turtle habitat. It works as a protection if by any chance my lamps fall from the sockets.
- The final rule is to never work with turtle lights (or any other electric instruments) when they are ON. Always remember to turn OFF before you need to do anything. Also, make sure you don’t splash any water on the bulbs as water splashes can shatter the glass of the bulbs.
A viewing light:
I wouldn’t recommend getting a light for viewing unless you have a very big habitat. These viewing lights do not have any special purposes like UVB, heat etc. They are just for viewing the turtle tank. In other words, the viewing lights are for us, not for the turtles.
I like daylight lamps for viewing purposes. They are better than soft white or warm white lights. Plants also prefer the daylight lamps more. Daylight lamps are available in many shapes. I like the LEDs as they are very cheap and practically last forever.
You don’t need to go over any technical details when choosing a daylight lamp for turtles. just make sure the spectrum is between 5000k to 6500k. if you do decide to use a daylight lamp, turn it ON and OFF at the same time with the UVB lamp and the heat lamp to maintain the Circadian Rhythm of your turtles.
I have also seen many people using night lights on their turtle tank. It is not a requirement at all. You can only get one if you want to observe what your turtles are doing at night. Night lamps are basically dim lights with very low intensity. They are generally red or blueish and produces very soft light that does not irritate the turtle’s eyes.
In some cases, night lights are good for hatchlings as they produce some heat throughout the night. Moreover, most hatchlings sleep on the warmest part of the basking area. Adult turtles don’t care about night lights at all. They don’t care if it is blue or red. However, some owners said that their turtles didn’t really go with the red one. So, I prefer to use blue night lamps for my turtle tank.
I have also seen many owners using an infrared heat lamp as night lamps. These lights produce a red light with mild heat which is very good for new-born hatchlings. Infrared heat lamps are also effective for sick turtles as the heat helps the turtles to fight the germs.
When choosing a night light for your turtle tank, make sure that the light only turns ON when all the daytime lights (UVB light, heat lamp, and viewing light) are turned OFF. If all are ON at the same time, your turtle can get burnt. Also, ensure the night lamp isn’t producing too much heat that can make the habitat unbearable for your turtles.
If you don’t know what Circadian Rhythm is, it is just a scientific term of the 24-hour cycle of each living animals. Like most living animals, turtles also maintain a circadian rhythm. Throughout the 24-hour cycle, they focus their energy on different things at different times. Not only the behaviors, their biochemistry also change throughout the 24 hours, thus maintaining a specific circadian rhythm.
It’s extremely important that we maintain a day-night cycle in our turtle tank, much like in the wild. The day-night cycle is crucial for the healthy growth of every turtle. if you keep turtles in an outside pond, then you don’t have to worry about any of this. However, those of us who keep their turtles in an indoor habitat, we need to mimic the sun to create an artificial day and night environment.
We should maintain an 8 to 10-hour day cycle in the tank. During the daytime, keep the UVB lamp, heat lamp and the viewing light (if you have any) ON. During the night time, only keep the nightlight ON (if you have any). It is okay to have no light during the night too.
It is not easy to maintain a precise daytime and nighttime every day manually. That’s why I strongly encourage everyone to get an automatic timer. An automatic timer will be an excellent investment for your turtle tank. They don’t cost much and take all the manual work out for maintaining the circadian rhythm. All you need to do is program the timer and turn it ON. The timer will do the rest.
Zoo Med UVB and Heat Lighting Kit:
Zoo Med is a popular brand across the USA for their large selection of high-quality reptile and amphibian products. Zoo Med has made the life of hundreds of turtle keepers easy and convenient with its reliable, cost-effective products. Zoo med’s UVB and heat lighting kit is a 2 in 1 lighting fixture which provides maximum convenience to the turtle owners. The dual fixture feature allows using both the UVB lamp and the heat lamp under one polished aluminum dome.
Zoo med’s UVB and heat lighting kit saves both time, space and money. You don’t need to buy all the lighting items separately. It also saves a ton of space on your turtle habitat. I used zoo med’s hundreds of products and almost all of them satisfied me. This lighting kit is not an exception either. Comparing with other similar products in the market, I think thus UVB and heat lighting kit provide the most features at the cheapest rate.
With the lighting kit, you’ll also get a 13-watt ReptiSun UVB 5.0 bulb (Mini Compact Fluorescent version) and a water splash proof 50-watt halogen lamp for heat. This is basically an All-In-One lighting solution for turtle tanks. These bulbs are also very low power consuming. So, you won’t see a huge jump on your electricity bills.
- The lighting kit has a polished aluminum dome which works as an excellent reflector. It increases the light as well as UVB output by 30%.
- The fixture has dual sockets to use both lights at the same time. You can use up to 100 watts of light at each socket simultaneously.
- The sidewalls of the dome extend beyond the size of the bulbs. So, the bulbs are protected from any kind of water splash from the outside. It also helps to prevent “sticking out” of the bulbs.
- You’ll get 1-year warranty with the UVB and heat lighting kit.
- The dimension of the kit is about 9.4 x 12.4 x 3 inches.
- It weighs about 2.35 pounds.
Keep in mind that, you must need to replace both of the bulbs every six months. After a six month period, the UVB bulb starts to degrade and just become a normal light. So, you must replace the old one with a new UVB bulb. This is very important. You can place a mark on the calendar or make a reminder on your phone so that you don’t forget to change the UVB bulb.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long should a turtle basking light be ON?
You should maintain the day-night cycle in your turtle tank. So, depending on where you live, you can keep the daylights (UVB bulb, heat lamp, and viewing lamp) ON for 8 to 10 hours per day. All the daylights should be turned ON and turned OFF at the same time.
Do turtles need a heat lamp at night?
No, turtles generally don’t need any kind of light at night. The night is for sleeping and resting. However, you do need to have a heat lamp during the day cycle of your turtle tank.
Do baby turtles need light at night?
It is not an absolute necessity for baby turtles to have lights at night. However, it is better if you can get a soft night light for baby turtles. The night light will produce a mild heat throughout the night, which is good for a baby turtle’s health.
Do red-eared sliders need a night light?
Most aquatic turtles, including red-eared sliders, do not care about any night light. So, there is no necessity for getting night lights for red-eared sliders. However, if you have a baby red-eared slider, then it can get benefitted from a night light.
What is the preferred turtle basking lamp distance?
The distance depends on the intensity of the UVB bulb. If you have a 2.5 percent UVB bulb, then keep the bulb at a 12-inch distance from the basking area. For a 5 percent UVB bulb, the preferred distance is 18 inches.
What is the preferred turtle heat lamp wattage?
There is no preferred wattage of heat lamp for turtles. What we need is the preferred temperature. Make sure that the basking area is at least 10 degrees warmer than the water. An ideal temperature range of the basking area should be between 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. So, set the heat lamp in such a way that it can create such temperature range in the basking area.
Do turtles need heat lamp all the time?
No, you’ll need to turn ON the heat lamp during the day-cycle only. So, if you are aiming for a 10-hour day cycle, then keep the heat lamp turned ON for 10 hours along with the UVB bulb.
Is it safe to leave the heat lamp ON all day?
No, it is not safe and recommended at all to leave the heat lamp ON for all day. The temperature can get really high and it can burn your turtles. Also, keeping the heat lamp ON all day may result in irritation on your turtle’s eyes.
My Top 3 Turtle Products To Make Your Life Easier (And Your Turtles Happier)
1. Fluval FX6 Canister Filter
Turtles are quite messy creatures. And you need a powerful weapon to cope up with the mess. Fluval FX6 is a giant beast equipped with multi-stage filtration system. Fluval FX6 is my #1 recommendation to keep your turtle tank cleaner & healthier.
2. Penn Plax Turtle Topper
If you are keeping a turtle, you’ll need a basking place. The good thing about Penn Plax Turtle Topper is, it won’t use any space inside the tank, so your turtle can enjoy the full swimming space. The design and functionality make this basking dock my top recommendation!
3. Zoo Med UVB & Heat Lighting Kit
This one kit will solve all your lighting needs for the turtle. You’ll get everything you’ll need including Polished aluminum dome, dual ceramic sockets and two lights: ReptiSun UVB Light (for UVB) & Repti Tuff Halogen Lamp (for Heat). Zoo Med UVB & Heat Lighting Kit will slash half of your burden!
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